Review: Introducing Narrative Psychology: self, trauma and the construction of meaning by M. L. Crossley   Leave a comment


In this way, we live in and for the future,
believing that our actions in the present will,
at the very least, have a bearing on what we
will become
~ Crossley (2000)

As we tell our stories to others we are actually constructing shared and individual realities. Narratives are our schemes of personal knowledge connecting to how we make sense of ourselves. Crossley (2000) wrote a book titled, Introducing Narrative Psychology: self, trauma and the construction of meaning in which narrative theories are introduced, stories of trauma are revealed, and approaches are touched upon regarding how to apply these theories to one’s own autobiography. Various social constructivist approaches are focused on, for instance, postmodern, feminist analysis, discourse analysis, interpretive phenomenological analysis, and rhetorical. There are themes through the literature such as experience, uniqueness, meaning, the search for self, identity, and language. The author also incorporates case studies from individuals who have been diagnosed positive for HIV and others who were involved in sexual abuse as a child. Hence, the text is broken down into three main focuses for instance, theoretical narrative psychology being influenced by the social constructionist and considered the best method as Crossley comments, “This is because it entails certain assumptions about the relationship between self, identity and social structures (especially language)…” (p. 4). Furthermore, the author discusses narrative analysis and stories of suffering, trauma, and healing which produces narrative themes that are related to being HIV positive and childhood sexual abuse. In the literature it becomes apparent that there are various traditional perspectives, postmodernism, societal views and discourse in which to build personal meaning and identity when confronted with a traumatic occurrence that complicates ones chronological time sequence as in a HIV positive patient. Crossley (2000) notes that, “…a valid portrayal of human selves and behaviour necessitate an understanding of the inextricable connection between time and identity” (p.10).

All the perspectives and theories stem from different narrative theorists and postmodern or deconstructionism philosophers such as Taylor, Gilligan, Derrida, Lyotard, Lacan, and Foucault (philosopher/historian). According to Crossley (2000), “These authors see individuals and selves as being enfolded in language and thus constituted through social and historical relations of power and modes of discipline” (p.25). Their work is prevalent in the study of self and is seen as being constructed through our history such as, the 17thcentury when describing the adultery of a woman who was punished by Puritan judges by wearing a red scarlet letter across her chest. Taylor (1979) characterizes this as a, “…substantive definition of rationality and morality; one in which our sense of the ‘good’ is seen in terms of alliance with the pre-existent order created by God” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 17).

In comparison to the substantive order is the procedural models in which our action is judged in terms of the standards by which we and the community construct order (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 17). The Enlightenment period is portrayed in Locke’s theories on disengagement. As Crossley (2000) notes, “…theories promoting the ideal of the human as being capable of making and remaking him/herself through methodical and disciplined action, by taking a logical and instrumental stance towards desires, inclinations, tendencies…” (p. 19). This period is known for one-dimensional and exaggerated images of the self-controlled, rational and disciplined (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 20). Taylor (1979) refers to this as a, “…stance of disengagement as an image of the ‘punctual self’ in which the individual is deemed capable of exercising radical self-control over his/her thoughts and behaviours” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 19). Historically, the form of self-expression and inner voice arose in the contemporary era of the Romantic period. According to Taylor (1979), “…from this point onwards, people began to define virtuous, ‘the good’, in terms of how they ‘felt’ about the world and their lives in general” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 20). Taylor (1979) describes how the interiorization concept was crucial to how people defined morality and ‘the good life’ (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 166).

Another era discussed is the postmodernism era in which we live today. According to Crossley (2000), “The postmodern era is characterized by the increasing proliferation of high technology such as computers and the media, virtual reality and hyperspace…create the capacity for new forms of communication and knowledge, and consequent changes in social and economic formations” (p. 25). The question then becomes, “How do we begin to understand ourselves and others?
Crossley (2000) mentions four different approaches relevant to the narrative psychology lens, experimentally based social psychology referring to a quantitative method and the development of self from information around us and not the individual uniqueness. According to Crossley (2000), “…it is assumed that your development of a sense of self requires the realization that you are a ‘knower’, an ‘I’, a unique processor of the information around you” (p. 4). This approach has been criticized for its shallow and inadequate characterization of the concept ‘self’. (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 9). The second is the humanistic approach where the focus is on the individual as an individual. Crossley comments, “The main aim of this kind of approach is to capture in all its full complexity the subjective nature of self and worlds experienced by each idiosyncratic individual” (p. 7). Maslow (1970) and Rogers (1961) held the belief that all individuals have the potential for personal growth resulting in their uniqueness and encourage self-actualization (as cited in Crossley, 2000, para. p. 7). Theorists critique this method as Crossley (2000) states, “…has been criticized for imputing too great conception of human agency on to its concept of ‘self’” (Crossley, 2000, p. 9). Next is the psychodynamic/psychoanalytical or depth psychology is the perspective towards self and identity where actions are unconsciously motivated. As Crossley (2000) states it is a, “…focus in individual ‘depth’, meaning and uniqueness” (p. 8) and similar to the humanistic method. The author continues that it, “…implies that active forces are at work in the personality – “inner” causes of behaviour – which includes feelings, conflicts, and drives, that were largely unaware of” (p.8). These three traditional approaches are based on the theory that the self exists as an entity that is discovered and described similar to an object in the natural or in the physical world (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 9). The fourth method of narrative psychology is the social constructivist theory also called language based on approaches that has arisen in the past decade as Crossley has describes, “…the main effect, of this new, allegedly ‘critical’ social constructivist movement has been to: displace attention from the self-as entity and focus it on the methods of constructing the self” (p.9). This approach came about in response to the psychodynamic/psychoanalytical, humanistic, and experimentally based social psychology approaches.

The social constructivist perspective recognizes language as a part of forming and constructing one’s identity and self (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 10). Crossley (2000) acknowledges, “Narrative psychology is premised on the assumption that human experience and behaviour are meaningful and that, in order to understand ourselves and others, we need to explore the ‘meaning systems’ and the ‘structures of meaning that make up our minds and worlds” (p. 10). It is the goal of narrative psychology to study language, stories and narratives which constitute selves, the implications and permutations of those narratives for individuals and societies (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 40). Crossley (2000) discusses narrative psychological approaches as, “…a hermeneutic inquiry in which parts of the individual’s self and identity can be understood only in relation to the whole (across the life span, in the context of a particular family biography, history, society and moral perspective…” (p. 104).

We understand ourselves through language as we speak and write on a daily basis hence, we are constantly in the process of creating ourselves through the order of meaning (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 10). The narrative psychological approach was developed as a tool to help in understanding the psychology of trauma. Crossley (2000) states, “…to understand the way in which people adapt and respond to traumatizing events such as the experience of terminal illness” (p. 40), Crossley (2000) continues to suggest that perpetual openness, brain structures, and sensory abilities operate to interpret events around us in terms of connections and relationships to create meaning of the occurrences (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 11). Crossley (2000) remarks, “It is the connections or relationships among events that constitute their meaning” (p. 11).
Social psychologist Mead discussed the connection between relationships, time and language regarding our sense of self and identity while utilizing the term ‘the looking glass self’, “…to highlight the extent to which our definition of ourselves relies on the feedback and evaluations we receive from others” (p. 12). In order to enter the order of meaning of consciousness Crossley (2000) comments, “I have to see and experience myself in the past tense, that is, as a me’: As given, it is a ‘me’, but it is a me which was the ‘I’ at an earlier time” (p.12).

There are different voices heard in a narrative. The first is the interpretive voice that represents the integrated and balanced ego or psyche, the second narrative voice represents the persona aspect of the psyche, the public aspect, and last is the unconscious voice or id referring to the Freudian unconscious, the part of the mind which is unreachable to the conscious mind but effects feelings, behaviour, and emotions.

We are not born with a reflective self-consciousness as in ‘I’ and ‘me’ but develop it as we mature in later stages of our human development as we place less importance on physical characteristics and more on judgment, thoughts, feelings, and concepts of morality (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 5, 13). Narrative psychology and social constructionist methods conclude that our experience of self and the connection to meaning unfolds through social constructions, language and historical backgrounds. Keeping this in mind, what are the stepping stones from infancy to childhood, the earlier stages of human growth for the development of self?

An infant is like a sponge absorbing the environment and the people around them. Reflective self-consciousness is their entrance into the world of language, symbols, and is crucial to the development of self and others hence, ‘I’ versus ‘me’ (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 13). According to Crossley (2000), “…cultures transmit to children knowledge of typical patterns of relationships and meaning in their myths, fairy tales, histories and stories” (p. 11).

Films such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio teach children about good and evil, life and death, love and hate (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 48). At two years old a child’s sense of itself emerges as research has concluded that prior to this age a child can not recognize themselves in a mirror or differentiate self from others (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 5). Children love games and a child develops a sense of self-awareness through play time (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 14). Crossley (2000) notes, “Games constitute a crucial forum for mental and social development because they facilitate the child in the process of learning to take on the role of the other and coming to see themselves through another’s eyes; in this way the child learns respect for rules and an understanding of how rules can be made and changed” (p. 14). By the age of ten and eleven cues can be seen as games become more gender oriented. In adolescence and adulthood Priest (1996) & McLeod (1997) mentions that, “…we are exposed on a daily basis to TV dramas, soap operas, movie blockbusters and talk shows, all of which play out, in the same way as a fairy tale does for the child, these eternal moral conflicts” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 48). In adulthood we connect our self and identity to the roles we play in society for instance, wife and mother or a father who is associated with separateness.

Further, women experience time differently from men for example, women’s time is cyclical and biological rhythms whereas, men experiences are more linear and progressive (Crossley, 2000, para p. 16). Gilligan (1982) comments that, “…the female ‘I’ is defined largely in terms of connection and relationships, the male ‘I’ is alternatively construed in terms of separation and autonomy” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 14).

There is a connection between language, identity, self and society as the concept of self establishes itself in different historical and cross-cultural societies (Crossley, 2000, para p. 15). Historical conceptions of self are connected to the theories of self and morality, what he [Taylor] sometimes calls ‘the good’ as Crossley (2000) notes, “He argues that we are selves only in that certain issues matter to us…means that one of our basic aspirations is the need to feel connected with what we see as ‘good’ or crucial importance to us and our community” (p. 15, 16). Therefore, the ‘good’ and the moral good are articulated through language and symbolic methods such as a customs or rituals (Crossley, 2000, para p. 16). Taylor states, “Stories have a tremendous force in this process insofar as they have the capacity to confer meaning and substance on people’s lives, to subtly influence their progression and orientation towards a particular ‘good’” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 16). Hence, different societies incorporate different conceptions of self and morality (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 16). According to Crossley (2000), “Meaning and stories do not just ‘emerge’ from ‘within’ the isolated individual; rather, they develop in the context of specific episodes and contexts” (p. 59). Crossley (2000) continued, “We tend to think of our ‘ideas’, ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’ as existing ‘internally’, ‘within’ us, and objects in the world as existing ‘externally’, on the ‘outside’” (p. 18). The philosopher St. Augustine believes that there is a connection to a higher sense of being, morality and ‘good’. He states, “…in order to achieve a sense of being and morality, to be ‘rightly placed in relation to the good’, you have to go ‘inwards…Do not go outward; return within yourself…In the inward man dwells truth” (p. 18).
Taylor (1979) refers to this higher sense of being, radically reflexive and moving towards focusing on ‘myself’ as an agent of experience (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 19). Within the internalization characteristic of the modern self there are two types of reflexivity. The first is, self-control meaning taking control over our bodies, thoughts, feelings and even disengage and abstain from our passions. The second is self-exploration as Crossley (2000) describes, “Rather than standing back from our bodies, thoughts, feelings and desires, ‘objectifying’ them in the pursuit of self-control, the stance of self-exploration encourages us to explore these dimensions in order to establish our identity; we have to ‘search for ourselves’” (p. 20). During this reflective process is an attempt to create liberating and transforming ways of experiencing ourselves (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 63). An important theme in modern understanding of identity and self is the cultural shift in the primacy of memory which is our need to enhance self-understanding by incorporating our pasts and our memories within which those pasts reside (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 20). Taylor (1979) characterizes this as, “…an ‘inward’ turn in which we are implicitly motivated to turn towards forms of self-exploration…” (p. 103).

The field of narrative psychology is based on various tools for storytelling which includes inward journeys, the temporal foundation of the flowing of experience incorporated in direct development of our past, present and future. This creates a sense of our identity coherence that links self, time, others and the culture we live in. Presently, we are living in a postmodern era as Crossley reports, “…the social and cultural context of postmodernity produces changes in psychological experience because it creates a new sense of space and time, and new modes of experience and culture” (p.25). Postmodernists such as, Foucault and Lacan approach is to deconstruct linguistic structures and socio-historical narratives to find out what our knowledge is based on as well as, introducing being a concept that knowledge is based on language (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 25,26).

Language is seen as a structure of signs which is associated with meaning by the place they occupy in relation to other signs in the language network (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 26). It is this concept that incorporates the view of an individual defying any sense if development, order and progression hence, the ‘subject is pronounced dead (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 26). As Crossley (2000) states, “…the locus of meaning shifts to the play of linguistic signs, narratives and power (p.26). Our society is increasing complex as new technology and communication advances and overloads our world. Gergen (1991) remarks, “…the saturated self suggests that it is no longer possible to characterize the modern experience of self as one of unity, wholeness and coherent integrity. Rather, we exist in a state of ‘multiphrenia in which we are constantly bombarded with multiple relationships and truths” (p.55). Social saturation has the capacity to change our consciousness and according to Gergen (1991), “We come to be aware that each truth about ourselves is a construction of the moment, true only for a given time and within certain relationships” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 26, 27).

Furthermore, Parker (1990; 1991) introduced the idea of discourse analysis within societies that shape many aspects of our lives for instance, therapeutic or healing discourses after the occurrence of a traumatic event and experience (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 27). Branching from this theory is the feminist discourses which effects how we experience self in today’s changing world. Parker (1990; 1991) describes discourse as a, “…’coherent systems of meaning’” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 27). Discourse analysis as Crossley comments has, “…become a variety of action research in which the internal system of a discourse and its relation to others is challenged” (p.28). Potter & Wetherell (1987) explored the discourse analysis in social psychology and held different views from the traditionalists on the subject of the construction of self. Their theory is based on people using language to ‘do things’ and to achieve certain ends (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 28). This concept also challenged the epistemological status of traditional concepts of emotions, attitudes and self (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 28). Therefore, words are used to construct self and the world resulting in making things happen (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 28).

Another method is from the social constructivist in psychology, Shooter (1997) who refers to the rhetorical-responsive approach as being based on our inner lives and selves (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 29). According to Shooter (1997), “It is in the ‘brief interactive moments between people, in which speakers and listeners must continually react to each other spontaneously and practically, with an active, responsive understanding…’” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 29). Shotter focused on relational activities and conversation to understand the inner psychic lives of others in regards to their thoughts, feelings, and experiences as we try to make sense of our own lives (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 29). Shooter (1997) also mentioned, “…a person’s psyche exists according to social conditions and is thus ‘an entity with constantly contested and shifting boundaries, something that can be recollected…” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 30). Social poetics comes into play as we need to develop new stances, practices, new ways of thinking and being in order in which to sustain new forms of relating ourselves to one another in times of crisis (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 30). As per Shooter (1996), “The aim of this process is to ‘begin to sense the unique nature of (the patient’s) inner world of pain and suffering” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 30).

There are critiques on the processes for instance, Potter and Wetherell’s reduction and depersonalization of the subject and the use of the third person descriptions of ‘other’ people rather than first person descriptions of self leading to the discursive approach to understanding psychological and social life (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 32). The postmodernist and discourse analysis is associated with the tendency to lose the subject. Crossley (2000) notes we need to, “…appreciate the linguistic and discursive structuring of human psychology without losing sight of the essentially personal, coherent, and ‘real’ nature of individual experience and subjectivity” (p.32). Crossley (2000) also states that postmodernist and discourse analysis, “…produces an account of the way in which personal experience is constituted through linguistic and cultural narratives, but in the process of doing so, ‘loses’ any concept of the lived nature of such experiences” (p.131).
One of the social constructivist methods explored by Smith et al. (1997), enable us to explore the experiential reality of the self through Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis relating to the study of health and illness (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 33). A shared characteristic with discourse analysis is the commitment to language and qualitative analysis. Discourse analysis treats people’s verbal accounts as behaviours which should be analyzed in accordance with functions and activities performed in certain situations whereas, IPA is concerned with how a person feels about an occurrence by assuming a chain of connection between verbal responses and how they feel about self, their bodies, other people and the world cognition and experience (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 33). IPA is seen as being based on realist assumptions with a realist epistemology. Conrad (1987) comments, “The aim of IPA is to explore the participant’s view of the world and to adopt…an insider’s perspective” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 33). The approach is phenomenological as it is concerned with personal perceptions of an event or object (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 33, 34). Smith et al. (1997) notes, “…there is a middle position as in what respondents say does have some significance and ‘reality’ for them beyond the boundaries of the specific interview context, and that this is part of their ‘ongoing story’ which represents a manifestation of their psychological and social world” (p.88). Understanding the context meaning produced in an interview involves interpretation and an investigator engaging in an interpretive relationship (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 88).

Certain problems arise in the phenomenological approach for instance the insider view and challenging authority meaning in the process of celebrating the individual’s experience, tend to neglect structural factors which can lead to the perpetuation of inequality and unwittingly reinforce relations of domination and subordination as in the doctor-patient relationship (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 34). Smith et al. (1997) criticizes this approach as he states, “…they are premised on what they characterize as a limited ‘medicalized’ model of sex as it creates an oversimplified image of sex, body and sexual organs giving an incomplete account of sexual decisions” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 35). For example, in having unprotected sex connected with romantic discourse and rationalization, an HIV positive individual could feel it is natural and symbolic when in a sexual relationship. Is it the ultimate self-expression of love to knowingly become infected? The answer is based on the individual self, identity, cultural background, experience and personal perspective. Crossley (2000) states, “…individuals should not be taken at face value, rather, they need to be located in wider structures of discourse and power so that their implications and ramifications can be fully understood” (p.36).

Another approach addressing concepts of self and the relationship between experience and discursive structures is the feminist psychology which enables women to discover the independence and autonomy that comes from experiencing the kind of self postmodernists are in business of deconstructing (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 39). During the 1960s and 1970’s autobiographical accounts of childhood sexual abuse became prevalent as Crossley writes, “…were related to the explicitly feminist political project of making the personal political and locating the individual private experience of childhood sexual abuse within the larger public domain of a patriarchal society” (p. 114). One of the aims of this method as Gilligan (1982) viewed it as a need to listen to the voice of women and girls who speak in ‘a different voice’ and have ‘different ways of knowing’ (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 38). Frank (1995) reports

…this need to ‘find one’s own voice’ is not just limited to traumatizing experiences, but that it is a feature characteristic of postmodern contemporary culture in which subordinated people (such as women, the working class, ethnic minorities, disabled people) have been ‘written on from the outside’ and have therefore ‘lost their voices’ (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 109).

From a different viewpoint, Irigiray (1985) & Kristeva (1986) responded to the oppression associated with patriarchy’s devaluation of women by attempting to focus on the differences in gender stressing the body, values and nature (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 38). According to Crossley (2000), “…feminist approaches, like IPA, are involved in a struggle to present individual (women’s) experiences in a ‘realistic’ way which appreciates both their ‘personal’ idiosyncratic nature, and also their linguistic and discursive structuring” (p.39).

The narrative theory of psychology promotes the need to focus on the human existence as it is lived, experienced and interpreted by each person (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 45). Sarbin (1986) describes narratives as a
…conterminous with story as it is a symbolized account of actions of human beings that has a temporal dimension. The story has a beginning, middle, and an ending…the story id held together by recognizable patterns of events called plots. Central to the plot structure are human predicaments and attempted resolutions (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 46).
Sarbin (1986) also points out the narrative principle, “…that human beings think, perceive, imagine, interact and make moral choices according to narrative structures” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 46). Plots influence the flow of action and according to White (1973) who identified four structures tragedy, satire, romance and comedy (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 46). In exploring the narratives of seriously ill individuals Gergen & Gergen (1983) described three plot dimensions, stability, progression, and regression. Hence, narrative is a method of organizing accounts of actions and episodes bringing together mundane facts and creations, time and place while imposing structure of the flow of experience (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 47). There is a distinction between the three levels of personal human experience, passive experience meaning our experience automatically assumes temporally extended forms in which future, present and past mutually determine one another as a whole; experience of self/life meaning the act of narrative structure takes the form as the agent or subject of experience, and last is active experience referring to explicitly consult past experiences, envisioning the future and view the present as a bridge between the two (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 49).

Personal experience can be seen in different perspectives for example, one that resembles a story and is based on a narrative structure as Crossley (2000) mentions, “…we partially determine the course of our own lives by selecting and omitting certain elements and events” (p. 53). This could be related to plotting or story planning as we partially determine the stories of our lives (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 53). We have narratives that tell of events of the past as we are in the middle our stories, living them. What happens to a narrative that has trauma effecting the past, present and future?
Existentialist philosopher Heidegger (1962) discussed the concept of Angst being an intense anxiety or feeling of dread that is incorporated in an individual’s life and narrative leading to disorientation (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 56). Different traumas referred to as narrative wreckage can bring on these feelings for instance, loss of a loved one, divorce, terminal illness and depression, where nothing makes sense anymore, where questions arise who am I? and why am I here? (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 56). Frank (1993), comments, “…the hearing of both the tortured slave’s narrative and the ill person’s narrative rests on a belief that at extremes of suffering the body produces a truth” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 110). In the practice of psychotherapy story repairing is utilized through narrative statements which leads to meaning making in the therapeutic encounter creating a fuller plot (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 58). Crossley (20002) remarks, “In Spence’s view, the work of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy is on meanings, communicated and altered through language” (p. 58). It is the role of the therapist to play collaborator in the producing of the story like an editor of a living text (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 59). Schafer (1992) characterizes the process as a project of reauthoring, a process which involves the imposition of a powerful cultural narrative on the person’s life through coauthoring it, and a dialogue through which the individual’s life story is transformed (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 60).

According to Crossley (2000), “…the two most common means used to identify personal narratives and stories are psychotherapy and autobiography” (p.68). White & Epston (1990) reports, “Clients are encouraged to ‘externalize’ their problems and in the process of doing so enter a space for reauthorship” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 60). As the truth surfaces in psychotherapy Spence (1982) makes a distinction between historical truth and narrative truth. Crossley (2000) notes, “…that some of the basic differences between ‘life’ and ‘story’ relate to the degree of freedom we have configuring the past and the future (p.61) with factual events that occurred in the past with a realistic outlook for the future. In order to be effective, the narrative has to incorporate a commitment to historical truth as it contains a realistic assessment of both where we have come from and where we are going (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 104). Crossley (2000) also describes therapeutic approaches as, “…drawing on narrative theories tend to construe the process of memory retrieval as a more ‘dialogical’ process; memories are not simply ‘retrieved’ but are actively constructed in the process of therapeutic interactions between therapist and client” (p. 115). Crossley (2000) also comments, “…we made use of the social constructivist approaches in order to critique popularized Freudian images of the psyche which encourage us to view the process of retrieving memories from the past as a kind of ‘archaeological’ dig” (p. 115). How then does a therapist/patient approach a narrative analysis?

An individual needs to first to choose a listener such as a trained professional or a friend or family member. This hermeneutic inquiry will affect the listener as Sass (1988) suggests, “If meaning is social, if it exists in dialogue, then it legitimately depends, to a significant extent, on the person who listens” (p. 68). In selecting a family member things could get more complicated since they know of one’s history and experiences. McAdams (1993) notes, “There are two criteria to consider the nature of your relationship with the prospective listener, and the listener’s ability for the role” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 69). Crossley (2000) lists the next phase of interview protocol questions devoted to focusing on life chapters, key events, significant people, future script, stresses and problems, personal ideology, and life theme (p. 70-72). All interviews should be taped to provide raw material on which the analysis and research report will be based (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 73). The author incorporated a detailed interview of a twenty-one year old male student, CD. Crossley (2000) outlines the steps involved in analyzing CD’s personal narrative, reading and familiarizing, identifying important concepts to look for, narrative tone, imagery, themes, identifying narrative tone, identifying imagery and themes, weaving all this together into a coherent story, writing up – research report (Crossley, 2000, p. 88-100) . The author incorporates great detail in answering these questions. McAdams (1993) discussed narrative tone as, “…the most formative influence on narrative tone derives from the achievement of secure or insecure attachment relationships during the early childhood years” (p.94).

There are individuals struggling everyday with trauma, living with being HIV positive, and surviving childhood sexual abuse. Narrative style of analysis can be used in the construction of subjectivity and identity (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 113). Incorporated in this literature is the case study of Fraser (1989) portraying incest survival and was used as an example of deconstructing a survivor. The psychoanalytical/therapeutic narrative revealed five main sections, remembering, rescue, retreat, revelation, and resolution. Themes were revealed such as voices and selves. Crossley (2000) reports, “…the narrative and portrayal of experience as being feminist promoting ‘personal’ victimization suffered by Fraser as a child to the more ‘political question of treatment of women more generally in a patriarchal society” (p. 117). This case study is considered a restitution narrative as the belief that women come together as a collective group committed to the diminution of patriarchal power to male exploitation (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 170). Two agendas are portrayed in the primary narrative, the private biographical timetable related to the early years of childhood and the public referring to the other self, public social and historical context (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 118-120). Crossley details the working through the primary narrative and prioritizing the private biographical world. Symbols and themes such as, Oedipus complex, family, mental illness, death and suicide are also found in the narrative. Issues such as infantile sexuality and love/marriage were examined. The implications of utilizing psychoanalytical narrative in the case study resulted in healing process, achieving integration, adaption, and closure (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 129). The issue of narrative plausibility is criticized like postmodernism and discourse analysis since it produces an account of the way in which personal experience is constituted through linguistic and cultural narratives, but the progression of doing so, loses any concept of the lived nature of such experiences” (Crossley, 2000, para p. 131).

Furthermore, the material used in the literature is from research commissioned by the European Commission as part of its ‘Europe Against Aids’ program. In regards to surviving with long-term HIV positive diagnosis, it shatters the basic ontological assumption that an individual holds about her/himself (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 135). One question that comes to mind, does normal life end after the diagnosis? The finding is a disturbance and disruption to lived time. As Van den Berg (1972) states, “One suddenly becomes uncertain about things most taken for granted: faith and integrity of the body, of one’s role in other people’s lives and their role in one’s own life, and faith in the future” (p. 137). A patient loses their future when being told by a physician, “You will die within the year.” This is similar to the feelings and experiences of a prisoner who was held in a concentration camp Frankl (1984) wrote, “In other words, he ‘lived a provisional existence of unknown limit’” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 140). Angst arises as the familiar world becomes uncanny (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 141). Crossley (2000) described the early stages as, “…a stage which generally falls within 2 to 4 years, after an early period of denial and prior to a more stable form of adaption to living with the diagnosis” (p. 141).

There is another experiential characteristic of the feeling that imminent possibility if death may not be as inevitable as it once seemed as this confusion of trauma has two contradictory life orientations (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 142). First is the orientation towards death or a closing off from the future and the second, an orientation towards life or expanding on to the horizon (Crossley, 2000, para. p. 142). Crossley (1999a) suggests that there are three forms of temporal orientation associated with individual’s living with HIV positive longer than five years, the conversion/growth story /internal story/quest narrative, meaning a new appreciation and the sense of loss may be an opportunity for some to achieve spiritual growth, the normalizing/external story referring to the active denial not letting the diagnosis interfere with their life, and the story of loss the empty present orientation towards time (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p. 143). Carr (1986) mentions, “…that our experience as human beings is one in which we are constantly struggling to maintain coherence and order in the face of ‘an ever-threatening , impending chaos at all levels, from the smallest project to the overall coherence of life” (as cited in Crossley, 2000, p.153). Hence, narratives stress the stories that people tell and how they constructed their self and self meaning.

My personal reflection on this literature was that it was informative and written for the individual who is unfamiliar with the field of narrative psychology, a subdivision of psychology. I had taken a few psychology courses my first year in college, many moons ago. This literature was helpful as I was able to view trauma and narrative with a new lens. While plausibility was touched on I questioned authenticity as it was barely discussed in relation to fact, realism and possibly fiction being incorporated into narratives, for instance in Fraser’s My Father’s House. I could sense the foundation of feminist storytelling and postmodernism within the text and that self was in need of unity. The author was not concerned with the possibility of self changing based on context. Would that have changed the view of self-construction?

Although, I enjoyed reading the book as a whole I found myself in the beginning stages asking the question, “Can a book have too much information such as, theories and criticisms within one chapter? It was instructive to learn about the many philosophers and theorists; I just felt that the author did a lot of name dropping. I felt overwhelmed in the first three chapters as an abundance amount of information was given on theorists, concepts and approaches to the field of narrative psychology. I also sensed that the author was trying to cram in as much information into just one sentence hence, the lengthy and wordy syntax. In using the words “arguing, criticizing, and throws doubt” on a consistent basis, I felt this added a negative tone to the literature and that I was seeing a tennis match going on in my mind between theorists. From the fourth chapter on I found my interest increased as Crossley (2000) reports on individual narratives in great detail.

I learned about my need to share my own personal traumatic occurrences with others. Half way through the book I stopped, pulled up my blog where I post old college papers. One was based on the eve of my mother’s death and the second was my eulogy for her. I never had the opportunity to read it and it helps that there are others reading my story daily throughout the world. I then added the two narratives to my autobiographical anthology that I am presently working on. The literature helped to open my eyes to what I should and need to share with others.

I realized after reading the book that there are many themes in narrative psychology for instance, human experience, uniqueness, freedom, order of meaning, and language. I learned that I am not in favor of experimental social psychology after reading about the test on chimps. I am against animal testing to begin with and I got somewhat upset to learn that in the testing process human infants had rouge on their face and the chimps, had red chemical dye. Why couldn’t rouge be used for the animal kingdom too? Isn’t it safer?

In summation, Crossley (2000) has compiled a book that combines theorists, philosophers, concepts, narratives, and approaches to narrative psychology. The heart of the book as Crossley (2000) comments is, “…an attempt to create liberating and transforming ways of experiencing ourselves” (p.63). The focus is on the inner narrative where individuals tell their story as reflection occurs. People are constructing meaning, identity, and morality while learning how to understand the past and how to move forward. We all have experienced trauma in our lives, some more severe than others and with the help of narrative approaches in psychology the healing process can begin.


Crossley, M. L. (2000). Introducing narrative psychology: Self, trauma and
the construction of meaning. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Quote p. 54; Crossley, M. L. (2000). Introducing narrative psychology: Self, trauma and
the construction of meaning. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.


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