Narrative Therapy: An Academic Appraisal

Narrative therapy is a therapeutic approach that looks at a process of healing and development from the standpoint of a collection of stories and beliefs clients hold about themselves. Jones and Buttman contend that guidelines are necessary to apply in considering the theories use in psychotherapy and counseling (1991). This paper will consider Narrative therapy through the lens of Jones and Buttman’s (1991) Comprehensive Christian Appraisal.

Narrative therapy’s view of human nature and personality takes a philosophically existential approach. Clients create meaning from their personal experiences based upon the perception of dominant culture as manifested through the stories they are told about who they are or through the stories they learn to tell about themselves (Yarhouse, 2008; Corey, 2013). Clients do not live in a vacuum; they are apart of and partially formed by their social/cultural context (Yarhouse, 2013). Nevertheless, clients are also responsible for addressing issues that arise in their narratives. The model of abnormality regards clients as internalizing a negative or disempowering perception of the external and interpersonal world (Yarhouse, 2008). Such narratives are typified of times when interpretations rely on the acceptance of labels and judgments in which clients are not able to separate themselves from their problems (Yarhouse, 2008).

Narrative therapy is resistant to developing a model of health as health looks different to different people in different contexts (Yarhouse, 2008). However, there are certain indicators for therapists to consider. A change in language used to describe narratives is equivocal to a change of experience. Having narratives in which clients appear separate from their problems suggests that clients feel empowered in a way they did not before. This empowerment will impact them in the past, present, and future regarding their decisions and relationships (Yarhouse, 2008, Corey 2013).

The role of therapists is to facilitate clients in their therapeutic process and work collaboratively with clients to develop better stories (preferred narratives). Therapists do not assume to know more than clients about their lives. They create space for clients in their expertise in their own lives (Blanton, 2005). All the same, the therapeutic process can be heavily dependent on the therapists attitudes and perspectives (Corey, 2013). Therapists are engaged in double listening in which they focus on separating the client from their problem as they listen and respond (Corey, 2013). It is imperative that therapists remain non-judgmental as judgments cause clients to identify themselves with their problems. Narrative therapy even warns against subtle judgements—normalizing judgements—in regard to intelligence, mental health, or normal behavior (Corey, 2013).

The therapeutic approach is based on the idea that if clients can become aware of their stories they will be able to take ownership and make changes. Very much like existentialism, there are no specific techniques but concepts and protocols that can help but should not be heavily relied upon (Corey, 2013). If the approaches are looked at as specific techniques to abide by, they will likely bring about weak results. Questions create new experiences, help to unearth cultural assumptions apart of original narratives, and aid clients in recognizing how those assumptions impact them (Corey, 2013).

Deconstruction is a concept that helps the client consider the judgments of others in a different light. The idea is for the client to pass judgments on the judgments that have been made about them (Corey 2013). Another important concept is Externalization where therapists ask questions and make comments that help clients see themselves as separate from their problem. Therapists can then focus on questions that help clients identify how they have power over their problems and how this results in further elaboration of their preferred identity stories (Corey, 2013). Narrative therapy can be useful in other cultures apart from a western context. Keeping in mind that some cultures are very community-oriented, Narrative therapy has an existential underpinning which is historically a western conceptualization of independence (Yarhouse, 2008). In this way, in assisting clients with their narratives, they run the risk of becoming too independent within the context of their culture. However, Narrative therapy has built into it a concern for identifying the client within the confines of their community and addressing externalized opposition they may face (Corey 2013). Clients are encouraged to adjust their narratives with the help of their community. As the narrative is being discussed and shaped, social, cultural, political and relational problems are identified that hinder the client. Therapists are also aware of identifying concerns around gender, ethnicity, race disabilities, sexual orientation, social class, spirituality, and religion as they arise as therapeutic issues (Corey, 2013).

Although this therapy may not be for every therapist or client, because it is not an explicitly Christian therapy or because of the needs of the client, it holds up well in consideration of Jones and Buttman’s (1991) Comprehensive Christian Appraisal. Clients can be sure that if therapists use this technique, they will be challenged to address the judgments that their cultural context has placed on them.


Blanton, P. G. (2005). How to Talk to Christian Clients About Their Spiritual Lives: Insights From

Postmodern Family Therapy. Pastoral Psychology, 54(2), 93–101. https://doi-

Corey, G. (2012). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. Boston, MA: Cengage


Jones, S.L., & Buttman, R.E. (1991). Modern Psychotherapies: A comprehensive Christian

appraisal. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Kwok, W. (2016). Narrative Therapy, Theology, and Relational Openness: Reconstructing the

Connection Between Postmodern Therapy and Traditional Theology. Journal of Psychology

& Theology, 44(3), 201–212.

Yarhouse, M. (2008). Narrative Sexual Identity Therapy. American Journal of Family Therapy,

36(3), 196–210. 10.1080/01926180701236498

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