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Clients' and Therapists' Stories about Psychotherapy


  • Jonathan M. Adler

    Corresponding author
    1. Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering
    • Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jonathan M. Adler, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering, Olin Way, MH 368, Needham, MA 02492. Email:

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  • I would like to thank Ilana Walder-Biesanz and Luke H. Harmeling for their work coding the therapists' narratives discussed in this paper.


This article provides an overview of the emerging field of research on clients' stories about their experiences in psychotherapy. The theory of narrative identity suggests that individuals construct stories about their lives in order to provide the self with a sense of purpose and unity. Psychotherapy stories serve both psychological functions. Focusing on the theme of agency as a vehicle for operationalizing purpose and coherence as a way of operationalizing unity, this article will describe the existing scholarship connecting psychotherapy stories to clients' psychological well-being. Results from cross-sectional qualitative and quantitative studies as well as longitudinal research indicate a connection between the stories clients tell about therapy and their psychological well-being, both over the course of treatment and after it is over. In addition, a preliminary analysis of therapists' stories about their clients' treatment is presented. These analyses reveal that the way therapists recount a particular client's therapy does not impact the relationships between clients' narratives and their improvement. The article concludes with a discussion of how this body of scholarship might be fruitfully applied in the realm of clinical practice.