What is Narrative Therapy?

By Laney Cline King, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

“You are not the problem, the problem is the problem.”

When it comes to your own life, you are the expert. Our identities are essentially the stories we tell ourselves and others. All too often, our problems take center stage in our life stories, and our strengths and talents don’t make their way into our personal narratives. Problem saturated stories lead to lives revolving around our personal problems, as opposed to a life guided by our values, hopes and dreams. Narrative therapy is a form of counseling that seeks to alleviate personal problems by shifting one’s thinking about their unique story. Some key facets of narrative therapy are the beliefs that:

• Your skills, talents, values, abilities and beliefs are your tools in addressing your problems.
• There is no need to transform who you are, only to transform your relationship to your problem(s).
• By objectifying your problems, you can see them from a new perspective.
• Reworking your personal story allows for achieving preferred identities.
• Your story is significantly influenced by your environment, namely through familial and cultural attitudes about things like race, class, gender, religion and sexuality.

Benefits of Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy is a relatively new therapy, developed in the 1980s by Australian social worker Michael White and New Zealand family therapist David Epston, and popularized in the U.S. in 1990. In contrast to many of the “traditional” types of therapy that poised the psychotherapist as an expert, the narrative therapist acts as a collaborator and investigator, helping you to uncover aspects about yourself that distance you from your problems. This respectful approach is one of the many benefits of narrative therapy. See below for a brief list of additional benefits of the narrative therapy method.

• Nonjudgmental and empowering
• Develops self compassion
• Empowering (solve your own challenges as opposed to an expert doing it for you)
• Excellent therapy for addressing grief and bereavement
• Powerful tool for community and social change


One very specific type of narrative therapy approach is called re-membering. This approach promotes connections with lost loved ones by placing less emphasis on the “goodbye” typically associated with death, and instead treating loss as an opportunity for an ongoing relationship with the deceased. Rather than dwelling on the finality of death, re-membering uses story telling to promote healing and keep relationships alive. There is an excellent video on remembering that you can view here: Working with loss: Beyond remembering (by Jill Freedman).

Additional Resources about Narrative Therapy:

Narrative Therapy Centre – About Narrative Therapy

Commonly asked questions about narrative approaches

35+ Videos of narrative work in practice

Remembering Practices

Laney-Cline-KingAbout this Contributor: Laney Cline King received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology at the University of California, San Diego and her Masters in Social Work from Columbia University, New York.  She is an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) with over 10 years of experience helping children and families in a variety of nonprofit settings.  As a certified LEAN nutrition coach, she currently provides workshops to families wanting to lead healthier lifestyles.  At this time, Laney is most involved with the toughest job of her career, raising her three children in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information on Laney’s work, visit http://laneyclineking.com/.