Narrative psychiatry is a strengths-based, collaborative approach to mental health care that honors the values and preferences of the child and family or adult who is seeking treatment. Rather than focusing only on finding the source of the problem, narrative psychiatry also focuses on finding sources of strength and meaning. It seeks to cultivate the story of these strengths and values into resources for recovery that promote a positive sense of identity and that open up new possibilities for healing.
Narrative psychiatry combines narrative and biological understandings of human suffering and well-being. It’s is animated by the idea that we experience our lives and our identities through the stories we tell about ourselves and that we are embodied creatures fortified by and beholden to our biology. It relishes developing inspiring stories of a person’s resiliency and skill in resisting mental health challenges while exposing and dismantling narratives that fuel problems. It cultivates relationships, communities and resources that a person finds sustaining and examines what the doctor’s kit of psychiatry has to offer in light of the values and preferences of the person or family seeking consultation, authorizing them as the arbiter of what is helpful and what is not, including psychotropic medicines.
Narrative psychiatry is deeply respectful and extremely effective in working with people facing the most severe mental health challenges, it’s also more fun and energizing to practice. Instead of focusing on Why are you having this problem and what are the roots of this problem in your childhood? Narrative psychiatry practitioners ask, Why are you able to overcome this problem and what are the roots of those strengths and values in your family and community?