Narrative Therapy continues to be a popular therapeutic model, particularly for children and adolescents.
Narrative Therapy involves re-authoring stories or conversations by using a non-blaming approach where the counsellor focuses on the young person being the expert in their own lives.
This leads to the assumption that the young person has the required skills, abilities, competencies, commitment, values and beliefs to decrease the effect of problems in their lives.
One of the main concepts used within this approach is externalising, where the counsellor has conversations with the young person using language that separates them from the problem. The intention behind this is to highlight that they are not the problem.
Once the young person has separated themselves from the problem, the counsellor can help the them to identify the effects of the problem and whether these are ok or not. This enables the young person to start creating an alternate story of what is important to them.
This approach assumes that dominant problem stories reinforce certain events while neglecting others.
The counsellor’s job is to explore the initiatives that the young person is taking while the problem is around with the intention of uncovering an alternative story of skills and knowledge.
Narrative Therapy proposes that this change leads to the young person believing in their alternative story and not the socially perceived dominant story, which in turn leads to them acting differently by helping to reclaim what is important to them, in particular their hopes, dreams, and values.
A study examining the effects of a Narrative Therapy approach to group work was conducted by SKATTLE using a sample of sixteen young people aged between 7 and 17 years from three different schools in the Logan area in Queensland, Australia.
The sessions went for 45 minutes over a six week period.
A group process called The Tree of Life was used to enable the young people to speak about their life in ways that elicited skills and knowledge of standing strong through difficult times.
The Tree of Life activity enables the counsellors to use a narrative approach using a metaphor, where a tree comprising roots (their history), ground (what they enjoy in life), trunk (their hopes and values), branches (dreams), leaves (who is important in their lives) and fruit (the gifts they offer others).
Young people are invited to draw their trees highlighting these five components and then join them together to form a forest, at which point the storm metaphor is used to talk about the problems that have affected the forest. A sun is then drawn with the skills that were used by the forest to stand strong through the storm.
The participants change in wellness was measured by having the students fill out a Personal Wellbeing Index (PWI) survey in week one and week six. The personal scale consists of two subscales: happiness with their life as a whole and satisfaction with different quality of life domains.
After analysing the quantitative data there was a slight improvement on the first subscale. Subscale two showed significant improvement, with eleven out of the seventeen participants overall wellness increasing.
The implication for future practice is that Narrative approaches to group work can become a framework used by Guidance Officers in schools to improve young people’s wellness.
This framework will allow young people to speak about their life in ways that highlight their skills and knowledge, i.e., their alternative stories, rather than the dominant stories that are often told about young people.
The construction of these new narratives invite young people to see problems as expressions of what’s important to them. This then has them behaving differently.
It also assists teachers, principals, students and other people within the school environment to better understand the young person and not only view them differently but also change behaviour toward them.
Written and Researched by SKATTLE counsellor Adam Burns