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 346 Comments

  1. Paulina López

    I’m Paulina psychologist and aerial dancer form Mexico City.

    The project were HIV/AIDs is personified to destigmatize and think in solution’s rather than center in the bad things touch me a lot, I think that it’s a really god idea to empower people, and how they solve the ages an gender powor made me love it a lot more.

    The one of “sons to respond to trauma” call my attention, it made think if it could be a possibility to use more different disciplines to create the same effect, like contemporary circus.

  2. daron.askin

    I found the tree of life material interesting and encouraging. It is clearly transferrable across many cultures and age groups. It is flexible and adaptable to fit with the collaborative way and allows great potential for allowing stories to be told and explored. The tree is also a helpful method of creating connections between the parts of a person’s life, as reflected in the parts of the tree, in a way that is easier for all. I can begin to use the tree of life straight away with the children and young people that I work with in CAMHS.

  3. Ana

    As a social worker, I loved the idea that Collective Narrative Practice is about context and following local practices. To allow the community we are working with to drive the worker that will facilitate the initiative, is something that goes very well with my personal values and practice. I work mainly with individuals, but I can also see how I can bring this idea and reflections to the individual support level.

  4. Sylva

    I love the idea of using song and dance to work through and address trauma and various cultural struggles and issues. In my work as a narrative therapist and professional healer, I hold events in which I work with my clients on reconnecting with themselves, their bodies and nature through music, drumming and dance. It is a very effective–and fun–way to release traumas and limiting beliefs (among other things) and allow people to find new ways of living.

  5. kai.niezgoda

    The community development aspect of Narrative Practice is one of the things that most intrigues me as a mental health worker and former community organiser. This section has expanded my thinking in terms of how I can integrate this community development lens into my work as a therapist (or as an addendum to it, as most folks I know are not doing this work in paid positions per se). Specifically it got me thinking about how some of the innovative projects, such as the Tree of Life, could be tailored for trans and gender diverse people and/or the broader LGBTQIA+ communities and how my community’s trees might look different from and similar to our cis/straight counterparts.

    The level of need in my community is breathtaking – needs around accessing care, accessing community and safe relationships, meeting basic survival needs, and coping with stigma and discrimination. That said, my community is also profoundly resilient and has many internal and external resources to draw on in its surviving and thriving. To me, our existence is proof enough of that. While there are not any specific community development projects I have in mind at this time, thinking about this has challenged me to be open to the possibilities that might arise out of my conversations with the people I work with, because opportunities for creating change on a broader level are almost always ‘in the room’ when working with TGD and LGBTQIA+ communities.

  6. latriece27

    The project “Life-saving Tips from Young Australian Muslims” and the projects where issues a community is facing such as HIV/AIDs are personified to destigmatize it and allow the community to come up with a solution to address it were the projects that stuck out to me. Often young people’s voices aren’t taken seriously, adults tend to assume young people are not to be consulted on certain matters because of their limited life experience, this sentiment was shared by some of the young people in the projects discussed above. To hear the humor and wisdom from the voices of the young Australian Muslims as well as the ability for communities to work through the ways HIV/AIDS plagues their community and come up with solutions as a community was beautiful to witness. These projects bring about so many opportunities for healing and space to create/ reinvent/ and forge new paths for to see, think, and build community.

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