The Power of a Story: Narrative Therapy Approach to Addiction Treatment


Written By: Molly Groo

Molly is Lighthouse Recovery Institute’s Case Manager and Vocational Services. She has a Bachelor’s in International Relations, is a Certified Addiction Counselor, and it’s currently working towards her Master’s in Social Work. Molly’s experience allows her to provide expert knowledge about solution-based methods to help people in recovery maintain long-term sobriety.

Published on Feb 23, 2020 | Personal Recovery Experiences

How Stories Help Us Heal

narrative therapy approach (1)

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 the Narrative Therapy Approach?

Michael White and David Epston developed narrative therapy in the 1980s. Generally, the idea is that problems do not define people. 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. The core idea is that people often view their lives as a “story.” In this story, individuals can see themselves as defined by their problems.

Also, they may struggle to consider other points of view. As a result, they can become “stuck.” 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

Narrative therapy uses many different methods. Some of these techniques include:

Telling your story in your own words: You may start with this as a way to pick out belief systems you wish to shift.

Externalization: Generally, this means separating yourself from your problem. For example, narrative therapy can help someone replace “I am an anxious mess” with “I cope with an anxiety disorder.”

Deconstruction: Usually, this is a method of finding the root of the problem. For example, you may feel that “no one ever listens” to your thoughts. The narrative therapy approach would help identify something more specific. For example, “I feel neglected by my spouse when they don’t answer my texts.” The solution is much easier when you know the real problem!

These are just a few techniques. Other narrative therapy techniques include journaling, using art, and “the tree of life.”

How Can Narrative Therapy Help With Addiction?

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.

Types Of Therapy In Drug Rehab

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). So, if you’re looking for comprehensive care tailored to your needs, give us a call. It’s never too late to change the story of your life.

Cite This Article
Molly Groo. "The Power of a Story: Narrative Therapy Approach to Addiction Treatment." Lighthouse Recovery Institute., Published on Feb 23, 2020,


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