Narrative Exposure Therapy as treatment for trauma survivors
Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET) is a short-term treatment developed specifically to treat PTSD symptoms resulting from complex and multiple traumas. It has been developed according to the theoretical understanding of PTSD, autobiographical memory and neural fear networks. In basic terms, NET aims to engage and reconnect areas of the brain impacted by trauma exposure, through the process of recounting their story.
How Narrative Exposure Therapy helps
NET contextualizes the sensory, affective, and cognitive memories of experienced trauma to place it in the context of memories of lived experiences. A chronological narrative of a life story with emphasis on traumas will then result in a coherent narrative. In order to recount traumatic experiences, all perceptual elements are identified without losing connection to the “here and now”. NET facilitates reflection on one’s entire life and enhances a sense of personal identity and fostering integration rather than fragment
How the narrative process works
With NET, the client constructs a “lifeline”, a physical representation of their life using rope beginning at birth. The client then goes through their life, in chronological order, placing symbols such as flowers on the line to represent happy events and stones for sad or frightening events. The key focus of the therapy is to transform the initial fragmented story of the traumatic event or events into a coherent narrative. The therapist asks the client to relive their experiences of essential elements of the story such as emotional, cognitive, and behavioural reactions, and helps the client transform “hot” emotional memories into “cool” declarative memories. Finally, the client receives the final written biographical account and it is formally signed off. Through this narrative development process, the patient’s trauma related problems will be reduced.
NET for a range of mental health concerns
There is a significant amount of research supporting the effectiveness of NET on PTSD symptoms in culturally diverse populations. Although the main target of NET is PTSD symptom reduction, NET has also shown promising results in decreasing comorbid symptoms such as depression, substance use disorder, dissociation, psychosis, and borderline personality disorder. NET can also be helpful in reducing the social impairments associated with PTSD, a critical resource for protecting against the effects of future trauma exposure.