Documenting people’s skills and knowledge

An introduction to documentation from Tileah


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.

Now, 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


Story of practice: Documenting people’s skills and knowledge

Tileah Drahm-Butler

Now, listen to the song Drop the Rock.


A booklet of women’s stories

Natalie Smee

A collective booklet from women who are survivors of domestic violence.



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


Reflections from Tileah

This Post Has 62 Comments

  1. Sameen

    This lesson was full of insight and wisdom. The stories of resilience and strength deeply inspired me and broadened my understanding of the documenting surviving and coping skills of people you meet and encounter daily. I am impressed with Natalie Smee and her creative idea of bringing domestic violence survival and escape stories together. This gets a lot easier to assimilate all the information if described in a narrative therapy.

  2. Chantelle M

    Listening to and reading about the resistance of those who survived the Rwanda Genocide was very moving and touching. It brought to me a lot of self-reflect, to think of how privileged I am to have never known that level of horror in my life. It was beautiful to read how they reached out to the Jewish community, seeking other ideas and examples of how to continue to resist and move forward from such horrors and injustices, to see if there were other strategies they could adopt in their own community.
    As I am about to commence with adolescents who use family violence, I found the article on ‘Establishing non-criminal records’ very insightful and feel that these are strategies which can definitely be brought into the adolescent space.

  3. Sarah Sturton-Gill

    I was completely inspired by Eileen Hurley’s article and the positive impact that we establish non-criminal records. The ability to listen without judgement or know about a person without judgement resonates deeply with me and imaging a world where a persons past experiences are external to them, allows them so much opportunity in the world. I only pray that it can occur. Sarah

  4. Eugene Ford

    Everything in this lesson was deeply valuable and enrichening. I particularly enjoyed Eileen Hurley’s article, Establishing non-criminal records. I’m currently facilitating a respectful relationships program with the inmates of the right living unit of the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre in British Columbia, and a topic that we’re continually revisiting is of how we can revisit past traumas and shames without retriggering acting out behaviors, particularly when looking at past behaviors of which they are deeply ashamed of. I can now recognize the importance of providing more of a ‘buffer’ between the men and their shame, but using further externalizing strategies. I’m going to use elements of Hurley’s work in my practice from now on.

  5. amy

    Eileen Hurley’s Documentation of non-criminal records is a wonderful example of reframing an experience with a strengths focus. I will definitely be adding this to my therapeutic practice tool kit. I found the way she utilised the participants/clients own language to document their tales very powerful as it was representing their narrative with their colloquial terms. Another great component of this wonderful course. Thankyou.

  6. Carlie Fairbairn

    So many great concepts talked about here. I can imagine the establishing non-criminal records process to be so empowering and life changing for so many people.
    Hearing about ‘definitional stories’ was truly inspiring; particularly the process of ‘challenging invisibility of selves within systems, families and self’ and garnering witness to our own worth and being.

  7. Kate Coomber

    The people of Rwanda’s documentation and the reflection on living in the shadow of genocide was very powerful and links directly to the strategy of remembering in a way as they say to assist us to face life and Barbara Wingard writes’ that make us stronger’. Memories have capacity to hurt and heal and the duality is important. You have to live the experience for it to become the memory but what you do after that makes all the difference. I really liked the ‘non-criminal records’ also, especially Eileen Hurley’s intention when writing them to give power and voice to the individual. Asking them when she could see them, what they would like written or discussed really showed the power of narrative therapy in being de-centred and influential.

  8. Su

    yes we are strong and we are resilient, to survive then thrive is an example of this. keep being kind to ourselves and finding that inner voice that is worthy of speaking truth. thank you for the amazing & empowering stories!! be proud & fierce

  9. Anna Ueda

    There were several pieces that resonated with me in this module—especially the part songs take such powerful roles not only as emotional catharsis but as bringing knowledge, skills, and strengthening resistance to the community as a whole. After my living area was hit by an earthquake in 1995 (the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake), my school started this tradition to sing a song of the earthquake for the graduation ceremony to remember the day and the departed. It is a sad but also meaningful song in many ways as each of us can re-member the associated events and memories with people along with the song.

  10. Pragya Lamichhane

    During the initial years of my studies, I had the opportunity to work as a counselor in a Women Cell Unit of law enforcement, through the course of my work the majority of domestic violence cases I documented had one theme in common, the feeling of abandonment by family, friends and the larger system. This invisibility contributes to the trauma that results from domestic violence and it’s wonderful to observe the work of Natalie Smee and how the use of Narrative therapy has provided the domestic violence victims of Gumbaynggirr to be felt that they are seen and that their stories matter.

  11. Nicola

    For me documentation has always been through art pieces, visual journals and poems. I love how they bring imaginings and concepts more concretely into the world. The letters with youth, young offenders and women who survived domestic violence all had places where they breathed strength and resilience into the world.

  12. Robyn Fawcett

    Thanks to everyone who has shared their stories. It’s so powerful to hear the resilience that exists in people.

  13. Danielle Wedlake

    Thank you for sharing these wonderful examples of documentation, a truly powerful part of the narrative process. I am grateful to learn from such insightful and strong individuals and collectives.

    In the spirit of reciprocity, I share this with you: I co-authored a story about 3 brothers: Anger, Frustration, and Agitation; a story of a young girl learning to live with the brothers as they appear in her life. The young girl learns strategies for keeping her power in the presence of the three brothers.

  14. Nicole

    I really appreciate the stories shared from youngs peoples experiencing of how people can concur ‘depression’ and ways they described healing for themselves and how they included community in the process.

    It carries a story of hope to others and lets others know they are not alone.

  15. deborah dowsett

    this module really resonated with me and I enjoyed so many aspects of what I watched and heard, it even gave me ideas on a different approach in what I do working with those impacted by addiction and mental health.

  16. marlene

    I worked with a community who were living in the shadow of the Apartheid war, on the borders between Botswana, Namibia and Angola during the 1990s and early millenium years. It is so interesting that the young man’s testimony on the video speaks the same language.
    I think the same process is useful for people form other walks of life, wether they have been through a divorce, lost a child or suffered from depression. What I most appreciate about this section, is its raw humanity – we are different, but our pain is the same.

    When we communicate with each other on this deeply honest level, we are able to transcend boundaries and meet in our common humanity.

  17. petronela

    I am currently working at an organization where we do group therapy and we use the Tree of Life methodology. The last part of the methodology is called “celebration” where we hand out certificates to the participants and one of the things that are recorded on the certificates is “Skills and Knowledges” of the participants. clients say their skills and knowledges during the “telling sessions” and we note them and record them on their certificates. We do this so that the clients can always go back to the certificates and remind themselves of their skills and knowledges and we have a hope that the feeling they get will help them to want to do better in their lives and also know that they are capable.

  18. Rhianne

    Rhianne – Brisbane, Australia
    I found the article ‘Establishing non-criminal records’ really powerful. I have worked in the Youth Justice system in Queensland and so have seen the power labels, court reports and lengthy charge sheets. I hadn’t thought about the impact non-criminal, more hopeful documents could have. But it makes sense.

  19. Samara

    This section was so powerful and it was such a honour to be able to read the stories and experiences of different groups of people. A big thank you to everyone who shared and contributed to this section! It was really broadened my understanding of the different ways/forms of documenting people’s skill and knowledge and the impact this can have. Such a powerful tool for highlight resilience, resistance, and strength.

  20. TeriLucas

    These stories of trauma from around the world and across time are incredibly moving. Thank you to all contributors for sharing your stories. Through knowing more about your experiences, we can all develop greater empathy and understanding, and hopefully become better at assisting others to move through their grief. We all deserve to be free to live lives that acknowledge the past, rejoice in our resistance of the trauma and celebrate our survival for a better future.

  21. Miranda Leon-Madgwick

    The power of documentation in working with my community women members, came to life in the form of a photo story book.
    I as the Aboriginal Team leader of a Family Violence Therapeutic program for Aboriginal families, was informed by some of the women that they want to explore their culture.
    My team were non-Aboriginal but we were all trained in Family Therapy and our lived experience assisted in the healing process.
    An adult daughter and mother wanted to do this culture group sessions, we had guest Local Women Elders come to yarn about their stories, their culture and the families.
    We started making Possum Skin clocks for each of the women, did Aboriginal healing cards, played Troy Cassar Daley CD’s,
    explored their Aboriginal Connection to Country, designed images to put onto their possum skin cloaks – these told their stories and share a meal together before the end of each session.
    The mother and daughter shared this new connection with the mother’s mother and her mother, the daughter and mother requested to visit these women to show them their finish cloaks and explore if they were interested in doing a Return to Country trip for a smoking ceremony on the river bank. The older women enjoyed and wanted to come, and I quickly made their possum skin clocks. These women were not part of the healing sessions for mother and adult daughter but this new spirit within mother and daughter came alive in the story lines from their kin.
    This was all recorded in Photo story books all each of the women – four generations that came and the fifth generation little girl received one too.
    The women decided what they what in the book, the photos, the personal writing of the experience and the acknowledgment to Country.
    From two women 5 generations were healed through their story book.

  22. Soraya Sek

    Thrilled by the rich collaborative contributions in this module!

    I loved the encyclopedia of life tips by young people, I think our society would benefit a lot from giving young people the space, as this project did, to share their unique perspectives for all our benefit.

    I also really appreciate the other resources (including Strengthening Resistance and the DV booklet) demonstrating the value of survivors of trauma sharing their stories, as a powerful recovery tool and immeasurably helpful in assisting others who have suffered trauma.


    I found this section quite powerful. Thank you to all those who shared. Connecting to the work shared by Eileen Hurley, I would like to explore ways to braid this technique into work with youth involved in the criminal justice system in my community.


    It’s taken a few days to work through Documenting Peoples Skills and knowledge. Thought provoking and on occasion I was deeply touched and moved with emotion I had to allow some time to let things settle within me. Particularly enjoyed survivors resisting the effects of genocide and interview from Angela. Powerful stuff; stories of resistance, resilience and migration of identity, what an honour it is to be able to read these stories.


    This makes me think “How can we integrate alternative documentation in to the mainstream of mental health culture?”
    I would also like to think about this in terms of the modern age of social media (which is possibly the most documentation that any society across the globe has been a part of to date)and how that interacts with indigenous knowledge and customs.

  26. Patricia

    I liked the different ways of coping expressed by the survivors of genocide Rwanda
    naming of children after family members killed and parents taking on the orphans of this genocide


    I found this topic very interesting and incredible content. In the health care settings I’ve only known documentation to be written. These resources have opened my eyes and mind about documentation. It made me think about documentaries and how these are a narrative.
    It made me realize we all document in many common like song, dance, spoken, music, art, written etc. The strength, resilience, humour people, discover / use when given very limiting survival / living options. I really appreciate everything in this topic. Thank you

  28. Nadine

    Reading the letters in Establishing non-criminal records has really given me some ideas on how this could be done when working with young people. I love the idea of putting a story on paper that can be kept, and referred back to. Young people creating a new story in writing, of how they would like their future to look like is a powerful way for them to see the possibilities of hope.

  29. Julie

    I took great interest in the “Establishing non-criminal records” by Eileen Hurley. I would like to introduce these into my work with adult male clients in correctional facilities as a personal reflection of our work together. I was interested to read the many forms that she wrote to the men.

  30. Amelia L

    For years the organization that I work with has been committed to Reconciliation between Indigenous and settler people. Recently, the Canadian Government Published the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s “94 Calls to Action’ which included Land Acknowledgment as a call to Reconciliation. We are working toward having Indigenous people that we serve create visual art representations of Land Acknowledgements to hang at each of our office and community gathering locations. This allows a way for the people we serve t represent their experiences of being an Indigenous person in Canada and recognizing that their ancestors were the first on the land and have sacred rights to the land. So far, some of our youth have created visual art pieces to hang in our group homes and we are getting murals painted in our family hub centres.

    A thought about “A Women’s Booklet”- I loved how the women who participated were combined into ‘Andrea.’ What an amazing representation of unity and story sharing. I’m curious if a ‘trigger’ warning may be appropriate given the graphic nature of the stories shared.

  31. Natalie

    Recently, on ABC radio Cassie McCullagh was interviewing Stan Grant. They were discussing many things pertaining to Australia’s first nation people and how the recorded history of British colonization in Australia omits narrative from a first nations perspective. There was suggestion of a “civil rights museum”; as seen in other places where genocide has been experienced, like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, African slavery in US, Apartheid in South Africa and the Holocaust of the Jews. If Australia had its own civil rights museum, the narrative of our first nations people might be captured in stories, songs, artwork and documentaries, honouring the memory of their story and celebrating their resilience.

  32. Rebekah

    How artful & healing is Eileen Hurley’s inquiry in her letter to Tyson. Gifted inquiry to lead his thoughts to areas where he can create new choices supported by a greater understanding why he is choosing this & not the previous ones.

  33. Michael Chanas

    Realising that I am not the only one to have that kind of pain. And to be able to turn to friends/others that feel that way.
    “It takes many parts to make a whole”

  34. Nicole Arbuckle

    This has been my favourite unit so far. I liked looking through the encyclopedia and hearing the helpful tips from the participants. Some things I gleaned are that society needs all of us together, we cannot place more value on someone else because each of us are here to contribute something to society. Dr’s need patients and engineers need labourers, we are all needed. Also, the part about how having respect builds relationships, I think this is very important. I was interested in the comment one of them made about how they would make their body so tired that their mind would forget their depression, this is a good way of looking at the therapeutic benefits of exercise. I thought the statement about the government and action was really powerful. ‘The government leads people into depression and then tries to lead the out again’. This really resonated with me, I think the government has a lot to answer for the current state of services. I also liked the video on bullying and found some helpful tips to pass onto my niece who has been experiencing really bad bullying. I liked the impact of music and how you can choose to listen to the words of artists instead of the negative words of the bullies. Something to consider which I think is important and transcends playground bullying, is to find the person will take action when nobody else will and also to never ignore it when someone comes to you for help.

    I got a lot out of the domestic violence booklet presentation but the thing that resonated the most with me was the statement that women are not passive, there are many things they are doing every minute that ensures their safety and that they are doing the best they can with what they have available.

    Thank you for a great and very reflective unit.

  35. Kelle

    “There is power in sharing stories”. Thank you for the piece on Domestic and Family Violence. Taking the power back for women who have experienced this is the first step to healing.

  36. Tony

    A most appreciative of the time and effort the authors of these biographical life stories share with strangers the emphasis on their personal struggles and life’s learnings much appreciated

    1. Keiron

      I completely agree with you Tony, we are all fortunate to benefit from the work and bravery of these folks.


    I enjoyed the video ‘Living in the Shadow of Genocide’. This video got me thinking and reflecting on the different ways people cope, heal and transition through experiences of genocide. There really is no one size fits all despite shared commonalities. I also realised that story telling can be initiated with a person by inviting them to talk and share what sustains them during hard times including their community and culture.

  38. Charmaine

    In reading “Strengthening Resistance: The use of narrative practices in working with genocide survivors”, the sadness I felt when reading about the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi people in Rwanda. But at the same time I was transported back in time to what it must have been like during colonisation and the mass trauma experienced by the Australian Aboriginal people, in which sadly, can still be felt and seen in ill mental health, suicides and many other devastating ways 200+ years later. Sadly, the Aboriginal people did not have access to immediate mental health therapy at the time until many, many, many decades later. I can see that sharing documents between countries can have a profound effect on helping others and each other to heal and strengthening resistance.

  39. Angele James

    In listening and reading of resistance and survival I am taken to a place of reflection. Reflecting on my own family’s story of leaving a home country because of the impact of war, of traumas that have occurred in our family both known and unnamed, and my own experience of family violence. Taken to a place to reflect on the strengths shared and drawn on to ensure emotional and psychological survival. The part that music, words and dance have played across generations. How easily these can be lost when we take a path of avoiding pain when we don’t know how to carry it with us and don’t know how to seek support to do the same … and how powerful, hope full and strengthening it is to collectively find ways to trust to feel again, to connect in our humanity and nourish those parts of self that are still there in spite of the traumas.

  40. Beccy Smith from Brisbane

    While reading ‘Strengthening Resistance – The use of narrative practices in working with genocide’ I admired the work of the Rwandan trauma counsellors, assistant lawyers and the Dulwich team in their workshop. Sharing stories from other communities like the Aboriginal people from Port Augusta and their stories, stories of resistance and survival. One quote from ‘A message from Ibuka to the Port Augusta Aboriginal Community’ which I found very powerful and really resonated with me so I have chosen to end this paragraph with it.

    We want to say to you that we are together with you in sorrow. Your sorrow is our suffering.

    Reading Aunty Barbs message of support in the Dignity and Pride, Strengthening Resistance (pg36), to be able to sit and listen to my elders share their stories, their art and dances empowers our mob. Joining with others in dance, song and laughter – when you have lived through genocide, revelling and enjoying life has new meaning. As with my culture our people have endured feelings of despair and hopelessness. I felt pride and privilege as she talked of our ways of resilience and resistance. As an Aboriginal woman, I have listened to the stories and I still watch in our modern times the continuance of systemic oppression. How we have survived genocide and overcome generational traumas through love of our culture and peoples. I’d like to share a quote that was shared during a work meeting last week by one of our non-indigenous staff “They buried us in the ground but they didn’t know we were seeds” I found this quote to be profound as again it demonstrated how our parents, grandparents and great grandparents have suffered overwhelming sorrow, terrors and pain and loss, and of our resilience to keep moving forward.

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