Deconstruction in Narrative Therapy

Do you feel trapped by your problems? Deconstructing what worries you means separating each element that makes them up, piece by piece, and analyzing their parts. By doing this, you'll discover that not everything is as irresolvable as you might think.
Deconstruction in Narrative Therapy
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 18 May, 2023

One thing that’s always defined us as human beings is telling stories. Our ancestors did it when they gathered in front of a bonfire and told the myths, legends, and stories of their own predecessors. This oral legacy nurtured their bonds and united them as a social community.

However, we also tell stories to ourselves. We do it to give meaning to our experiences and to establish where we fit in the world. Each of these internal narratives creates certain meanings about our reality. But, this is where, sometimes, problems, distortions, and even unhappiness arise.

Indeed, some of the internal dialogues we have with ourselves can be dominated by the weight of biases and the influence of fears. Almost without realizing it, we may be creating the kinds of life stories in which we stop being the main heroes, and become sad supporting actors. The kinds of people who get carried away, don’t react, and feel like they have no control over anything.

One way of addressing these types of mental approaches is through narrative therapy. This therapeutic model integrates a strategy of great value that’s worth exploring. It’s called deconstruction.

According to narrative therapy, the individual isn’t the problem. The problem is the problem, the individual is the individual.

Man illuminating the mind to represent Deconstruction
Deconstruction allows us to individually analyze our thoughts and transform them into more positive approaches.

Narrative therapy

Narrative therapy makes it easier for us to become protagonists of our own lives. It helps us detect opportunities for growth and provide us with healthier meanings for our existence. This type of psychological resource was developed by New Zealand therapists, Michael White and David Epston in the 1980s. It’s currently employed in various psychosocial fields.

Its main characteristic is to emphasize that there’s nothing broken or defective in the human being. As such, the individual isn’t the problem. The problem must be separated from them so that it can be analyzed, broken down, and solved. This is an empowering therapeutic model, capable of making us see that, even if we’re trapped in our own painful stories, we can write new, more positive, and hopeful ones.

An investigation conducted by doctors Daniel D. Hutto and S. Gallagher highlights that this therapeutic practice presents significant potential in the area of self-management of well-being. Although it’s a relatively new therapy, its techniques are a source of inspiration in fields that go beyond the field of psychology. For example, social work or medicine.

Let’s take a look at the pillars that support narrative therapy.

Conversations for rewriting life

Michael White and David Epston wrote the book, Narrative Means to Therapeutic Purposes, in 1990, which became a bestseller. In this work, they claimed that the first step for the patient must be to narrate their life story and become an external observer of it.

From this distanced position, with the help of the professional, they analyze the problems that are reinforcing their feelings of discomfort. By placing themselves outside of themselves, they can spot debilitating schemas, biases, and irrational beliefs that distort many of their internal narratives. This process frees them from all guilt and offers them tools to become an expert.

The model is based on therapeutic conversation. It gradually helps shape healthier narratives and scripts. Consequently, the patient acquires a greater sense of control over their life. It implies ‘reauthorizing’ them so they become the sole actor in their present and future.

Narrative therapy connects us with our values and purposes so that we can rewrite our lives, guiding us toward hope.

Patient in therapy applying Deconstruction
Narrative therapy teaches us that the way we interpret what happens to us gives meaning to our lives. Doing it in a healthy way mediates our mental well-being.

Deconstruction addresses problems and challenges

Deconstruction is one of the most remarkable techniques of narrative therapy. Therapists use it when they detect that a patient exhibits a vital problem that’s determining their feelings of well-being. In fact, it’s common for people to adopt extremely debilitating roles due to integrating a series of irrational ideas. They aggravate, complicate, and make any challenges and difficulties more cumbersome.

Deconstructing problems makes it easier to break them or divide them into smaller pieces. When they’re broken down into more elementary segments, it’s easier to see what reinforces them, where they come from, and where to start in order to face them.

If you’re interested in putting this resource into practice, you need to follow these stages:

1. Tell your story and describe the problem

The first step is to describe in detail the problem that’s causing you anxiety, stress, and discomfort. Do it honestly. Express your emotions and thoughts that accompany the challenging experiences that you’re unable to address.

2. Break it into smaller parts

Deconstruction turns you into an analyst of your own stories. You become a detective trying to decipher the parts that make up each story and testimony. To divide your vital problem into smaller elements, follow these guidelines:

  • What triggered the situation?
  • What role did you play in the experience? Were you responsible for it or were you a victim?
  • How did you feel and how do you feel now?
  • What do you think about the experience?
  • What resources do you think you have for addressing the situation?
  • How will your fear of the situation affect you when solving the problem?

3. Deconstruction with alternative thoughts

To heal a debilitating mental narrative, you don’t have to delete it, you simply have to rewrite it in a brighter and more hopeful way. But, nobody can tell you how to do it. You must be the one who applies deconstruction to reformulate healthier mental scripts.

These questions may help you:

  • Could you see the situation from another perspective?
  • What’d happen if you stopped blaming yourself for the experience?
  • What contradictions can you find in your story?
  • How would you approach this challenge now that you understand its parts?

To conclude, we’ve all gone through complex experiences. However, if you’re still trying to overcome these kinds of issues and they’re continuing to be a problem, deconstruction can help you. It simply involves disassembling the different parts of a problem in order to delimit its ambiguities and reformulate it in another way. Why not give it a try?

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Beaudoin M, Moersch M, Evare BS. The effectiveness of narrative therapy with children’s social and emotional skill development: An empirical study of 813 problem-solving stories. Journal of Systemic Therapies. 2016;(35)3: 42-59. doi:10.1521/jsyt.2016.35.3.42
  • Ghavibazou E, Hosseinian S, Abdollahi A. Effectiveness of narrative therapy on communication patterns for women experiencing low marital satisfaction. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy. 2020;41(2):195-207.doi:10.1002/anzf.1405
  • Etchison, Mary & Kleist, David. (2000). Review of Narrative Therapy: Research and Utility. The Family Journal. 8. 61-66. 10.1177/1066480700081009.
  • Wallis J, Burns J, Capdevila R. What is narrative therapy and what is it not?: The usefulness of Q methodology to explore accounts of White and Epston’s (1990) approach to narrative therapy. Clin Psychol Psychother. 2011;18(6):486-97. doi:10.1002/cpp.723

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.