Narrative Therapy

Our rating
 Question mark: This treatment has not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.

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The rating system

  • 3 smiliesThese treatments are very useful. They are strongly supported as effective by scientific evidence.
  • 2 smiliesThese treatments are useful. They are supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.
  • 1 smileyThese treatments are promising and may be useful. They have some evidence to support them, but more evidence is needed to be sure they work.
  • No smiley On the available evidence, these treatments do not seem to be effective.
  • Question markThese treatments have not been properly researched. It is not possible to say whether they are useful or not.
  • These treatments are not recommended and could be dangerousSafety or other concerns have been raised for the use of these treatments.

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. In narrative therapy, people explore their ‘self-narratives’ with the help of a therapist to identify problems they may be having and develop more helpful ways of viewing their lives.

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 help them to develop a more positive view about their lives, which could help to boost their mood.

Is it effective?

There is very little scientific evidence on narrative therapy. Two small studies have compared narrative therapy to cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) in groups of adults and young adults with depression. In both studies, people 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.

All of the research on narrative therapy has only looked at small groups of people. Larger 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.

Recommendation

There is not enough good evidence at this stage to recommend narrative therapy as a treatment for depression.

Key references

  • Azevedo da Silva R, de Azevedo Cardoso T, Campos Mondin T, Neumann Reyes A, de Lima Bach S, Dias de Mattos Souza L, et al. Is Narrative Cognitive Therapy as Effective as Cognitive Behavior Therapy in the Treatment for Depression in Young Adults? The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 2017; 205(12): 918-24.
  • Lopes RT, Gonçalves MM, Machado PPP, Sinai D, Bento T, Salgado J. Narrative Therapy vs. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for moderate depression: Empirical evidence from a controlled clinical trial. Psychotherapy Research. 2014; 24(6): 662-74.
  • Seo M, Kang HS, Lee YJ, Chae SM. Narrative therapy with an emotional approach for people with depression: Improved symptom and cognitive-emotional outcomes. Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing. 2015; 22(6): 379-89.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019