Thursday, July 4, 2013

Declaration of Independence: A Narrative Intervention

People have been using documents to mark important events and decisions ever since writing was invented millenia ago. It is said that the ten commandments were documents carved into stone tablets, and carried around by the Israelites as representations of their covenant with God. Similarly, every religious tradition has some form of sacred text. Documents play a pivotal role in human relationships as well, both political and domestic. The Declaration of Independence is a political example, along with innumerable other famous documents (the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, and many others). Domestic examples include marriage licenses, contracts, restraining orders, among other things.

Narrative Therapy draws on this human tendency to create documents signifying important moments, decisions, and changes. Documents serve as a symbol - a visible manifestation to clients and to others - of what clients have achieved, decisions and changes they have made, and preferences they have for their future vis-a-vis the problem(s) that brought them to therapy. The documents used in Narrative Therapy may be modeled after various documents, social, political, religious, or otherwise. Contracts, letters, certificates and diplomas are some common examples. Often the problem, externalized and sometimes personified, is addressed in the document (for example, a letter can be addressed to or from the problem, and contracts may be drawn up between the client and the problem).

An illustration of this kind of intervention that is particularly fitting for today, Independence Day in the U.S., is a Declaration of Independence from the problem. The format I've used is as follows:


Choose an area or issue in your own life from which you would like to declare independence. Write your own Personal Declaration of Independence following the five-part structure of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, develop each as thoroughly and as creatively as you can.

I. Introduction (Preamble)
Why are you writing this document? From what are you declaring independence? What are the conditions causing the desire to separate?

II. Philosophical Foundation
What human rights and privileges support your right to declare your independence?

III. Nature of the Complaint
Describe the actual situation, including three or four specific grievances detailing how your rights have been violated.

IV. Explanation of Previous Actions
Describe what the ideal or tolerable situation would be. Specify what remedy is needed to correct the complaint, and detail what efforts have already been made to address the problem and achieve the ideal or tolerable state.

V. Resolution
State in your own words that all other efforts have failed, and describe what you intend to do now (what this Declaration of Independence means).

Don't forget to sign your document!

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