How are you? I am Amanda Clifford; I have a degree in psychotherapy. It is my passion to help clients find their inner light and help them live a whole life without fear, trauma or emotional distress.
I have worked in mental health for over 10 years; I run A.B.C. for mental health, a charity that organises events promoting well-being and mental health awareness in Limerick, Ireland.
I use narrative therapy in my practice as it is essential to separate a person from their problems and encourage my clients to rely on their skills to minimise their concerns.
Using the key concepts in narrative therapy, I help the client to realise that they are the storytellers. As a psychotherapist, I accept their reality without challenging its accuracy.
The client is the expert, so I understand the story instead of attempting to predict it. By listening to the client’s account, I can help the client consider alternative ways of seeing themselves in different outcomes. What are their influences in life? Finding out what are their cultural beliefs and core beliefs, as this might be a source of their problem.
‘Everyone’s stories exist between people and not in an individual mind. What stories are told in people’s frame of reference,’ Freeman and Combo.
To help the client see ‘the problem is the problem’, the problem has to be externalised. Externalisation of the situation makes it easier for the client to understand their story. When the report is put outside, it is easier for the client to view their past and meet it with compassion so that they can re-author the story.
It is essential that I show empathy and unconditional positive regard and I am nonjudgemental (these are the three core conditions) so the client is allowed to tell their story. There is great importance on the qualities a therapist brings to the therapeutic process, as it is a power-sharing relationship.
So to have this relationship, I need to be optimistic, value the client’s knowledge, and have a respectful curiosity. This allows me to listen with an open mind, without judgement or blame and not impose my values and by so doing, I value the person and not the problem.
When listening to my client’s story, I realise that the problems are identified within social, political and cultural rather than just existing in my client. Therefore, I need to consider if there are gender, race, and social class issues in the storytelling process.
The therapeutic process focuses on the socially constructed dialogue and narrative accounts clients describe. So the client and I can work together, taking apart the cultural assumptions that are a part of the client’s problem situation.
‘When the client has a new cultural awareness, a new story can be written,’ Bertolino and O’Hanlon.
To help the client become more aware of assumptions that inhibit their stories, I can ask them questions, such as ‘What thoughts do you have about being a woman in your predominantly male workplace?’
The narrative approach makes considerable use of the journey metaphor. Moving from dominant stories about one’s life to preferred levels is like journeying from one identity to another.
Mapping out experiences, feelings, and pitfalls helps us through the journey. (Reclaiming our stories, Reclaiming our lives. An initiative of the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia (1995) Dulwich Centre).
Mapping can help me explore the length of time that an externalised problem has been affecting the client and the impact that the problem has on their life. This often results in the client feeling less ashamed and blamed. Instead, the client feels understood and listened to when exploring the issue’s influences.
‘Mapping helps the therapist lay a foundation for co-authoring a new storyline with the client. And helps the client realise that the problem has not completely dominated their life. There have been times the client dealt with the problem, and these ‘sparkling moments’ give hope to the client that change is possible’, Michael White and David Espton.
The ideas that I have learned and continue to learn from narrative therapy have made so much difference to my work and personal life, as each story has a meaning which helps shape a person’s identity.
Narrative therapy recognises and allows for multiple stories to co-exist in one person. It can be a relief for people to realise that their life does not have to be dominated by one level or idea and that many realities can be accurate simultaneously.
I try to listen to people’s stories to connect them more with their healing ways. I am listening to people’s abilities, knowledge and skills. People are in danger of losing sight of their preferred identities when stressed; they forget the knowledge and skills most needed during those times of stress. People do not need to be fixed, saved or rescued. People need knowledge of their power and how to access it.
Telling your story is powerful and can help reinforce strengths. Taking charge of your account, or rewriting its central themes, enables you to tap into unexpressed parts of yourself, discover strengths, abilities, and knowledge and believe in your talents and dreams.
Narrative therapy allows people to not only find their voice but to use their voice as the experts in their own lives and to live in a way that reflects their dreams, goals and values. We have more power for growth and change than we think, especially when we own our voice and story.
Amanda Clifford runs A.B.C., a mental health charity that organises events promoting well-being and mental health awareness in Ireland.
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