Glimpses of A First Narrative Therapy Session By Pallavi & Trishala ,Narrative Therapist
The narrative therapy space
A mental health therapeutic space often comes with a lot of curiosity. What does it look like? What really goes on in there? What do people talk about? Do they talk? Are their problems solved? With time different therapeutic approaches have emerged, each with a different stance based on the cultural, political, social shifts. This article is an endeavor to provide a sneak peak of an initial narrative therapy session with a child, young person or their caregiver. Narrative therapy is a respectful, non-judgmental, culturally relevant approach to counseling which centers people as the expert of their own lives. It views problem as separate from people.
The Mental health team at Ummeed, uses narrative practices as an approach when working with young disabled children and their families. We hope this article give a glimpse of how a therapist prepares for their initial sessions, what are some of hopes and values they center in the therapy room, and give a better sense of how narrative therapy looks like in practice. This is written from a therapist’s perspective on an initial narrative therapy session. This could be useful for people working in the context of mental health, community work, school or disability amongst others.
We have interviewed a few mental health professionals using narrative therapy in their work with disabled children, young people and their families at Ummeed for the purpose of this article. This document is a culmination of the collective voice of the mental health team at Ummeed. Here’s what they had to share of what initial narrative therapy sessions at Ummeed looks like!
What are some of the hopes you bring in as a therapist in the first session/ interaction with the family (disabled child, young person or caregiver)?
An integral hope is to learn about what led the child and the family to explore therapy, and what are some of the things they hope to explore and work on, in the context of therapy.
Also, therapists shared that they bring a hope to learn more about the child and their family, and get a better sense of their socio-economic context (school, family, culture, finances, ability, gender, social relationships etc). They further hope to learn about the child from the lens of their strengths and wonderful qualities. In the initial interactions, there is also an intention to be curious about the unique relationship and bond the caregiver and child shares. Members from the mental health team also expressed the importance of learning from the child and their family of how they interpret and make meaning of their disability.
What are some of the values and narrative ideas that you hold onto in your first interaction/session?
Unanimously, the team shared that the narrative idea ‘people are the experts of their lives’, and one should center children and their families knowledge and skills as an integral part of narrative therapy sessions. Shahid, from the mental health team further added that everything must be decided by children and caregivers, while we hold space for them and unpack discourses around disability through care and curiosity.
Another idea that was brought to light was ‘people are not the problem, the problem is the problem’. Pallavi, added that the first interaction usually is about the problems surrounding the child and the challenges, in such situations finding a small crack, preferred quality or ‘aha !’ moment that places the child/family slightly away from the problem is important.
If you were to see a new family, what might you see yourself doing as preparation?
Connecting with the multi-disciplinary team, planning some activities and games to build rapport with the child, figuring and planning logistics, like smooth scheduling, meeting venue and details were amongst some of the common responses between therapists. Trishala, shared how learning about the disabilities through disabled voices through is also something that supports in preparation for therapy sessions.
What are the multiple ways in which you engage with a child/ caregiver in the initial session? Are there any games, activities, interview guides, video resources that are helpful?
There are creative and diverse ways that narrative therapy encourages to engage with children. Some of the ways that therapists have found useful engaging with children and young people are games and play which stimulate curiosity, some sharing and learning, like 20 questions, Jenga. Further art and craft activities have been useful to have therapy conversations around various themes like anger, sadness through creating books, my world activity or other art projects.
Are there particular know-hows and skills that support you in navigating through initial/first online sessions with families (caregiver or disabled child/young person)?
A therapist’s stance in therapy is to influence and center/ prioritize the knowledge and skills of children and families they work with in the narrative therapy context. Shahid reflected how ‘listening with care, knowing ways of making a space of friendship, challenging discourses and stereotypes is something he holds onto in his work with children and families. Further, Aditi spoke about the skill of ‘check in’s and ‘asking’ and how it helps establish comfort and openness in sessions. Mahima reflected on how connecting with the care team, reading about disabilities and having some tentative structure supports her in preparing and facilitating therapy sessions.
What are some of the questions/ narrative questions that have been helpful to use in your first session?
A central part of narrative therapy sessions is curious questioning, questions are an invitation and way for children and families to reflect on the skills, values hopes, to look for preferred stories, to notice wonderful things that were initially not noticed much. Our therapists responded by sharing some questions that they have found helpful in their work with children, young people and their families.
- On your happiest day with your child, what are some of the things you’d find yourself doing with your child?
- What are some of your hopes from therapy? Why are these hopes important?
- What is your most favorite thing about yourself?
- If you were to tell me why you love yourself, what might you say?
- What does support really look like for you?
- What are some of the things you’d like to speak more and work on in therapy?
- What does support really look like for them?
- What makes you proud? Can you tell me a story around that?
- Can you tell me about some of the things you appreciate about your child/a quality you cherish
- What is something that is wonderful about your child/your relationship with your child?
Few concluding thoughts
We do hope that this document has been able to provide some insight around creative and diverse ways of preparing and facilitating initial narrative therapy session. We are also aware of how their can be myriad ways of engaging with narrative practices with children, young people and their families.
We would love to learn from you:
- Is there a particular thought, action or idea from this article that has stuck with you? If yes, why so?
- What are some of the diverse ways, skills, values that support you in facilitating narrative therapy sessions?
- If you were to draw an image of what an initial narrative therapy session would look like? What would you draw?