Resource 9: Narrative Therapy & Writing Therapeutic Narratives

CENT is a cognitive-emotive form of narrative therapy, which can be applied in verbal, face to face or telephone formats.  It can also be applied as a form of writing therapy.  This page explores the link between narrative and writing therapy.

Resource 9 - How to write therapeutic narratives in writing therapy work

by Dr Jim Byrne, Updated 10th February 2015

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2010-2015




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.

There 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.



Jim-hols-10002.jpgSocialization 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 that they are not 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 during 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 (positively and helpfully) colonized by our mothers (or main carers) 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 narrative writing.  For example, the writing of your own autobiography can be very healing and self-developing, provided you have a rich body of distinctions which allow you to re-think and re-frame your personal, historical journey.

There is a range of options for the structure of therapeutic writing activities, which are explored in this resource pack.  ...


About this resource pack...

This 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.

In the process, I outline in detail how to structure writing therapy sessions, for youself or for clients of yours.


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