About narrative approaches

This project is based on narrative approaches to therapy, group work and community work. These approaches were initially developed by Australian, Michael White, and New Zealander, David Epston. Narrative therapy centres people as the experts in their own lives and views problems as separate from people. Narrative therapy assumes that people have many skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments and abilities that will assist them to reduce the influence of problems in their lives. The word ‘narrative’ refers to the emphasis that is placed upon the stories of people’s lives and the differences that can be made through particular tellings and re-tellings of these stories.

Over the last 30 years, narrative therapy has brought a wide range of new ways to respond to people and the problems they are facing. These include:

  • externalising the problem: ‘the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem’ (White, 1988/9, 2007)
  • the use of therapeutic letters, certificates and documents (White & Epston, 1990; Newman, 2008)
  • re-authoring conversations (Epston, 1992; White, 1995)
  • saying hullo again conversations which are a particular response to grief (White, 1988), and
  • narrative responses to trauma and traumatic memory (White, 2004; Denborough, 2006)

People from a wide range of perspectives are now engaging with narrative ideas – from family therapists, community workers, teachers, psychiatrists, academics, anthropologists, psychologists, community cultural development workers, social workers, film and video documentary makers.

Over the last decade, partnerships with practitioners working in contexts of profound hardship and social suffering (including within Rwanda, Aboriginal Australia, Palestine, Uganda, and Zimbabwe), have led to the generation of narrative ways of working that are used beyond the counselling room. These have come to be known as forms of ‘collective narrative practice’ (Denborough, 2008). 

Collective narrative practice methodologies do not require young people to speak in the first person about their lives, and they emphasise the skills, abilities, hopes and dreams of participants. This ensures that these approaches do not ‘re-traumatise’ young people. Instead, these ways of working create contexts for pride, the acknowledgement of ‘hard-won’ knowledge, and the celebration of ‘goals’ that young people have already scored in life.  A special emphasis is given to the ways in which people who have been through hardship can contribute to the lives of others by sharing their ‘hard-won’ knowledge. This project is an example of this (for more information about enabling contribution and exchanging messages between groups, see Denborough, 2008).


Further information about narrative therapy

For an overview of narrative therapy approaches, see Morgan (2000), White (2007), Denborough (2014) or the Dulwich Centre website (www.dulwichcentre.com.au).


Collective narrative practice

For more information about collective narrative practices and projects see Denborough (2008) and the Dulwich Centre Foundation website: www.dulwichcentre.com.au/dulwich-centre-foundation/



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