Find The Explicit Formula For The Sequence An 2 An-1 Thickening Narrative Therapy Through Existential Psychotherapy

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Thickening Narrative Therapy Through Existential Psychotherapy

There was a time, it was now. The past has been written from many perspectives but the future is still blank and the writing of the present is an act. Narrative therapy is a type of therapy that uses stories or narratives as a way of seeing our life situations. We look for that crack in the lens that reveals an alternative way of understanding our predicaments. Not to change the story but to tell it from a different perspective. Narrative therapy respects these stories and yet acknowledges that each perspective is tied to a meaning predetermined by family, society, culture as the “correct” meaning. Existential therapy focuses more on the individual’s stance and focusing on the “now” rather than the past or future. In turn it examines limits and extensions. The four main areas of examination within existentialism are meaning (vs. meaninglessness), freedom (vs. imprisonment), death (vs. life), and alienation (vs. incorporation) (Yalom, 1980). Narrative therapy and existential psychotherapy can help fill in the gaps left by each other. including a past, present, and future tense and to give meaning as an individual and collective stance.

The meaning of the word has eluded philosophers for thousands of years. It has proved almost impossible to give a precise definition. The way we use meaning is a thread that runs through most of the major schools of psychiatry. The approach within narrative therapy is that meaning is not given, nothing is imbued with meaning, but instead it is an interpretation of experience. That explanation is through the theory of social construction of reality. Accordingly (: “The Social Construction of Reality”, 2009):

“The central concept of the social construction of reality is that individuals and groups as a social system interact together over time, in concepts or mental representations of each other’s actions, and that these concepts eventually become habituated to the reciprocal roles played by actors. When these roles are brought in and played by other members of society Provided, interpersonal interactions are called institutionalization. In this process of institutionalization, meaning is embedded in society. Knowledge and people’s conceptions (and beliefs) of what reality is embedded in the institutional structure of society.”

A more general way of saying this is that we give meaning to experience through language, symbols, and interactive dialogue. First comes experience and then that experience is filtered through these cultural transactions which then create interpretation. Just because we see the color blue, it is “blue” because that is the specific meaning it has in a cultural context. A quick formula for meaning in narrative therapy is experience and interpretation equal meaning.

One of the main tenants of existential psychiatry is the oft-quoted phrase from Sartre “existence before essence.” Meaning is individually constructed, as opposed to socially constructed. We are all going to die, something we all have to face. Meaning is then individually constructed within this framework. What is the meaning of the present moment since we will die at some point in the future? This meaning is believed to come from a person. When we acknowledge this obstacle we become more honest or authentic human beings but ask ourselves what are we going to do about it? First there exists, as in the present moment, and then we create essence. The meaning within existential psychiatry is “What is the meaning of life?” The question is about such archaic beliefs.

A key theoretical trick within narrative therapy is to focus on what is called a sparkling moment. When a client is relaying the story that brought them to the therapist’s office, the therapist is listening for an episode within the story that contradicts the main story. A story that tells a different picture of our favorite way, for example, if the client is telling a story of depression, the therapist listens for an event or time when depression was not present. In narrative therapy this alternative narrative is called “rewriting.” The therapist can help with this by evoking what is called a “remembering” conversation where the main focus is on identifying an important person from the past who contributed greatly to the client’s life. It could be a friend, a lover, a parent, a musician, or even a writer.

Helping the client along this path requires the therapist to remain de-focused and non-affective. They can do this by helping the client “thicken” the preferred story by encouraging details of what is being said rather than a thin description of the event. For example, instead of saying that the weather is nice outside, ask the client questions about why it is nice outside. What is it, the smell, the air, the feel, does it remind them of something, the therapist does well to help fatten the rich history of existing psychotherapy in a way that appeals to them.

Psychiatry has a rich history of being enlightened about how we use what Howard Gardner called multiple intelligences. They are physical-kinesthetic, interpersonal, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, natural, interpersonal, visual-spatial, and musical intelligences (“Theories of Multiple Intelligences”, 2009) according to Wikipedia. Howard Gardner has proposed a ninth intelligence which would be an existential intelligence. Existential intelligence includes the ability to question the big issues in life such as death, life, and possible spiritual meaning (“Theories of Multiple Intelligences”, 2009). Narrative therapy embraces this notion of multiple intelligences, even if it is not explicit. The therapist is encouraged to find the best possible way of expression with the client. This can be through music therapy, writing therapy, or art therapy. Psychiatry, in conjunction with humanistic psychiatry, has historically promoted the concept of the whole self from an exploratory perspective. The therapist does not come from an expert role but from an interest in the real person or phenomenon perspective. In order to be fully present with this approach the client’s best working intelligence should be a means of exploration for further development.

We are forever in the now but always focused on future plans, concerns, hopes, or dreams. Similarly, when we are not focused on the future, we are focused on the past. The past focused on our worries, shame, even our doubts. This story turns out to be the scope of the treatment. That is connecting a sequence of events through a certain time period and giving it meaning. Narrative therapy struggles with the present moment. It presents a center or self as opposed to the Buddhist concept of no-self. This stance of a self is referred to by the situation of an observer researching or recalling a story. The concept of no-self contradicts this position and states that it has no observer but is in the present moment. The concept of existence is present or becoming (as in blossoming into what it might be). Existential psychotherapy pays homage to the past and possible futures, but the main source of temporal time is now. James Bugental calls it the living moment (Bugental, p.20). This existential stance can prove very informative when rewriting and thickening the story within narrative therapy. It can also be used within the problem saturation phase of storytelling. If the client seems stuck on the impact of a particular event or decision issues, ask what the current feelings, thoughts, smells, etc. seem to be to remove the blockage. There are many aspects of being temporal that can be examined, for example the current kinesthetic experience. This is one possible way to help with a stuck issue.

Existential psychologists narrow in on four distinct areas of meaning making. They are freedom, death, alienation, and meaninglessness (Yalom, 1980). Each of these areas can be constructed as a continuum. Freedom will have two extremes. On one side of freedom will be total restraint of any freedom. There is no alternative to being locked in a dungeon. The other end would be absolute freedom as found in the free vision of everything that goes without restriction. Existential psychiatrists believe that each of us falls somewhere on this continuum. In order to move, to be free from our struggle with mental illness or suffering, we need to come to a personal understanding of where we are on this continuum and where we want to go or what we want to become. For example, if we think we have more freedom because we have no restrictions. There are no right or wrong answers but whichever one sees fit. This principle appears to be a limitation in what sense to help deepen the preferred way of being within narrative therapy. This meaning is created by the therapist and the client, but I would argue that if we use it as a map, it can help keep us focused.

This opinion piece is not meant to be a position based on a purely theoretical stance. The author acknowledges that narrative therapy and existential psychotherapy both come from very rich philosophical but very different backgrounds. There are only a few philosophers who attempt to examine the similarities between postmodernism and existentialism. If someone is looking for connections they can always find, in some small detail, those connections but each vision is actually a completely different project. The therapeutic stance, or pou sto, is quite a different matter. Narrative therapy doesn’t just use postmodernism as a philosophical background and existential psychiatry doesn’t just use the strict philosophy of existentialism. Rather, these philosophical backgrounds are a practical way of using these different therapeutic approaches to our attempts to cure mental illnesses. As Foucault said in his last known interview (William V. Spanos, P.153) “For me Heidegger has always been the essential philosopher… My entire philosophical development was determined by my reading of Heidegger.”

What are some future directions for integrating narrative therapy with existential psychotherapy? First story therapy does well to expand on what it means to deepen a favorite story. What does it mean to make the story more realistic or the main focus on grandiose stories? There needs to be a more philosophical discussion of the idea of ​​meaning because both forms of therapy place great emphasis on meaning-making but they just come from different angles and different projects. The question can also be asked whether these two different therapies are as compatible as this author suggests. If not, why not? And is there a way forward?

As this narrative (theoretical position) closes, it is important to remember that these are questions and not absolute truths. The story can still be changed by adding subtle details and reducing distractions. One thing that can be said is that story therapy and existential psychotherapy are strangers traveling the same path.


1. Bugental, James FT (1999). Psychotherapy is not what you think: Bringing psychotherapeutic engagement into the lived moment. Phoenix, Az: Zeig Tucker and Theisen Publishers.

2. Social construction of reality. (2009, July 8). On Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:46, July 8, 2009, from

3. Spanos, Williams V. (1993). Heidegger and Critique: Reclaiming the Cultural Politics of Destruction. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

4. Theory of Multiple Intelligences. (2009, August 4). On Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:07, August 4, 2009, from

5. Yalom, Irwin D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.

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