I was recently pointed to a research article titled Sobering Stories: Narratives of Self-Redemption Predict Behavioral Change and Improved Health Among Recovering Alcoholics out of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver where the authors William Dunlop and Jessica Tracy found that newly sober alcoholics whose narratives included self-redemption were substantially more likely to maintain sobriety in the following months, compared to newly sober alcoholics who produced nonredemptive narratives. The authors believe these findings indicate a potentially modifiable psychological process that exhibits a major influence on recovery from addiction.
This study caught my interest for several reasons. First these findings set up a future study where the "intervention design" could be narrative therapy. Leading to another step toward the magic kingdom of evidence based practice. Whatever that is ;)
Secondly it poses the question of how might narratives of self-redemption be brought forward in counseling situations without them being imposed on the storyteller? The researchers did this by just asking about the participants experience with the last drink in an effort not to not prompt participants to describe an experience of “bottoming out,” or a “turning point,” both of which might motivate individuals to frame their narratives in redemptive terms. All good, but moving from the known and familiar to what might be possible in the face of addiction is tricky work if the redemptive theme is still in development or just a trace.
But what if the story is not one of redemption? How might a person seeking our help be assisted in those cases? These questions had me thinking of John Winslade's article Tracing Lines of Flight: Implications of the Work of Gilles Deleuze for Narrative Practice. This piece of writing has been well worn by me in cases where marginalization, unfairness and hopelessness sit heavy in the work. It is through this work where I began to ask people I was working with "who might you be?" in the face of whatever problem may be plaguing us in the moment. Even in the most desperate situations it seems that these types of questions would lead to stories of wisdom, knowledges and acts of agency, no matter what these people were facing.
As someone intimately involved in recovery, it is nice to see the power of narrative get its due with such entrenched problems as addiction and substance misuse. I'm hopeful we'll all be reading more about this in the future.