A Conversation about Anxiety using Narrative Therapy.

talking about anxietyAnxiety is one of the most pervasive problems that people present with for therapy and counselling. If you have a problem with Anxiety, you are certainly not alone!



Research about Anxiety Treatments

Research has shown that anti-anxiety medication should not be used long term for anxiety due to potential side effects and risk of addiction.

Talking therapies, such as Narrative Therapy, provide an alternative treatment for managing or overcoming anxiety, depression and other mental health difficulties.

Internalised Anxiety

Anxiety often has people identifying strongly with it. A person may turn up to therapy and say, “I am an anxious person”.  They may even go so far as to say “I am Anxious”. It is as though the person and the problem have actually become one! With this comes an expectation that a person needs to be ‘fixed’ or ‘corrected’ in some way.

Narrative Therapists know that people are not problems. While a problem can become highly influential in someone’s life, there is always more to a person than the problems he or she is experiencing. One of the first things we can do to make this difference more obvious is to try to externalise anxiety. For example, we can start to explore descriptions of the anxiety. The richer and more vivid these descriptions, the better.

Person: It’s strong. It’s tough. It has a hold over my life.

Therapist: A hold over your life? Like it has you trapped?

Person: Yes, it’s keeping me prisoner. It keeps me trapped in a very dark place.

These questions and answers serve to raise the curiosity of both the therapist and the person attending therapy. There are many directions in which a therapeutic conversation can go and this is just one example…

Therapist: What is Anxiety keeping you prisoner from?

Person: Well I used to love going shopping, but the anxiety makes me dread going out where there might be lots of people. Parties as well. I’d like to make more friends but when I go out I just get so anxious.

Externalising Anxiety

People are not so used to externalising and the idea that problems are located within us is quite widespread. So it helps to have a therapist continue to speak of anxiety as having its own character.

Therapist: So Anxiety traps you away from the things you enjoy, shopping, parties, meeting people and things like that?

Person: Yes. It takes away my pleasure.

Therapist: Would it be fair to say Anxiety robs you of pleasure? Or would that be the wrong expression?

Person: No, that’s fair. It has robbed me of pleasure. It gives me insomnia so it’s also robbed me of sleep. It’s been around a long time.

Everyone affected by Anxiety has a unique relationship with it. We already know this particular Anxiety as a kind of forceful captor that keeps this person away from enjoyable activities and steals their pleasure and sleep. Other questions can be used to investigate what the person retains of their identity.

Therapist: What does this Anxiety stop other people from knowing about you?

Person: It makes me seem unfriendly and people get the idea that I don’t like making friends. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact if it wasn’t for Anxiety I think I might have a lot more friends.

Therapist: Really?

Person: Yes. I’m actually a nice person. But the Anxiety keeps this hidden.

As new strands of the story are revealed, new opportunities to explore the tactics of Anxiety present themselves…

Therapist: What strategies does Anxiety use to try to keep this niceness hidden?

Person: It talks me out of doing things. I might have every intention of going out to a family get-together but Anxiety tells me it will be too hard and I start to panic.

Discovering Other Stories about Anxiety

Narrative Therapists are always listening not only to the story of the problem but to the stories of resistance or resilience or action against the problem.

Therapist: Have there been times when you have stood up to Anxiety and refused to listen to it?

Person: Yes there have, although there are not many.

Therapist: Can you tell me about one of these times? What did you do?

Sometimes there are exceptional moments in a person’s life when a problem like Anxiety does not have its way. Such a story may provide memories of skills and abilities or beliefs or values that are important in finding a way forward. Unlike many therapeutic approaches, Narrative Therapy is a form of psychotherapy that does not treat people as disorders or as deficient but as sources of knowledge and holders of experience.

These are just possible initial directions in a conversation about Anxiety. This kind of initial exploration might take place over 1 or 2 sessions with a psychotherapist, psychologist or counsellor. It might assist someone to regain a sense of who they are and discover more about themselves in the process.

For more information or to make an appointment, go to www.forwardtherapy.com

About Forward Therapy

Ash Rehn is a counsellor and narrative therapist with over 20 years experience. He specialises in therapeutic conversations and collaborative therapy for anxiety, burnout, depression, midlife crisis, sex and relationship issues, pornography use problems and counselling for lesbians and gay men.

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One Response to A Conversation about Anxiety using Narrative Therapy.

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