Introduction: Narrative, Cognitive Representations, and Change: New Directions in Cognitive Theory and Therapy

By Russell, Robert L. | Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, January 1, 1991 | Go to article overview
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Introduction: Narrative, Cognitive Representations, and Change: New Directions in Cognitive Theory and Therapy


Russell, Robert L., Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy


As a cognitive instrument, narrative has arrived by natural selection at a position of preeminence in our meaning-making practices. Narrative permeates life; not just 'life' in the arts and everyday conversational or memorial activities, but in the cultural and even the physical sciences. Given this central role, it is understandable that narrative has become a key object of intense interdisciplinary study and debate. In our own discipline, narrative is a key concern of cognitive, cognitivedevelopmental, and social psychologists. Though distinguished by differing emphases, this growing convergence of intellectual effort on understanding narrative has even spawned a narrative psychology movement (Sarbin, 1986).

In clinical psychology, there is a small but growing interest in narrative, whether conceived as narrative scripts and schemas or life stories. This interest seems to focus on how and which narrative structures and processes help or hinder interpersonal adjustment and self-understanding, both within and outside of the therapy context. Most of this interest, however, has been expressed in theories of therapeutic processes within the work of psychodynamically oriented theorists (e.g., Spence, 1982; Schaffer, 1981). That a similar concentration of interest has not surfaced in the theory and practice of cognitive therapy is somewhat surprising, given (a) that in the last decade research on the role of narratives in cognitive representations and in science has been on a meteoric rise and (b) that cognitive psychology and philosophy of science are two areas to which cognitive theorists have so successfully turned for models of knowledge acquisition and change.

This volume is an attempt to provide a strong impetus for the development of the theory, research, and practice of cognitive therapy of a specific type, one that exploits our growing knowledge of the role narrative form and functioning play in cognitive representations and behavioral change. To achieve this end, the volume has a wide-ranging scope, covering several different vantage points in terms of which the richness and validity of narrative constructs can be portrayed and shown to have relevance for cognitive therapy.

In the first article, Robert L. Russell attempts to sketch philosophical views of human beings, science, and action that do and do not make use of narrative constructs.

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