The Role of the Therapist in Narrative Therapy

When I started my counselling degree, I immediately noticed in other students a fairly strong current of those who were dismissive of a “medical model” in therapy. As I thought further on this, I realised that this is why – as much as I loved the topic – I decided not to study psychology as an undergraduate. The idea of people being “well” or “ill” didn’t seem to fit with experience. I had never met anyone I thought was well – we are all on a continuum in a variety of areas related to mental processes. Also, the idea of a therapist being an expert and uninterested observer or helper seemed absurd. Add to this considerations of therapy being used to promote dominant cultural themes (e.g. what was the sexual “norm”, with homosexually being treated as an illness back in the 20th Century) and there was no way I could buy into the dominant views of psychology generally and counselling and therapeutic interventions, specifically.

Along came Narrative Therapy. I was studying my counselling degree and trying to figure out where my views and desire to serve others fit into therapeutic models. I had little interest in brief therapy (for example), where people were patched up just enough to go back onto the assembly line to keep the capitalist machine running. There were so many forms of this, where “efficacy” was monitored to get funding from insurance and government. All of this seemed little different from the medical model I had avoided as an undergraduate.

In Narrative Therapy, the role of the therapist is understood as not being separate from power structures and rather than the therapist being an expert, the client is the expert in his or her own life. The therapist does not deceive him or herself into imagining that power does not exist in the relationship. Solutions are as individual as the persons presenting for therapy. One of the images for this relationship in Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends (written by Narrative Therapy founders, Michael White and David Epston) is of the therapist as walking behind the client, allowing the client to dictate direction and not blocking the client’s view of the road ahead.

The therapist has power – power which comes from knowledge, power which comes from social position, power which is given by the client. The therapist models good behaviour and part of this modelling is to show the client that he or she is the author of their own narratives. The therapist helps the client to create stories that create the person going forward.