Narrative Therapy in an Educational Setting

The Art of Storytelling: applying Narrative Therapy in an educational setting

Is the story telling or is the story telling? The nuance of language has the ability to steer the path of our understanding in the most subtle yet impactful way. With our nation’s current trends, it appears the old adage of “choose your words wisely” has never rang more true.

Our words are being scrutinized more than ever. However, an invitation to reflect on language and the narrative we tell is not a precautionary tale of how to avoid getting canceled; nor does it hold a self-serving agenda. The idea of the story we tell is a component of a therapeutic approach developed by Michael White and David Epston. The duo developed Narrative Therapy in the 1980s. A major core of their approach was the ability to separate the person from their problematic/destructive behavior.

The Heart of Narrative Therapy

The Heart of Narrative Therapy also serves as a way to foster success for the students with whom we serve. As therapists, educators, administrators, school staff, parents, etc. Taking on key components of this approach can change the story for all our students.

5 Key Principles and Techniques

When it comes to change here are key principles and techniques to consider:

1. The student is the expert of their story. This principle helps a student find their voice and purpose in their own experience.

2. Externalization of the problem allows the student to approach solutions in a manageable capacity. Being able to address/solve a behavior is more realistic than change an entire person’s characteristic/personality. (I am stupid vs. I need to study more or They are an angry person vs. They can find healthier coping skills)

3. Reality is influenced by language. How we speak to and of our students can determine how they fit into their own story. Are the words we share in the student’s story helpful or hurtful to their overall success?

4. To construct a story you must first deconstruct the problem. We often inflate our problems to the point of making a solution unscalable. Breaking down the problem into specific issues allows us to understand the core of the problem. Instead of blaming the teacher or the parent, the student expresses that they’ve felt a need for support/help and are stuck in asking.

5. Re-author relationships and resilience. The ultimate plan for Narrative therapy can mirror our wishes for the students in our classrooms. No matter the problem or struggle, we must speak to the potential of their abilities and to their existing supports.

In Closing

You do not need to be a therapist to provide a therapeutic experience. Your role in your student’s success can be strengthened through the language you use. A small shift in the words you deliver may yield a satisfying plot twist. So, for the readers of this post, keep going. Your words have a healing component and your students already have victory and success determined. Help them write the best narrative they can.

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