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’.


What is narrative therapy?

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


Aunty Barbara Wingard

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


The danger of a single story

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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

As you listen to Chimamanda’s powerful speech about the danger of the single story, please also think about how Chimamanda’s own life experiences shape the stories she shares, including her class privilege which she has written about elsewhere.


Listening for more than one story: Strengthening resistance

As Chimimanda 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


Telling stories in ways that make us stronger

Aunty Barbara Wingard

This Post Has 140 Comments

  1. Yohana Sutanto

    Reflecting back a story is a powerful tool. When I heard about how Aunty Barbara experienced this, it reminded me of a similar experience where my story was reflected in a way that promoted hope, healing and beauty.

  2. abbey.goode1998

    I loved listening to Chimimanda Adichie. Particularly her use of examples to show how one story can risk a critical misunderstanding.

  3. Monica A. Garcia

    I really enjoyed hearing Chimamanda Adichi, and pieces of her story. I have always been drawn to Narrative practice approach, because storytelling has always been in me. I didn’t know why, but as I began to reconnect with my indigenous roots 7 years ago, I understood why. Storytelling is part of our way of life. Even the weavings and colors in our Húipils (indigenous traditional clothing), they tell a story.

  4. cycshane

    I loved the story of Chimamanda. It illustrated how if we listen to the same single narrative enough times that we can begin to believe it as fact, which can lead us to having preconceived ideas about others and even ourselves. I also liked the concept of depersonalising the problem, thus encouraging others to let go of or stop self-blame.

  5. Liz Evans

    thank you for this course; it reminds me that the choice to listen to only one story is taken by the listener and reflects our biases, we must remain more interested and curious about the bigger picture (skills and strengths not just challenges) then we have more respect…

  6. crockett.brisbane

    Having only listened this far in the course, it strikes me that Narrative therapy with its focus on stories is wonderfully universal yet at the same time each person’s story is only theirs to tell. I also love the idea that “the person is not the problem, the problem is the problem”.

  7. May

    I love the concept of people being the experts of their own lives and owners of their own stories. It’s very empowering to view stories in that frame regardless of the nature of the story.

  8. Deborah Flower

    Listening to Chimimanda Adichie reminds me of the unconscious biases we carry with us. If we could change at least one of our unconscious biases by changing the story we tell ourselves through hearing others’ stories – we would be bale to have more acceptance and inclusivity..

  9. Deborah Flower

    Listening to Chimimanda Adichie’s story and Aunty Barb reminds me of the unconscious biases we can live through. Having more than one side of a story I believe can help break unconscious biases – which will and can help us to be more accepting of others – and therefore change our own internal story of biases.

  10. tina.stasuik

    I appreciate the statement by Barbara Wingard that there is a trust that must come with the sharing of stories. I think that this brings to mind the importance of what we are engaging in when we work with those who share their stories and the importance of valuing that trust and the importance of their stories.

  11. Lesley

    Thank you Chimamanda…great storyteller.
    And thank you for your wisdom, Aunty Barbara

  12. linda.gilbert6

    It was so interesting to think about the power that can be in a story in all sorts of ways – that a single story can rob people of their dignity, but a complete story can repair this, and that dispossession can be enacted by starting a story with “secondly” and neglecting what happened first. Most of all I liked that stories can make us stronger, and that the person is not the problem. the problem is the problem.

  13. lucas

    Loved listening to the story by Chimamanda, Listening for more than one story: Strengthening resistance. makes you really look at it in different ways.

  14. brighdecampbell

    I love the double listening and listening for what’s implicit when something else is stated. This adds a whole extra dimension along with listening for tiny sections or openings to new stories

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