Stories We’ve Heard, Stories We’ve Told: Life-Changing Narratives in Therapy and Everyday Life, by Jeffrey Kottler, Oxford University Press, ISBN: 0199328250, 2014, 304 pages, $37.95 (hardcover).
Although the book jacket describes author Dr. Jeffrey Kottler as being a “professor of counseling...and a prolific author who has written 80 books,” this particular book indicates that he might best be described as a storyteller. Although written for the mental health professional community, Kottler’s book is not loaded with academic terminology, but instead uses examples, charts, and the telling of experiences to explain and describe ways in which using narratives in therapy can be helpful or even transformative for the therapist and the client alike.
“There are no bad people or problems, only bad stories about them.” This sentence on page 234 was originated by a man who is both a member of the Indian tribes of Lakota and Cherokee and a psychiatrist. It certainly leads the reader to consider the implications of such a belief and the ways in which said reader may be able to present this concept to clients during treatment for childhood trauma, relationship problems, or so many other topic areas that may have prompted them to seek professional guidance. It is in such context where the mental health professional reading will likely benefit most. This book is filled with chapters that will likely cause the reader to easily begin to imagine how the point made on page 12 might benefit a current client, the example on page 216 reminds him/her of something last week’s client said, and the chart on page 29 could have been a great tool for a client five years ago had the reader had it in hand.
This is not a book that gives you all of the answers or teaches you how to become a narrative therapist. It won’t replace a class you might have taken or a CEU workshop you may be scheduled to attend. It will, however, explain the science and methodology behind why narratives are such a powerful tool. It will guide you through examining how different types of storytelling give insights into aspects of a client’s life that we might not otherwise have been told about during a session. If you’re anything like me, it will also lead you to want to sit down with Dr. Jeffrey Kottler and ask him to tell you a story.
Reviewed by Kristen Marie (Kryss) Shane, MSW, LSW, LMSW.