Collective Narrative Practices & Innovation Projects

Posted by on Jul 7, 2015 in Uncategorised | 33 comments

The innovative projects which we discuss in this chapter draw on collective narrative practices that are concerned with responding to groups and communities who have experienced significant social suffering and oppression in contexts in which ‘therapy’ may not be culturally resonant. Collective Narrative Practices have a rich history and engage a diverse range of methodologies that can be used with individuals, groups and communities. In this chapter, we will just touch on a few methodologies …


 

“As counsellors, therapists, psychosocial workers and community workers, stories of hardship find their way to us. In some ways, we are cultural receivers of stories of suffering (Waldegrave, Tamaseses, Tuhaka & Campbell, 2003). And often this suffering is linked to broader injustices: to violence, abuse, racism, poverty, sexism, heterosexual dominance. To be the cultural receivers of these stories brings with it awesome responsibilities; for instance there are responsibilities to comfort and to somehow alleviate hardship. But there is another responsibility that I am hoping we will also engage with. How can we receive these stories and engage with them in ways that not only alleviate individual sorrow, but also enable and sustain local social action to address the broader injustices, violence and abuses in our varying contexts? How can we provide forums for the sorrow, anguish and hardship of the stories that we receive to be transformed into collective actions? I don’t mean grand social actions, I mean local, meaningful, resonant, sustainable, social action or social contributions’

(Denborough, 2008, p. 192)

For a link to the book you can visit Collective Narrative Practice by David Denborough 


The following paper is an example of conversations that have taken place in a number of villages in rural Malawi. Here practitioners engage problems in a personification with one worker playing the role of Mr/Mrs AIDS, who represents HIV/AIDS; and another plays the role of Mr/Mrs CARE, who represents the community. Members of the village are invited to ask questions of these two characters, and a conversation develops. Please click on the link to read about this compelling example of collective practice!

Little by Little we Make a Bundle


In this interview, Paulo Freire describes some of his thinking about oppression, ethical responsibilities and how these shape possibilities for social change. The work of Paulo Freire has influenced the development of collective narrative practices.

Making History and Unveiling Oppression


The Mt Elgon Self-Help Community Project, based in rural Uganda, uses narrative practices to spark and sustain local social action and environmental and economic projects. This video contains some of the stories of the work of Caleb Wakhungu and the Mt Elgon project.

 


 

One of the ways in which the field of narrative practice continues to diversify is through innovation projects. These are often the result of collaborations, invitations and challenges. Many of them involve ‘cross-cultural inventions’ and partnerships. You might like to explore some of these examples:

Tree of Life

Life Saving Tips from young Australian Muslims

Healing Stories Partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities

For more projects of this kind you can see the full list here:

Innovation Projects


Many narrative therapists and community workers are now using music and song in their work with individuals, groups, and communities. This page contains songs created during various Dulwich Centre projects both in Australia and overseas, as well as links to find out more about the contexts they were created in.

Songs as a response to hardship and trauma

You can listen to David Denborough discussing the use of song in narrative practice on this radio program


 

For Reflection

Is there an idea or project that stands out to you most at this time?

What about this idea or project has sparked your enthusiasm or curiosity?

In what ways might you begin to experiment with these ideas or methodologies?

 


 

What do you think? Have you got an idea that might be interesting to exchange with others? Please let us know and share your thoughts on this chapter below before moving on. Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks!


33 Comments

  1. I live in Alice Springs in Northern Territory Australia.

    I think the thing I was most inspired by was the number and differing types of projects across the world. – The universal application of this approach (in widely differing places with the peoples of many cultures and contexts) and the richness of the resulting outcomes. – How individuals and communities grew and thrived from engaging in them.

    It is the universality of Collective Narrative Practice which sparks my enthusiasm and I will think about where these ideas can be put into practice in the multicultural community in which I live. – A way that might bring together a diverse group which can create a project to promote inter-racial engagement and break down the barriers between different racial groups and foster acceptance of all.

    I am about to start a drama project working with a very mixed group of people who are wanting to create a play that will give people an understanding of what it means to live with mental illness and through this medium help to reduce the stigma of mental illness. Collective Narrative Practice could be a good way to create the story line for the play.

  2. Ludo Van Deuren – Belgium
    The tree of life is what stands out to me mostly. As an occupational therapist I work with materials, so this fits with me. It gives people time to reflect, what they come up with is written and becomes a document. Many aspects of someone’s life can be told about. When in a group you create a forest of life, you can connect (re-member) people to each other. It is something I am going to be working with.

  3. I love the way narrative therapy marries perfectly with asset-based community development in this section, and found it incredibly inspiring and relevant to the work we do with former refugee communities in Cairns.

    I was encouraged by the case study from Malawi “Little by little we make a bundle,” where community narrative practice was effective in decreasing stigma and increasing community conversation around HIV/AIDS.

    I am interested in exploring how a similar framework might be used to address the highly stigmatised area of mental health among the refugee communities we work with.

    I also found the Tree of Life methodology powerful, inspiring, and culturally resonant, and hope to use it as a tool in some community conversations we will be holding with elderly members of refugee communities in Cairns.

  4. I find it exceedingly difficult to select one or two projects out of the many that have been presented! Among those that resonated most were: the Teams of Life & Trees of Life (and Forests too); the songs, dance and art practice (Alliance against Anxiety) that have brought much hope and healing to communities – Aboriginal and otherwise.

    I’m buoyed by the many recorded and written examples of integrating youth and elders into process, as they have so much to learn from each other; and the bridging between generations through listening and sharing can be so instructive and therapeutic for future generations – while preserving essential elements of past lives and experience.

    On second thought, I must admit that one of the highlights was watching and listening to the Life Saving Tips from young Muslim Australians. So much depth of feeling in these expressions of pain, fear, anger and hope.

  5. Hello,

    I was taken by two projects in particular: the article on privilege (which had a link to a project in Singapore) and the community songs. Both projects gave me some food for thought and some space to reflect on my position as a therapist (which I would see as one of privilege, albeit a precarious one – what I mean by the concept of precariousness is that although I am a therapist and in a position of power, I am also positioned as an indigenous person inside an amazing, but not-very-well funded non-government agency). In previous years I worked in prisons as part of a drama therapy programme with inmates. In those programmes we engaged in a 14 week therapy process which culminated in a devised play that we put on for families, friends, other inmates, and the general public. This section reminded me of how those experiences led me to train as a psychologist, and the cathartic power of artistic experiences.

  6. Hi,

    What stood out for me were the healing stories partnerships. I am working a bit (would like more) with families, whose relatives disappeared during the Maoist insurgency in Nepal and have found a lot of points that resonated with what family-members have shared with me in the past. I wonder if similar partnerships could support them in griefing and remembering despite a political system that is so ready to forget and look forward to sharing, discussing and exploring options for it with my colleagues.

    In addition, I feel there is also a strong personal connection with those healing stories, as I recently lost my grandmother and am wondering how we as a family can remember her and how I could contribute to documenting and sharing narratives of oral histories of elders in my own community in connection to dealing with my own countries’ past and future. The healing stories were quite powerful to read in that sense and encourage me to keep on working this private project.

    Julia from Nepal/Austria

  7. This session helped me to make clear to my struggle on collective practice in Hong Kong. As in my city, social welfare distributes with assessment of needs of the responsible community. As a result, a need based approach becomes a mainstream of service. As a narrative practitioner, I seldom take my users as ” people in need”. To address the situation of community members, I always face to a problem how I can provide my social services as an asset based approach other than need approach. Collective practice bears an important concept by Paulo Freire that we are working to “create a pedagogy of desire”. It gives a solution to me that sometimes we are not providing social services to “solve social problems”. The social structure also needs to be re-structuring or re-imagined by an acknowledgement by persons. Collective practice is to engage a community based project that we want to create or restructure or de-structuring the result of normalization. To reduce the effect of social discourse to the responsible community, narrative practice acts as a media that co-creating a unique social context to the community that they share a collaborated story within them. After thickening their stories, it helps to the effect of the grand narrative that affects their lives without any notification before the appearance of their preferred story.

  8. A big range of inspiring projects! The uplifting and affirming process in Narrative Development Work project (Uganda) reminded me of Asset Based Community Development principles and was very Strengths-focussed. The Tree of Life is so versatile in its audience, it’s great.

  9. I love that these community projects exist in our world and that they are starting to have a positive impact on the communities that work hard to turn their hopes and dreams into real possibilities. I loved the metaphor used in the ‘little by little we make a bundle’, where it is easy to break if we stand alone however in a group we gain strength and therefore will not break. It really is powerful when metaphors and role plays can allow people the opportunity to re-evaluate their values and what matters to them most.

    In the past i have loved using the team of life, drawing on the inspiration used in the tree of life and that a forest can weather a storm better then one tree alone etc.

    I feel i have already experimented with the use of bring forth ‘communitites’ when working with whole families and other supportive people in a persons life. However, there is definitely room to grow and develop these ideas further and I love that the Mt Elgon Project outlined the steps they took to strengthen their connections and the action’s they took to move forward in building a better life. All these readings and examples are very inspirational and give HOPE.

  10. This section highlighted for me the Reconciliation and Call to Action that is taking place in Canada. This project and change in community consciousness is connected to the traumatic history our First Nations Peoples have suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church and the Canadian Government. For the first time in Canadian History, the Canadian Government is taking responsibility and acknowledging the impact the cultural genocide had on our Fist Nations Peoples, their communities and cultures. The project has greatly followed the steps outlines in this section and connects to the ethics and intentions of narrative practice.

  11. Hi, I’m Susie, from London UK. I work with people who have an experience of psychosis in the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK.

    This is the innovation I have most experience of, after a trainee I had ran a Tree of Life group in the crisis centre where I was working. It worked well for people with an experience of psychosis, being able to re-connect with the positive aspects of their roots, their strengths, skills and knowledge. The people in the crisis centre with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder struggled with the project and several did not complete their tree. My sense was that during their crisis, one of the main concerns they were struggling with was other people listening, accepting and understanding how awful things had been for them. They had many encounters of people rejecting their suffering, invalidating them, blaming them for their difficulty in coping. As such, the invitation to think about the positive aspects of their roots jarred with the main concern they were trying to communicate at that time. It was my sense that they felt being able to identify positives about their roots, their strengths, skills, etc might led to further invalidation of the suffering they were currently experiencing. It would be interesting to hear about other Tree of Life groups with people with similar experiences to see how they went or what adaptations were helpful.

  12. Singapore
    I am so inspired by the Tree of Life approach that builds a new narrative from a position of strength, knowledge and safety before addressing trauma or hardship. I will definitely use this as an art therapy directive for my work with disadvantaged children as well as a single mothers support group (with history of domestic violence). A visual and narrative workshop that will facilitate their re-authoring of new identities: of hope, strength & survival instead of victims with no hope.

  13. I’m writing from Sydney, Australia-
    I felt really inspired by the article ‘Linking Stories and Initiatives: A narrative approach to working with the skills and knowledge of communities’, which is accessible through the ‘Healing Stories Partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities’ link on this webpage.
    I was really struck by how much the therapists/authors truly valued culture (specifically the Aboriginal culture of those communities), and empowerment of communities, rather than imposing something on to them, and that the project was community-driven; that the support was found within-community. I think that’s so important and something that’s so often missed.
    The idea of a community sharing knowledge and experience with another, and this process being helpful and healing for both, is interesting. It makes me think about how this could be applied to individual clients (an idea raised in previous modules)-but specifically how this could work with children, and whether it would be ok if the children already knew each other, for example in an orphanage, or whether it’s better to start with some kind of anonymity.

  14. This course is boggling my mind with possibilities.

    I was struck by how the transcripts from Little By Little We Make a Bundle also can serve a secondary purpose of powerfully promoting some understanding of this issue amongst outsiders.

    I found the information about using song, and the podcast with David Denborough especially inspiring, and I was very moved by ‘Song of Survival’ and the story behind it.

    I’m not a therapist – and group, class, and community projects are where I’m most likely to be able to incorporate elements of narrative practice. I’m really excited by some of the ideas that this whole course is sparking in my brain.

  15. Wow, some great work happening. I loved the discussion between the villagers and A
    IDS/CARE what an amazing idea – I could see the same sort of discussion happening involving drug and alcohol in small communities here in Australia.
    The use of the ‘football’ metaphor in the Mt Elgon project was another idea that interested me as well. As a netball coach I quite often use the same idea with girls in my teams, especially the young teenagers.

  16. How inspiring and motivating to hear about the many innovative project incorporating narrative therapy. The “little by little we make a bundle” reminded me of the value of externalisation and metaphors to assist people to place the issue under the microscope to question and learn. The Mt Elgon self-help community project reminded me of the valuable principles of community development and opened my eyes to how narrative therapy processes could be incorporated. Songs as a response to hardship reminded me of many of the creative students I see who can heal through song.

  17. Little by Little we Make a Bundle is an extremely powerful dialogue. One aspect that particularly resonated with me was it providing an opportunity for the villagers to get more in contact with their own histories of caring and collective action.
    Making History and Unveiling Oppression: the challenge “as human beings, surely our main responsibilities are to intervene in reality and to maintain our sense of hope”, together with the image (and metaphor) of cutting through the barbed wire fences (also of illiteracy, ignorance and fatalism) of the farm, still sit with me as I ponder my ascribed life roles, parent, spouse, friend, leader, etc.
    Narrative Development Work, Mt Elgon Self-Help Community Project, Raising our Heads above the Clouds, sets out a terrific methodology, with the Steps speaking for themselves: (1) Sharing stories of pride and survival, (2) outsider witness responses, (3) hopes and dreams, (4) histories of peoples hopes and dreams (providing a rich tapestry), raising people’s heads above the clouds, (5) calls to action, (6) documenting the calls to action and (7) circulating the documentation and calls to action. Leading to concrete projects such as better housing, small business, solar power, and children experiencing how to receive and give.
    Viewing the Life-Saving Tips is inspirational. Being created in the aftermath of the Cronulla Riots is apt at this time with the release of the movie Down Under, that uses comedy to view the Cronulla riots.
    Healing stories: Partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, reminds me of the importance of stories and how in our fast paced world we rarely make time to immerse ourselves in stories to inform our way of being. It reminds me of Roman Krznaric’s The Wonderbox, Curious Histories of How to Live: how we can improve our lives through stories of history.
    Listening to Songs as a response to hardship and trauma was a wonderful conclusion to this lesson on a diverse range of methodologies that can be used with individuals, groups and communities. What terrific work the Dulwich Centre is doing and sharing to inspire others to do so in their own lives.
    Brisbane, Australia

  18. Whitsundays, Australia

    It was beautiful to see so many inspiring and locally appropriate solutions to community challenges. I was particularly taken by the tree of life methodology as it is a method I can see working with within my work context, with children who have experienced trauma from domestic violence and are living in refuges.

    Thank you
    Acacia

  19. Newcastle, Australia
    There are a lot of ideas and project in this chapter. Three main projects caught my attention.
    The first is the dialogue of Malawi people “Little by little we make a bundle” and it helped me to reflect on how powerful can be the Narrative Practice for communities to see problems and to start solve them.
    I also found Paulo Freire’s thought about his “pedagogy of desire”. He focuses on how help people (specifically homeless people) to rebuild their desire and wishes in afavourable context.
    The last but not least project that I loved and that I would like to use is “Songs as a response to hardship and trauma”. Music and songs can help to cure problems with a sort of “lightness”.

    • I loved Paulo Freire’s piece, too. And I found his unwavering belief in the ethical responsibilities of educators to be really affirming – something to hold onto and remind myself of.

  20. Alberton, South Africa
    All these projects are inspirational and well-adapted to their contexts. It certainly inspires hope for a vast number of possibilities!
    I could not possibly single one out as a favourite because each one is effective and seems to be tailor-made for the community in which it was practiced – and that is exactly what makes it work, I am sure. The importance of the community’s involvement in the planning, implementation and evaluation of each project makes it their own and I suppose that creates a sense of pride and supplies the motivation to make it work.
    I am personally very excited to try ideas I have found in each one of these models in work with groups of people who are struggling with the effects of addiction in their lives. I think the ideas in The Tree of Life could be applied successfully in that context, but also certain elements in ‘Raising our Heads Above The Clouds’
    Although there is a very established recovery program in South Africa and worldwide, my concern has always been that addiction is not externalized and even people who have managed to defeat addiction for more than 10 years, still refer to themselves as recovering addicts. I am keen to develop a Narrative Recovery Project that will remove the energy from the problem and re-focus it on developing rich, meaningful stories that bring emphasis to the hopes, skills and knowledge of those people. This will help them to see themselves differently and will make it easier to sustain an addiction-free life without having to wear the problem as a label.
    I am very excited indeed!

  21. Your projects are touching me deeply. Thank you so much for sharing them.
    In the ones I have studied I could notice that the participants play an active role in the search for sustainable solution possibilities through individual and collective empowerment that happens in amazing ways.
    When reading the stories and listening to the songs I remembered the following by ― Martin Buber, I and Thou:
    “Man wishes to be confirmed in his being by man, and wishes to have a presence in the being of the other….
    Secretly and bashfully he watches for a YES which allows him to be and which can come to him only from one human person to another.”

    with love

  22. I will soon be an intern and the ideas presented in this lesson will inform the way I enter into the communities where I will be serving those whose stories are not told. I want to celebrate their skills and knowledge, their dreams and hopes, with them. Using songs as a way to retell a person’s encounter with trauma, injustice, and oppression appeals to me the most. I know of several artists that find healing through the creative arts. Also, in Uganda when the students created the books to record their skills, knowledge, values, hopes, and dreams, I could see this as a project to use with children in the communities where I will be working.

  23. I found the projects and ideas in this chapter interesting and inspiring. I am beginning to formulate a plan to do some work with teenagers where I work and both the tree of life and songs could be really powerful ideas to use to engage these young people. Thank you for another brilliant chapter.

  24. The book “Abundance” (Kotler & Diamandis, 2012), describes how the chair of the Global Water Trust tells the story of a project in remote Africa where water pipe was run to within about 400 metres of a village in need, but the pipe kept getting vandalised. “Turns out,” he says, “the four hours every other day that the women spent hiking out to gather water was the only time they got away from their husbands. They cherished this privacy, so they kept sabotaging the pipe.”

    With this in mind, I very much agree with Paulo Freire’s assertion that prescriptive practices are to be avoided when working with communities to increase capacity and introduce positive change. I cannot help but appreciate and admire how the narrative therapy approach to community innovation projects looks to the community for its scripting, its language and its actions.

    “It is impossible for me as an educator to build another person’s wish,” says Paulo Freire. The Mt Elgon Self-Help Community Project is an ideal example of how the narrative therapy scaffolding enabled the participants to remember, connect with, articulate and then act upon their own dreams.

    On a slightly different note, coming from a Public Libraries background, I was particularly inspired by the fact that the booklets in which the Mt Elgon participants wrote the actions they intended to take in order to fulfil specific dreams were then added to the community library. Not only did these booklets document the strengths, skills and knowledge of the community, they also connected the community to its own cultural histories and traditions by acknowledging the origins (personal, familial and social) of their dreams. By being stored in a shared and public space (ie: the library), the booklets remain available to be referred to and discussed – in other words: they can be used as an ongoing community resource, a source of future strength.

  25. The Tree of Life is a wonderful narrative tool! I have tried a little myself to experiment with it in the a career counseling context and I think it has a great potential. It is a powerful metaphor that can really fit in a various array of social and cultural contests.

    Difficult to say which of the innovative projects presented in this Chapter have most triggered my entusiasm. I have really loved the live-savings tips project as well as I have found Paulo Freire’s words so much encouraging to me. What Freire wrote it seems like a kind of a manifesto about how counseling can be transformed into social action and Politic (with capital P). What caught my interest and my heart the first time I came into collective narrative practice was just its way of linking counselor’s work to community action. I feel like counseling has become a very individualized matter these days; counseling happens in isolation, counselors deal with individual problems called “disorders” or “mental diseases” as the person in itself should be “repaired” in some ways. I was first a little bit horrified about this isolation and about how individuals are often “blame” for something that is definitely not their “fault”. Narrative collective practice has open a whole new world for me.

  26. The Tree of Life is wonderful.The main thing I like about it is the way it can be individualised eg:orphans may feel ‘rootless’,but by using the tree of life they (and all of us) can see that identity is not solely biological.Many things can ‘root’ us- people not related by blood that may have offered love and support,places,occasions,music etc.Narrative practices encourage us to think laterally,to look for alternative/deeper understanding.We are a vast forest comprised of individual trees that need support every now and then, to keep our roots firmly embedded in the ground while growing towards the light.

  27. I think it is critical to hear the voices of your community and to support them in telling their stories, and using their guidance in how to tell it. I will say however, that I work with a refugee resettlement organization and the sheer cost of interpretation makes this almost impossible, not to mention the fact that we work with so many different language speaking groups. I do love the ideas though and am longing for more knowledge on what the foundation is for these groups.

    I can see myself integrating the Tree of Life activity into our Mindfulness Walking Group, to really bring home the spiritual nature of the group and helping people to see their stories as multi-layered–acknowledging adversity, social/cultural challenges and tragedies, but also adding a story that recognizes their strength and connection with others. I’m also thinking of ways in which I can incorporate the Tree of Life into parenting/caregiving relationship. We are always looking to find organic ways to support families with the impact of war-inflicted sexual assault and/or domestic violence, but I need to know more about how that could be done. The only thing I can imagine at this time is externalizing Violence–that Violence will do anything to stop people, to divide them, to hurt them. That when someone is hurt, violence can creep in and put that person at risk for letting the Violence take another toll. Using examples, Violence as DV, Child abuse, Sexual assault, aggressive behaviors. Maybe the opposite character would be Peace, again Peace unites, peace supports, respects, listens, takes commitment and intention. Am I on the right track here? And would people come? LOL

    Final thought. I loved the videos from young Muslims in Australia. This is something we’ve considered incorporating into our Client Wellness Orientation…any ideas where this or other similar projects can get funding?

    Thank you!

  28. The cross cultural community action story is really inspiring. I love that it practically aligns social action and personal change – so many approaches blame the victim and forget the beauty and strengths that already exists in people’s culture. The connection between people’s hopes and dreams and their ancestors hopes and dreams is moving to me because it is valuing others’ lives from the past.I can see that there are so many areas where this can be applied. Thank you!

  29. I was inspired by the community projects, it will be a challenge to translate them into an urban environment.

    The use of song is interesting. I remember a tale of Kev Carmody, when he first entered uni as a mature aged student he wasn’t able to write essays at an academic level, because he had not received a full education beforehand. His lecturers allowed him to present his work using his guitar for the first six months as they recognised it as a valid way to present in an oral tradition. He told the story of Australia and the history of his people in song. He has a PhD in History now.

    • Hello Stephen.. lovely to hear you are feeling inspired by these projects! I thought I would provide the link for others to a song by Kev Carmody and Paul Kelly inspired by your mentioning him! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbHR-apIHLU

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