Resource 9 - How to write therapeutic narratives in writing
by Dr Jim Byrne, Updated 20th September 2013
(c) Jim Byrne, 2010-2013
Hello and welcome to this highly valued resource page on the
theory and practice of writing therapeutic narratives. I began this page by conducting a reasonably extensive literature
review on a broad range of approaches to writing therapy. I then rewrote my original paper as a book chapter, and then
added some additional resources to construct this web page.
are various forms of Narrative Therapy, and practitioners within different schools of counselling and therapy may use
a narrative approach. So a narrative therapy session could be cognitive, psychodynamic, or social constructionist in
nature. What makes a therapy session 'Narrative' is the decision of the counsellor or therapist to focus on the 'story'
of the client's life, rather than explore the 'objective facts' of their lives. When counselling and therapy are based
on the idea that the client lives inside a socially-shaped story, and their way of helping the client involves exploring
the possibility of 'rewriting that story', then Narrative Therapy is in progress.
Socialization and enculturation are problems for humans. We are born into families within communities, and those groups
speak a language and promote a discourse, or conversation, about the nature of life, and our place and role in that world.
We are thus dominated from childhood by narratives that are not our own, in the sense of being consciously chosen or designed
by us, individually, to promote our own interests.
This situation has both strengths and weaknesses, or good and bad
aspects. The strength or goodness of this situation is that this is how we develop and disseminate an agreed social
morality, which is essential for the wellbeing of the family and community. The weakness or badness of this situation
is that racist, sexist and classist elements are normally built into those stories which we imbibe with our mother's milk.
Thus the possibilities for the development of our potential are normally constrained by the social status accorded to us in
the story into which we are enrolled in early childhood.
Furthermore, we run the risk of buying into later stories,
from subcultures, and elements of the mass media, which will further oppress and distort us.
We are colonized by our
mothers at birth, and develop our sense of self out of our dialectical interactions with her, and with our fathers; and later
with siblings, peers, neighbours, other relatives, etc. We create mental maps, or schemas and stories, about our cumulative,
interpretative social experiences. This process is unavoidable - it could not be otherwise - but the details of the
stories we imbibe and create may often need to be reviewed when we are older, to see if we can develop more self-helping stories
to guide our lives.
We are story tellers in a sea of stories, as fish are aquatic beings in a sea of water. The
fish does not see the water and cannot swim beyond the limits of the body of water in which they swim; just as the human being
does not see the sea of language in which we are immersed, and also cannot ‘swim' beyond our linguistic stories, schemas,
scripts, frames, etc.
Some of the narratives we live induce misery and mental suffering, and some are healing and therapeutic.
Individuals may need to explore and resolve many issues from the past, and this can be done in the form of spoken narratives
with a therapist, or written narratives as ‘homework activity' outside of counselling sessions, or even as self-directed
There is a range of options for the structure of therapeutic writing activities, which are explored
in this resource pack. ...
About this resource pack...
is a 32-page resource of some 12,000 words. It is a relatively complete review of the literature of both the scientific
and liberal humanist schools of thought on the writing of therapeutic narratives. Section headings include: Introductory
comment; Summary; Introduction proper; The problem; What is writing therapy? Is writing therapy effective? Who should use
writing therapy? How should an individual guide their own therapeutic writing? Key learning points; References.
process, I outline in detail how to structure writing therapy sessions, for youself or for clients of yours.