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Narrative Family Therapy


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Narrative Family Therapy

Originated in Australia and New Zealand

Focuses on helping families solve difficulties by depersonalizing them and rewriting family stories

Focuses on externalizing problems so families can work together on them.

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Major Theorists

Michael White

David Epston

Michael Durrant

Gerald Monk

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Michael White

Influenced by Bruner, Foucault, and Vygotsky, as well as by Feminist theory

He also learned that narratives may be overshadowed by dominant problem-saturated stories

Influenced by Foucault

Believed that problems could be addressed when a cultures values and ideas could be questioned or challenged.

Established the Adelaide Narrative Therapy Centre

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Premises of the Theory

Nonsystemic approach to working with individuals and families based on liberation philosophy

Distinguishes between logico-scientific reasoning and narrative reasoning

People live their lives through their stories, and families are formed and transformed through stories

Emphasizes empowering client-families to develop their unique and alternative stories (reauthoring their lives)

Client-families urged to externalize problems to solve them

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Treatment Techniques

Externalization of the Problem

process by which therapists seek to separate problems from people

Results in the following:

Decrease in unproductive conflict between persons

Lessening of the sense of failure and unresolved problem places on a person

Increase of cooperation among family members to problem solve and engage in dialogue with each other

Opening up of new possibilities for action

Freeing of persons to be more effective and less stressed in approaching problems (White & Epston, 1990)

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Treatment Techniques

Influence (Effect) of the Problem on the Person: the process of asking each family member to give a no-holds-barred account of how the problem has affected him or her

Influence (Effect) of the Person on the Problem: asking family members how they have influenced a problem

Raising Dilemmas: helping families examine possible aspects of a problem before the need arises

Predicting Setbacks: planning for and anticipating potential setbacks in family therapy

Using Questions

Exceptions Questions

Significance Questions


Celebrations and Certificates

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Treatment Techniques

Using Question: to challenge families to examine the nature of the difficulties they bring to therapy and what resources they have and can use to handle their problems

Exceptions Questions: directed toward finding instances when a situation reported to be a problem was not true

Significance Questions: questions utilized to search for and reveal the meanings of important exceptions (Kurtz & Tandy, 1995)

Letters: done after therapy sessions, serving as a medium for continuation of the dialogue between the therapist and family members as a reminder of therapy sessions

Celebrations and Certificates

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Treatment Techniques


Complete after therapy sessions have concluded

Serve as a medium for continuation of the dialogue between the therapist and family members as a reminder of what transpired in the therapy sessions

Celebrations and Certificates

a unique and important part of narrative therapy

Used to bring closure to therapy.

Serve as a tangible affirmation of the defeat of a problem

Also, they mark the beginning of a new description of a family (White & Epston, 1990)

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Role of the Therapist

Collaborator, who assumes the role of nonexpert

Centrifugal, or decentered

Use relationship skills such as attending, paraphrasing, clarifying, summarizing, and checking

Assist families in separating themselves from old, problem-saturated stories by constructing new stories (reauthoring)

Help new stories emerge by looking for unique outcomes, or storied experiences that do not fit the problem saturated story (Molina et al., 2004, p. 144)

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Process and Outcome

Process consists of three phases:

Deconstructing the dominant cultural narrative

Externalizing the problem

Reauthoring the story (Molina et al., 2004, p. 144)

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Unique Aspects of Narrative Family Therapy

Emphasizes reauthoring by families of their stories

Individuals and families asked to look for exceptions to the difficult situations they are experiencing

Expectations of setbacks and the raising of dilemmas are built into narrative family therapy

Letters are sent to families about their progress, and celebrations are held when goals are achieved.

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