President, International Network on Personal Meaning
Coquitlam, B.C., Canada
All psychotherapy is concerned with change.
However, each school of therapy differs in terms of the kind of
change it prescribes. Some focus on cognitive-behavioral modification;
others emphasize changes in family dynamics; still others stress
the importance of re-authoring one's life story.
Transformative narrative therapy, as the term
implies, aims at nothing less than the transformation of the person
and the social ecology; it does so through changing one's meaning
constructs about the self and the world. Therefore, it is also referred
to as meaning-centered narrative therapy.
Here are some of the basic principles of transformative
1. It is dialectic and paradoxical. It embraces
the paradox that evil and good co-exit, despair and hope live together.
Furthermore, it believes that the synthesis of opposites gives rise
to a new condition, which is stronger than the initial positive.
Paradoxes and conflicts generate a positive motivation for change.
Person growth takes place, when there is an upward spiral of syntheses
through repeated integration of thesis and antithesis. Thus, clients
are encouraged to integrate their problem-saturated stories with
alternative ones, resulting in a more encompassing and compelling
2. It is synergic. The therapist does not remain
detached as a reflecting mirror or a sounding board. Throughout
the course of counseling, the therapist actually becomes a part
of the client's life, and vice versa. There is an exchange of life,
so to speak. Therefore, who we are matters much more than what skills
we possess. During the magic hour of encounter, the two lives interact
and mingle, generating synergic energies for the client to move
forward and explore new horizons. When synergism happens, there
is a sense of oneness between the therapist and the client, characterized
by trust, unconditional acceptance and therapeutic alliance.
3. It is symbolic. The transformation is more
fundamental and far-reaching when it occurs at the symbolic level.
Expressing our deepest longings, symbols are what dreams are made
of. More importantly, symbols tap into our spiritual potentials
and reveal glimpses of sacred moments. Therefore, mundane everyday
trivia take on profound new meanings through symbolic transformation.
Even negative events, whether early childhood abuse or adult traumatic
experiences, can become symbolic of something spiritual, something
positive. Symbolic transformation is partially achieved through
heeding the poetic voices of the naked soul and discovering the
deeper meanings of the human existence.
4. It is holistic. The transformation needs
to involve cognition, behavior, emotion, and spirituality. In short,
it touches every aspects of the client's life - how to live and
what to become. It will result in a brand new story line, built
upon many different threads and moving towards a different ending.
5. It is heroic. It does not seek easy victories,
nor does it aim at superficial solutions. It demands taking a courageous
stance in life; it requires an unwavering willingness to confront
and slay one's most dreaded dragon. Drawing inspiration from the
myths and legends of heroes gone before us, and seeking guidance
from divine revelations in human history, clients learn to gain
a broader perspective of their personal struggles and give lives
to something, someone much bigger than themselves. The end result
is that a victim's journey is transformed into a hero's adventure.
6. It is pragmatic. The transformation needs
to manifest itself in new directions, new goals, and new patterns
of living. Just like an actor learning to internalize and live through
a new role, clients need to learn a new language, a new way of doing
things as if they have been "born again". It requires homework and
ongoing practice, reinforced by the therapist. The new story finally
takes hold when it results in transforming one's environment, in
which one moves and lives.
The above six principles are by no means exhaustive,
but they represent the basis for practicing a powerful transformative
However, there is a catch -- No one can effectively
practice meaning-centered narrative therapy without first experiencing
a transformation of personal meanings. Only a transformed life can
be effective in bringing about a transformation in others.