What’s post-structural and narrative?

steve_goreI heard once that there are over 60 different recognised “therapies” – theoretical ways in which counsellors work.  Narrative counselling, which I use, is one of those.   This post is my opinion on the broad differences in counselling and doesn’t pretend to be definitive.

Before I start I want to stipulate that all therapies are good and valid.  What makes them effective is that the therapist sees the world through the lens of that therapy and that both the therapy and the counsellor “fits” with the client – that the client can totally trust the person they are sharing their problems with and the work feels right to them.  Clients should be less interested in, “What therapy or technique is being used here?”, and more in, “Am I getting what I need?  Do I feel safe revealing my fears, regrets, self-doubts and shames with this person?”.  While counsellors will have a theoretical base, most counsellors dip in and out of various techniques, if they believe it will be helpful to their client, so many counsellors describe themselves as eclectic. or simply don’t describe themselves

There are three broad ways (paradigms) in which counsellors work.

The most widely applied is structuralist counselling.  It is based out of science so includes much of the work that most psychologists and psychiatrists do.   CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) is probably the most well known of the structuralist therapies.  These therapies work on on the basis of scientific research and utilise diagnosis and the notion of “proven techniques”.   This work involves the labels we commonly know, such as depression, anxiety, and the labels given to those who experience things like schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder and so forth.  They treat the human condition as reliable and replicable.  In other words, if you are experiencing anxiety, the symptoms are treatable for you in the same way they are treatable for every other person with anxiety.

The second group of therapies are known as romantic.  Please don’t conjure up notions of princesses and dragons.  It’s called that because it it is underpinned by the “romantic” view of a human as mystical and to be discovered.  Existential Counselling, Gestaltist Counselling and Person Centred Therapy are the best known therapies in this paradigm.  They focus on the client getting to know who they truly are – peeling away the layers to discover their essence.  Exploring their inner world.

My training is in narrative counselling, which is part of the post-structuralist paradigm.  Post structuralism is a way of viewing the word that allows for multiple truths (Which is great when work with couples fighting – to know that they are both right stops me becoming a mediator!), and is strongly focused on relationships…including relationships with problems.  The easiest way to explain this is to appreciate that you can’t be shy on sitting on a beach.  Shyness is a feature of your relationships with …maybe everyone!  I work with clients to view their problems as not “of them”, but “with them”.  If you have depression, things can feel pretty stuck, but if we view depression as an unwelcome  visitor to your life, you can begin to form a relationship with depression that might allow you various measures of control over its visits.

Post-structuralism utilises social stories – the unwritten rules.  How you can be, or speak as a woman, man, father, employee, and how these rules might sit in conflict with your preferred ways of being.  This is a way of working that can allow people to understand why they experience problems, how they are drawn to react in certain situations and can help them make radical changes in their lives and step away from ideas that have held them back.  For more on this follow this link.

Ka kite ano