A sweet piece of terminology that I picked up from my studies of narrative therapy is the “sparkling moment.” The idea is to search for what shines out in a positive way — in contrast to the predominantly dark, problem-saturated story our clients can be stuck in.
In simple terms, narrative therapy suggests that we make meaning out of our lives by stringing together moments in our lives of which a story can be made.
Because there is no such thing as an “objective reality,” the story we construct from moment to moment is one of an almost infinite number of choices. However, once we have created a story for ourselves, our minds immediately begin to filter out experiences, thoughts, feelings, relationships, and pieces of our history that do not make sense within our pre-existing story.
Because this happens, whatever story we have adopted tends to grow bigger and stronger over time as we collect more instances that appear to support it.
In the process, other possibilities and other realities that might provide the structure for a very different story are left unseen, their value unacknowledged. But if we pay attention to moments and experiences that cannot be used in the current, problematic story, other stories will emerge. Meanings and identities we thought were permanent fixtures start to make room for hopeful, liberating new realities about ourselves.
The challenge in this situation is to locate a moment that sparkles in the client’s eyes. Regardless how brilliantly something stands out for us, it’s dull as a coal smudge if our clients don’t understand it as an exception to the rule, or a “unique outcome,” as Michael White would say.
As therapists, it is sometimes hard to maintain a sense of freshness about our work. It can be challenging to sustain an attitude of hopeful curiosity about what might be coming next. This can be true under various circumstances: e.g., if we feel tired and unappreciated; if difficult problems with no easy solutions seem to fly at us relentlessly; or if we have had a big disappointment in our professional or personal lives.
At times like these, we need to look for sparkling moments as well. They may be hidden under a thick layer of frustration and discouragement, moments that simply will not conform to our temporarily dreary perception of ourselves as not-very-good therapists and the world as tired, old, predictable and boring.
Today a client came in who has been seeing me weekly for over two years. Together we have gone through days of despair, self-loathing and hopelessness that have appeared to her to be certainly interminable. The person she was two years ago would not have believed that she could ever be the person she is today. She would have tossed that person off as fiction.
Today, however, she is able to see herself as happy; capable of being alone as well as in relationships with others; clear about what she wants and what she will accept in life; and much more in control of her life and its direction than she was in the past. Today she sparkled, and she served as a reminder that life as a therapist or otherwise, will produce moments of delight. They may be waiting just around the corner.