Narrative Therapy & Depression

thinking of her mental health

The standard treatments for depression are pretty well established and usually involve a fair amount of pharmaceutical intervention. One alternative therapy that has gained some traction in the last few years is narrative therapy. In this therapeutic technique, patients are encouraged to share stories from their lives and these are then examined to determine possible external causes for the depression.

What is Depression?

In addition to being one of the most debilitating mental illnesses, depression is also one of the most common. It is defined as a period of sadness and loneliness lasting longer than two weeks. Co-occurring conditions can include: anxiety, hopelessness, insomnia, irritability, lethargy, and weight fluctuations.

How Narrative Therapy and Depression Work

The therapist encourages the patient to think of a story that is very personal and relate it to him. Ideally, the story would not be of a particularly unique event, but would speak to the patient’s everyday life. The therapist assesses the story and determines whether there seems to be an indication implicit within it that sheds light on the patient’s condition. For example, the patient might choose to tell a story of a time he felt unfairly judged, and the therapist might get from this that the patient has always felt that others saw him as worthless. With this as a starting point, the therapist can help the patient begin to change that underlying assumption.


The idea behind narrative therapy is an interesting one. By selecting a personal story, the patient is inviting the therapist to participate in his or her own internal narrative. This makes the therapy session a place where people who feel marginalized by society can open up about their own beliefs and struggles. Also, by framing the whole thing as a story, narrative therapy allows the patient to regain some measure of agency, and take back control of the story of his own life.

Relative Effectiveness

Because it is such a new technique, research on the effectiveness of narrative therapy and depression is still sparse. Part of the difficulty of measuring it is the fact that so much of it is a highly personal exercise. If a person has trouble thinking of an appropriately “teachable” story, is it the fault of the therapeutic technique? Despite these limitation, early studies seem to have shown that it does has some positive impact on the patient. Whether that effect is as great or greater than other more conventional therapies remains to be seen.


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