Unique Outcomes

One of the central tenets of Narrative Therapy is that we focus on events, stories and philosophies (used in the widest sense) to create meaning. This meaning builds up into dominant narratives that we tell ourselves – further cementing them in our own lives and in the lives of those over whom we have influence (power). These dominant narratives only tell part of the story, however, and often a quite skewed one.

Although life is rich in lived experience, we give meaning to very little of this experience. The aspects of lived experience that are rendered meaningful are those that we take into the known and familiar storylines of our lives; these aspects are highly selected. The myriad experiences of daily life mostly pass like a blip across the screen of our consciousness and into a historical vacuum. Many of these experiences are “out of phase” with the plots or themes of the dominant stories of our lives and thus are not registered or given meaning to. However, these out-of-phase experiences can be potentially significant, and in favourable circumstances they can be constituted as “unique outcomes” or “exceptions”. The identification of such out-of-phase aspects of lived experience can provide a point of entry for the development of alternative storylines of people’s lives. (p 219)

Within Narrative Therapy, the person seeking therapy discusses the stories of their life. The therapist listens to these stories, looking for events, thoughts and other things that might suggest other possible stories that aren’t in agreement with these “problem-saturated” dominant narratives (those narratives for which counselling was sought). Once alternate narratives are identified, the client and therapist consider these stories in greater detail – eventually hoping to develop these alternate narratives into dominant stories preferred by the client.

Michael White, in Maps of Narrative Practice, notes that these efforts to actively consider their own narratives are sometimes the first time in clients’ lives in which they are overtly asked to consider and create their stories.

Conversations that highlight unique outcomes support a decentered therapist participation, which privileges the authorship of the people seeking consultation. These conversations assist people in rendering specific out-of-phase aspects of their experience significant; they support people in the characterization of, and in reflecting on, these aspects of their experience. This is very often novel for people who consult therapists, as these people often have been simply subject to the meanings given and the positions taken by others on the development of their lives. Among other things, conversations that highlight unique outcomes provide people with the opportunity to give voice to intentions for their own lives and to develop a stronger familiarity with what they accord value to in life. This provides them with a springboard for action in addressing their problems, predicaments and dilemmas. (p 220)

Within this context of dominant narratives and unique outcomes, the client begins to consider other possible stories for life and learns to give these more personally desirable stories power in the client’s life.

[White, M. (2007). Maps of narrative practice. W W Norton & Co.]