As anyone who has read my blog for any period of time will know narrative approaches to careers development and their use on careers counselling/ coaching are one of my big current interests. I came across this video recently which I found really insightful. The actual example given in the second section of the video isn’t that great mainly because it does not adhere to the principles discussed before. It is these initial ideas that I really like and thought I would expand a bit on.
1) People are the experts in their own lives
This is a key principle for person-centred approaches in general and to the constructivist field that narrative careers ideas tend to come from. When people say this they often mean that people should/ can not be tested in some way, the expertise in the subject matter lies with the client not the practitioner. This is particularly pertinent in narrative approaches where the client constructs and tells their own story. Drawing on Ricoeur’s work this narrative is not so much a history (a complete account of events) as it is a perspective on events constructed and told by the individual.
2) People and problems are separate and people can change the relationships with their problems
While narrative theories say knowledge is in here (with the client) it all says that problems are out there (separate from the client). I liked the water and oil metaphor here as it shows that people and their problems always have contact (no-one is saying that problems don’t exist) but that the relationship with the problem can be re-imagined. Satre’s idea of radical freedom comes into play here which says that problems exist but we always have a choice to make, we are never in a dead end without any options. The focus of narrative ideas is on agency and alternatives. Stories rely on the agency of characters, if characters did not have real choices to make then they would be rubbish, in fact I would go further and say an account were the actors were completely pre-determined and could not change this would not be a story, you would have to pick another name, agency is central to stories.
3) People make meaning out of existence through telling stories to connect events
Picking up the constructivist principle of meaning making narrative ideas claim we make meaning by connecting events. This shows the fundamental qualitative nature of narratives. We claim that not everything which happens to you is equally important, some events have more importance than others, they have different qualities. We focus on the events we perceive as important and ask how events connect together to tell a story of who we are. Again looking at Ricoeur’s work we imagine a link between our past events and our present and then think of a variety of ways that our present make connect to potential futures. This has an active element to it, we are editors in effect choosing what to keep out and leave in in our narratives.
4) Stories are influenced by culture
The editing process described above is underpinned by a value system from the world around us, that is to say which events a client sees as important will be informed by the cultural narratives that go on around us. This valuing process is a powerful thing for a client and creates challenges for the practitioner. Should we just tacitly acknowledge cultural forces or help clients to expose them? Should we affirm culture or help clients to re-imagine how they might relate to culture or embed themselves in alternative cultures they have become exposed to?
5) People seek help so that their lived stories become their desired stories
If you watch any Disney film there is almost universally an “I want” moment. Usually in the form of a song the main character contrasts their current situation with what they want their situation to be.
I call this the narrative gap, the distance between what someone wants and has. The larger the gap in their mind the more keenly they feel the desire to change and so are prepared to act to bring about the change. This is why people seek help, or at least we hope it is, so that they can close the gap between what they want and what they have. This then is the foundation of a relationship between the client and the practitioner, them asking you to play a part in moving them from where they are to where they want to be.
6) Client and practitioner aim to co-construct a new preferred story
What happens when a client and practitioner work together should be about re-writing a new story. The practitioner is a kind of writing coach helping the client imagine a meaningful future. The job is to ask pertinent questions around how it is imagined and reflect back the image as it becomes into focus. Then once the future has been imagined the task is to ask questions around what needs to happen to make this future possible, what has previously happened that have moved the client away from the future they want, what needs to be done differently now to change this.