What is narrative therapy?

Sharing stories in ways that make us stronger

Narrative approaches to therapy and community work are vitally interested in the stories of people’s lives, and how stories can be told in ways that make people stronger.

It is possible for counsellors to invite people to tell and re-tell stories in ways that can offer hope and healing. With the use of narrative practices, we seek to honour and acknowledge the stories of hardship and loss that people have experienced. And at the same time, we make it possible for people to tell other stories of their lives as well, stories that bring strength and possibilities.

As Kaurna Elder and narrative therapist Aunty Barbara Wingard describes, ‘We assist people to tell our stories in ways that make us stronger’.

Aunty Barbara Wingard

Aunty Barbara describes how stories are so important and people are the experts of their own lives.

What is narrative therapy?

Here is a very quick response to the question: What is narrative therapy? 

The danger of a single story

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. 

Listening for more than one story: Strengthening resistance

As Chimimanda Adichie describes, it’s  important to move beyond the single story. This is what narrative therapists and community workers do in our work. We listen for more than one story.

This extract is from a workshop held in Rwanda with counsellors who are all themselves survivors of the 1994 genocide.

Strengthening Resistance

Aunty Barbara Wingard

Telling stories in ways that make us stronger.


This Post Has 115 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sandra Owen

    The narrative by Chimimanda Adichie made me enjoy the understanding that one’s narrative is not their entire story and storytelling is an important window into others’ realities. We should never consider that we understand a culture without individual narratives we cannot grasp a culture at all.

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    nkkpring

    So powerful and extremely relevent to my social work role. Taking time to hear peoples stories and looking beyond stereotypes which are not true. As a society, when we hear in the news the same story over and over again, it can become the only story we believe. Part of my role professionally and personally is to hopefully get this message across to those willing to listen. Creating the time and space for people to tell their stories and their personal experiences is so empowering, a beautiful and challenging space to sit in, but mostly beautiful when new narratives are uncovered of rich experiences, cultures and diversity.

  3. Avatar

    nkkpring

    So powerful and extremely relevent to my social work role. Taking time to hear peoples stories and looking beyond stereotypes which are not true. As a society, when we hear in the news the same story over and over again, it can become the only stroy we believe. Part of my role professionally and personally is to hopefully get this message across to those willing to listen. Creating the time and space for people to tell their stories and personal experiences is so empowering, a beautiful and challenging space to sit in, but mostly beautiful when new narratives are uncovered of rich experiences, cultures and diversity.

    What she hopes to follow are the first signs of crumbling of clichés and stereotypes, something that’s long overdue but never too late a process to begin.

    Adichie’s “Danger of a Single Story” is one of the most powerfully crafted speeches ever given, one where every single word counts.

    “Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

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    alannahmason

    Chimamanda’s ted talk has inspired to look at how I may be unintentionally focusing on a single story and to look beyond this by accepting that both negative and positive stories are just as important as the other when defining my own ever-evolving experience.

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    Clare

    Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk was a very powerful way to exemplify the importance of remembering that one person’s story does not represent a community’s story (and often, the stories we know are not written by the people they are about). Aunty Barbara Wingard’s videos that bookend this TED talk really demonstrate how much of an impact narrative therapy can have with people who value stories. I believe that using such practices, and telling someone’s story to them using their words could be incredibly moving if that person has not felt heard before.

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    Robert

    “the single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.
    they make one story become the only one.” -Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie-
    that’s a very powerful quote, and one that i had to live with when i was younger. it’s imperative that we not take one story and judge by that story.

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    Kamenga Lazarous

    From Chimamanda’s I have learned that indeed it’s dengerous to conclude or make a decision bases on a single story. Even during narrative therapy it imparative to help people tell many stories of their lives by doing so they will not only see the negative part of their lives but instead they will see the strength that that possess too.

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    Matthew

    Chimimanda Adichie’s reflection on the importance of moving beyond a single story resonated with me deeply. In the past I have found myself defining my identity through singular aspects of my lived experience rather than incorporating the rich tapestry that is my life and the multiple stories I have lived through. Since moving on from this way of looking at my life it has empowered me to apply this framework when working alongside people in a therapeutic context within my professional practice. This has enabled me to support people to empower themselves to seek out the resilience, hope, joy, humour and multiple other aspects of their stories and lived experience, that they had previously interpreted through a singular lens.

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    Pandora Galea

    The Ted talk by Chimamanda Adichie resonated profoundly with me as it reflected the attitudes and resistance to secondary stories by so many. This then impedes on success in healing and teaching modalities as there is an unnecessary barrier for facilitaor and recipient. In addition, the proliferation of stereotypes in literature that negate cultural diversity as experiences are detrimental within a global society. It is necessary for humanity’s advancement that more stories are written and celebrated highlighting the uniquenes of our tribes, our struggles and how we used our unique paths to endure and strengthen our selves for it is in doing so that we aid others to do the same.

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    lori@agcontext.com.au

    I found the Ted talk by Chimamanda Adichie quite insightful to my own single stories that I have used in some work capacities. I feel lucky that I have had appropriate supervision, as it would be difficult to assess this occurring in working in isolation without being challenged and having this knowledge. I look forward to the next session to unravel this further.

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