This is a continuation of a review of selected essays in the text, Stammering Pride and Prejudice: Difference not Defect. In this essay, "One Story at a Time: Using the Narrative Approach to Self Therapy," Joshua Walker describes how Narrative Therapy helped him change his outlook and approach to his stuttering, and move forward with his career as a medical doctor.
The Challenge of the class presentation
Joshua had a difficult time when he started out in med school. Students had to conduct class seminars as a part of the program, and he felt inadequate, doubting he would even become a doctor. He had always been self conscious about his stuttering. When he discovered the principle of Narrative Therapy in advance of a seminar, it helped in a surprising way.
Joshua realized he had been conditioned to see stuttering through a “medical“ model, a framework that treats it as a problem originating from within the person. This is a “problem-saturated narrative” that focuses on achieving a state of normalcy.
Our Lives, Our Stories
Narrative therapy, on the other hand, doesn’t try to isolate or solve problems. Instead, it uses a narrative or "story-telling" outlook to help people mold a different perspective of their life's challenges. Our fate is not immuteable, we have the power to "re-write" our lives by looking at them as a work in creation. The notion that “stories provide the framework on which we hang our everyday life” creates the opportunity to reframe experiences and attitudes. We can separate ourselves from our problems and form more empowering stories.
Describing the actions and feelings of challenging life situations in terms of story-telling helps move from a simplistic “thin description” (e.g. I fail because of my stuttering, people don’t like me because I stutter) to what is known as a “thick description”, acknowledging our experiences are more nuanced and complex, and open to a variety of causes and solutions.
What we think is the problem sometimes isn't!
For instance, looking back on his presentations he had delivered in class, Joshua asked himself if it was stuttering that really caused his underwhelming performance. He considered that the problem could be his lack of preparedness and low enthusiasm. When he approached the seminars without worrying about stuttering, and instead focused on mastering the subject matter and bringing more energy and passion to his performance as a speaker, his seminars were a success, both for him and the audience.
Joshua's approach resulted in what Narrative Therapy refers to as a “Unique outcome,” a new narrative that he at one time thought was not possible. The message is that we have a choice in how we react to our stuttering and situations.
By getting away from a fluency-obsessed approach, Joshua discovered there were things more important than speaking fluently, such as speaking honestly, accurately, with conviction and with passion. Not only could he be a good doctor with a stutter, but stuttering didn’t even have to be a negative thing, as he changed what he valued most in communication.
Joshua Walker presents a different way to frame experiences and emotions that is facilitated by the technique of Narrative Therapy, and is a fascinating read for people who stutter and therapists alike.