Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Narrative Counseling for Professional School Counselors

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Narrative Counseling for Professional School Counselors

Article excerpt

This article introduces narrative counseling concepts and techniques for professional school counselors. The authors provide a case study of narrative school counseling with an elementary student struggling with selective mutism. Examples also demonstrate how a narrative approach could be used at elementary, middle, and high school levels within various school counseling contexts, including small group counseling, classroom guidance, and consultation and advocacy. This article highlights the power and flexibility of a narrative approach to support students with a variety of needs as part of a comprehensive school counseling program.


Imagine a world where individuals are empowered to challenge the perceptions and events in their lives that limit potential. Imagine a world where students are not the problem and have the abilities, talents, and life experiences to create new possibilities for individual and systemic change. This is the world of narrative school counselors. Narrative counseling is based on the belief that "we live our lives according to the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories others tell about us" (Winslade & Monk, 2007, p. 2). However, narrative counseling is not about students simply telling their stories; instead, it is about reworking stories so that new realities can take shape (Winslade & Monk, 2007).

Narrative counseling is a multiculturally sensitive approach rooted in social construcuonism, a philosophical perspective that sees problems as constructed through people's languaging of social, cultural, and political influences (Monk, 1997; Semmler & Williams, 2000). Narrative counselors encourage clients to "use their own words to tell their own stories which carry their own meaning" (Semmler & Williams, 2000, p. 51). Narrative counselors are aware of their own cultural positioning and take a curious stance in relation to clients (White, 2007; Winslade & Monk, 2007), who are seen as the experts of their own lives (Lambie & Milsom, 2010). Narrative counseling is strengths-based (Gehart, 2013) and brief (Winslade & Monk, 2007), making it a good fit for busy school counselors who are called to implement comprehensive school counseling programs and address the American School Counselor Association's (ASCA) National Standards for Students (ASCA, 2004; 2012a). An effective theoretical counseling framework such as narrative provides professional school counselors with a practical way to focus on students' holistic development ranging from mental health needs to academic achievement (Lambie & Milsom, 2010; Olson, Korcuska, & Paez, 2007). It is also a useful approach for consulting and collaborating with other school and community stakeholders (Winslade & Monk, 2007).

The purpose of this article is to introduce readers to a narrative school counseling perspective. To that end, we write out of a narrative stance in a conversational style that aims to include the reader. Using an individual counseling case study, a small group format, a classroom guidance unit, and an example of consultation and advocacy, we describe key narrative concepts and techniques.


Narrative pioneers White and Epston (1990) used the term narrative to describe the stories that shape our lives, that give us our sense of identity. Our narratives develop over time as we interact with family, community members and institutions, and the broader culture in which we live (Besley, 2001; Epston, 1998; White, 1992 & 2000). We internalize the stories that are told and retold at home, at school, and in the world around us. For example, if "you are a failure" is what you hear repeatedly, you may start to believe this problem-saturated narrative and identify as a total failure (Cook-Cottone, 2004). You see yourself as the problem.

Problem-saturated narratives can crowd out other equally valid stories about who we are and they can keep us from imagining that alternative, preferred narratives are even possible (Besley, 2001). …

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