Documenting people’s skills and knowledge

Introducing documentation

Tileah Drahm-Butler

Living in the shadow of genocide: what sustains us

This video is a collective narrative document that honours the skills of  counsellors and assistant lawyers of Ibuka (‘Remember’) which is a genocide survivors association in Rwanda.

Please also read these letters written between Rwandan, Jewish and Aboriginal  counsellors:

Strengthening Resistance: The use of narrative practices in working with genocide survivors

An encyclopedia of young people’s skills and knowledge

In narrative therapy and community work, we try to document people’s skills and knowledge. We do this in lots of different ways! Here is an example of a a recent project that documented the skills and knowledge of diverse groups of young people in many different ways … writing, video and songs!

Encyclopedia of young people’s life-saving tips 

Documents in therapy

Eileen Hurley (USA) tries to assist young people in jails to create ‘non-criminal records’ through narrative documentation.

Establishing non-criminal records, International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work


A booklet of women’s stories

A collective booklet from women who are survivors of domestic violence – a presentation from Natalie Smee


Sometimes songs can play a powerful part in narrative practice. Here’s a song that was generated from a narrative gathering in Narrandera Koori community:

We remember those who’ve left us

Closing words from Tileah

This Post Has 51 Comments

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    These many methods of constructing documents have helped me to reflect on how I use documentation in my own practice. I often use art, or illustrated life story lines, but have never thought of using a letter. This is certainly something I will try with my own clients.

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    I really appreciated the concept of establishing non-criminal records with individuals who could easily become identified with, and self identify as, criminals, delinquents, offenders etc. Looking beyond the label allowed for a much more fulsome and therapeutic understanding of both the individual and their behaviour. Importantly the young men who participated in this project were co-constructing the narrative with the therapist. Seeing this reminds me in my own practice that I do not need to construct positive narratives for clients, I can co-construct narratives with them. When I’m not mindful of this I often fall into doing the former (trying to convince someone they’re not XYZ), rather than the latter (supporting them in seeing themselves differently).

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    Nathel Fishlock

    Natalie’s presentation was an opening for so many women .The great need for narrative therapy in these circumstances such as domestic violence is needed amongst all communities. These narratives shared would give women a sense of belonging knowing that they are not alone .

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    I especially loved reading the “Documents in Therapy” article, and her concept of recording a youth’s “non-criminal record” or story. I think it’s powerful to capture youth skills & knowledges in a way that goes beyond simply discussing them. Sometimes it makes those competencies feel more real. It also gives opportunities for youth to reflect on those skills/knowledges in times when they feel like they’re loosing their “grasp” on their strong story. We’ve done podcasting with our youth as a really fun way to capture their knowledge.

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    debbie webster

    I found this very rewarding to hear the many creative ways people have approached the past adversities in people’s lives. The shared experiences and varied stories were a very interesting collection of narratives. As I do have a focus on domestic violence I was very interested in the narrative by Natalie. It did give me inspiration to re shape my approaches to these people. The shared booklet is a fantastic idea.

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    I have wanted to work collaboratively and narratively with families who have experienced grief and loss, but here in the UK my thinking (and that of my clients) has been influenced heavily by contemporary European views of what grief and loss should look like. That dominant discourse has strongly influenced our sessions, with concepts of “saying goodbye” for example, which have not fitted well with my personal and private experiences of grief. It is such a complex and fascinating subject. For example, my mum has criticised my need for continued re-membering of the lost ones, while she feels that it is better (for her at least) to stop talking about or thinking about the past because it is painful. It was reassuring to hear these many stories of humans doing loss and grief in a way that makes more sense to me personally. In term of my practice I am going to feel more validated in supporting families to find ways to grieve that fit for themselves.

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    I really enjoyed listening to the Stories of Sustenance from the Workers of Ibuka. Although dealing with genocide, it reminded me of when I worked with young Vietnamese refugees and asylum seekers (unaccompanied minors) and the ways they took care of themselves and each other while living in Adelaide Community Detention. They were fleeing Catholic religious persecution and oppression and leaving their families behind for a better life. Song and prayer appeared to bring much comfort to them. The young girls told me how they used to sing and nurse the younger children while on their boat journey here to provide much needed comfort. Before bedtime every evening they would also pray at their shrine set up in their lounge room. The young men would do this as well as join local soccer teams. Unfortunately though, the link to the letters written between Rwandan, Jewish and Aboriginal counsellors, Strengthening Resistance could not be accessed.

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    Sandra Owen

    I loved seeing the creative experiences that are utilized as tools to overcome these internal struggles. It is impressive to employ the creative mind to find our way back to self-esteem and to still our troubled minds in overcoming issues that internally devastate us.

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    This chapter was great to see how there are so many ways people come together to cope with past events. Common threads about sharing and hearing each other’s stories, as well as the emotional connection of music were great to listen to. I hope to be much more open to creative ways of connecting with others’ and learning their stories and experiences – such as creating art or writing poems and stories.

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    I enjoyed seeing the range of ways that people can document their story and their reflections. I have been working with young people and enjoy using creative art journalling with them as a practice to document in drawing, painting, collage, poem and prose their thoughts and reflections. It has been enthusiastically embraced. I do also have a rule about always practising myself what I am asking the young people to try. I have found it a magnificent way of exploring my thoughts and feelings.

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