Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Telling a Good Story: Using Narratives in Vocational Rehabilitation with Veterans

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Telling a Good Story: Using Narratives in Vocational Rehabilitation with Veterans

Article excerpt

Because of the high chronicity of work-related problems in a Veterans Administration Medical Center population, many of the traditional methods of career assessment, counseling, and placement have proven ineffectual. In this article the authors detail the development of an intervention based on narrative or storytelling principles. They describe efforts to introduce this model to patients as well as to relate patients' stories to vocational outcomes. The usefulness of stories as an organizing principle for counselors and clients is discussed, and suggestions are offered for further uses of storytelling interventions.

Vocational Rehabilitation in the Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center system is designed to meet the vocational needs of low-income veterans and those who have incurred a disability during time spent in the service. Many of these veterans have disappointing work histories or disabling conditions that prevent them from performing work they once enjoyed. They present with a wide range of disabilities and diagnoses, from those that do not interfere substantially with work, to those that are more debilitating. Because of the high chronicity of work-related problems in this population, many of the traditional methods of career assessment, counseling, and placement have proven ineffectual.

Clinical experience suggests that patients who are able to tell a story about their futures, specifically describing the details of their living arrangements, sobriety maintenance, social support, and work lives, tend to be more effective in bringing those plans to fruition. Our attention was drawn to the process of telling a story as well as to the qualities of the stories themselves. The aims of this project were (a) to begin investigating whether storytelling and rescripting would be useful interventions in vocational rehabilitation work, (b) to determine whether there were discernible differences between the stories of different clients, and (c) to see whether those differences related to client variables collected during the intake process.

The use of a narrative approach has a long history in psychology. At least three research traditions recognize the therapeutic value of narrative: Markus and Nurius's (1986) possible selves, White and Epston's (1990) narrative therapy, and Gollwitzer's cognitive research in decision making and goal setting (Gollwitzer, Heckhausen, & Ratajczak, 1990; Gollwitzer, Heckhausen, & Steller, 1990; Gollwitzer & Kinney,1989).

A review of the literature shows that a variety of sources support the notion that storytelling is therapeutic in and of itself. Several researchers, operating in their own fields of interest, have examined the connection between positive images and performance outcome. According to Zimmerman and Dickerson ( 1994), a narrative approach helps move clients away from problem-dominated stories and toward newly constructed preferred stories. Likewise, solutionfocused therapists such as Berg and de Shazer ( 1993) have looked at the way in which solutions can be constructed through dialogue between therapist and client. According to Berg and de Shazer, the more clients and counselors discuss the solutions they want to construct together, the more they come to believe in the truth of what they are discussing. Berg and de Shazer proposed that there is a benefit to formulating solutions mentally (or verbally), because in constructing the images or words associated with success, the client becomes accustomed to viewing success as a viable option.

The cognitive literature suggests that people tend to make judgments based on a number of heuristics or cognitive rules of thumb. According to the availability heuristic (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974) our expectations about outcomes are easily biased by the facility with which the brain can retrieve images of similar outcomes. Therefore, merely thinking in detail about an event makes that event seem more probable (Carroll, 1978). …

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