A subtle difference between Narrative and Cognitive psychotherapy


Quick Summary: Narrative and Cognitive therapy both help people to think about their world a bit differently. Cognitive therapy helps people to look at and to change disruptive beliefs and Narrative therapy helps people to put more attention on the positive storylines that make up their reality. Both hold that positive thoughts and a positive self-narratives tend to have a positive or advantageous impact on a person’s behaviors and emotions.


A cognitive intervention rests on the idea that we humans tend to have many negative and self-defeating thoughts and beliefs which have a detrimental impact on our behaviors, emotions and overall quality of life.

  • Cognitive psychotherapeutic interventions help people to focus their attention on these disruptive thoughts and beliefs so that those thoughts and beliefs can be adjusted so as to not have such a significant negative impact on a person’s life.
  • Often these thoughts and beliefs are somewhat unconscious or at least beyond our control (this means that the beliefs and thoughts were accepted as ‘true’ without the person making a conscious choice about the validity of those thoughts and beliefs).
  • Cognitive therapy is based on modernism. Modernism theory is the basis for scientific investigation… modernism believe that there is an objective, measurable and consistent reality.
  • Therefore cognitive therapy deals with the removal of ‘false’ thoughts and beliefs… cognitive theory would feel justified in objectively labeling thoughts and beliefs as true or false.


There is significant overlap between many psychotherapy theories…

On the surface, Narrative therapy looks very similar to cognitive therapy.

Narrative therapy states that we live within the stories that we tell our selves and the stories which people tell regarding us. This means that according to narrative therapy your reality is determined by the beliefs that you choose to hold regarding your life.

  • A narrative intervention would help people to ‘rewrite’ their personal life story so that their reality could be filled with greater positivity.
  • Narrative therapy is based in postmodernism – in this theory, reality does not exist objectively, truth is simply what you believe to be true. If you believe that events in your life should make you unhappy than ‘unhappy’ will be your self-created reality.
  • Narrative interventions are not concerned with true or false beliefs – as nothing is objectively true you can believe anything that you want to.
  • Narrative therapy helps people to live within more positive and life enhancing narratives.
  • Every day good and bad things happen – narrative therapy helps people to see that they choose which perceptions… which narratives… take the majority of their consciousness.

7 thoughts on “A subtle difference between Narrative and Cognitive psychotherapy

  1. Pingback: Psychiatrists: Open to Desire: Embracing a Lust for LifeInsights from Buddhism and Psychotherapy | Psychiatrists

  2. From the cogntive behavioral perspective it is many times (but not always) searching for the objective truth about ourselves, others, and the world. The results of this process are often comforting because – as Albert Ellis says – “We disturb ourselves.” But there is also a second perspective in cogntive therapy about the value of particular thoughts: It is not merely about the validity of the perception. The cogntive therapist also asks, “Is this belief really serving you?” If so, then the belief is healthy and should be maintained. Think, for example, of someone standing in front of their destroyed home, a home that was struck by lightning! It is is not uncommon for people in this circumstane to proclaim how very lucky they are. Really? One house in the state gets taken out by lightning and you are lucky! This may not be the objective reality but the cognitve therapist sees this thought as good: It is a helpful story (as in narrative therapy!)

    • Nice Curtis
      I had not thought about it that way… usefulness of a thought determines use of that thought and therefor usefulness is used in creating the narrative. super insightful – thank you for your responce

  3. We build the stories to protect ourselves so that its not our fault – someone or something else is to blame for the way we are. Some of our greatest fears is that we are not enough, the fear of failure and the fear of rejection or being ignored or made fun off – hence making us feel we are not enough. If we can make ourselves immune to this fear then we can achieve much more in a quicker time span. For example, if I rejected my fear of stage fright, I could have been a successfull comic many years ago, a dream that still eludes me due to fear of failure.

    One of these days Alice !

  4. I get the idea, and i know its hard trying to present something in a bullet point nut shell but some of the over simplifications here grossly misrepresent the theories. E.g. ‘Narrative interventions are not concerned with true or false beliefs – as nothing is objectively true you can believe anything that you want to’. [and] ‘Narrative therapy helps people to live within more positive and life enhancing narratives.’ sorry but this is ‘soooo’ misleading.

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