Exploring the narrative approach

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Exploring the narrative approach 

This week we are looking at an approach we normally use when coaching young people as individuals or in workshop groups and share some example activities you can try in your coaching sessions. However, this approach and the activities can be used to support anybody looking for an alternative way of expressing their emotions.

What is the narrative approach?

Australian therapist Michael White (1948-2008) first developed the narrative approach as a therapeutic way to unlock the power of storytelling. His approach involved conceptualizing the individual in terms of an overarching life story or personal narrative. The original approach was further developed in psychiatry by Julien Betbèze in France and then for coaching, it was initially expanded by Pierre Blanc-Sahnoun and then Dina Scherrer. They all introduced new intervention protocols that are based on the philosophy of the narrative approach and involve creating or reading stories that can sometimes contain challenges or solutions linked to the individuals own unique situation.

This was particularly helpful when coaching young people who already feel comfortable using storytelling as a way of explaining how they feel to other people or in relation to the stories they tell themselves. Some of these stories will be particularly helpful as they develop their own personal identity and others can help them explore behaviors related to their identity, personal values or difficult situations. And this can be really helpful if they are looking for an alternative way of expressing emotions if they are finding it hard to talk about difficult life experiences like a bereavement.

However, no matter how you use the narrative approach, we are confident that you will find the use of storytelling particularly effective in coaching young people because they are naturally more receptive to the use of stories. And the use of storytelling can be used in both a playful and reflective way to help explore who they are and what they feel as they transition into adulthood. Especially as their identities are still being developed and using the narrative approach you can really help them focus on their future so they shape it with confidence within the safe space of an individual or group coaching session.

The benefits of using storytelling and the narrative approach:

  • As an alternative way of expressing emotions
  • To help build confidence when dealing with new problems
  • For improving resilience and coping skills
  • For a greater understanding of their own personal self or identity
  • To improve problem-solving skills
  • To help view problems or issues from different perspectives

The narrative approach can be helpful for young people who have:

  • Experienced a major life event like a bereavement
  • Difficulty within the home or coping with their current situation
  • Experienced bullying or online trolling
  • Had changes to their looked-after status
  • Caring responsibilities
  • Difficulties within emotional development

Activities for coaching young people

Many parents or professionals are constantly looking for theories, tools and techniques, insights or information that can help them support the development of children and young people. This kind of positive support will hopefully enable them to grow into adults who reach their full potential and learn how to establish long-term relationships and an independent future.

If you are looking for some new ideas or activities when coaching individual young people or groups, you may want to try one or all of these activities. However, they can all be adapted to fit any coaching session if you think the power of storytelling can help get the conversation started.

1. My success story

Ask each participant to think about a story that has inspired them or brought feelings of joy and personal pride. Everyone is given time to write down an outline of the story and list out in a few keywords the elements that made them feel inspired. They then each take turns to talk about the story they selected and share the keywords with the group. When listening to these success stories, young people often experience a positive authenticity that strengthens their self-esteem. They make themselves advocates of the narrative approach without being aware of it. This type of activity can also help develop their listening skills, train their oral skills and can help with public speaking.

Tip: Help bring the story to life by asking for real-life examples that reflect the character or situation in the story.

2. Design a t-shirt

Working in pairs, ask the group to interview the person they are paired with using a semi-directive questionnaire. Ask them to identify likes and dislikes, personality traits and qualities, values, beliefs and motivations. After the interview, ask everyone to reflect on what they now know about the other person and individually sketch a t-shirt design that reflects who they think the person they interviewed is. Collect up all of the t-shirt designs and mix them around, then show them one by one to the group and ask them to agree on who each t-shirt could belong to.

Tip: Explore how different perspectives can influence how we are seen by others as this is something the narrative approach can really help us understand.

3, Looking into the future

Working alone, ask everybody to design a poster that reflects the journey they are on in life. It can include where they have come from, where they are now and where they see themselves in the future. Share a range of magazines and newspapers with the group for inspiration and then ask each person to cut out and stick onto their poster any photographs, images or text they feel will help tell their story. When the posters are finished, ask each person to show their poster and talk through their life story.

Tip: Discuss each poster with the group and create a movie title or short newspaper headline that explains who the person is and what the future holds.


Further reading:

Alongside these example activities, we have also developed some specific resources for you to use when coaching young people as a group or individually:

  • Ebook: Coaching Young People – Support parents to understand the changes taking place during adolescence with this ebook designed to help when you coach young people. This ebook also includes some creative coaching tools you can use in your coaching sessions and looks at a range of different coaching methods.
  • Virtual Game: Coaching Young People – This virtual card game provides you with a creative life coaching tool for coaching young people and includes 12 Illustrated objective cards and 40 Question Cards divided into 4 themes.

Please note – Please include a reference and link back to this original blog if you wish to copy or share anything we have written: (cc) MyCoachingToolkit.com – 2022

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