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narrative therapy

Using Narrative Therapy for Addiction Treatment

Storytelling is a uniquely human practice. For thousands of years, people have communicated, shared information, and made sense of the world through stories. The narrative therapy approach draws on this practice. Narrative therapy can effectively treat addiction, trauma, relationship issues, and more. For addicts and alcoholics, it can help transform pain into growth.

What is Narrative Therapy?

This style of therapy focuses on helping people become experts in their lives. There’s an emphasis on the stories people develop throughout their lives. The idea of narrative therapy is that the meaning we give to events and interactions in our lives defines us and influences how we see ourselves and the world around us. 

Narrative therapy was developed in the 1980s by Michael White and David Epston. The idea is that problems do not define people. It’s based on the premise that people often view their lives as a story. In this story, individuals can see themselves as characterized by their problems.

White and Epston developed narrative therapy because they felt it was critically important for people not to label themselves or to see themselves as “broken” or “the problem,” or for them to feel powerless in their circumstances and behavior patterns.

Additionally, the narrative therapy approach has three major principles. These are: respect for the patient, avoiding blame, and viewing the patient as the expert on their own life.

Principles of Narrative Therapy

The core concept of narrative therapy revolves around the stories that we create within ourselves. Whether you realize this or not, we give meaning to our personal experience, and these meanings influence how we see everything around us. Narrative therapy focuses on these stories and looks at which ones are affecting our decision-making process, behaviors, and even our thoughts. 

The core principles of narrative therapy include:

  • Our reality is socially constructed – how we interact with others truly affects how we experience reality. Eventually, these social interactions and experiences become our known reality. 
  • Our reality is influenced by language – we interpret experiences through language. However, people can have different interpretations of the same event or interaction.
  • Narrative helps us organize our reality – when we create a narrative or a story, we can make sense of our experiences better. 
  • Objective reality doesn’t exist – in the end, people can have different realities of the same experience. What’s true for us may not be true for someone else. 

It’s important to note that age, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity all play a role in how we interpret events or interactions. Even our beliefs about these concepts shape how we might see ourselves in a specific story. Narrative therapy seeks the exploration of these stories as they affect our past, present, and future. 

For example, someone struggling with addiction may believe the story that they have been “doomed” to substance abuse because of trauma. Following this belief, they may think that they are wrong or “broken.” Narrative therapy can help to shift these beliefs.

Narrative Therapy Exercises

Therapists use a variety of techniques and exercises to help people move past a problematic story and start healing. Some of the most popular narrative therapy exercises include: 

Constructing Your Narrative: Here, the therapist helps people find their voice and explore the events in their lives, and the different meanings add to their stories. As they put together a story, they can often become an observer to their story and start to identify the problematic story. 

Externalization: This exercise helps create distance between patients and their problems. By creating this distance, you can better focus on changing unwanted behaviors instead of feeling you’re the problem. Externalization can help people notice they’re capable to heal. 

Deconstruction: This exercise helps people get clarity. When a problematic story has been around for a long time, it’s common to feel confused in your story. Breaking down the story into smaller parts it can help clarify the problem and make it more approachable and less intimidating. 

How Can Narrative Therapy Help in Addiction Treatment?

Addiction includes shame, loneliness, isolation, and negative core beliefs. Issues like trauma, grief, and family dysfunction can contribute to addiction. Narrative therapy is effective in addressing these issues because it empowers the patient to identify their strengths. Additionally, it can help with building self-esteem, connection, and identifying healthy ways to cope.

Patients develop new perspectives through this method. For example, when someone can see grief or trauma as one part of their story, rather than their identity or “their fault,” they can reduce shame.

As a result, they may reduce the desire to use drugs and alcohol. By developing a positive self-image, patients learn to honor themselves by behaving in line with their goals and values.

Other Types of Therapy

For patients dealing with addiction or mental health struggles, limited insight, and coping skills can be a barrier to progress. In these cases, several therapeutic methods offer a comprehensive form of care.

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy – This method, known as CBT, sometimes known as “the common-sense approach” by many clinicians. This method focuses on our thoughts and feelings, beliefs, and attitudes.
  • Motivational interviewing – Motivational interviewing is a form of therapy that focuses on identifying a client’s skills and values to help them develop self-esteem and internal drive.
  • Solution-focused therapy – This technique helps patients to identify their strengths about a problem they are experiencing by focusing on real-world, achievable steps they can take to manage a case.

Narrative therapy is a gentle, supportive approach. Since the treatment is unique, therapists often combine it with other methods. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we offer narrative therapy approaches along with many different models, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Getting Help 

Building a connection between a client and a therapist can be challenging, but the payoffs are well worth the work it takes to achieve. That’s the importance of choosing a treatment facility that offers comprehensive therapies that promote healing.

No matter what you’ve been through or what type of substance use disorder you struggle with, recovery is possible. Lighthouse Recovery Institute offers several approaches and all different kinds of therapies to address the real, underlying causes of the conditions. Look no further for help than right here. We are ready to be with you every step of the way toward recovery.

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