Written or Narrative Therapy is a collaborative approach to therapy based on the premise that teens are the experts on their own lives. Instead of viewing struggles as a negative part of the teens themselves, this perspective views problems as separate from the teens and furthermore, teaches that the teens have the strength, skill, ability, belief, and insight necessary in order to change their relationship to the problems. By viewing the problems and struggles as separate from the teens, this perspective helps to encourage teens to evaluate the broader context of their lives and, in a sense, change the “narrative” of their lives through this process.
Essentially, teen written/narrative therapy views the habits, thought patterns, belief systems, and actions in teens’ lives as the “story” at work, which the teens tell both themselves and others. So the first step is first recognizing the stories at work in teens’ lives, which they have become accustomed to telling. The stories are made up of events, similar or repeated themes, and the plot that continues to emerge over time, with certain characters, aspects that are left out or included. The story also extends to include the teens’ understanding of the story, which gradually leads to their understanding of both the past and the future. The stories the teens tell are the way they understand their lives, and thus, make up their identities. What can happen, however, is that, especially for teens who are struggling with Mental Health or Substance Abuse Disorders, certain thought patterns and beliefs they think are true, and which are becoming powerful forces within their stories, might actually be negative habitual thought patterns and false belief systems. Over time, such negative and false thoughts can begin to negatively shape the story the teens are telling, and furthermore, the way they understand themselves. This, in turn, causes teens to become limited by what they believe to be true about their lives, including what they’ve already been through, and what they’ll continue to go through, in the future.
A therapist’s role in teen Written/Narrative Therapy is to help listen and evaluate the story the teens are telling, in order to recognize ways in which false belief systems or negative thought patterns might be at work, as well as recognizing strengths in the teens that have the potential to overcome the problems at work in the story. Essentially, the goal is to help empower the teens to understand that they are the authors of their own stories while simultaneously equipping them to positively change the story they’re living. Beyond this, therapists also work with teens to help them uncover what hopes, dreams, and desires they have, which may or may not be prominent yet in their story. By working together to closely study how the teens view their identities now and then assist them in building and shaping those identities into something more true, very powerful transformation can take place.
At Paradigm we implement writing sessions as part of our teen written/narrative therapy treatment because we find that the writing process is invaluable in helping teens to sort out what their story is. What we find is that, within this process of helping teens to figure out what story they’re telling about themselves, and therefore how they see themselves, sometimes teens feel much more free and open to write this down before they talk about it. Especially for more introverted teens and/or teens struggling with Depression or effects following a traumatic event, it can be difficult for them to sort their thoughts and understand what they’re feeling, no less share that openly with a therapist. Our guided writing exercises involve a number of different ways for teens to use the act of writing and processing as a way to access their thoughts and feelings. Very often, it’s not until teens are urged to write down a particular response or expression that they actually discover what they’re feeling, as if forming their experience into words has an ability to uncover layers of resistance and defense mechanisms that may be in place. Through writing, teens might very well not only gain clarity on some of the struggles at work in their lives, but also gain a sense of encouragement and empowerment, from this understanding.
We find that using teen written/narrative therapy together has a wonderfully synergistic effect, allowing both to complement each other very nicely. By not only encouraging teens to evaluate their lives as stories but having them write about it as such, teens are forced to engage in the process of their Narrative Therapy through the work of the Writing Therapy. With the discoveries they make through writing, teens are then better able to speak about how they understand their lives and themselves, within their Narrative Therapy. And both of these acts helps contribute to teens’ overall ability to study and express themselves, which contributes greatly to their treatment and recovery as a whole.