Psychology for Lawyers

understanding ourselves
imagining our lives as stories


"The study of stories people tell about their lives is no longer a promising new direction for the future of personality psychology. Instead, personal narratives and the life story have arrived. In the first decade of the 21st century, narrative approaches to personality have moved to the center of the discipline."

--Dan P. McAdams, "Personal Narratives and the Life Story," in Oliver P. John (eds.), Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research 242-264, at 242 (New York: Guilford Press, 3rd ed., 2008)

"Beyond dispositional traits and characteristic adaptations, human lives vary with respect to the integrative life stories, or personal narratives, that individuals construct to make meaning and identity in the modern world. Over the past two decades [1986-2006], the concept of narrative has emerged as a new root metaphor in psychology and the social sciences. Narrative approaches to personality suggest that human beings construe their own lives as ongoing stories and that these life stories help to shape behavior, establish identity, and integrate individuals into modern social life."

--Dan P. McAdams & Jennifer L. Pals, A New Big Five: Fundamental Principles for an Integrative Science of Personality, 61 (3) American Psychologist 204, 209 (2006)

"How we narrate our lives can affect us, for good or ill. Our narrative practices make an undeniable difference to our psychosocial well-being. All so-called 'talking cures'--including traditional psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approaches to therapy and newer techniques--are motivated by this insight about the power of personal narratives. All therapies of the discursive ilk make use of narrative, in one way or another, as a means of enabling individuals to frame, or reframe, and to manage their life circumstances in richer or new ways . . . ."

--Daniel D. Hutto & Shaun Gallagher, Re-Authoring Narrative Therapy: Improving Ours Self-Management Tools, 24 (2) Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology 157 (2017)

"We appreciate people and things through the stories we create in our dreams, fantasies, recollections, and explanatins. But deeper understanding means getting at the narrative behind experience. To understand a troubled person we ask not only what's the matter but also what's the story. Digging deeper, we try to get the story behind the story, the experience behind the words, the social and biological substance behind the symbolism. Psychtherapy is surely an elaborate extension of this basic principle of digging below the surface to illuminate the story."

--David B. Cohen, Out of the Blue: Depression and Human Nature 191 (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994)

"Client problems, complaints, symptoms, and issues are really just stories about their condition, compressed into a narrative that is both limiting and revealing in what they include and what they leave out."

--Jeffrey A. Kottler, Stories We've Heard, Stories We've Told: Life-Changing Narratives in Therapy and Everyday Life x (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015)

"[T]he client's narrative becomes the core of each therapy session. When a client tells a personal story, he or she gives special significance to certain events, which illuminates personal meanings. The therapist works collaboratively with the client to analyze the content and organization of these stories. As stories are told and retold over time, changes in the client's concerns, problems, and goals . . . forms the basis for the therapeutic process."

--from the cover, Hubert J.M. Hermans & Els Hermans-Jansen, Self-Narratives: The Construction of Meaning in Psychotherapy (New York: Guilford Press, 1995)

"[P]sychotherapy seems to be a beneficial process whereby clients adopt a new narrative about their problem that is more helpful than the story they told before . . . . To be sure, a major revision of one's life narrative can be a difficult journey that requires the guidance of a skilled therapist. There may not be one 'true' story that people must adopt to get better . . . ."

--Timothy D. Wilson, Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious 181 (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2002)

"Our reality is created through our fictions; to be conscious of these fictions is to gain creative access to, and participation in, the poetics or making of our psyche or soul-life; the 'sickness' of our lives has its source in our fictions; our fictions can be 'healed' through willing participation, and, in this atmosphere of healing, they reclaim their intrinsic therapeutic function."

--George Quasha, "Publisher's Preface," to James Hillman, Healing Fiction ix-xii, at ix-x (New York: Station Hill, 1983)

"Patients use their stories in different ways. Some tell stories as entertainments to while, or wile, away the hour, others are reporters, others are prosecuting attorneys building a plaint. Occasionally a tale becomes wholly metaphorical in which every aspect of what-I-saw-yesterday--the large building site, the hard-hatted foreman in a control booth, the little girl in a shiny silver rain puddle in danger from a bulldozer, the passerby who intervenes--all refer as well to figures within the patient's psyche and their interplay.

A clinician is supposed to note the way stories are told. . . . A diagnosis is partly made on the basis of a person's style of telling his tale.

* * * *

The force of diagnostic stories cannot be exaggerated. Once one has been written into a particular clinical fantasy with its expectations, its typicalities, its character traits, and the rich vocabulary it offers for recognizing oneself, one then begins to recapitulate one's life into the shape of the story. One's past too is retold and finds a new internal coherence, even inevitability, through this abnormal story.

* * * *

The talk going on in depth analysis is not merely the analysis of one person's story by the other, and whatever else is going on in a therapy session--ritual, suggestion, eros, power, projection--it is also a contest between singers, reenacting one of the oldest kinds of cultural enjoyments that we humans know. This is partly why therapy pretends to being creative, and I use that word advisedly to mean originating of significant imaginative patterns, poiesis. Successful therapy is thus a collaboration between fictions, a revisioning of the story into a more intelligent, more imaginative plot, which also means the sense of mythos in all the parts of the story.

* * * *

The way we imagine our lives is the way we are going to go on living our lives. For the manner in which we tell ourselves about what is going on is the genre through which events become experiences. There are no bare events, plain facts, simple data--or rather this too is an archetypal fantasy . . . .

* * * *

We can be as deluded about ourselves as about the world's facts.

* * * *

I need to remember my stories not because I need to find out about myself but because I need to found myself in a story I can hold to be 'mine.' I also fear these stories because through them I can be found out, my imaginal foundations exposed. Repression is built into each story as the fear of the story itself, the fear of the closeness of the Gods in the myths which found me.

* * * *

I have found that the person with a sense of story built in from childhood is in better shape than one who has not had stories, who has not heard them, read them, acted them, or made them up. . . . Story coming on early puts a person into familiarity with the validity of story. One knows what stories can do, how they can make up world and transport existence into these worlds. One maintains a sense of the imaginal world, its convincingly real existence, that it is peopled, that it can be entered and left, that it is always there with its fields and palaces, its dungeons and long ships waiting. One learns that worlds are made by words and not only by hammers and wires.

* * * *

The person having had his stories early has had his imagination exercised as an activity. He can imagine life, and not only think, feel, perceive, or learn it. And he recognizes that imagination is a place where one can be, a kind of being. Moreover, he has met pathologized images, fantasy figures that are maimed, foolish, sexually obscene, violent and cruel, omnipotently beautiful and seductive. Therapy is one way to revivify the imagination and exercise it. The entire therapeutic business is this sort of imaginative exercise. It picks up again the oral tradition of telling stories, therapy re-stories life. Of course we have to go back to childhood to do this, for that is where our society and we each have place imagination. Therapy has to be so concerned with the childish part of us in order to recreate and exercise the imagination."

--James Hillman, Healing Fiction 14-15, 17-18, 23, 26, 42, 46, 47 (New York: Station Hill, 1983)

"We tell ourselves stories about who we are, where we would like to be, and how we are going to get there. These stories regulate our emotions, by determining the significance of all the things we encounter and all the events we experience. We regard things that get us on our way as positive, things that impede our progress as negative, and things that do neither as irrelevant. Most things are irrelevant--and that is a good thig, as we have limited intentional resources.

* * * *

We solve the problem of contradictory meanings by interpreting the value of things from within the confines of our stories--which are adjustable maps of experience and potential . . . ."

--Jordan B. Peterson, Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief 20, 38 (New York: Routledge, 1999)


Jeremy Holmes, Narrative in Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, 26 J. Med. Ethics: Medical Humanities 92 (2000) [online text]

Alice Morgan, Beginning to Use a Narrative Approach in Therapy, Int. J. Narrative Therapy & Community Work 2002 [online text]

Erik Sween, The One-Minute Question: What is Narrative Therapy?, 2 Gecko 3 (1998) [online text]

Vincent H.K. Poon, Narratives and Therapy: Correspondence, 53 Canadian Family Physician 1881 (2007) [online text]

Dan P. McAdams, "Personal Narratives and the Life Story," in Oliver P. John, (eds.), Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research 242-262 (New York: Guilford Press, 3rd ed., 2008) [online text]

Class Videos


Class Video 1: How Our Brains Build Our Autobiographies [5:41 mins.] [Big Think] [Antonio Damasio]

Class Video 2: Narrative, Mythology, and Meaning [4:23 mins.] [Robert Walter, President, Joseph Campbell Foundation] ["Human beings are hard-wired for narrative."]

Class Video 3: This World is Made of Stories [6:20 mins.] [Michael Meade]

Optional: Narrative in Psychoanalysis

Interview with Steven Grosz: On Freud, Case Histories and Stories [12:18 mins.] [Steven Grosz is a psychoanalyst and author. He teaches clinical technique at the Institute of Psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic theory at University College London. He is the author of The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves.] [end class presentation at 5:07 mins.]

Reference (Jordan Peterson)

Ways of Dealing with the Complexity of the World
[6:49 mins.] [you have a built-in interpretative system] [reference to Jack Panksepp] [ you live inside a story; "we have evolved story-like structures to understand the world" -- 1:41 mins.] ["we have hemispheric specialization to deal with the known and unknown, order and chaos] ["we live in stories"; you need to understand some things about stories; one kind of story you need to know something about is mythology]

The Tragic Story of the Man-Child
[7:46 mins.] [end presentation at 5:06 mins.]

[Job]: "It's like the ultimate suffering story"
[15:02 mins.] [end presentation at 5:01 mins.]

Jordan Peterson: "I Suffer Therefore I Am"
[5:42 mins.] [audio] [end presentation at 3:08 mins.]

On How You Inhabit a Story
[14:15 mins.] [end presentation at 1:41 mins.]

Planning the Ideal Future, Rationale, & Strategy
[21:42 mins.] [We look at the world through the lens of stories, through a "frame" that is a schema for action.] [end at 12:03 mins.]

2017 Maps of Meaning 07: Images of Story & Metastory
[2:11:51 mins.]

The Point of Stories
[4:41 mins.] [getting from ptA to ptB is the point of the story]

On Fictional Truth
[7:48 mins.] [end at 1:47 mins.]

How the Best Stories are Written
[3:01 mins.]

What's so special about dreams, stories, and religious systems?
[12:04 mins.] [the idea of "living inside a dream"] [delving into Freudian psychoanlytic theory, including sub-personalities; conceptualizing that is beyond our conscious control]

2016 Personality Lecture 03: Mythological Elements of the Life Story
[1:05:10 mins.]

A Funny Children's Story about Ignoring Problems
[13:34 mins.]

A Short Story Written by Jordan Peterson
[9:20 mins.] [story begins at 1:32 mins., ends at 8:04 mins.]

An Impression of Jordan B. Peterson Reading the Three Little Pigs
[3:14 mins.]

Reference (Robert Walter)

Purpose, Mythology and Religion
[1:25 mins.]

Mythic Journeys
[1:42 mins.]

On Joseph Campbell & The Hero's Journey
[1:16:14 mins.] [Walter's presentation begins at 4:00 mins.

The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell
[11:41 mins.]

Reference (Stephen Grosz)

Stephen Grosz Interview
[6:05 mins.] [audio]

Reference (Antonio Damasio)

The Quest to Understand Consciousness
[18:35 mins.]

How Our Brains Feel Emotion
[8:52 mins.] [distinguishing emotion and feeling]

What Role do Emotions Play in Consciousness?
[5:49 mins.]

What is the Self?
[13:47 mins.] Longer Version of the Presentation [49:38 mins.]

Human Decisions
[1:29:06 mins.]

This Time With Feeling: David Brooks and Antonio Damasio
[1:05:38 mins.] [poor quality of video]

Reference (Robert Walter)

On Being Possessed
[1:42 mins.] [what happens to us when primal urges are ignored, or, followed]

Purpose, Mythology and Religion
[1:25 mins.]

Reference (Michael Meade)

Occupy Your Soul
[8:07 mins.]

The Soul of Change
[8:00 mins.]

note (fate & destiny): "Each man not only stands in the crossfire of his own wishes, drives, aspirations, ambitions, and feelings, but also is involved in the whole network of human relations to which he belongs in his family, his job, and society at large. The way in which he copes with all these internal and external influences determines his fate." ~Jolande Jacobi, Masks of the Soul 22 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publ., 1976)(Ean Begg transl.)

Michael Meade on Purpose and Calling
[4:02 mins.]

Michael Meade on Fulfilling the Genius Within
[3:36 mins.]

Michael Meade Reads from "Fate and Destiny"
[1:29:51 mins.]

Michael Meade on the Two Agreements
[4:00 mins.]

A Michael Meade Reading
[1:29:51 mins.]

Gifts and Wounds
[3:56 mins.] [Michael Meade]


Myth is the Ongoing Creation
[6:31 mins.] ["Myth is trying to bring the eternal into time."]

Why the World Doesn't End
[6:48 mins.]

Myth and the End of Time
[14:06 mins.] [Michael Meade]

mentors (for those more enamored with the term than I happen to be)

Genius-Based Mentoring
[4:36 mins.] Pt2 [4:22 mins.] Pt3 [4:21 mins.]

Destiny Mentoring
[3:38 mins.]


Michael Meade on The Need for the Ecstatic
[4:23 mins.]

The Ecstatic Soul
[4:49 mins.]

Ecstatic Rituals that Bring Us Back to Soul
[8:34 mins.]

The Dance of Life
[12:49 mins.]

Reference (Narrative Therapy)

Introduction to Narrative Therapy
[2:02 mins.] [Renee Handsaker is a counselor & social worker]

Narrative Therapy with Children
[5:21 mins.] [Stephen Madigan] [end presentation at 2:42 mins.]

What is Narrative Therapy?
[11:36 mins.] [Todd Grande] [a form of therapy that looks at identity formed by narratives in one's life]

Theories of Counseling: Narrative Therapy
[16:33 mins.] [Todd Grande] [audio with slides] [end class presentation at 5:30 mins.]

Narrative Therapy
[1:53 mins.] [Stephen Madigan] [Madigan is a narrative therapist.] [reference to couples therapy]

Narrative Therapy
[1:02:25 mins.] [Diane R. Gehart] [Gehart is a professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at California State University] [Gehart views narrative theory as a post-modern form of therapy] [on the narrative therapy process of "thickening the description" begin at 18:06 mins.; end at 21:26 mins.]

Narrative Therapy with Children
[2:16 mins.]

Narrative Therapy
[14:59 mins.]

Addiction Treatment & Narrative Therapy
[24:44 mins.] [Charley Lang, Narrative Counseling Center, Los Angeles, California] [reference to narrative therapy as a post-modern therapy]

Narrative Therapy with Men
[22:02 mins.]

Colouring Narrative Therapy's Solidarity by Marcela Polanco
[27:30 mins.]

An Interview with Sarah Walther about Narrative Therapy
[41:43 mins.]

The Healing Power of Narrative
[2:30 mins.] [Dennis Patrick Slattery, Pacific Graduate Institute] [comments on reading literature]

Trauma and Narrative Therapy
[1:02:36 mins.] [Michael White]

Listening in Narrative Therapy
[1:10 mins.]

OCD Treatment Through Storytelling
[10:57 mins.] [Allen Weg discuss CBT therapy for OCD]

Narrative Therapy's Liberating Philosophical Sources
[1:58 mins.]

Living Narrative History and Practice
[0:48 mins.] [trailer] [David Epston, a founder of narrative therapy]

Using Narratives in Supervision
[20:22 mins.] [Hugh Fox, Dulwich Centre Foundation, Director of the Institute of Narrative Therapy]

Reference (Narrative Therapist | Johnella Bird)

Johnella Bird is a narrative therapist based in Auckland, New Zealand.

Changing Narratives, Changing Lives
[7:04 mins.]

The Therapeutic Relationship
[7:49 mins.]

Experiences Generate a Narrative Thread
[7:49 mins.] [begin presentation at 2:21 mins.] [quite little focus on narrative]

Finding Solutions Beyond Either/Or
[12:46 mins.]

Reflections In Therapeutic Conversations
[13:43 mins.]

Advancing Narrative Conversations
[19:51 mins.]

Reference (Narrative)

The Narrative Self
[16:52 mins.] [reading a chapter from Daniel Dennett's The Search for Being]

Constructive Memory and the Self
[28:48 mins.] [Daniel Schacter] [Stanford University, 2013]

Self as Narrative/Narratives of the Self
[14:12 mins.] [audio]

The Narrative Construction of the Self
[5:08 mins.] [Kenneth Taylor, professor of philosophy, Stanford University, discusses the "who am I?" problem] [poor quality video]

Narrative Paradigm
[7:03 mins.] [Mark Kretschmar, Bethel University, St. Paul, Minnesota] [discussion of Walter Fischer's narrative and rational paradigms]

Louis Cozzolino: Why a Good Story Makes for a Healthy Brain
[2:40 mins.]

The Seven Basic Stories: Vladimir Propp
[2:48 mins.]

7 Basic Story Plots
[4:04 mins.]

The Power of Healing Through Storytelling
[12:19 mins.] [Nicole Stewart]

The Healing Power of Narrative
[2:31 mins.] [Dennis Patrick Slattery, a poet, mythologist, and educator; on the faculty of the Pacifica Graduate Institute]

Why We Tell Stories: The Science of Narrative
[1:35:46 mins.]

Your Storytelling Brain
[3:29 mins.] [Michael Gazzaniga]

The Neuroscience Of Narrative
[2:45 mins.]

Reference (Web Resources)

What Is Narrative Therapy?
[Dulwich Centre, Adelaide, Australia]

Some Historical Conditions of Narrative Work
[C. Christian Beels]

Narrative Therapy: Similarities Among Clinicians and Practice Implications
[Mikaela R. Dunn, Masters in Social Work thesis]

Reference (Stories | TED Talks)

The Magical Science of Storytelling
[16:44 mins.] [David JP Phillips]

Storytelling & Living (Different Lives)
[12:23 mins.] [Sarah Kay, Founder of Project V.O.I.C.E performs and discusses storytelling and learning how to stop rushing]

The Power of Stories
[18:57 mins.] [Susan Conley]

The Mystery of Storytelling
[18:29 mins.] [Julian Friedman, editor/agent]

The Transformative Power for Women of Storytelling
[15:24 mins.]

The Clues to a Great Story
[19:16 mins.] [Andrew Stanton]

The Storytelling Animal
[17:24 mins.] [Jonathan Gottschall]

Hardwired for Story
[10:19 mins.] [Sarah-Jane Murray]

Wired for Story
[17:32 mins.] [Lisa Cron]

Why Stories Captivate
[16:19 mins.] [Tomas Pueyo]

Psychologically, We Are Our Stories
[18:44 mins.] [Jonny White]

Re-Scripting The Stories We Tell Ourselves
[19:48 mins.] [Colleen Georges]

Storytelling, Psychology and Neuroscience
[6:14 mins.] [Amanda D'Annucci]

Cultivating Narrative Intelligence
[11:03 mins.] [Norma Cameron]

The Neuroscience Behind Storytelling
[4:45 mins.] [Uri Hasson]

Reference (Stories)

Why Story is Essential to Social Transformation
[15:16 mins.] [Jean Houston]

Roger Schank on Stories
[13:33 mins.]

Jurors and Their "Trial Stories"
[7:17 mins.]

Caring Lives, Redemptive Life Stories
[1:12:09 mins.] [Dan P. Adams]

Your Storytelling Brain
[3:29 mins.] [Michael Gazzaniga]

Roger Schank on Stories
[13:33 mins.]

How Stories Heal
[6:21 mins.] [audio] [Pat Williams]

Pat Williams, on Innate Patterns and Capacities
[6:02 mins.]

The Power of Storytelling to Change the World
[17:16 mins.] [Dave Lieber]

Harnessing the Power of Stories
[19:40 mins.] [Jennifer Aaker] [Stanford Graduate School of Business]

The Neuroscience of Story
[2:29 mins.]

Poetry and Story Therapy: The Healing Power of Creative Expression
[9:40 mins.]

Reference (Lawyers & Stories)

The Art of Advocacy: Gerry Spence
[a course taught by James R. Elkins]

Web Resources

Narrative Therapy

Narrative Therapy
[Michael White, Dulwich Centre, Adelaide, Australia]

Narrative Approach in Therapy
[Alice Morgan, Int. J. Narrative Therapy & Community Work, 2002]

Narrative Psychology: Resources Guide
[an archived site, at one time quite useful]

A Story Telling Psychology
[Miller Mair] [Miller Mair is the author of Between Psychology and Psychotherapy: A Poetics of Experience (New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, 1989)]



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