From Learned Helplessness to Hope: A Case Study

From Learned Helplessness to Hope: A Case Study

The Narrative Approach to Instilling Hope

The narrative approach in psychotherapy suggests that stories and the lives of the persons we see in therapy do not exist in a vacuum; they are instead viewed as under the influence of a powerfully shaping broader context. This is particularly right in the various dimensions of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, and ability. (Bjorøy, Madigan & Nylund, 2015).

Campaign Letters and Counter-Viewing Writing as Intervention

Building upon the therapeutic letter-writing tradition of Michael White and David Epston (1990), Madigan (2007) developed this practice into writing ‘campaign letters’. The idea is to create a community of concern around the patient with the potential to break the connection to despairing views of the person suffering and allow for the anticipation of hope to emerge. These therapeutic letters help to make us see the world in different ways as one and at the same time with the hope that preferred change occurs. The client’s community stands in support of the person and on the firm belief that change for their loved one is possible. This is an opportunity to envision a future where the problem story is in the background or the past. The letter offers a preferred imagination and future possibilities.

“Suddenly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender adults all over the country — all over the world– were speaking to LGBT youth. We weren’t waiting for anyone’s permission anymore. We found our voices. And LGBT adults who made videos for the project weren’t just talking at LGBT youth. The kids who watched videos sent emails, via YouTube, to the adults posting them. Thousands of LGBT adults who thought they were just going to contribute a video found themselves talking with LGBT youth, offering them not just hope but advice, insight, and something too many LGBT youth lack: the ear of a supportive adult who understands what they’re going through.” (Savage and Miller, 2011)

Moreover, into this practice, Madigan added counter-viewing letter writing (2007). Creating letter-writing campaigns through communities of concern is a means to counter-balance the problem-saturated story and dominant memory of despair and failure (Madigan and Epston, 1995). The task of the counter-viewer is to challenge the old structures and melt away helplessness/hopelessness thinking. When a person – who ‘had been there’ and shared similar experiences – stands and tells a counter-viewing story, it breaks the thinking pattern, it is empowering and giving permission to see the future, to believe, set goals, live. The counter-viewing writing technique is designed to assist the individual to be re-membered back towards membership systems of love and support from which the problem had dis-membered them in the first place.


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About the Author

Vered StolarskiDr. Vered Stolarski was born and raised in Ramat Gan, Israel. She had a career as a teacher and educator in public and private schools in Israel and the United States. She obtained her PsyD in Clinical Psychology from The Professional School of Psychology, Sacramento, California in 2019. She is a lifelong yoga practitioner and instructor and has a special interest in movement, yoga therapy, and body intelligence. She draws ideas from positive psychology and the wisdom of body-mind integration philosophies. Dr. Stolarski is bilingual in Hebrew and English.

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