As we begin our recovery from active addiction, we hope for a new way of living, free of alcohol, drugs, and compulsive behaviors. One of the most effective forms of therapy we may encounter is narrative therapy, in which we “rewrite” the narrative of our life with the help of a therapist.
Narrative therapy was developed during the 1970s and ’80s by an Australian social worker named Michael White and his colleague David Epston of New Zealand; the two co-authored a book in 1990 called, Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends.
Central to narrative therapy is the concept of identity. Rather than seeing our problems and mistakes resulting from our identity, however, narrative therapy separates the two – a practice called externalization. The motto of narrative therapy is: “The person is not the problem. The problem is the problem.” Thus, we are not doomed to repeat past mistakes or see ourselves as defective or diminished due to them.
Our identities consist of many different stories we tell and retell throughout our lives. By “re-authoring” our identity, we create a new story in which we overcome our problems. Acting as an “investigative reporter,” our therapist guides the process by uncovering our individual knowledge, skills, and values. The stories we re-write about our lives read much the way a novel does, with a plot, characters, and themes; we, of course, are the protagonists. Each story reveals how we imagine our realities can be.
After rewriting our narratives with our therapist/reporter’s help, we invite an “outsider witness” to participate. This witness is a third party who responds to our stories without engaging us in conversation. Instead, the outsider witness comments on aspects of our stories that resonate with them, in the same way, they would discuss a novel without speaking directly to the author. This feedback serves to validate us as the author of our own stories while helping us refine our goals.
Narrative therapy can be extremely useful in recovery by allowing us to imagine a different future for ourselves – one in which we are free from the bondage of addiction. Our therapist helps us identify skills to overcome our challenges and turn them into opportunities. When we re-imagine ourselves as healthy, happy, serene, and useful people, we become free to live that reality.
Hope exists in recovery. Design For Change offers a refuge for addicts seeking recovery in a long term residential program with a full continuum of care options. Grounded in the 12 step philosophy, our programs focus on creating change by taking action.