What is Narrative Therapy?

One Story Prevails

Narrative Therapy believes that we have one dominant story that we tell ourselves. We look for references and perceive situations in a particular way to reinforce this one particular perspective. This dominant worldview is like a self-fulfilling prophecy about our life as a whole. If someone tells themselves that they are not attractive to women then if a cute girl walks up to him and flirts with him, he will just rationalize that she was nice or that she was put up to it as a dare. Conversely, if a girl rejects this guy or says he is not attractive then he will just tell himself, “I knew it!”

Deconstruction & Externalization of One’s Story

To deconstruct one’s dominant story-line is to understand its influence in your own life. You may not realize what dominant story you are telling yourself. The skill of deconstructing is used by Narrative Therapists to map out the “Problem Story’s” effect in your own life. Once that is done, an innovative technique is used to give the person more power in his story.

After you map out the dominant stories you tell yourself, then you can externalize those thoughts. Externalizing is the process of separating yourself from your thoughts. You do this by giving your thoughts and problem a name and by understanding what those thoughts want from you. This separation creates space from you and the problem. This added space gives you more power over your thoughts by realizing that you do not control them. After you have identified and named your problem then you can look for an alternative storyline.

Time to Find and Strengthen a New You

You now understand the influence that your thoughts have on your life. One of the creators of Narrative Therapy (David Epston) believed that problems are not always present 100% of the time. Narrative Therapy believes in finding these Unique Outcomes and Amplifying the hell out of them until they become the new dominant storyline. A unique outcome is simply an example of when the problem story was not prevalent in the person’s life. We will use our poor “ugly” friend from earlier. A therapist might ask him if there was a time in which he did notice that some girl liked him.

The therapist would then ask the person to elaborate on how he knew the girl liked him and what qualities the girl might have found attractive in him. This gets the guy to tell his own New story about how he is an attractive man. It is important for the person to tell the story themselves. This gives more weight and influence in shaping who they are. Below is an example of my friend Nick Cordova MFTI applying each of the four techniques to a problem that I experience in my life

Below are some examples of the techniques that I would use on myself for my problem (Zell).


  • What seems to be bothering you?
  • What kind of thoughts come up for you when you are upset?
  • Does your high value of your goals make you more or less upset when you don’t meet your goals?


  • What would you call that need for your goal achieval?
  • Is Zell a good or a bad thing?
  • What is Zell’s Ultimate goal for you?

Unique Outcome

  • Has there ever been a time when Zell hasn’t been with you?
  • What is going on when Zell isn’t in your life?
  • Are you ever happy not at a time when you’re not achieving your goals?


  • How are you able to not have Zell in your life?
  • What is it that allows you to be okay not going for your goals?
  • What would you call that happy state of being enough? (Thoughts, Feelings?)



Your life is the result of the story you believe about yourself

-Les Brown

Stephen Madigan – Narrative Therapy

Stephen Madigan - Narrative Therapy

Narrative Practice: Continuing the Conversations – Michael White

Narrative Practice: Continuing the Conversations by Michael White