Narrative ideas and practices views an individual as someone who has multitude of stories to himself/herself – as someone who is great at math, loves rock music, also as someone who always has a neat desk. These stories often get masked by a problem story and seemingly blanket the person into it entirely. Narrative ideas then locate the problem outside of the person by externalizing it with a “linguistic shift” and throwing staccato lights on the skills the person is already using to deal with the problem, even when they are often doing so without being aware. The Narrative idea also believes that people are making their own meanings of experiences and therapy then becomes a journey which explores people’s preferred stories, makes them more visible and available, and supports people in renegotiating their relationship with problems as well as constructing a preferred sense of self.
Psychological First-Aid is an intervention that was developed to minimize the effects of a disaster and with a hope to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder. The intervention aids people caught in such situations by protecting them from any further harm through listening, offering coping strategies and providing social support. In my three-month old journey with Narrative ideas, it never ceases to amaze me, the lens-shift that has occurred in me of viewing people with an underpin of Narrative ideas. My meaning and picture of a traumatic experience is a grey-black hooded figure, who gradually gulps the person who has had a traumatic experience. A month ago, having had an opportunity to interact with a woman living in a sheltered home, who had been a victim of human-trafficking and was rescued, I began the conversation with the same idea in my mind. It was a conversation where many tears were shed but also one where her lips were curling to a smile occasionally. She was employing skills to control her anger towards her fate and that made her feel close to her mother, who never was angry and always had a serene face. The grey-black hooded figure was not so grey-black anymore.
To think of incorporating Narrative ideas into Psychological First-Aid, intrigues me particularly because the ideas and practices guide counselors to empower individuals to use the skills they already possess. In this sense, narrative practices believe that every individual is psychologically resilient and every person is responding and active in their circumstances. As a counselor, we look at ways to uncover how people are responding and the skills they are using in the face of traumatic experience. These skills are also “gaps” in the problem/crisis story because they serve as openings to other stories of people’s skills, their values, their meanings. The gaps surely get detected by Double Listening – listening to the problem and these gaps.
Linking lives of people who are affected by the crisis situation is another way of empowering individuals and this can be done through working in groups. The idea behind this is to link lives of people with similar experiences, allow them to feel accompanied in their healing and for them to contribute to a list of skills-set that can be shared.
Lastly, I like the playfulness and non-expert stance of the narrative. I recall how my supervisor spoke about consciously not taking the big-red chair in the therapy room, leaving it for the client and taking the small one. For him, it is a way to indicate that he is no expert in the room and that it’s a collaborative relationship. During a crisis situation, I imagine, such a stance from the therapist would diffuse anxiety, if any, from thoughts of being tested, diagnosed or intervened with.
Written by- Yashna Vishwanathan
Junior Therapist, Ummeed Child Development Center