Professional Narrative Portfolio – Narrative Practices in language and therapy
Throughout history humans have been telling stories, recounting and adapting through the ages. Even now I still remember all the stories I grew up hearing, nursery rhymes and books that I must have re-read a dozen times, they stick with you and become a part of who you are. Stories don’t just remain with us because we like them, but because we are invested in them on a higher level. ‘Stories are a fundamental part of life used on a daily basis as a means of self expression and as a way to make sense of life.” (Weick 1995). The links between storytelling and learning are critical to the ideal of narrative therapy and applied to interview practices in a classroom setting to improve journalistic education and interview practices. We use the practice of storytelling to make meaning, by linking each experience across unknown gaps with reflection and deliberation. During these moments our capacity to express ourselves through narrative forms is widened, we are able to reassess and reconstruct events and learn from sharing our own and others experiences with individuals.
Narrative therapy is a collaborative and non-pathologizing approach to counselling which employs the ideal that people are the experts of their own lives, as such this narrative approach views problems as separate from people and assumes that viewing themselves through their self worth; skills, abilities, values, commitments, beliefs and competencies will allow the individual to overcome issues. This ideal of practice takes all aspects of life into consideration. Personal blocks or issues such as class, race, gender, sexual orientation and ability. Counsellors and therapists are engaging with narrative ideas and practices to work alongside people in resisting the effects and influences of problem stories and deficit descriptions. This involves active listening and finding the clues to the person’s personal story, discovering the values and desires that make up the individual. Identity stories can invite either a negative to a positive influence in the way people see their own lives and capabilities. Within a narrative framework people’s lives and identities are seen as a culmination of multiple narratives forming a depiction of an individual.
The implementation of storytelling in reflective learning for development education in adult students, using McDrury & Alterio’s model, represents how individuals identify, tell and build on a story through collaborative processes. This is something we developed on in class, the idea that the process of building a story with someone helps both participants walk away with what they needed. The level of engagement of both the audience listener and recounter both participated and remembered more when having constructed a story, or used a narrative element in the recount. In some cases it’s to reflect on deeper meanings of the story, to make sense and understand a situation. Those that chose to tell a meaningful story or share something about themselves found that they had more of an impact, on those who listened and within themselves. Stories have the effect of filtering a person’s experience and thereby selecting what information gets focused in or focused out. These stories shape people’s perspectives of their lives, histories and even their own futures. These stories of identity are stable and solidified in the minds of the individual. Narrative therapy provides a means to refocus the lens on this camera and can help to reshape a person’s stories and life.
The elements presented and language used are inherently important for the speaker, taking this into account leads to a better understanding of who the speaker is. They are speaking from their point of view, an aspect that is key to the storytelling element of narrative therapy. The view of the main subject must always be taken into account to properly understand the meaning behind their chosen words. ‘Narrative therapy has been associated with the assumptions of postmodernism and social constructionism; both of which support the notion that there are no truths, just points of view.’ (Doan 1998). Language is imperative to this process, as assumptions inform narrative practice we must learn to look beyond the tendency to reify metaphors. The extent to which stories of entitlement and privilege can be taken is empowered by the human tendency to make gurus of leaders and use metaphors with a cultural understanding needed, ‘Once a metaphor has done it’s job of sense making, the metaphoric quality tends to become lost or submerged. The ‘as if’ quality is forgotten and users began to speak in literal terms. Language becomes reified” (Pepper 1942). For instance the usage of the word ‘God’ would have a completely different weight depending on the speaker’s religious beliefs.
Semiotics teaches us that words have power, as such the choices in language that an individual uses. Language and words are influenced by past experiences and environmental circumstances, understanding these influences is key to understanding the individual.
The importance we place on these words emphasise the dangers of a story, of the misunderstanding that can occur due to bias or language barriers and the power that words may have. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie openly discusses the risks associated with only allowing a single narrative to speak for a person or people. Chimamanda unravels the ideal behind narratives becoming self-actualizing, something she does not state is either good or bad, when internalized by those for whom the narrative represents. She discusses these texts and stories when taken and allowed to exist as stereotypes outside of their origins. Warning of how the world is flat in literature, that we only hear a single story about one culture or country, risking a critical misunderstanding. It is our lives, our cultures, that are composed of many overlapping stories. It is Chimamada’s wish to have these stories shared, so that children would not have the cultural misunderstanding and experiences of misjudgement that she experienced. How we raise a child to see the world, even through mediums like books and online, should be a true and honest reflection of the world.
Narrative therapy consists of understanding the stories or themes that have shaped a person’s life. It allows us to understand the experiences a person has lived and what has held the most meaning to them. The what choices, intentions and relationships we value and remember. Narrative therapy tell us that it is these experiences that are a part of an even larger story that has a significant impact on a person’s lived experiences. Through means of drawing out and amplifying the stories that matter the most and have impacted the individual the most narrative therapy works to allow people to find themselves. This means that narrative therapy focuses on constructing and building the plot which connects a person’s life together.
These are just some of the areas of Narrative Therapy, at least the areas that mattered the most to myself. Over the course of thirteen weeks we covered and discovered our own forms of Narrative Therapy within our distinct degrees and personal interests. Narrative practice has only touched the tip of the iceberg in study, this practice is an innovative and interesting practice that is groundbreaking to the understanding of humanity and the individual. To find out what really matters to someone is important, through narrative practice we can understand each other. This is a skill that really matters in life, more than anything else I’ve learned in this degree.
Doan, R.E., (1997) Narrative therapy, postmodernism, social constructionism, and constructivism: Discussion and distinctions. Transactional Analysis Journal, 27(2), 128-133.
Doan, R.E., 1998. The king is dead; long live the king: narrative therapy and practicing what we preach. Family process, 37(3), pp.379-385.
Ferguson, S 2014 “Using narrative practices to respond to Stigma Stalker in the workplace a journey with Joe”, The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, no.4, pp.1-15.
Josephs, C. (2008) The Way of the S/Word: Storytelling as Emerging Liminal, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 21(3), 251-267.
Pepper, S., (1942) World hypothesis. Berkeley: University of California Press.
McDrury, J. and Alterio, M. (2003) Learning Through Storytelling in Higher Education. London: Kogan Page.
Author unknown, 2016, ‘About narrative therapy’, Narrative Therapy of Toronto, viewed 13th of June, 2016, http://www.narrativetherapycentre.com/narrative.html