Collective Narrative Practices & Innovation Projects

The innovative projects which we discuss in this chapter draw on collective narrative practices that are concerned with responding to groups and communities who have experienced significant social suffering and oppression in contexts in which ‘therapy’ may not be culturally resonant. Collective Narrative Practices have a rich history and engage a diverse range of methodologies that can be used with individuals, groups and communities. In this chapter, we will just touch on a few methodologies …


 

“As counsellors, therapists, psychosocial workers and community workers, stories of hardship find their way to us. In some ways, we are cultural receivers of stories of suffering (Waldegrave, Tamaseses, Tuhaka & Campbell, 2003). And often this suffering is linked to broader injustices: to violence, abuse, racism, poverty, sexism, heterosexual dominance. To be the cultural receivers of these stories brings with it awesome responsibilities; for instance there are responsibilities to comfort and to somehow alleviate hardship. But there is another responsibility that I am hoping we will also engage with. How can we receive these stories and engage with them in ways that not only alleviate individual sorrow, but also enable and sustain local social action to address the broader injustices, violence and abuses in our varying contexts? How can we provide forums for the sorrow, anguish and hardship of the stories that we receive to be transformed into collective actions? I don’t mean grand social actions, I mean local, meaningful, resonant, sustainable, social action or social contributions’

(Denborough, 2008, p. 192)

For a link to the book you can visit Collective Narrative Practice by David Denborough 


The following paper is an example of conversations that have taken place in a number of villages in rural Malawi. Here practitioners engage problems in a personification with one worker playing the role of Mr/Mrs AIDS, who represents HIV/AIDS; and another plays the role of Mr/Mrs CARE, who represents the community. Members of the village are invited to ask questions of these two characters, and a conversation develops. Please click on the link to read about this compelling example of collective practice!

Little by Little we Make a Bundle


In this interview, Paulo Freire describes some of his thinking about oppression, ethical responsibilities and how these shape possibilities for social change. The work of Paulo Freire has influenced the development of collective narrative practices.

Making History and Unveiling Oppression


The Mt Elgon Self-Help Community Project, based in rural Uganda, uses narrative practices to spark and sustain local social action and environmental and economic projects. This video contains some of the stories of the work of Caleb Wakhungu and the Mt Elgon project.

 


 

One of the ways in which the field of narrative practice continues to diversify is through innovation projects. These are often the result of collaborations, invitations and challenges. Many of them involve ‘cross-cultural inventions’ and partnerships. You might like to explore some of these examples:

Tree of Life

Life Saving Tips from young Australian Muslims

Healing Stories Partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities

For more projects of this kind you can see the full list here:

Innovation Projects


Many narrative therapists and community workers are now using music and song in their work with individuals, groups, and communities. This page contains songs created during various Dulwich Centre projects both in Australia and overseas, as well as links to find out more about the contexts they were created in.

Songs as a response to hardship and trauma

You can listen to David Denborough discussing the use of song in narrative practice on the radio program ‘Songcatcher’, a Radio Adelaide production. 


 

For Reflection

Is there an idea or project that stands out to you most at this time?

What about this idea or project has sparked your enthusiasm or curiosity?

In what ways might you begin to experiment with these ideas or methodologies?

 


 

What do you think? Have you got an idea that might be interesting to exchange with others? Please let us know and share your thoughts on this chapter below before moving on. Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks!

This Post Has 282 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Dawn

    I’m in El Sobrante, CA, USA.

    I love reading about the intersection of narrative practices with dance and music. I’m currently in graduate school (earning an MS in counseling, MFT focus) and working as an MFT Trainee, and I have decades of experience creating interdisciplinary dancetheater performance pieces that draw on the performers lived experience, and weave their stories together. I’m really interested in combining my dancetheater work with my future MFT practice, and I found this section inspiring and profoundly helpful. Someday, I want to be able to offer group therapy that combines narrative therapy concepts and strategies with the performance process. This section helped me see how I might be able to do that. I’m hoping to keep pursuing education and training in narrative therapy, and to pursue drama therapy certification as well.

  2. Avatar

    Caro

    I am feeling very inspired by the Nerrandera community project, I can see huge value in this approach, with far reaching benefits for all of us.
    The richness of the story telling, whether in song, dance or narrative was incredibly powerful. Reading through these programs I can really appreciate how effective it is for all participants, coming together of the young and the old. Of course, having skilled facilitators is key. I hope we get to see more of these community projects happen around the world.
    I feel both privileged and a little saddened to learn something of the Aboriginal stories and struggles in their homeland. In New Zealand Māori are also working through the recovery process as a result of colonial oppression.
    Caroline, counselling student New Zealand

  3. Avatar

    leah.getchell@gmail.com

    As someone with previous knowledge of community based participatory research – I was thrilled to see Freire’s contributions as well as the continued ethos of narrative practice weave its way into community work. It’s brilliant and makes so much sense. Asking these important and meaningful questions of groups, through the learning tree and ugandan example, acutely demonstrates the transformation that can come when we support people and communities to focus on their hopes and dreams, rather then getting stuck in the problem storyline (of poverty or illness).

  4. Avatar

    Anna Weber

    Other creative community work ideas that I would like to consider involve ideas around creating mental health supports and potential narrative therapy community work with people experiencing homelessness and home insecurity. I wonder how narrative community work could look in this setting, especially with recognition around how to create a safe home and setting as well as how to uplift people who are homeless’s knowledge about this city and ways to navigate homelessness. I wonder if I could externalize any part of this experience, perhaps externalizing a Roof vs an unshielded Home.
    I’m also especially still holding onto and wondering about how power can show up when collecting and shaping people’s collective stories. How have narrative approaches handled power dynamics in community work, especially considering global power dynamics as Freire mentioned?

  5. Avatar

    crystalleeross33

    The ideas that spoke to me in this chapter, primarily centred on the tree of life and song writing as a method of telling and creating meaning from life events. I could see using music and song writing with a wide range of audiences and age groups successful as a fun and meaningful way of engaging with their challenging life event, creating strength, meaning and revision of the story to fit an ideal narrative. Plus I could see the artistic venue of the tree of life and physically depicting the strengths gained through challenging times, roots and family history and connections as being a meaningful representations of an individuals life story. I hope that these are two new strategies that I can implement with various clients.
    (Repost from when I went through the course – now going through for certification)

  6. Avatar

    christopher.sullivan

    Reflecting on the power of community contribution, I found the TEAM OF LIFE soccer metaphor particularly impactful. By defining both individual and collective goals while defending individual and collective values, the unity and strength of the community truly becomes unified. As well, the idea to put the individual written work of community people in the local Mt. Elton library is a beautiful collaborative approach to both acknowledging the worth of the individual as well as unifying the collective message of the community. Calgary, Canada

  7. Avatar

    Melanie

    Is there an idea or project that stands out to you most at this time?
    There are two that stood out for me – the teammates in the team of life and the concept of participants giving to the children to keep the giving going from the Ugandan, Mt Elgon Self-Help Community Project.

    I also enjoyed the Life Saving Tips from young Australian Muslims, then as I started looking further and further into the additional links I was pleasantly overwhelmed with all of the projects

    What about this idea or project has sparked your enthusiasm or curiosity?
    They have all sparked my enthusiasm and curiosity and ways in which activities can be incorporated into therapy and sessions with clients!

    In what ways might you begin to experiment with these ideas or methodologies?
    I am looking forward to discussing with my team and manager about how group work and some of the ideas seen can be included into our work. I am also keen to commence utilising the Tree of Life concept with clients. I will also be taking into account some ideas from the article, “Linking stories and initiatives: A narrative approach to working with the skills and knowledge of communities” by David Denborough, Carolyn Koolmatrie, Djapirri Mununggirritj, Djuwalpi Marika, Wayne Dhurrkay and Margaret Yunupingu to further engage with my First Nations clients.
    Riverland, South Australia

  8. Avatar

    Melinda Chambers

    I have run the Tree of Life Program and am interested in the Team of Life Project. The Tree of Life worked really well to identify the strengths in experiences, rather than seeing experiences as negative or positive. The program, from my experiences, helps to explore a persons stories, rather than repeat the same version of a story over and over until it fits and makes sense. Melinda, Gurumbillbarra Country

  9. Avatar

    Tori Pearce, Melbourne (Naarm), Australia

    I really enjoyed reading about the Narrandera community gathering project. I loved the way it involved bringing a community together to sing, dance, talk openly about their strengths and what was troubling their community, and to share ideas across generations about how to become stronger and more united. The reflections on grief were so beautiful. Working in palliative care, the stories about needing to talk and remember, at the end of someone’s life, the good they have done, rather than be quiet and let them rest, really resonated. The most connected and alive experiences of death and dying that I have witnessed have been when the family is able to be there, be real, to talk and live together naturally in the midst of dying. I felt sad about how this way of being is not always supported in the mainstream medical system, in which I work. I would like to explore with families how it would be to come together at this time, to talk and laugh, and not to be so quiet.

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    Maggie

    I was really excited by the work that was done in both the Tree of Life and Life Saving Tips projects. I find that I am always drawn to the interventions which highlight client strengths and resources, while always remaining mindful and respectful of their experiences and traumas. I think that both of these projects beautifully provide opportunities to speak to these negative or even traumatic experiences while still seeing the ways in which our clients’ strengths and resilience has brought them through. I can see these interventions working especially well with younger clients in a group setting. Maggie, Los Angeles, USA

  11. Avatar

    pra.cas

    The “Life Saving Tips” project resonated with me – connecting water safety with cultural and well-being safety is a great parallel, and building a community of knowledge for members of a community who (particularly at the time of the riots) could otherwise feel quite isolated. Working in New Zealand, I can see how this idea could be adapted for members of other communities I work with (e.g. ASD, LGBTQIA+, tangata whenua) to support the creation of a community of knowledge and as a result foster further connection.

  12. Avatar

    Kat

    The Mt. Elgon Self-Help Community Project stood out most because of all the connections made: ancestors and children, past and future, reflection and action, individual and collective dreams, identities and skills, spoken word ceremonies and collections of written stories in libraries, social histories and physical landscapes.

    B.C., Canada

  13. Avatar

    Isabel Beuve

    The project of linking stories and initiatives has open a great range of possibilities. So many ideas suitable for lots of situations and communities. In Spain we are not very familiar with group therapies and I have found here some ideas of how to implement it.
    Greetings from Spain

  14. Avatar

    tkiffywiff

    I am inspired by the Tree of Life method and by the idea of recording people’s words in songs, and by the way all these ideas honour the sacredness of people’s stories. One of the teachers on my Bachelor of Counselling course demonstrated a narrative practice session and turned the person’s words into a poem, which is another way of rescuing what David Denborough (2002) refers to as “the poetic and evocative phrases that people use to tell the stories of their lives…”

    1. Avatar

      tkiffywiff

      Theresa – Cambridge, Aotearoa.

  15. Avatar
    Sandra

    TheTree of Life reminded me of the Suitcase Project mentioned in the previous chapter. Love the playfulness, creativity, imagination and mix of depth and lightness involved in these two projects!!

  16. Avatar

    misstaylorhalliwell

    I found the tree of life project most interesting. I think this will be great tool and activity to do with students and clients, particularly those who struggle expressing their words or are unsure where to take the session or what to talk about.

  17. Avatar

    hannah.roderickhake

    I am particularly intrigued about the Tree of Life project, and how this could be used in my work to help facilitate conversations about people’s contexts, preferred identities and hopes for their future. The creativity and flexibility of the various projects is inspiring, and I hope that I may be able to take forward some of this in my work.

  18. Avatar

    yevheniia.kh

    I am so inspired by the Tree of Life practice and by one of its fnal steps – the Forest of Life. I think this is a really powerful technique to work with. Thank you again!
    Kyiv, Ukraine

  19. Avatar

    Keegan

    Hi there, I am a Clinical Counsellor from Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.

    The technique that had resonated most with me was within the article “Little by Little we Make a Bundle”, in which we externalize both the presenting concern and utilize a physical example/exercise exemplifying the strength found in numbers. I find this would be useful with nature-based approaches, and to demonstrate the benefits of connecting, maintaining, and flourishing social, communal, and familial network. Additionally, we may be able to supplement and facilitate conversation around pride and survival to deepen the connections, allowing the experienced participants to teach others members of the community.

    As I begin working more closely with our Indigenous communities, I find these techniques to be highly relevant to current practice. Working with the elders of our community, we hope to facilitate meaningful conversation through such practices, which allows each individual to explore their meanings, their histories, and their guidance or recommendations. These conversations are meant to connect the community from varying lens, which include both reflecting wisdom and empowering growth.

    1. Avatar

      Crystal Ross

      The ideas that spoke to me in this chapter, primarily centred on the tree of life and song writing as a method of telling and creating meaning from life events. I could see using music and song writing with a wide range of audiences and age groups successful as a fun and meaningful way of engaging with their challenging life event, creating strength, meaning and revision of the story to fit an ideal narrative. Plus I could see the artistic venue of the tree of life and physically depicting the strengths gained through challenging times, roots and family history and connections as being a meaningful representations of an individuals life story. I hope that these are two new strategies that I can implement with various clients.

  20. Avatar

    Ellie Firns

    I am a social work student in Adelaide, South Australia.
    Is there an idea or project that stands out to you most at this time?
    I became deeply immersed in reading “Healing Stories Partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities”.
    What about this idea or project has sparked your enthusiasm or curiosity?
    These stories reminded me of how I have experienced healing through the sharing of stories and coping strategies. They also gave me insights into Indigenous ways of sharing stories, and the depths of grief that has been experienced.
    In what ways might you begin to experiment with these ideas or methodologies?
    I see how important it is for us to share our stories, and not diminish ourselves. It is so easy to think, when we are in the pits of despair, that no one cares about our story, but when we have a space to share it can be powerful healing. And being able to help others with our own story gives us a sense of meaning that can give us the motivation to keep going. I will take these ways of working with me as I deepen my learning in social work.

    1. Avatar

      lara1feinstein@hotmail.com

      My name is Lara and I am an Associate Therapist from California.
      Is there an idea or project that stands out to you most at this time?
      Translating painful experiences/survival, and hope into songs is meaningful to me, as a musician myself. This is something I would like to explore with clients.
      What about this idea or project has sparked your enthusiasm or curiosity?
      As David Denborough says I feel ‘songs have such a power’. Additionally, I think putting emotions into song can be safer at times rather than speaking. It can be an activity rather than focusing attention on talk which might feel too overwhelming at times. One can get lost in the melody and rhythm which might make it easier to be freer and more honest about word choice in relation the difficulty. Music can also bring people together to lead to a connection, which may provide comfort.
      In what ways might you begin to experiment with these ideas or methodologies?
      I want to incorporate music more into my sessions. Many adolescents seem to respond to music but of course, this has to feel like a good avenue for the client, if I were to use it. I might suggest writing a song to explore a particular experience.

    2. Avatar

      Keegan

      Hi there, I am a Clinical Counsellor from Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada.

      The technique that had resonated most with me was within the article “Little by Little we Make a Bundle”, in which we externalize both the presenting concern and utilize a physical example/exercise exemplifying the strength found in numbers. I find this would be useful with nature-based approaches, and to demonstrate the benefits of connecting, maintaining, and flourishing social, communal, and familial network. Additionally, we may be able to supplement and facilitate conversation around pride and survival to deepen the connections, allowing the experienced participants to teach others members of the community.

      As I begin working more closely with our Indigenous communities, I find these techniques to be highly relevant to current practice. Working with the elders of our community, we hope to facilitate meaningful conversation through such practices, which allows each individual to explore their meanings, their histories, and their guidance or recommendations. These conversations are meant to connect the community from varying lens, which include both reflecting wisdom and empowering growth.

  21. Avatar

    Sami

    My name is Sami and I am a MSW student from outside Kingston, ON, Canada.

    What stood out to me was the narrative development work in Uganda. This really caught my attention because that project makes sense. Personally I think narrative work is a bit intuitive as it mirrors human nature and cultural patterns; this is not to say it takes no effort to implement, though! These ways of engaging with a community, scaffolding conversations, and building connections are not rocket science, but an intentional effort produced by observing how humans interact and how communities form and develop.

    In my immediate context I don’t think I’ll be implementing these types of ideas as my focus over the next 6 months to a year is not community work. However, community building is an ongoing process wherein each individual is inherently contributing to the community, it’s just a matter of whether it’s intentional or not. That said, the way I behave in community, the way I vote, and the way I make purchases, and the state of mind I am in when I attend family events, even, are all ways to be considerate about how narratives contribute to the development of communities.

  22. Avatar

    Manpreet Kaur Mann

    I am a social work student, and I am studying at the University of Wollongong NSW Australia.

    Is there an idea or project that stands out to you most at this time?
    This chapter is also very interesting for me. The Tree of Life project really stands out to me at this time. I am thinking that this project can be used for helping and working with children and young people.
    What about this idea or project has sparked your enthusiasm or curiosity?
    The Tree of Life project has sparked my enthusiasm or curiosity for using narrative therapy in my practice.

    In what ways might you begin to experiment with these ideas or methodologies?
    I can use narrative therapy with children and young people in the community and school setting for motivating them to share their stories and their experiences. Therefore, I can provide support to them in a narrative perspective for solving their problems.

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