The concept of narration is very broad and goes beyond the boundaries of oral and / or literary narrative; the narration refers to the myth, the legend, the fairy tale, the popular novel, the epic, the story, the tragedy, the drama, the comedy, the mime, painting, cinema, theater, comics, conversation . Regardless of a subdivision in good and bad literature, the narration seems international, transtoric, transcultural: life itself is narration as history (Bruner, 1988).
When we talk about storytelling we don’t just limit ourselves to verbal narrative of course. The narrative operation, in fact, can take place through various channels (from spoken language, to writing, to the video image …).
Narrating represents the only way the human being has to make known a story or his own story. In fact, it is not possible to present oneself to the world if not narrating oneself.
The use and constant presence of writing in the last five thousand years of human history demonstrates the extraordinary psychological, as well as communicative, power of this medium. The same method of distinction between history and prehistory highlights the importance of writing in the reinterpretation of human culture: everything that happens after man has started leaving written documents is historical.
Writing something, like reading it, can easily change our mood and have strong implications for the rest of our day. Not only that, writing can change our internal states and the organization of thoughts, even when writer and reader are separated by a consistent space-time distance.
The reasons for which man writes can be traced mainly to a strong communicative need inherent in the human mind, by its purely linguistic nature. Some authors like Maturana see language as an essential feature of a self-conscious mind (Maturana, 1993). According to this approach, the mind is a function of language and not vice versa.
Writing has a high communicative power being one of the most effective and safest methods for exchanging information. Writing, from a psychological point of view, gives man the beneficial illusion of being able to leave a mark and make his thoughts survive him.
But the functions of writing are not limited to the sphere of communication between real figures. One can very well write to another imaginary and equally reap the benefits of a liberating and organizing activity like this.
Recent biographical and narrative approaches show that narration is a central element in human life. The individual storytelling generates the mental organization of a personal biography which, adequately intertwined with the stories of other lives, contributes to giving meaning to one’s experiences and existence.
Our lives are in fact incessantly intertwined with narratives, with the stories we tell or that are told to us (in the most diverse forms), with those that we dream or imagine or would like to be able to narrate. All are reworked in the story of our life, which we tell ourselves in a long, episodic monologue, often unaware, but virtually uninterrupted (Brooks, 1995).
We live immersed in the narrative rethinking and weighing the meaning of our past actions, anticipating the results of those planned for the future, and placing ourselves at the intersection of various unfinished events. The narrative instinct is as old in us as the desire for knowledge, it is the privileged way to attribute meanings.
This definition of narration is very extensive and, although other authors restrict its scope, it serves to convey the idea of the multiplicity of its manifestations in daily life.
The interest in a “narrative psychology” has emerged within a more general “narrative” orientation in the epistemology and sciences of man; as far as psychology is concerned, this interest has been favored by the development of studies on stories (in the clinic and in evolutionary psychology). It is not easy to say what a story consists of, and even in the linguistic field it has not yet reached its univocal definition.
Many psychotherapists identify the fulcrum of the therapeutic process in the storytelling activity. For these, man builds and rebuilds his worlds by narrating them. It can be said that they discovered the fundamental importance that narration has in the continuous redefinition of an identity. Therapy is thus seen as a story, as a novel, as a work of art.
“The whole therapeutic activity is basically this sort of imaginative exercise that recovers the oral tradition of storytelling: therapy restores history to life”. ( J. Hillmann The stories that cure) .
In the clinical field, Erving Polster (1987) suggests that every person’s life can be seen as a novel: the discovery of this analogy would be therapeutic in itself.
Polster, like Hillman (1984), sees psychotherapy as an aesthetic-artistic process. The therapist must use the same selective and constructive criteria that a writer uses in producing a story, in order to help the client “re-write” his biography. It is in this way that within the setting a story is produced of which the therapist and client are the co-narrators. This intervention practice is supported by the theoretical “discovery” of a specific way of functioning of the mind: narrative thinking.
Narrative thought would be the basis of a way of representing and knowing the world guided by rules that carry meaning, prescriptive and thematic; a peculiar way in which man organizes, elaborates and narrates reality and self-experience. Once assumed that narrative can be a vehicle for change, it is legitimate to note that there are narratives (ways of representing oneself) more effective than others; often a simple storytelling is not enough to promote change. Currently, the attention of researchers and clinicians is aimed at understanding how narration produces changes, “how” stories cure and under what circumstances a type of narration can be effective.
This is because, throughout life, we do nothing but tell ourselves through stories that represent real narrative acts as the result of active operations of organization and elaboration of the different episodes that we consider most important for our life (see Callieri , 1999-2000).
This operation, however, does not arise exclusively from the need to tell us outside, but from the need to give meaning to what happens to us, to connect the different events that dot our existence along a temporal and spatial dimension. It stems from the desire to tell us about ourselves.
In addition to being an essential relational tool, therefore, narration also represents, and above all, the way through which to give shape to one’s identity.
If we talk about narrative identity, we can say that every time we introduce ourselves both to ourselves and to others, we are actually telling ourselves in a certain way. This is because, as Callieri says, “… we are nothing but the story we tell about ourselves and our narrative identity is constituted through our story” (1999-2000, pp. 4).
It is the stories that people tell and tell about their lives that determine the meaning they themselves attribute to their experiences. The experiences that the ego carries out give shape to identity: narrating them gives them meaning, places them in a context, in a time and therefore in an already existing story.
Narrating therefore represents an operation of awareness in that it is equivalent to building one’s own vision of oneself and of the world: it is I as narrator who, when I tell something, I make a selection, an organization of the available material.
The development of facts in stories or “personal stories” is necessary for people to make sense of their lives, for them to acquire a feeling of coherence and continuity. By creating intentional links between lived experiences. One cannot ignore the concept of intentionality because, in building stories, people determine, in addition to the meaning they attribute to experience, also which aspects of lived experience are selected for the attribution of meaning.
What I tell, then, is always influenced by who is listening to me or who I imagine is listening to me. My style will probably also change according to the audience or what I imagine my audience is. The moment I tell, I make a choice: I choose what to tell about myself and what not, what to show, I organize the timing, intonations, facial expressions, words, voice, pauses … This is particularly evident if I tell a made my life to a friend, to an enemy, to a person who dislikes me, to a person who is nice to me, to a person I would love to fall in love with or to a person I hate.
The narrative activity therefore completes and acquires meaning only if there is a listener of the narration. It is not enough, in fact, for someone to tell if there is no one who listens to what they are narrating. Therefore, the intentionality of the person who is listening to that story must always be linked to the intentionality of the narrator (a book needs a reader to become a narrative, just as the diary needs my listening to tell me something).
Within the psychotherapeutic relationship, a narrator-listener polarity of the narrative is created between patient and therapist. This polarity requires the intentionality of both to create a narrative construction that involves them as actors in the relationship.
Throughout the path of therapy, patient and therapist work on narrative realities that the patient himself creates by making them stories. The therapist does not care if those realities “really” happened or not; what interests him is the reconstruction that the customer makes of what happened.
In fact, when you tell something that belongs to your past, you don’t relive it, you rebuild it. “The author, although always addressing someone, is concerned with the taste of remembering not for facts but rather for meanings taken from experience and therefore for reflections” (Demetrio, 1995, pp. 72).
This does not mean that it is invented but that the “weaving I”, as Demetrio defines it (ibidem), gives life to an intertwining between narrative and historical reality, to an “as if”. The more the story is coherent, the higher the possibility of confusing narrative and historical reality with the lived reality.
This allows the therapist to free himself from the bonds of truth and to work on the narrative reality that the person is telling and re-building together with him.
In the meantime that we represent ourselves and rebuild “… we think back on what we have experienced, we create another from ourselves. We see him act, make mistakes, love, enjoy, lie, get sick and rejoice: we split, we bile, we multiply” (Demetrius, 1995, pp. 12). We create a creative “aesthetic distance” in that we observe ourselves in our narration; we distance ourselves from the event that occurred, within a certain limit, in order to organize it in a narrative form.
The here and now of therapy becomes the fertile place and time within which to start living new experiences, new ways of feeling, different versions of one’s existence and, therefore, new stories.
The therapist’s task is to enter the hypothetical world of the “as if” of the client, in its various reconstructions and listen to the emergence of connections with his story.
“Reconstructing a story thus becomes a building together of a stretch of life, remodeling parts of oneself, of the representations of one’s own identity and social context” (Venturini, 1995, pp. 56). It means giving rise to a new story which, as shared, creates a comparison within which the therapist moves towards a goal: to facilitate the person in taking responsibility, to help him risk different possibilities, to open a script of life which was always repeated in the same way. It helps her to reopen the ending, in a way, as it offers him the opportunity to remove the word end. In this sense we speak of creative storytelling;
Obviously, it is not for the therapist to propose a different story: he can limit himself to giving stimuli, to portraying something that is in the background. He can offer the customer to wear alternatives by going to see if it is possible to insert subtexts, stories of secondary characters in the story he tells him. Basically what he does is a reorganization of the narrative field playing with the elements of the client’s story.
So even psychology and psychoanalysis have not gone unscathed through the narrative / biographical turn, so much so that we are now talking about a real narrative psychology, determined by the renewed interest in the use and meaning of the stories in therapy and more in general of their importance in building an individual’s self.
In the psychoanalytic field, the category of the narrator self made its appearance, where the term indicates a self that tells stories and the description of the self belongs to the narrated story. This narrative panorama is not lacking in the identification of the therapist with the figure of a “story seeker”.
The same belief systems, which we learn with the culture we are part of, are no longer understood simply as systems of real events, but are rather considered as stories that human beings narrate to organize and interpret their experience. Seen in this light, “pathology” is also considered as a particular narrative structure, and therapy is an intervention on it. The different methodological proposals present in each particular therapeutic school can also be defined as different stories or narratives; and so, alongside a Freudian and neo-Freudian, Adlerian, Jungian “history”, we also have a systemic-relational, a Gestalt, an analytic-transactional history, etc.: different, but continuous, narratives,