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How Does Narrative Therapy Help Heal Trauma?

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

A cartoon image of a boy using narrative therapy with a female therapist to help heal trauma and abuse

Narrative therapy empowers trauma and abuse survivors by helping them retell their stories in a healing way

Key takeaways:

  • Narrative therapy can help with a variety of traumatic mental states, including depression, anxiety, acute trauma, complex trauma, PTSD, grief, both acute and complex, and attachment issues.

  • It’s a survivor-centered modality that makes you the expert in your life.

  • Narrative therapy allows you to re-define your painful experiences in an empowering way.

  • It doesn’t rely on blaming or pathologizing.

  • Therapists help clients to act as observers when re-telling their stories.

  • Clients are then able to undergo the process of externalization, or separating themselves from their story.

  • Once clients gain clarity via externalization, they’re able to re-author and re-frame their stories in a new, empowering way that can lead to healing.

Humans have been telling stories since we were able to communicate. Our fascination with stories has transcended multiple mediums – from hieroglyphics found in ancient caves to the folktales passed down through generations. Today, we tell stories through a variety of platforms, using podcasts, books, social media, and blogs like the one you’re reading.

Perhaps some of the most important stories are the ones we are told about ourselves; that we are either led to believe about ourselves by others or that we tell ourselves about ourselves. These stories form our belief systems.

Narrative therapy is a unique form of person-centered therapy that centers the client as the expert in their own life, experiences, stories, and healing. A traumatic event can happen once but leave a lasting impact. Narrative therapy helps trauma and abuse survivors re-tell their stories in a way that heals. We explain narrative therapy and how it helps those who’ve experienced trauma and abuse.

What is narrative therapy?

Narrative therapy was developed by New Zealand-based social workers, Michael White and David Epston, in the 1980s. As mentioned, narrative therapy centers you, the client, as the expert in your story and your healing. While it may seem overwhelming to take responsibility for your own healing, consider it this way: you might have been powerless when the trauma happened to you, but now you are a survivor and you get to be in charge of your healing! You don’t have to be hopeless against the memory.

As we move through the world, whether we realize it or not, we assign meaning to experiences, events, and interactions we have. These, in turn, influence how we interact with the world around us. We all carry many stories at once and these stories influence how we see ourselves and the world. They also influence our self-esteem, relationships, attachments, work, and lifestyle choices.

Narrative therapy seeks to allow us a chance to re-write our stories in an empowering way, without blaming or pathologizing them. It can be beneficial for many things, including but not limited to:

  • Trauma

  • Acute trauma

  • Complex trauma

  • Grief

  • Acute grief

  • Complex grief

  • Anxiety

  • PTSD

  • Depression

  • Attachment issues

  • Eating disorders

Putting your story together

In narrative therapy, there is no hierarchical relationship between a client and a therapist. The therapist is a facilitator and guide. A narrative therapist helps their client piece together their narrative while centering the client and their voice. The client is encouraged to explore the meanings they’ve placed on various events and experiences and to recount the event as an observer. The therapist will help the client to identify and challenge what’s problematic within their story.

Externalization: Know that you aren’t your story

Recognizing that we aren’t our traumas or our stories can be difficult because for so long they may have been an integral part of our identities, controlling our behavior and thoughts. Acting as an observer of ourselves isn’t something that we do naturally. Creating this distance between ourselves and our problems and behaviors is called externalization. Externalization allows clients to focus on changing behaviors. It’s usually during this time that people begin to see that they are capable of change.

Allowing a therapist to challenge you

Many times, changing a story’s narrative doesn’t feel possible to clients. Think about your favorite movie. Chances are, there are probably a million different alternate endings it could have had.

Your life is no different – there are alternative stories available. Sometimes, people become very stuck in their stories and they influence various areas of their lives. A narrative therapist will be able to help you identify where you’re not allowing for alternative stories to be available for you, and guide you into seeing how that may be influencing your decision-making, behaviors, and experiences.

Deconstruction: Gaining clarity

Many times, the stories that people ruminate over have been around for years, so long that it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly where it came from. Clients may even become confused by their own beliefs and re-imaginings. When this happens, a narrative therapist will help a client gain clarity in their story by using deconstruction.

Deconstruction allows the client to break their story down into smaller parts, which will help the problem to become more apparent, allow for more clarity, and make it more approachable.

Re-write your story

After undergoing the narrative therapy process, clients will understand their old stories, the impact of their language on themselves, and have a better understanding of the new stories they want to tell. They will be empowered to re-write their story with the guidance of the therapist using new and more helpful language.

Repeating this practice helps create a more positive thought process that empowers the client. This practice can be repeated as many times as necessary for a variety of experiences and stories.

Get support from a qualified, caring therapist in the Miami area

Healing from trauma can be a very involved and lengthy process. Having support from the right professionals can create a huge shift. While there’s nothing that can make processing trauma or abuse pleasant, therapy can help make it easier. Individual therapy for trauma can be tremendously beneficial when you decide to start healing.

The team at Love Discovery is here to welcome you with open arms. If you’re ready to get started in therapy to help you process trauma, make an appointment with any of our therapists today. Feeling hesitant about how we can help? Call 786.571.4636 for a free 20-minute consultation.

We are here to help you improve your mental health and support you on your journey to healing.

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