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Integrating Existential and Narrative Therapy

A Theoretical Base for Eclectic Practice

By Alphons J. Richert

Publication Year: 2010

Responding to what he perceives as the ever-increasing medicalization of psychotherapy in recent decades, whereby clients are seen as mostly passive recipients of services, Alphons J. Richert offers therapists a collaborative theory that reasserts the importance of a client-centered approach to therapy. To be most useful to the client, he maintains, therapists must not be entirely tied to a particular school or approach, but must have a guiding framework that enables them to work flexibly, engaging in different activities at different times and with different clients, but always with a clear understanding of why they are doing so.

Rooted in a primarily constructivist framework, Richert sets out to develop an approach that uses both existential and narrative thinking regarding the process of change. After each of these approaches — including the similarities and major differences between them — are outlined, a more integrative method can be described, as Richert focuses on the interplay of bodily, lived experience and socially constructed meaning in the creation of the person’s self and world. A client is best served, he argues, when the therapist attends carefully to such meaning-making processes, and a creative synthesis of existential and narrative approaches grants particular emphasis to the human process of meaning-making on both these internal and interpersonal levels.

As a scholar and a practitioner, Richert also discusses the implications of this integrative position for the actual practice of therapy. Acknowledging the variety of needs, difficulties, and complex cases therapists must often address, this approach offers a systematic and purposeful approach to psychotherapy that simultaneously equips the therapist to adapt to the constantly developing therapeutic enterprise and to flexibly engage different clients with a diverse assortment of activities, interventions, and methods of treatment. Integrating Existential and Narrative Therapy will be of special interest to scholars and clinical psychologists who pursue either of these approaches to psychotherapy, as well as to those who seek to enhance a variety of other methodologies.

Published by: Duquesne University Press

Title Page

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xiii

There is an abundance of evidence (cf. Tallman and Bohart 1999, 91–92) that all the major approaches to psychotherapy are about equally effective. However, every practicing therapist knows that different clients benefit from different types of activities or interventions, and that clients require different types of therapeutic activities ...

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pp. xv

I would like to extend special thanks to a number of people who have been particularly helpful to me during the course of writing this book. First, I would like to thank my wife, Ruth, for her forbearance during my long periods of preoccupation and occasional frustration with this project and for proofreading several versions of ...

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1. Theory in Psychotherapy

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pp. 1-11

Meeting with new clients for the first time can be overwhelming, even for seasoned therapists. So much is happening. There are the stories clients tell about their concerns and problems, typically containing many different scenarios and emotional reactions. There are the ways they tell the stories — all the various paralinguistic elements of the ...

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2. Some Basic Existential Ideas

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pp. 12-27

Mahrer (1989) points out that every theory of psychotherapy is rooted in what he terms a “parent theory of personality,” a set of constructs about human functioning — rather than about change, which is the focus of a theory of therapy. The integrative theory presented in this book brings together two distinct yet compatible ...

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3. Some Basic Constructivist/Narrative Ideas

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pp. 28-40

Narrative approaches to therapy are rooted in a different philosophical tradition than existential therapies, constructionism. Like existential thought, constructionist thinking is not “of a piece.” Numerous strands in this philosophical tradition are united by a shared commitment to the idea that reality as it is known by humans does not exist ...

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4. Preparing for Integration

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pp. 41-60

Neimeyer (1993) has argued that it is necessary for potential candidates for integration to share a common view of the human condition. This chapter will examine some differences and similarities between the existential and narrative approaches to identify both the existing commonalities that point to a shared view of the human condition and those differences that must be addressed in attempting ...

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5. An Integrative Proposal

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pp. 61-79

In the preceding chapter, several important areas of theoretical and metatheoretical convergence between existential and narrative approaches to psychotherapy were noted: humans are makers of meaning who must create a comprehensible world; people are capable of free choice and that interference with choice is a basis for psychological dysfunction; people are in a constant ...

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6. An Integrative Understanding of Self

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pp. 80-104

Individuals’ sense of “self ” as they experience it in daily living is curiously simple, so much so that people tend to take it for granted. That simplicity and self-evidence vanishes as soon as psychologists turn an inquiring eye upon the idea of “self ” as a theoretical concept. In this arena, controversy abounds. But for individuals going through their ...

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7. The Nature of Psychological Dysfunction

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pp. 105-140

Drawing on existential and critical constructivist thinking, the integrative position being developed here holds that people create their own reality and structure it in narrative form at all levels of awareness. These stories are lived, and in the process of reflection, may also become focal mental content. This construction takes place in ...

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8. The Nature of the Therapeutic Relationship

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pp. 141-169

Safran and Muran open their book on the therapeutic alliance stating, “After approximately a half century of psychotherapy research, one of the most consistent findings is that the quality of the therapeutic alliance is the most robust predictor of treatment success” (2000, 1). In their review of approximately 1100 studies spanning a 35-year period ...

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9. Beginning Therapy I: Co-constructing the Therapeutic Bond

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pp. 170-210

The preceding chapters have described the underlying assumptions about human functioning in which the existential/narrative approach to therapy is rooted. What are the implications of this view for the actual conduct of treatment? What do therapists who understand human functioning, distress, and change in these ways do to help ...

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10. Beginning Therapy II: Co-creating Therapeutic Goals and Tasks

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pp. 211-247

As central as the bond between client and therapist is for successful therapy, it does not constitute the totality of the therapeutic relationship as discussed earlier. Clients and therapists bond around achieving their common purpose of helping the clients deal more effectively with the problems that confront them. Therefore, it is also critical to ...

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11. Internal Meaning-Making Processes in Ongoing Treatment

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pp. 248-268

Existential/narrative therapy can be described as a series of interactions between clients and therapists in which therapists listen empathically and with curiosity to their clients’ stories and respond so as to engage with the clients in co-creating new, more empowering stories about their clients’ problems. In other words, understood in existential ...

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12. Interpersonal Meaning-Making Processes in Ongoing Treatment

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pp. 269-293

The connection between interpersonal process and the creation of meaning is straightforward. Kiesler (1996) argues that in nearly every interaction with another, a person is seeking confirmation of a preferred view of self. In existential/narrative terms, this means that people enact (rather than verbalize) particular stories in which they are ...

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13. Process, Content, and the Construction of Therapist Interventions

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pp. 294-341

The preceding two chapters have attempted to define and suggest some ways of observing various meaning-making processes occurring both within the client and between the client and therapist. Because clients are likely to find different kinds of resources useful in changing when they are engaging in different types or levels of meaning-making ...

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14. The Existential/Narrative Approach: Review and Reflections

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pp. 342-368

Mahrer (1989) argues that every theory of therapeutic change has its roots in what he terms a parent theory of personality. He contends that in order to understand the theory of change, it is necessary to appreciate the assumptions regarding what it is to be human made in that parent theory of personality. ...


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pp. 369-394


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pp. 395-409

E-ISBN-13: 9780820705729
Print-ISBN-13: 9780820704395

Page Count: 424
Publication Year: 2010