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Narrative Intervention as a Therapeutic Technique

May 26, 2022, 14:44 PM by User Not Found
Narrative storytelling can use the messages in the story to help people understand grief, excitement, identity, and more. Stories have been used across all cultures to help people deal with the realness of life.

Francesca Wojcik, B.A. '23 | May 26, 2022


Katie sucked in a breath as her brothers snapped the tattered blanket of the surprise in their rocky driveway. She squealed when she saw it. It was a bike. Her older brother, who towered over her, told her to come along.

“You can go with us now.” 

She could finally join them on their adventures in the endless frontier beyond their backyard. All she had to do was peddle her bike over the stream with the rickety wooden bridge, pass through the pine grove, and follow the path and she’d be there: part of their secret world. She had to learn how to ride her bike on bumpy rocks and tall grass and hope she found the path after the pine trees! 

Put yourself in this story. What feelings resonated with you? Who would you be? These are some of the questions that may be asked after a narrative therapeutic session. 

Narrative intervention is a therapeutic technique that uses storytelling to allow clients to identify themes such as skills and values in the stories. The idea is that people can find value in their own stories. Clients can connect and use the prompts to talk about what may be going on in their own lives. Narrative storytelling can use the messages in the story to help people understand grief, excitement, identity, and more. Stories have been used across all cultures to help people deal with the realness of life. Remember Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare? It’s a simple story told to young children to teach them that slow and steady wins the race. Another, The Iroquois Creation Story, tells how the world was created on the back of a turtle, and its messages include the importance of valuing what you have and judging people not by how they look but by their character. 

Narrative therapy allows clients to step inside the story and explore what the themes could mean to them. Noelany Pelc, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Marian University, and Roberto Swazo, Ph.D., professor of counseling at the University of Northern Iowa, recently wrote a book about Narrative Therapy called Narrative Therapy with Spanish Speakers, providing a deep dive into this concept. Dr. Pelc took the time to speak with me about the new publication.

Dr. Pelc and Dr. Swazo broke the book into sections, each outlining a different emotion or common experience. In one important segment, the authors include a story about grief and another about health, focusing on aging and changing health statuses. In the story, the main character looks at her hands and sees all the gifts they have given her over her lifetime; but her hands are no longer the hands of her youth. She realizes time moves faster and faster as she ages and must come to terms with the fact that she may no longer be able to do some of the things that used to mean so much to her—an emotional lesson that everyone faces eventually.  

This type of story can help a variety of individuals facing change and create a conversation to guide them in their aging journey. Counselors and therapists can use Narrative Therapy with Spanish Speakers to help run group counseling sessions, using these stories as conversation starters. It also comes with activities to allow for more in-depth learning experiences, like asking clients to draw what they felt when they heard a story. 

But what sets Narrative Therapy with Spanish Speakers apart from most intervention books is in its title—it was written for both English and Spanish speakers incorporating diverse characters, genders, ethnicities, and cultures.  

In a conversation with Dr. Pelc, she emphasized the importance of particular words and their meaning; how some words or phrases may mean something very different in other languages. As Spanish is her native language, she speaks from experience; she knows all too well how some words cannot be translated exactly from Spanish to English. Many words hold special or nuanced meanings in Spanish, and that distinction sometimes gets lost in the English translation. 

Just as Dr. Pelc stressed how the power of language allows a diverse group to connect within Narrative Therapy with Spanish Speakers, her love for words also shone brightly throughout our conversation. She even arranged for a few of her students to narrate the Spanish voice-overs for the book’s stories.  

A good story makes people reflect and wonder. The story about the little girl on her new bike is a simple one; however, looking deeper shows the struggles of many, of journeys over rocky terrain, rickety bridges, and sometimes even through a dark forest of trees. But there are people ready to help on that ride, and professor Pelc is one of them.

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