Narrative therapy is a form of counseling that views people as the experts in their own lives. It helps people externalize their problems by separating their identity from the issues they are dealing with.

Narrative therapists work collaboratively with clients to help them reshape and retell the stories of their lives. This therapeutic approach can be very helpful when working through complex issues like grief and loss.

Using narrative therapy for grief counseling involves carefully listening as someone tells the story of their loved one’s death and the resulting grief they feel.

The therapist then guides the grieving individual to find new perspectives, meanings, and even hope as they re-author their personal narrative. By externalizing grief as something outside oneself, people can slowly rebuild and reconnect even after devastating loss.

Understanding Core Concepts of Narrative Therapy

Narrative therapy was first developed starting in the 1980s by Michael White and David Epston in Australia and New Zealand.

The main goal is to help people externalize the problem they are facing and separate their identity from the issue. Some core ideas include:

  • Focuses on people’s dominant stories that may limit their lives
  • Views people as the experts in their own lives
  • Problems are externalized and separated from people’s identities
  • Therapeutic approach is collaborative between counselor and client
  • Seeks to uncover unique outcomes that don’t fit within dominant narratives

By externalizing issues like grief, narrative therapists empower clients and allow them to almost step outside themselves and observe how grief has influenced their lives. This observation then allows people to begin rewriting their stories without grief being a central character.

Why Use Narrative Therapy for Grieving

 

Grief is a normal, but extremely painful human response to loss. Every person’s experience with loss and bereavement is unique and deeply personal. Therefore, counseling approaches must meet grieving individuals where they are at and help guide them through the confusing emotions.

Some reasons narrative therapy is effective when working with grief include:

  • It helps people give voice to and unpack their distinct stories
  • Creates space for people to find new meanings and perspectives
  • Externalizes grief from the person’s core identity
  • Focuses on re-authoring personal narratives
  • Gives the griever more control over how loss continues impacting their life

By supporting people as they move towards preferred narratives, narrative grief therapy provides a customizable approach for addressing grief symptoms like despair, loneliness, and anger.

depressed man sitting in an office wearing blue shirt looking down face full of grief using narrative therapy for loss and grief

Main Techniques Used in Narrative Grief Counseling

Narrative therapists utilize several key techniques as they deconstruct dominant narratives and give clients the space to re-author their stories. Common techniques include:

Externalizing Conversations

  • Helps clients view grief as the problem, not themselves
  • Creates space between the person and grief itself
  • Opens up new therapeutic possibilities

Mapping the Influence of Grief

  • Explores ways grief influences thoughts, relationships, behaviors
  • Traces grief narrative and effects over time
  • Client feels heard and understood

Identifying Unique Outcomes

  • Uncovers times when grief wasn’t all-consuming
  • Reveals client strengths and resiliency
  • Alternative stories emerge outside problem narrative

By deconstructing the dominant narrative upending a griever’s life, people begin to see possibilities for rewriting their stories with preferred outcomes.

a couple in therapy using narrative therapy for loss

Narrative Therapy for the Stages of Grief

A big part of grief counseling involves providing validation and support as clients move through common stages like denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Narrative therapy offers the right combination of structure and flexibility to meet grievers wherever they’re at in the messy, nonlinear grieving process.

Here’s how narrative techniques can help at different stages:

Denial

  • Helping clients externalize grief and view it as the problem
  • Increased self-awareness to move out of protective denial

Anger

  • Validating the anger without judgment
  • Safely containing and channeling the anger

Bargaining

  • Exploring meaning made from loss
  • Making sense of death’s unfairness

Depression

  • Separating grief from client’s identity
  • Focusing on strengths and resiliency
  • Combating depressive rumination

Acceptance

  • Facilitating continuing bonds with the deceased
  • Revisiting old assumptions and dominant narratives
  • Revising personal narratives with new insights

This unique flexibility helps grievers break out of stage-based thinking by meeting them where they are today.

Importance of Self-Care and Moving Forward

A critical part of grief counseling involves helping clients develop sustainable self-care practices and shift focus towards moving forward again. Common topics include:

Rebuilding Support Systems

  • Family, friendships, community groups
  • Establishing grief support groups

Continuing Bonds with the Deceased

  • Maintaining an inner representation
  • Ongoing sense of connection

Self-Care Fundamentals

  • Sleep, nutrition, physical activity
  • Stress management and boundaries
  • Professional mental health support

Building Hope for the Future

  • Reinvesting in relationships and passions
  • Establishing continuity with deceased
  • Aligning life with deceased’s values

As part of rewriting their narratives, clients ultimately write a new closing chapter on reconnecting with life and living meaningfully.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Narrative Grief Therapy

 

Here are answers to some common questions about using narrative techniques for grief counseling:

  • How many sessions are typically needed? There’s no set formula; it depends on the client’s unique situation and needs. Many resolve core issues in 10-20 sessions.

 

  • Can family members participate? Yes. Including family often provides missing pieces to the narrative and different perspectives.

 

  • What about narrative therapy for grieving children? The core techniques work very well. Therapists just adapt conversations to the child’s age and developmental stage.

 

  • Are psychiatric medications used along with therapy? It depends on the situation. Medications are sometimes cautiously used on a short-term basis in certain cases.

Conclusion: Rewriting Grief Narratives

In conclusion, narrative therapy offers grievers a unique way to share their deeply painful stories while also seeing possibilities for reconstruction.

By externalizing grief itself and separating it from one’s identity, people can slowly rewrite dominant narratives that initially seemed all-encompassing.

They can reconnect to personal strengths and continuity with lost loved ones through re-authoring their stories. With new insights, grievers develop preferred narratives inclusive of the loss story but focusing more on living life fully aligned with the deceased’s values.