2002: Issue 2

2002-no-2Welcome to this special issue of the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work on African-American perspectives: healing past and present.*

The process of putting together this edition has challenged, inspired, confronted and moved us. The papers and interviews included here are wide ranging and of considerable scholarship. In Part One of this journal you will find descriptions of an inspiring community research process, a startling oral history project, and a practice-based framework for moving towards ‘post colonial’ or culturally appropriate therapy. You’ll also find heartfelt interviews in relation to the meaning of home, the significance of reparations and honouring ancestry, and the implications for therapists in questioning the concept of punishment. All of these writings are based in African-American history and experience.

From here, the journal branches out to include voices from Indigenous Australia, Samoa, Ghana and South Africa. These are thought provoking pieces of writing.

The second part of this journal consists of two collaborations which we hope will be of significant assistance to therapists engaging with poststructuralist ideas and with externalising practices. The question and answer documents that are provided in this section are easy-to-read and yet have been crafted with great care so that the substance and thoroughness of ideas are still conveyed. Whether you are a seasoned narrative therapist or new to the ideas we hope you will find these two pieces highly relevant and helpful to your practice. We would love to hear your feedback about this.

Towards the end of the journal we’ve also included two reviews of recent training events – one a conference in relation to the experience of Holocaust survivors and their families, and the other a workshop that was held in South Africa earlier this year.

As you can see, within this journal are many stories, many ideas. We look forward to hearing about your experience of reading them.

Before you do so, we would just like to thank the authors who have contributed to this issue as well as all those people who have worked hard behind the scenes and who have participated in the conversations that made this journal possible. These conversations have taken place over some years in Adelaide, in Atlanta, on the banks of the Murray River in South Australia, on the Cape Coast of Ghana, in Samoa, in Oklahoma, in the UK and in South Africa (not to mention those phone calls that have criss-crossed the globe!) This journal edition has certainly been a collaborative effort. Thanks to all of you who have been a part of the process.

David Denborough

* Regular readers will notice that for this special issue we have used North American spelling for those articles within the African-American section. For some reason, it didn’t seem appropriate to convert the spelling to Australian English!


Showing 1–10 of 17 results

  • We are making history now— Vanessa McAdams-Mahmoud


    Working as a psychotherapist at Spelman College, each day I hear stories from young African-American women and their partners, friends and families. These are stories about every conceivable issue and experience. I am able to share in the happiness and joys of these young women’s lives as well as witness stories of sadness and confusion.

  • Talking of home and journeys of the spirit— Hugo Kamya


    I work with many families who have left their homelands and have come to build new lives in this country. Whenever I meet with them I think a lot about the meaning of home. I now live far away from the place where I grew up, which was in Uganda. Talking of home, for me, brings tenderness and a sense of connection. For me, the word ‘home’ evokes a sense of being nurtured and comforted and being in communion with others. It also brings a sense of longing. Within the word ‘home’ is where, in the words of Buechner (1973), ‘the heart’s deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger’.

  • In Our Own Voice: African-American stories of oppression, survival and recovery in mental health systems— Vanessa Jackson


    A review of the history of mental health includes few references to the African-American experience. Robert Meinsma’s Brief History of Mental Therapy offers a review of philosophical and medical views on mental illness dating back to 600 BC that includes nearly a thousand entries. However, this very comprehensive document boasts fewer than five entries pertaining to the experiences of people of African descent. A similar criticism can be offered of the timeline compiled by the American Psychological Association (Street 2001). African-Americans have a presence in America dating back to at least 1619 when the first African indentured servants arrived in America (Bennett 1993).This chapter attempts to supplement the official records by offering a few accounts of African-American psychiatric survivors’ experiences, and the philosophy and policies that guided the treatment of our ancestors and which still influence our treatment today.

  • De-colonizing our lives: Divining a post-colonial therapy— Makungu Akinyela


    I am a therapist of African descent, born in the United States. I consult primarily with families of African descent. I believe that the emotional, relationship and mental health concerns that families present to me in consultation can be best understood within the social, cultural and historical context of resistance against racial domination in the United States. Those families who come to see me are commonly struggling with questions and issues that have their roots in slavery and Jim Crow segregation as well as the current system of what I refer to as American racial colonialism. While it is now over thirty years since the end of Jim Crow, and many of our people are no longer legally discriminated against, Eurocentric thinking, metaphors and dominant narratives continue to define relationships among Africans in America and between African and European Americans.

  • In appreciation— Norma Akamatsu


    A note of appreciation.

  • Reparations: Repairing relationships and honouring ancestry— Makungu Akinyela


    When damage has been done to a people, when there has been exploitation and one group has benefited from this, then a key aspect of repairing the relationship between these groups are processes of reparation. Processes of reparation enable the damage that has been done to be mended and relationships to be healed. Where abuse has occurred, it is of great importance in order for healing to take place, that the effects of the abuse be fully acknowledged, and that the perpetrator of the abuse engage in acts of redress and reparation. In my experience, where this occurs there is a much greater likelihood of relationships being restored. This is true in therapeutic contexts as well as larger cultural and social contexts.

  • Suggestions for further reading— Anita Franklin



    When asked to provide suggestions for further reading in relation to the theme of African American experience, I chose these three books as I believe they are particularly applicable to the situation of African Americans and others of African descent living in the West as a result of slavery and colonialism. I have found, when I am asked to teach about Black America, that these texts are the ones which I find myself recommending to students time and time again.


  • To be a healer not a jailer: Implications for therapists in moving beyond punishment— Kenneth V. Hardy


    I initially began to think critically about the issue of punishment when working with young children. The first thing I noticed was that in families where children received frequent and excessive punishment there were vivid effects on the child’s development. When I saw a child in therapy who I was told was sneaky, or manipulative, or lying in relation to routine matters, upon asking various questions what came to the fore was that often these children had very good reason to fear punishment, either from their parents or from others outside the family. I came to see how these children had developed coping strategies in response to the fear of punishment. Time and again, I saw how an over-reliance on punishment had created more problems than it had effectively addressed. I particularly noticed how the legacies of punishment became problematic for families as children reached adolescence.

  • Stories of pride (a much loved previously published article) — Barbara Wingard


    In June 2001, Barbara Wingard, Cheryl White and David Denborough travelled to the USA to meet with people from African-American, Latino and Native American communities to talk through cultural protocols in relation to the upcoming International Narrative Therapy and Community Work Conference to be co-hosted by Dulwich Centre and Spelman College in Atlanta Georgia. The following piece of writing was created from an interview that took place on the banks of the Murray River upon our return to Australia. We’ve included this piece of writing because it powerfully makes the links between the experience of Aboriginal Australian, African-American, Latino and Native American communities.

  • Opening the Door of Return— James Anani Amemasor



    To begin, can we ask you about your role here within this castle … what is it that you do here? And why do you feel this is important?

    I work here at the Cape Coast Castle as the Museum and Monuments Education Officer. This job is very meaningful to me as it gives me the opportunity to express to others the values that I hold dear. It is my role to introduce our visitors to the history of this place, a history that we cannot run away from. Our history is very important to us. It helps us to appreciate what has happened in our country and enables us to then work out how we can forge ahead. Our history helps us to understand what is happening today in this land and assists us in travelling into the future.