Postmodern approaches

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Solution-Focused and Narrative Therapies

Key Terms:

Alternative story- a story that develops in counseling in contradiction to the dominant story that is embedded in a problem.

Co-authoring- a co-joint process where client and counselor share responsibility for developing alternative stories.
Deconstruction- exploring meaning by taking apart/unpacking the taken-for-granted categories and assumptions underlying social practices that are guised as truths.
Dominant story- understanding a situation that is accepted within a culture that appears to represent reality. Dominant stories are developed through conversations in social and cultural contexts and these stories shape how people construct and constitute what people see, feel, and do.
Exception questions- SF counselors inquire about times when the problem(s) have not been problematic. Shows that problems are not ever existing and always overpowering.
Externalizing conversation- a way of speaking about a problem as if it is a distant entity, separate of the person. Based on the premise that people who view themselves as the problem limit themselves to the extent they cannot effectively deal with the problem.
Formula first session task- observation homework given that must be completed between first and second session. They must observe what is happening in their lives that they want to continue to happening.
Mapping-the-influence questions- a series of questions asked about a problem that clients have internalized as a means of understanding the relationship between client and problem.
Miracle question- ST technique that asks clients how their lives would be different if they woke up tomorrow and they no longer had their problem(s). [“You didn’t know the problem went away because you were asleep, so, what would be the first difference you notice as you wake up and get ready for the day?”]

Narrative- social contructionist conceptualization of how people develop and create ‘storied’ meanings in their lives.

Narrative therapy- postmodern approach to counseling that is based on counselor characteristics that create an encouraging climate where clients see their stories from different perspectives. Philosophical framework assists clients in finding new meanings and possibilities in their lives.
Not-knowing position- a therapeutic stance that invites clients to be experts about their own lives. Clients inform counselors about significant narratives in their lives.
Postmodernism- philosophical movement that aims to critically examine assumptions that are a part of the established truths of society. Recognize/Acknowledge complexity, relativity, and intersubjectivity of all human experiences.
Postmodernist- believe that subjective reality cannot exist independently of the observational process. Problems exist when people say that a problem needs to be addressed.
Pretherapy change- SF counselors ask about pre-session improvements, or what clients have done that made any difference since scheduling the session in the first counseling session.
Problem-saturated story- when clients are overwhelmed and fused to problems. NT assist clients to understand they do not have to reduce their identity by totalizing descriptions.
Re-authoring- a process in NT where clients and counselors jointly create an alternative life story.
Scaling questions- a SF technique that asks clients to observe changes in feelings, moods, thoughts, and behaviors. Clients rate changes on a 1-10 scale.
Social constructionism- therapeutic perspective within a postmodern worldview that stresses client reality without disputing the accuracy and validity. Emphasizes the ways people make meaning in social relationships.
Solution-focused brief therapy- a postmodern approach to counseling in which clients recover and create solutions, not talk about problems

Totalizing descriptions- descriptions of people that constrict themselves to a single dimension that reportedly captures their identity.

Unique outcome- lived experiences are outside the realm of dominant stories OR lived experiences are contradiction to the problem story.
Key Figures:


Insoo Kim Berg & Steve de Shazer


Michael White & David Epston
Philosophy and Basic Assumptions:

Social Constructionism (Solution-focused and Narrative):

Stories people tell are true and creations of meaning

Realities are socially constructed, there is no absolute reality

Counselors DO NOT impose their reality or values

Clients are the experts of themselves

Solution-focused counselors view people as healthy, competent, resourceful, and able to construct solutions and alternative stories to enhance lives

Help clients recognize competencies

Help focus on what clients are doing [when problem does not occur] to develop strengths, potential, and resources
Narrative counselors avoid making assumptions by valuing each unique story and culture of clients

Key Concepts:


Movement from problem to solution-talk

Brief therapy

Exceptions to problems exist

Counselors pay attention to what client’s do that works

Change is constant and inevitable; begin with small changes

Little attention to pathology (diagnosis)

Counselors assume a “not-knowing” position so that client’s are responsible for constructing solutions


Explore how problem has disrupted, dominated, or discouraged clients

Separate clients from their problems [externalize the problem]

Work with clients to view stories from different perspectives before co-creating an alternative life story

Clients have to find evidence to support their new life story (competence)

Work with clients to explore what kind of future can be expected from emerging competence

Therapeutic Goals:


Clients establish their own goals and preferences

Create a climate of mutual respect, dialogue, inquiry, and affirmation [therapeutic process]

Miracle question helps clients identify goals and solutions

Identify how societal standards and expectations are internalized


Invite clients to describe experiences with new/different/fresh language

Therapeutic Relationship:

Social Constructivist:

Collaborative approach where counselor creates understanding and acceptance so clients can tap into their inner resources

Counsel WITH clients, not ON clients

Solution-focused & Narrative:

Counselors take a naiveté stance (clients are the experts of their lives)

Collaboration opens opportunities for present/future changes)

Clients interpret their personal experiences

Clients are primary interpreters of personal experiences

Show clients how they can use their strengths and resources to construct solutions


Counselors seek to understand client experiences

Avoid predictions, interpretations, and pathologizing

Collaborate with clients to help them experience a heightened sense of agency (acting in society)

Techniques and Procedures:

[Techniques are future-oriented to solve problems; no need to understand cause of problems]


Externalize problems

Focus on strengths and unused resources

Challenge discovery of solutions that might work

Pretherapy change (What was done between time set appointment and first appointment?)

Exception questions (When did problems not exist?)

Miracle question- clients describe life without the problem

Scaling questions- enables clients to see their change/progress

Homework- clients are to observe what events they would like to see occur more often; implement resources, strengths, and exceptions

Summary feedback- genuine affirmations (point out strengths and successes) are given by counselors


Emphasizes the relationship

Help clients separate themselves from their problem [the problem is the problem]

Process of listening, curious, persistent, and respectful questioning

Explore impact of problem and what clients are doing to reduce effects of problem

Client and therapist co-construct alternative stories



Individual & Group Counseling

Marriage & Family Counseling

Inpatient, School, & Medical settings

Diverse clinical problems (substance and child abuse, depression, sexual abuse, child & spousal abuse)


Individual, School & Group Counseling

Marriage, Family, & Substance Abuse Counseling

Relationship problems


Clinical Supervision


Eating disorders

Childhood and adolescent-related issues

Optimistic; views people as competent and able to create solutions and life affirming stories

Move from what is WRONG to SOLUTIONS

Problems are not viewed as pathological

Counselors give evidence to support client competence

Future-oriented questioning


Counselor skill level to use techniques

Counselor attitude is critical to success of outcomes in therapy

Counselor should be skilled at brief therapy

Quick assessments, goals, and interventions

No set agenda/formula in Narrative Therapy to assure client outcomes

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