The Narrative Approach
What is a narrative?
The narrative approach views our life story as a creation, through which we can assemble the array of events from our personal lives into a story, thus bestowing them with meaning.
We all build our own life story each and every day; we connect various circumstantial events and give meaning to our existence in the world. The ability to connect the imaginary world with the real world enables us to influence our reality, and even to change it.
A central principle of the narrative approach, established by Michael White and David Epston (1999), is that people have freedom of choice regarding the meaning that they give their life events. Thus, for example, a person can give his life story an optimistic hue, just as easily as he can tell a story about failure. We have the ability to make a meaningful change in our lives by changing the manner in which we create our life story. Hence, language isn’t just a tool to describe reality, it also creates reality itself. The story is the means through which we build our self-identity. The story changes with time in relation to the circumstances of the time and space in which it is told and in relation to the interaction that is established during the creation of the story.
Narrative approach consultation
People who arrive for the consultation come with an abundance of stories and experiences. They tell some of the stories and keep some hidden. "The dominant story" is the one we tend to tell most often, and it is also referred to as "the problem-saturated story", since its basis holds the issue from which we wish to free ourselves, in order to get out of the place in which we’re stuck. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to conceptualize the story as a complete story, and we tend to bestow it with titles that reflect our perception - “My story is that I’m lost, I don’t know what I want, I don’t know what will make me happy;” “My story is a story of constant searching, without the ability of becoming satisfied.”
The choice to go to counseling is important in itself and represents the beginning of the process. Showing a readiness to create a new life story, expressing your desire and the yearning to fulfill it, and listening attentively to a variety of stories, all open a door to the next creation. All of the aspects that are not included in "the dominant story" are the foundation for "the alternative story - preferred story". According to the narrative approach, the key to creating a different story lies in all of those extraordinarily positive life events - the moments of shining, the moments of happiness, the flickers of light. Sometimes, the positive inner voices are concealed and are therefore not given a place within the story. In other cases, external voices had been so amplified that they become engraved within the identity and do not allow the space needed to create the preferred story. In most cases, those voices broadcast weakening and belittling - “You can’t;” “You have no option;” “What for, you have no chance of succeeding anyway.” When we create a preferred story, we summon new voices into our lives - “Everything is possible;” “If you just believe in yourself, you’ll be able to fulfill your desire.”
Once we listen to the new voices and to the preferred story we created, our encounter with the world becomes different. We walk around with a sense of ability, true choice, and faith that everything is possible. The creation process occurs through co-research, where you and I are partners in a journey, out of a belief that each and every person who goes to counseling holds the most knowledge of creating his life story and that I hold the expertise in leading the process by presenting questions that stem from curiosity.
The Own Your Story Method
The "Own Your Story" method is based on the journeys and stories of the people whom I have accompanied throughout their professional development, and published in "Own Your Story - Reinvent Yourself and Create a Personal and Professional Identity". Most of the people have a master’s degree or PhD and are in artistic professions, science, media, high-tech, accountancy, economics, law and business administration. The "Own Your Story" method combines the voice of the clinical knowledge accumulated during the counseling and guiding process with various theories and a selection of work techniques. The method is an innovative and integrative approach to working with people and is based on the narrative approach as well as other approaches I’ve adopted during my professional experience in various practices, some of which have been formed intuitively during real-time.
During the search for their professional identity, people shift through five different journeys towards discovery and development:
The journey from appeasing to desiring
This journey necessitates leaving the pattern of appeasing others and moving towards an in-depth clarification of our desires. During this journey, we learn to sound our own distinct voice and to express our desires, as opposed to listening to engraved sentences such as - “It was important for me to appease my parents, and then it was my romantic relationship that made me give up on myself.” We must learn to part from social expectations and from the desires of others to fulfill their own wishes through us. The way to do that is to listen to our heart, our inner voices, our fears, and the voices that have become blocked. We must remove our masks and look deep inside, without faking or without concealing. The need to be perfect, to be the best, and to be omnipotent, blocks us and creates a pattern of avoidance before any action or aspiration for fulfillment can even begin. This requires brave observation stemming from sincere attentiveness as well as connection and love for the things that truly matter to us, without resorting to criticism.
The journey from a predictable choice to a conscious choice
In this journey we learn to choose, examine, pause, and argue with various desires - “I thought everyone around me was the same, that they didn’t make a choice, and just happened into their job roles”; “It was a natural step to take, a job offer always came along, in an incredible coincidence, and that was good.”
The process of choosing is difficult and complex, since it necessitates an in-depth clarification of the question of choice in all other realms of life, beyond the work life. Practicing the process of choosing includes the acknowledgment that choosing one thing means giving up on other things, meaning that there’s always some price to pay.
A renewed process of choosing sometimes creates emotional turbulence due to the need to separate from everything familiar and known and to step out into new territories, but once a conscious choice is made, we feel satisfied and express ourselves in our work and life.
The journey from missing out to accomplishment
The experience of missing out during one’s career is accompanied by feelings of pain and sadness over the things that have never been completed or accomplished. It entails missing out on feelings that have never been expressed, such as happiness, enthusiasm, creativity, passion, and love - “I don’t know how I feel about this, I have become a robot at work, waiting for time to pass and for my life to pass.” This journey requires a great deal of emotional investment, both in clarifying what we have missed out on and in shifting towards a sense of accomplishment. We reinvent ourselves and take responsibility for our life story.
The journey necessitates changing patterns, identifying emotions, showing readiness to express them, connecting with our innermost desires and having the ability to express them fearlessly, while matching the pace of change to our inner strength and our environment’s ability to acknowledge and accept these changes.
The journey from dream to fulfillment
What is it that enables one person to dream, dare, and reach fulfillment, while others do not have experience or opportunity to dream? “I never dreamed, that is a privilege I do not have in my life. I worked hard, reached key influential roles, and now I’m asking what my dream is, what it is that I want to influence in the world.” In the journey towards the dream, we clarify what the dream is and what its fulfillment within reality will look like.
The journey requires separating from childhood labels, choosing a preferred and representative label, and clarifying the first steps towards building the dream and fulfilling it. The journey deals with creating the space and the permission to dream anew, to dare, to give your imagination free rein, and to look deep down inside and know what the next dream is and how to fulfill it.
The journey from survival leadership to creative leadership
People who have leading and influential roles sometimes feel like they are in survival mode. They become interested in this journey during a time of crisis. The question is, if they are willing to take responsibility for themselves and choose new patterns for their personal, leadership, and management styles. Are they prepared to create a new professional story in which they fulfill their personal and organizational vision?
The journey re-examines the personal vision and its suitability to the organization’s needs. Is it right for a leader to give up control and shift to decentralized management? Is it right for someone to leave the organization without seeing it as an escape story, but rather as a story of coping, which allows him to move to a different leading role out of belief in his powers and abilities?
These journeys enable us to encounter the various layers of the story, re-experience the untold stories’ powers, and choose the preferred story, where one is the hero of his own story. This experience is exciting each and every time, for once we are connected to ourselves, to our identity, and to the values that are important to us, and find the moments of joy within them, then with every choice that we make, we’ll have a sense of meaningfulness and of fulfilling our destiny.