A Christian Counselor Explains Narrative Therapy, Part 2: How Can It Help?
Narrative Therapy is a “brand” of psychological counseling that has developed in the last decade and that is sometimes described as “Telling Your Story.” In my previous article, I introduced Narrative Therapy and described some of what a counselor using this approach does with a client. In this article, I look at how Narrative Therapy fits in with the God’s Grand Story.
Seeing Your Life in the Context of God’s Grand Story
Let us consider the similarities between the Narrative Therapy approach that sees one’s life problems in the context of a personal story, and the Christian worldview that sees the world’s story from the perspective of God’s Grand Story. As Christians, we believe that our lives are lived within the overarching story of God’s redemption. Both the world in general, and the individual person the particular, are redeemed from sin and failure. God intervenes in each life, saving, directing and preserving it. He seeks to bring us back – not to our original state of “Garden of Eden” innocence, but he seeks to re-make us as his beloved and redeemed children. Knowing that is our new role in the story should arouse awe and excitement. In short, we now matter, and we matter a lot.
A question most people ask at some point in their lives is: “What is this all about anyway?” “Is there any meaning to life?” Seeing one’s life as part of the Grand Story answers these questions. This perspective gives each person meaning in their life, it gives them a place in the story and a role to play in it. It makes their decisions and actions meaningful and real. Such an approach encourages and restores the agency of the client, reinforcing the belief that one’s actions can and do matter and that they can indeed bring about change.
Re-claiming Agency in Your Life
Having agency is crucial for each person. In order to be a whole person, it is essential to see oneself as someone who can determine what to do, how to respond to expected and unexpected events, and be able to decide what direction to take. Although our ability to make decisions is limited, and we will all die eventually, we can nevertheless still make real decisions in our lives.
Re-claiming one’s agency moves a person out of a state of helplessness as they realize that they no longer need to see events that they feared as inevitable. If a woman who has been abused and dumped by a brutal man begins to heal, she is reclaiming agency. She is finding meaning as a new person, despite the damage done to her life. She does not need to inevitably fall into abusive relationships again.
You Are Not a Prisoner of Your Past
Neither Narrative Therapy nor the Grand Story of God sees events as inevitable. Failure does not have to produce more failure, and a person is not a prisoner of their past. In the language of Narrative Therapy, this means that we have real agency. Our decisions matter because we matter, and we have the ability to determine and make decisions about aspects of our lives.
You Can Co-Author Your Life with God
An interesting aspect of this approach is that the client becomes like a consultant, or specialist. They are the expert on their life. The counselor guides much of the process, but it is the client who knows the material inside and out, since it is their life they are handling. In a Christian setting, the client is encouraged to become the co-author with God of the future of their life. The counselor asks guiding questions, reveals insights, calls the client to more congruence or integrity in their actions and attitudes, and in general encourages the client in the direction they have chosen.
A Moment of Opportunity
Finally, if we see our life stories within God’s Grand Story, this perspective can change our view of time. We find two concepts of time in the Bible. Chronos is the idea of a constant, unchanging, passage of time, in an almost humdrum manner. It suggests rolling waves of time and events that seem to be inevitable. But we also find the word kairos which refers to a specific time. Christ came at the perfect moment, at the appointed time, the exact moment in history when all conditions were right. Kairos describes a moment of change, an extraordinary thing that happens in the middle of ordinary life. In the incarnation, Jesus broke into human history as a baby. His life, death and resurrection are the means by which God unshackles mankind from the inevitable results of all sin. This was a kairos moment whereby God interrupted the course of history.
In a similar way, we can have kairos moments in our individual lives when a truth or insight breaks through and changes everything. These kairos moments interrupt the unchangeable “normal” of everyday life, for in them God breaks into our routine and set ways, changing us forever. When this happens, we can embrace this change and continue to live it out in the rest of life. This is what we mean by New Life.
Christian Counseling Can Help You Reclaim Power over Your Life
As Christians we are invited to become the co-authors of our lives with God. If you are struggling with lack of meaning in your life, or feel as if you have become stuck in your life journey, you may want to consider Christian counseling. A Christian counselor who has been trained in Narrative Therapy can journey with you as you tell your story, helping you to see the significance of your life and to take ownership of it.