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Narrative therapy and pratices

What does it mean to have a narrative practice? What are the basic theories and concepts of narrative therapies? In what areas can they be useful?

néons sur mur Nous sommes tous.tes fait d'histoires
Nous sommes tous.tes fait d'histoires

The basic theories and concepts of narrative practices:

Created by Michael White and David Epston in Australia in the 1980s-90s, narrative practices are based on the idea that our identity is relational and shaped by the stories we tell, that we tell ourselves and that others tell about us. These practices are part of brief therapy and are rooted in a systemic frame of reference.

What is the systems approach?

The systems approach considers people within their social, societal and environmental context. In other words, the person is considered from the point of view of the network of relationships in which he or she evolves (systems). If a person shows symptoms (referred to as a "named patient"), these symptoms are considered to be the visible part of problems that concern the whole system, i.e. the social circles and environment in which the person evolves.

The basic theoretical concepts of narrative practices:

Narrative practices are based, among other things, on the work of the thinkers of the French Theory. Key concepts include Foucault's dominant history as dominant knowledge, Paul Ricoeur's narrative identity, Deleuze's concept of deterritorialization, and Derrida's notion of deconstruction.

On the other hand, narrative practices are de facto militant and committed in their very foundations. From the moment we consider that the narratives of society and collectives have an impact on experiences and the construction of identities, then the reverse is also true. Individual narratives can have an impact on dominant discourses, each on its own scale.

Narrative therapies or narrative practices?

If we speak more generally of narrative practices, it's to honor the multiplicity of fields and uses to which they are put, since these practices are used in psychotherapy as well as in coaching, in the social field, or in other types of personal accompaniment. But it's also to underline their evolving, living, non-dogmatic character. Indeed, narrative practices are based on the concepts of authors from diverse geographical, disciplinary and temporal horizons, rather than on a single, fixed theory. It honors multivocality and opens the door to the enrichment that those who embrace it can bring.

The fundamental intention of narrative practices

Identify and untangle the dominant internalized story:

Narrative practices consider that all individual organizes his or her experience in a narrative mode, i.e. in the form of stories. And it is these stories that give meaning to experience. It is through the structure of narratives and stories that humans can understand their experiences.

Narrative practices are non-normative and non-pathologizing. In other words, they do not focus on whether a given behavior, reaction or emotion is part of the norm, or the marker of a symptom to be eradicated. The dominant narrative is considered both individually and socially. In other words, a distinction is made between the narratives told by individuals and those told by institutions or people in positions of authority. In psychiatry, for example, a distinction is made between what is healthy and what is not, what is normal and what is not. But when this type of discourse is internalized by a person, and the identity of the problem merges with the identity of the person, how much leeway do we have?

But how are these stories shaped?

Within relationships! Indeed, if we tell a story to someone, we're telling it to that someone. And that someone reacts to the story, bringing light and nuance to it, through the elements he or she perceives as more or less salient. So the stories we tell about ourselves are stories that are constructed in groups, within our relationships, which are themselves dependent on the context in which they are built. It's all these stories about ourselves that shape our identity.

Telling your story and regaining the ability to act: self-determination

Our representation of reality and problems takes the form of the stories we tell ourselves and others about us. It's the way we tell the story that conditions the way we feel and behave.

The aim of a narrative conversation is therefore to help people recover their ability to act and regain the sense of personal initiative that may have been obscured by the dominant internalized discourse. To this end, the conversation takes the form of an exploration of the narratives often muted by dominant discourses, the very ones that capture the person's intentions, values and life preferences.

It's a kind of autobiography, but this time written by the person rather than without their consent.

How does coaching or narrative therapy work?

Since the fundamental intention is the co-construction of narratives, the posture of the therapist with a narrative practice will necessarily be decentered and influential.

The therapist's decentered posture :

The therapist adopts a decentered posture insofar as he/she seeks to understand the construction of the world of the person being accompanied, rather than trying to impose his/her own. In this way, the therapist seeks to immerse him/herself in the person's world, to understand his/her values, world, aspirations, goals, etc.

The therapist's influential posture:

Narrative therapists don't see themselves as outside experts observing the situation of the person they are working with, but as stakeholders in the person's system. He/she takes on the responsibility of asking the right questions, at the right time, to support the person being cared for in exploring stories from his/her life, which are often muted or even temporarily forgotten.

Since each time they speak, the two interlocutors find themselves at a crossroads, each question asked will lead them to take one path rather than another.

The therapist does not seek to propose solutions, which would be equivalent to imposing his or her construction of the world on the person, but rather to support him or her in this search, with the aim of empowering the person.

As Mori (2019, 2022) puts it, it's about reopening the possibility of being Narr-Actor.


Mori, S. (2019). Narrative therapy practices: Understanding and applying. De Boeck Supérieur.

Mori, S. (2022). A new research "voice" in family therapy or how to become a "NarrActor" again? Introducing the "NarrActor" concept. Cahiers critiques de thérapie familiale et de pratiques de réseaux, 69, 83-92.

Vérilhac, C. (2022). La petite bibliothèque de l'Approche narrative: Sources, racines et ressources pour l'accompagnement. InterEditions.

White, M. (2009). Chapter 1-Externalizing conversations. In Cartes des pratiques narratives (Le Germe). Satas.


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