Sky seen through trees: rethinking narrative coherence in counselling and psychotherapy
This thesis critiques the concept of narrative coherence through an in-depth inquiry into the lived experience of narrative incoherence in counselling and psychotherapy. It questions whether lived experience necessarily requires narrative structure and the extent to which a coherent narrative is essential for psychological and emotional well-being. It thus attempts to depathologise the experience of narrative incoherence, instead honouring those moments in therapy when words quite literally fail us. Adopting writing as inquiry as its methodological foundation, the thesis continuously moves between experiential self-searching and intellectual engagement with theoretical insights. I draw particularly on conceptual resources offered by Butler, Foucault, Wittgenstein, Winnicott, Freud, Leader and the theory of the dialogical self. I write into my personal experiences as a client in therapy and as a therapist and this analytical work is complemented by reflections on my experience of a short-term sandplay process, undertaken specifically for this research project, which aimed to surface the interstices of language and the non-verbal therapeutic process. Parallel to its questioning of the demand for narrative coherence is this thesis’s challenge to the linear, well-structured and well-articulated scholarly voice of traditional doctoral thesis work. Methodologically and stylistically, this thesis stays close to that which is inarticulate and unstructured, which is often termed incoherence. Instead of presenting a planned linear process, I argue that the research process of this thesis is an unforeseeable and unpredictable journey into the unknown in which I encounter rather than choose the conceptual resources I use. This thesis concludes with three main points, namely ‘letting go’, ‘holding on’ and ‘to play’. I encourage therapists to let go of the obsession with and demand for coherent narrative as these can silence, alienate and pathologise individuals. Meanwhile, the research process also highlights the necessity of telling one’s story to a caring other, and the predicament between the impossibility of expression and the necessity to tell and to be known. In relation to this, I encourage therapists to stay with and listen to what is unsayable and unnarratable without demand. Lastly, this thesis puts forth the value of playfulness when working with the concept of narrative coherence and incoherence, calling for a blurring boundary between the two.