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Don't forget the healing story

Updated: Oct 24, 2022

Therapy can be seen as a weaving in and out of four stories that need holding open and apart from each other. These four stories are:

  • the present story (what is happening that helps or troubles me in my life now)

  • the past story (the patterns of relating from early life shaping present responses)

  • the formulation story (how to bring past and present together in a helpful picture)

  • the healing story (establishing a healing relationship together, knowingly, that can be internalised and maintained beyond the therapy)

These four stories can easily be merged or hijack one by the other reducing their diversity of focus to one. As indicated in the diagram, the separation between past and present stories is on the vertical axis. Care should be taken not to make simple links between past and present or let the patterns from the past stories become the given formulation for trouble in the present. There is a zone of open and therapeutic dialogue in the middle where the stories of the past and the present meet and are reconsolidated by being repeatedly retold.

Careful mapping and tracking of the stories now and then behind current difficulties can produce a good, shared reformulation. But reformulation and shared understanding is not enough. The horizontal axis in the diagram above points to a big question about the processes of change in therapy. There needs to be compassion, curiosity and courage for a fourth story which is interpersonal and uncharted. Let's call it the healing story. It is full of surprise turns and immediacy of meeting at a personal level. The formulation shapes but does not make the treatment. It is the focus of the beginning of therapy. But the reformulation is also setting out the lines of a healing story of how the process of discovery, recovery and change might take place. The healing story has an important component in and of itself. It may take on its own life and direction. Though anchored by the reformulation, it is a continuous process of reformulating and restorying.

Steve Potter Therapy with a Map

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