Storytelling, Depression, and Psychotherapy

  • Peter Muntigl


The health benefits of having people tell stories about their distress and suffering have been recognised for some time in psychotherapy research. For persons with depression, their narratives have been shown to index difficulties at the levels of emotional processing and personal agency in distinctive ways (Angus & Greenberg, 2011; Vanheule & Hauser, 2008). The aim of this chapter is to show, using the methods of conversation analysis (CA), how clients with depression tell stories about their troubles and how, within an emotion-focused psychotherapeutic context, psychotherapists are able to empathically connect with the client’s troubles. In performing a fine-grained analysis of how talk between therapists and clients sequentially unfolds, I show how certain therapist responses to the client’s story may be more effective at facilitating mutual affiliation. In essence, I claim that by putting more empathy into their responses, therapists are able to facilitate more understanding and endorsement of their discursive intervention.


Therapist Response Emotional Impact Conversation Analysis Narrative Analysis Psychotherapy Research 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. American Psychological Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th edition). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.Google Scholar
  2. Angus, L., & Greenberg, L. (2011). Working with narrative in emotion-focused therapy: Changing stories, healing lives. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Angus, L., & McLeod, J. (Eds.) (2004). The handbook of narrative psychotherapy: Practice, theory, and research. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  4. Antaki C., Barnes R., & Leudar I. (2005). Diagnostic formulations in psychotherapy. Discourse Studies, 7(6), 627–647.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bamberg, M. (2012). Narrative practice and identity navigation. In J. A. Holstein, & J. F. Gubrium (Eds.), Varieties of narrative analysis (pp. 99–124). London: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bruner, J. (1986). Actual minds, possible worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Drew, P. (1998). Complaints about transgressions and misconduct. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 31(3–4), 295–325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fitzgerald, P., & Leudar, I. (2010). On active listening in person-centred, solution-focused psychotherapy. Journal of Pragmatics, 42(12), 3188–3198.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Greenberg, L. (2002). Emotion-focused therapy: Coaching clients to work through feelings. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. —. (2010). Emotion-focused therapy: A clinical synthesis. Focus, 8(1), 32–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Greenberg, L., & Watson, J. (1998). Experiential therapy of depression: Differential effects of client-centered relationship conditions and process-experiential interventions. Psychotherapy Research, 8(2), 210–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Günthner, S. (1997). Complaint stories: Constructing emotional reciprocity among women. In H. Kotthoff & R. Wodak (Eds.), Communicating gender in context (pp. 179–218). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hamilton, H. (1998). Reported speech and survivor identity in on-line bone marrow transplantation narratives. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 2(1), 53–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Jaffe, A. (2009). Introduction: The sociolinguistics of stance. In A. Jaffe (Ed.), Stance: Sociolinguistic perspectives (pp. 3–28). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Jefferson, G. (1988). On the sequential organization of troubles talk in ordinary conversation. Social Problems, 35(4), 418–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Koshik, I. (2002). Designedly incomplete utterances: A pedagogical practice for eliciting knowledge displays in error correction. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 35(3), 277–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Labov, W., & Waletzky, J. (1967). Narrative analysis: Oral versions of personal experience. In J. Helm (Ed.), Essays on the verbal and visual arts (pp. 12–44). Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  18. Mandelbaum, J. (2013). Storytelling in conversation. In J. Sidnell & T. Stivers (Eds.), The handbook of conversation analysis (pp. 492–508). West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  19. Muntigl, P., & Horvath, A. O. (2014). The therapeutic relationship in action: How therapists and clients co-manage relational disaffiliation. Psychotherapy Research, 24(3), 327–345.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Muntigl, P., Knight, N., & Angus, L. (2014). Targeting emotional impact in storytelling: Working with client affect in emotion-focused psychotherapy. Discourse Studies, 16(6), 753–775.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Muntigl, P., Knight, N., & Watkins, A. (2012). Working to keep aligned in psychotherapy: Using nods as a dialogic resource to display affiliation. Language and Dialogue, 2(1), 9–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. —. (2014). Empathic practices in client-centred psychotherapies: Displaying understanding and affiliation with clients. In S. Graf, M. Sator, & T. Spranz-Fogasy (Eds.), Discourses of helping professions (pp. 33–57). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  23. Muntigl, P., Knight, N., Watkins, A., Horvath, A. O., & Angus, L. (2013). Active retreating: Person-centered practices to repair disaffiliation in therapy. Journal of Pragmatics, 53, 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Pennebaker, J., & Seagal, J. (1999). Forming a story: The health benefits of narrative. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 55(10), 1243–1254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Perls, F., Hefferline, R., & Goodman, P. (1951). Gestalt therapy. London: Souvenir Press.Google Scholar
  26. Rogers, Carl R. (1951). Client-centred therapy. London: Constable & Robinson.Google Scholar
  27. Schegloff, E. A. (1997). ‘Narrative analysis’ thirty years later. Journal of Narrative and Life History, 7(1–4), 97–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Schiffrin, D. (1996). Narrative as self-portrait: Sociolinguistic constructions of identity. Language in Society, 25(2), 167–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Stivers, T. (2008). Stance, alignment and affiliation during storytelling: When nodding is a token of affiliation. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 41(1), 31–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Stivers, T., Mondada, L., & Steensig, J. (2011). Knowledge, morality and affiliation in social interaction. In T. Stivers, L. Mondada, & J. Steensig (Eds.), The morality of knowledge in conversation (pp. 3–24). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tannen, D. (1986). Introducing constructed dialogue in Greek and American conversational and literary narrative. In F. Coulmas (Ed.), Direct and indirect speech (pp. 311–332). Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  32. Tannen, D. (2007). Talking voices: Repetition, dialogue, and imagery in conversational discourse (2nd edition). New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Vanheule, S., & Hauser, S. (2008). A narrative analysis of helplessness in depression. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 56(4), 1309–1330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Williams, J. M. G., Barnhofer, T., Crane, C., Hermans, D., Raes, F., Watkins, E., & Dalgliesh, T. (2007). Autobiographical memory specificity and emotional disorder. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 122–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Recommended reading

  1. • Angus, L., & McLeod, J. (Eds.) The handbook of narrative psychotherapy: Practice, theory and research. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. • Greenberg, L. S., & Watson, J. (2006). Emotion-focused therapy for depression. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. • Mandelbaum, J. (2013). Storytelling in conversation. In J. Sidnell & T. Stivers (Eds.), The handbook of conversation analysis (pp. 492–508). West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Peter Muntigl 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Muntigl

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations