What is narrative couples therapy, and how could it help you and your partner?
Narrative couples therapy is a therapeutic approach that supports people in developing expertise in their own lives. It emphasises stories that you build and bring forward with you in life, and can give meaning to experiences and interactions to provide perspective on your image of yourself and the world. Multiple stories can be carried at once, relating to things like abilities, work, relationships and self-esteem.
The approach was developed in the 1980s by Michael White and David Epston to treat a range of mental health and relationship issues. Narrative therapy is empowering and offers counselling that doesn’t assign blame and is non-pathological.
In this guide:
Read what is involved in narrative couples therapy.
Read the key aims of the narrative couples therapy technique.
Find out what issues are commonly addressed in narrative couples therapy.
Read what types of tasks may be recommended by a narrative couples therapist.
Find out what the British CBT & Counselling Service can offer.
What is narrative couples therapy, and what does it consist of?
There are various methods and exercises when it comes to the narrative couples therapy technique. They are all aimed at helping couples heal and move on from a problematic story. The most common methods include:
Building your narrative
The narrative therapist helps the clients to piece together their own narratives. This enables the individuals to have a voice and explore their life events and the meanings attached to them. As this story comes together, the individual becomes an observer to it and takes an outside perspective with the therapist. This enables them to identify everything that is dominant and problematic.
By putting together the story of your life, you can observe yourself in a way you might never have done before. This puts a little distance between the person and their problems, and we call this externalisation. This distance helps people focus better on changing unwelcome behaviours.
This is a method for helping develop clarity in people’s stories. Sometimes, a problematic story feels like it has been there forever, and people make generalised statements that confuse the truth of their own story. A narrative therapist will work collaboratively with the couple to deconstruct their story into small parts, helping clarify the problems and make them easier to approach.
Read our guide to couples therapy for dealing with the aftermath of an affair here.
When a story feels concrete and unchanging, the concept of alternative stories seems impossible. People can become trapped in their story, causing it to influence other areas of their lives, such as:
A narrative therapist can help people widen their perspective by considering alternative stories to face the problems head-on.
Contact us to find out how we can assist you in working through your relationship issues.
What are the aims of narrative couples therapy?
Narrative therapy’s main goal is to enable people to see themselves as separate from their problems. Individuals are the experts regarding their own life, and there are values and skills to uncover to determine who they are. There are several key principles to narrative therapy that are beneficial to the couple:
- Non-blaming: no blame is placed on either partner. Instead, the couple works together with the therapist to build their stories and they are encouraged to not assign blame. The focus is placed on identifying and changing unwanted/unhelpful stories about yourself and your partner.
- Respect: those participating in narrative relationship therapy are always treated with respect and supported for the courage it takes to face the challenges in their lives.
- Clients as experts: the narrative therapist is not an advice-giving authority, but a collaborative partner in the process of growth and healing. The couple knows themselves and their relationships, so the therapist helps them explore to find opportunities for change in their narratives.
What issues and aspects of a relationship can be improved by narrative couples therapy?
Narrative therapy is a relatively new approach to treatment, but it has been shown to help with a variety of issues, including:
Are you looking for couples therapy to improve communication? Read our full guide to couples therapy for communication here.
Whether the couple is being overwhelmed by negative experiences, thoughts or emotions, or the individuals are suffering from personal issues, narrative couples therapy can be helpful. It allows both partners to find their voice and use it constructively, becoming experts in their own lives and their relationship.
Neither partner will ever be given labels, nor will they be left feeling powerless in their circumstances. The new perspectives will be framed in a way that reflects the couple’s goals and values, and the therapy can also be useful for individuals and even family therapy.
What tasks might be recommended by your therapist?
The therapist will likely set you tasks, which can be a vital element of couples therapy. “Homework” might include considering one another’s good qualities and reflecting on what caused mutual attraction or doing something that you both enjoy. It could also involve trying to empathise with your partner during an argument or talking about your experiences growing up.
How effective is narrative couples’ therapy?
Narrative therapy challenges the stories that dominate and cause problems in couples attempting to live their best lives together. In narrative therapy, couples will find alternative stories, broaden their perspective on themselves and their relationship, challenge unhealthy beliefs and open their minds to a healthier, more accurate story.
The goal is not to change the couple, but to help both partners become experts in themselves and their relationship. Research has shown that married women have experienced improved marital satisfaction after narrative couples’ therapy.
How do you prepare for your first therapy session?
You will need to think about your goals. Therapists will usually touch on the following early on:
- What relationship problems have brought you here?
- What are your goals with counselling?
- What obstacles can you see to achieving these goals?
- Do you have any concerns about couples counselling?
The initial couples counselling session may be followed by each partner meeting the therapist individually to help provide a better understanding of the relationship. They will likely ask questions about the key issues you each have with the relationship. The therapist will always assess which method may be ideal for you before continuing with therapy, and narrative couples therapy will only be offered if the therapist feels this method will be effective.
Read our full guide to preparing for your first couples therapy session here.
How can British CBT & Counselling help?
We offer a variety of therapies for couples, and our therapists will provide you with the most suitable therapy technique for you. If you would like to learn more about how you can get started, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
British CBT’s experienced psychologists, psychotherapists and therapists have experience dealing with countless different relationship issues, and will be able to suggest the best approach for you. Our psychologists have spent between seven and nine years training to enable people to overcome their emotional difficulties, and many hold senior positions in the NHS. At British CBT & Counselling, we offer online therapy to allow more flexibility and help you find time for therapy in your busy schedule.
We provide a sensitive and compassionate service at our to support couples in finding a way to move forward with their lives. We also provide online therapy services to allow for more flexibility and help you find time for therapy in your busy schedule.
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