Narrative psychology is concerned with storytelling and how this is contextualised in everyday life. Narrative therapy can include the process of reframing this story in the light of exploring new awareness. However, this should not be confused with person-centred counselling, or with other methodologies that require ‘outcomes’ or measurement. To celebrate the publication of my book ‘Identity, Health and Women’ this week, which introduces a new qualitative methodology for identity construction, I have blogged below about owning our story.
The personal narrative is the story that we tell ourselves every day, without interference from external prompts. It is our inner voice. Interpersonal and societal aspects of the worlds are internalised into our conscious awareness and filtered by memory and what is left is included in this story. Therefore, the story is entirely owned by the person who narrates it, as it is their unique interpretation of the world.
It is, therefore, very difficult for another person to reflexively assist the narrator as it is very easy to bias this unique story, at which point it becomes the property of the world and subject to shared meaning, often leading the narrator to conform to what the interviewer requires and invalidating the narrative. Therefore, the aim of narrative therapy is to help the narrator to hold the story and to not let go of it, whilst reframing it in a more suitable context. This means that there must be no input of prescriptive, pre-defined ‘should’ suggestions or no requirement for evaluation outside the person’s own narrative. Their ownership of their story, therefore, is paramount, and the only viable outcome is that they still own their story, not that it has been evaluated in some way for some external reason. The only possible ‘outcome’ is the narrated story, verbatim.
Reflexivity is a matter not of reading a textbook or website, but a conscious process of practice by qualified people. Unfortunately, many unqualified people assume that they can get by with little knowledge and practice of psychology and attempt to bend the practice of narrative psychology into a more quantitative methodological practice; whilst they might find out ‘something’ and get paid for results that look, in status-driven and financial terms, successful, this serves only to leave the narrator with the deep loss of their own story. Unless this is bounded by respect and reflexivity, this leaves an deep insecurity in the narrator as the power of their personal narrative passes involuntarily to the interviewer and is filtered into the interviewer’s own ego.
The power of owning your own story lies at the bottom of consciousness, in the sense of self that reminds you that, somewhere, you are unique and special. To gather the story up and turn it into a measured quantity serves only the interviewer and their own ego, as it then becomes part of their own rationale and no longer the narrators uniqueness. Of course, quantitative analysis has it’s place if we are counting incidents or number of words used, for ‘results’ and ‘trends’ are big business and used correctly with objects are useful. But narratives are about meaning and about peoples experiences and emotions which cannot be quantified, for the narrative belongs individually to each person’s living, fluid context.
The celebration of owning your own story, and deciding where it, in it’s pure form, should be shared, is a gift from sentience, as it endows us with an individuality which, even if we conform and follow, deep inside we are constantly constructing and reconstructing an identity which is expressed through our personal script. Awareness of this ownership should be made clear and respected at the onset of any narrative therapy practice in order to empower the person. However, lip service to this is not enough and, as any narrative psychologist knows, working together with the narrator to design a mutually suitable outcome, away from quantification, is reflexively necessary to enable a balance of power and ownership. Taking the story and running with it, passing it to others to examine, objectify and count, removes this ownership and drains the power of the narrator to construct their own meaning.
It is my hope that my book and it’s contents will be used to help move away from the quantification of emotions, attitudes and experiences and towards a more abstract understanding of storytelling and how we can continue to own our stories in a world where professional hierarchy and numbered outcomes often mean more than respect for the basic human right of retaining your inner voice without the most personal and individual aspect of ourselves facing exploitation.