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  • Writer's pictureEmma Coyle

The Importance of Narrative in Therapy

‘A part of every successful therapy is about rewriting the narratives that define us, making new meanings and imagining different endings.’ (Philippa Perry, Psychotherapist and Author)

A therapy room can feel like a 'waiting room' at a train station. Sometimes the 'passenger' (read here 'client') is waiting to board their train to a destination known but has a number of different routes they can choose to get there and needs help choosing. Sometimes they might not even know where they want to go, only that they want to go 'somewhere,' perhaps anywhere but here...

My role as their counsellor is to prepare them for this journey as best I can, being the ‘helpful clerk’ at the ticket counter, asking them not just ‘Where would you like to travel to today?’ but also ‘What route would you like to take?’

Some routes will be more direct, having few if any stops, and other routes may take longer but potentially make for a more ‘interesting’ journey.

In my role, I have to be flexible enough to listen to and work with the individual needs of my ‘passengers’ in the moment. Just as at a train station, some of the passengers may have reason to be unhappy (because things haven't gone to plan - they have maybe 'missed their connection') and others will need help because they have in fact 'missed their train' completely (clients who are full of regret for a life not lived). Some passengers will have booked their tickets in advance (clients who know exactly what they want from the therapy), and others will have turned up not really knowing what the final destination may be (clients who are there but perhaps haven't yet acknowledged the real reason why)…and so the metaphor continues to rumble on, down the track.

In truth, I never quite know where each passenger’s journey will take me as the counsellor, after all every client’s life story is different. It is the clients own 'fiction' the story of their lives that they tell themselves, that determines how they respond to the world, emotionally, physically and cognitively. It is my role to bring their story to life in the 'here and now' as felt through what is happening in the room between us and in how I bear witness to what they are sharing with me.

As Helen Kewell writes: ‘Retelling our life stories is one way of protecting and also continuing to evolve our own identity. A powerful way to honour and comfort someone is to listen to their story.’

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