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Record Type: Review   ID: 189

Constructing Therapeutic Narratives

Omer, Haim, & Alon, Nahi

The authors review the history of the rise of the constructivist approach in psychotherapy and the development of their approach to the narrative reconstruction of the life stories of their clients, whom they regard as their partners in the process. They also search out what scholars in the humanities had discovered could teach them about narrative that they could use to enhance and improve their therapeutic approach. In a sense, they present their material in a way that to me is backwards. I will start with the end and move to the beginning! The last chapter (7) provides the "historical foundations of the narrative approach to psychotherapy by topic and the work of pioneer individuals such as Ervin Goffman, Ronald Laing, Thomas Szasz, Michael Foucault, Gregory Bateson, Elizabeth Loftus, Roy Schafer, Donald Spence, Jerome Bruner, and Kenneth Gergen. It is a feast of a chapter. It is preceded by a chapter in which they summarize the narrative angle of the therapist as presented in the foregoing chapters. Chapters 2-5 are each dedicated to a component of narrative in general, which they apply to psychotherapeutic narrative, giving clinical examples. The chapter titles (2-5), respectively, are Characters, Plots, Themes, and Meanings. The latter weaves the components of the preceding chapters onto their conception of what a meaningful therapeutic narrative consists. For them, the therapeutic goal is three-pronged. They try, in working with the material the client gives them, to develop a narrative the client can endorse and own as his or her own story in which he or she is the hero and about which they can affirm, "This story has a future" (p. xiv). The first chapter, finally, describes what they consider to be the primary tools of narrative reconstruction: Narrative Empathy and Therapeutic Splitting. Both are needed to reconstruct the client’s life recollections and channel his or her energies in such a way that the reconstructed narrative both feels true to the client and it is not superimposed on the client by the therapist. "The therapist’s major skill is precisely to match the client’s experience and be guided by [the client’s] voice" (p. xv).

This book is highly relevant to the work of someone like myself who tries to take an experiencer’s account of an often frightening or horrifying or decidedly disturbing exceptional experience and with the experiencer’s collaboration to reframe it in a way that is meaningful precisely by the 3 criteria Omer and Alon use. First, the experiencer must own the experience. Second, the experiencer must come to feel privileged to have had the experience and become aware of its call to live a life in which he or she is the hero. And last (and perhaps the easiest), to become conscious of the fact that the experience was not just a happening in his or her past but was a seed planted in his or her life that has now sprouted and that need never stop growing.

Not only is what this book teaches applicable to those who coach experiencers but for some experiencers, at least, it can provide insight and tools to use in writing accounts of specific EEs or EHEs they have had or guidance in writing their EHE autobiographies. I have pointed out that it behooves experiencers to become familiar with the history and lore of their particular exceptional experiences and to find their place in that continuum (from which they can proceed further). This book goes a long way toward providing them with the history and lore of reconstructing and reframing their experience(s) in such a way that they both do justice to each experience and write a meaningful context in which the experience(s) can more forward, and because of their life-changing influence, so can the experiencer.

Publisher Information:Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1997. Pp. xv + 212. Bibl: 237-247; Ind: 249-262
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