What is it?
Narrative therapy is a type of counselling which focuses on how people view themselves. It is based on the idea that people make stories or narratives about themselves to help define and understand themselves and their life. With the help of a therapist, people explore their ‘self-narratives’ to identify problems and develop more helpful ways of viewing their live.
How does it work?
People who are depressed may hold negative views about themselves and view their life negatively. For example, they might focus only on the problems that have occurred in their lives. Narrative therapy aims to help people identify and construct stories about themselves that are more positive. This may improve their views on their lives and themselves to help boost their mood.
Is it effective?
There is very little scientific evidence on narrative therapy. One study compared narrative therapy to cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) in a small sample of adults with depression. Participants in this study received up to twenty sessions of either CBT or narrative therapy. Both groups of participants experienced a reduction in depression symptoms, but those who received CBT experienced a greater reduction in depression symptoms.
Another study combined narrative therapy with emotion focused therapy to treat adults with depression. Compared to a control condition, those who received the treatment had increased levels of hope and positive emotion, and decreased levels of depression and negative emotion. All participants were also taking antidepressants.
Both of the above studies only had a small number of participants. More studies of better quality are needed to better understand the effectiveness of narrative therapy for depression.
Are there any disadvantages?
Narrative therapy may involve seeing a therapist weekly for several months. It can be expensive, although in Australia Medicare provides rebates for visits to clinical psychologists, psychologists and other therapists (see below).
Where do you get it?
Narrative therapy is generally provided by therapists such as clinical psychologists, psychologists or counsellors who have been specially trained to provide this therapy (see Psychologists and other therapists). In Australia, Medicare provides rebates for visits to some therapists under the Better Access to Mental Health Care scheme. Narrative therapy is generally not as widely available as other types of psychological therapies.
There is not enough good evidence at this stage to recommend narrative therapy as a treatment for depression.
- Lopes, R. T., Gonçalves, M. M., Machado, P. P. P., Sinai, D., Bento, T., & Salgado, J. (2014). Narrative Therapy vs. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for moderate depression: Empirical evidence from a controlled clinical trial. Psychotherapy Research, 24(6), 662-674.
- Seo, M., Kang, H. S., Lee, Y. J., & Chae, S. M. (2015). Narrative therapy with an emotional approach for people with depression: Improved symptom and cognitive-emotional outcomes. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, 22(6), 379-389.
Last reviewed and updated: 1 December 2016