In this series, I dig a little deeper into the meaning of psychology-related terms. This week’s term is STAIR narrative therapy.
I recently stumbled across STAIR narrative therapy for PTSD, so I thought I’d do a post about it. STAIR stands for Skills Training in Affective and Interpersonal Regulation. STAIR narrative therapy, which was developed by Marylene Cloitre, consists of two different modules: first the STAIR, then the narrative therapy.
STAIR teaches present-focused skills for managing emotions. It’s delivered over 8 sessions, either in a group or individual format. It covers:
- Session 1: Introducing the Client to Treatment: includes teaching of focused breathing technique
- Session 2: Emotional Awareness: includes naming and describing emotions, using a feelings list and feelings wheel, and a feelings monitoring form (situation, feeling, intensity, thoughts, actions)
- Session 3: Emotion Regulation: uses a 3 channels of emotion approach—body, thought, and behaviour, and covers coping skills
- Session 4: Emotionally Engaged Living: includes pleasurable activities
- Session 5: Understanding Relationship Patterns: looks at interpersonal schemas
- Session 6: Changing Relationship Patterns: involves role-playing
- Session 7: Agency in Relationships: covers boundaries, assertiveness, “I messages,” and making requests effectively
- Session 8: Flexibility in Relationships: includes effectively saying no and looking at power balances in relationships
The US Department of Veterans Affairs has a STAIR Coach app. It includes a mood journal and a self-care section, which includes planning the use of STAIR tools. Because it’s meant to be used in conjunction with STAIR therapy, it doesn’t really get into explanations of the tools, but they include things like:
- act the opposite
- ask for support
- compassion for others
- focused breathing with music
- muscle relaxation
- pleasurable activities
- positive imagery
- practice assertiveness
- soothe the senses
Kaiser Permanente has posted a set of STAIR group handouts on their website, which can give you a better idea of what’s involved.
The narrative therapy component then moves to the past to create a sequential narrative of the traumatic events in order to create meaning. The story has a beginning, middle, and end, like an autobiography. The trauma is framed as making up only certain chapters in the larger autobiography of life. The client is empowered as the author of their own story, able to create future chapters for themselves.
This component also looks at how the trauma has affected relationship schemas, and how strategies that were adaptive in the context of trauma may no longer be helpful.
The therapy takes the approach that recovery involves making meaning of the past as well as building skills for living in the present. It recognizes that sustained traumas can lead to internal resource depletion and interrupt the development of personal skills. STAIR is designed to boost those skills before delving into the trauma. The narrative component then allows people to rewrite their own story.
STAIR training on its own has been shown to be beneficial for people with PTSD/C-PTSD, but the combined STAIR narrative therapy is more effective.
Dr. Cloitre did a talk on STAIR narrative therapy for the Harvard School of Public Health, which you can watch here if you’re interested.
It sounds like STAIR narrative therapy draws on bits and pieces from cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), and narrative exposure therapy. Have you ever come across or done this type of therapy?
- National Center for PTSD: Skills Training in Affective and Interpersonal Regulation (STAIR) continuing education module
- STAIR Narrative Therapy (stairnt.com): What Is STAIR Narrative Therapy? (website no longer available)
The post Psychotherapy Alphabet Soup: CBT, DBT, ACT, and More provides an overview of a variety of different therapeutic approaches.
The Psychology Corner has an overview of terms covered in the What Is… series, along with a collection of scientifically validated psychological tests.
Ashley L. Peterson
BScPharm BSN MPN
Ashley is a former mental health nurse and pharmacist and the author of four books.