Hold those stories open!

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

In my new book Therapy with a Map (2020) I have a chapter on Narrative Mapping and explore the way in which we tell stories of our lives and our world in closed, already storied ways or in open but unfinished ways. Therapy is a process of restorying and the quality of this process is through the reconsolidation of memories. In writing the book I realised that we can think of therapy (and other forms of help and treatment) as holding four stories open and apart from each other to sustain a feeling of being in open dialogue. These four stories are:

  • the formulation story (what is wrong?)

  • the healing story (what will make me better?)

  • the present story (what is happening in my life now?)

  • and the past story (what were my earlier years like?).

Within each story there are many sub stories and there are links and gaps. We are not necessarily reliable narrators and specifically harm, neglect and trauma in our formative years may limit our capacity (our relational awareness) to own and author our stories. In the book I argue that these four stories can easily be merged, hijacked 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. Mapping and talking helps us hover and shimmer in this transitional space.

To quote from chapter 7 in the book on Relational Awareness. "The horizontal axis distinguishes between the formulation or diagnostic story and the healing story. It is key to therapy to be clear that the formulation or diagnosis is not the treatment. Careful mapping and tracking of the stories now and then behind current difficulties can produce a good shared reformulation. This is the focus of the beginning of therapy. But the reformulation is also setting out the lines of a treatment story, or healing narrative of how the process of recovery and change might take place. The healing narrative 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. Clients as much as therapists might find this distinction between the four stories of therapy useful. Relational awareness is an attribute of being able to hover and shimmer in and among them.


Steve Potter Therapy with a Map


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