"What's in a Name": The Story Behind Living Story Therapy
Once upon a time, in a not so far away land called Denver, Colorado...
There was a counselor who made the decision to leave her professional home with the AIDS Project in order to build her own private practice. It was a difficult decision, as it meant saying goodbye to meaningful connections with clients and co-workers, and taking new risks. Yet, she knew she was ready for change and growth. So, this clinician submitted her notice of resignation, signed an office lease in Capitol Hill, contacted a lawyer for support in setting up a PLLC, and began her entrepreneurial journey.
This was me in September 2019. I was not just starting over in my career, but in some ways, starting from scratch. It was now on me—and only me—to make all the business, administrative, and clinical decisions about how to run my therapy practice. Through much research, consultation, and contemplation, I began finding the answers to many of my logistical questions (e.g., Who would I serve?, How would I market my services?, What is my fee structure?, When would I schedule appointments?). When it came to naming my practice, however, I was stumped. I considered using my name and credentials, as many therapists do. But quickly came to the realization that, even though my practice would literally have my namesake, it didn't fully feel like me. So, I created a list of possible practice names with varied iterations. I sought feedback from confidantes, reviewed the Internet to ensure uniqueness, double-checked definitions and copyrights to eventually find my winner:
A Year in the Making
In full transparency, it has taken over a year for me to clarify and share the meaning behind my practice’s name. My original plan was to have this be the inaugural blog post, so colleagues and potential clients could get a feel for who I am and what this practice means to me. Yet, each time I attempted to gather and write out my thoughts, my mind would go blank.
In hindsight, opening my private practice towards the end of 2019 was a daring move, as no one could have predicted the overwhelming challenges year 2020 would present. In different ways than I had anticipated, this first year in private practice gave me what I had been looking for: change and growth. From this, I am now finally ready to articulate what the name “Living Story Therapy” means to me.
Paying Homage to Narrative Therapy
My graduate program was designed for students to complete all academic coursework in the first two years, and have the final year+ consist of clinical experiences: Practicum and Internship. As a counselor-in-training, you are encouraged to try out various techniques and approaches with the intent of finding your specific theoretical orientation (i.e., the counseling theory you use to conceptualize a client’s experience and guide your treatment). It wasn’t until the final semester before Practicum, during my Techniques in Family Therapy course, that I discovered Narrative was the right fit for me.
Narrative is considered a post-modern therapeutic approach, and was primarily developed by Michael White and David Epston in the late 1980’s/early 90’s. For more historical information, I recommend reviewing the Dulwich Center’s website. I was drawn to this counseling approach due to it’s emphasis on story-telling and client empowerment, as well as recognizing the importance of cultural identity in counseling and promoting social justice. I am incredibly passionate about the therapy I provide, and have witnessed the transformative process of individuals finding their voice and re-authoring their life story to live in a way that feels more honest and authentic. Naming my private practice Living Story Therapy is my attempt to honor my education, training, and the services I provide as a Narrative practitioner.
Life as a Process of Lost & Found
Based on my professional observations and interactions through counseling individuals of diverse cultural backgrounds, along with my personal lived experiences, I have come to learn that, simply explained: Life is an on-going process of feeling lost and found. There are times—maybe months, years, even decades—we wake up knowing exactly who we are, where we come from, what we want out of life and how to get to there. Then, either gradually or suddenly, the life we have spent time, energy, and careful planning to create is no longer serving us or our needs.
“I feel lost." “How did I get here?” “Who am I?" "What do I do now?” It is not easy or comfortable to hold these thoughts and feelings. It is not easy or comfortable to come to the realization that our relationships, our career path, our culture or social expectations, our present coping skills, or the identities we are known by no longer feel supportive or fulfilling. However, only when we are lost do we encounter opportunities to find ourselves.
While researching private practice names, I came across two insightful resources. The first being a Wikipedia entry: “When stories lead to restorying of the past narrative, or future antenarrative, they become living stories”. Digging deeper, I found a second resource from Bading, Crawford, & Marshall (2000), as they explain: “The Living Story is different from other stories in that it is a ‘work-in-progress’. Part of the story is what has already happened, part is what is current or about to happen, and part is what the client (person or organization) wants to have happen...” (p. 2).
Our stories are ever-evolving and ever-changing, which can feel overwhelming, relieving, exciting, and terrifying all at the same time. My intention as a counselor is to support my clients through these feelings, and empower them to view being lost as an opportunity to question, explore, and create a life that feels even more authentic and aligned with their identity and values. Naming my practice Living Story Therapy is my attempt to communicate a message of compassion, empowerment, and hope.
Not The End; rather, the Story Continues...