Decolonising Identity Stories by Tileah Drahm-Butler

This presentation aims to bring forth conversation on the ways that narrative therapy can be used as a decolonising practice, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and skill in resistance is honoured and talked about in a therapy setting.

Tileah Drahm-Butler is a Durrumbal woman who lives and works in Kuranda, in Far North Queensland.  Tileah is a Social Worker in a hospital setting, currently working in Emergency Department and Intensive Care Units. She completed the Masters in Narrative Therapy and Community Work in 2014 and is passionate about finding ways to describe Narrative Therapy practices in ways that are culturally resonant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.  Furthermore, in the work that Tileah does, she continues to learn alongside the people who she meets to create and re-create narrative practices that are culturally resonate, and that are shaped by cultural and spiritual practices.

For more information

Aboriginal narrative practice: Honouring Storylines of price, strength and creativity
by Barbara Wingard, Carolynanha Johnson and Tileah Drahm-Butler

Published on November 27, 2015

This Post Has 35 Comments

  1. dyc123

    Hello, I am writing from Toronto, Canada. I feel fortunate to have chosen a career that promotes equality and social justice for all; especially, for the acknowledgment and support of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Prior to taking courses in counselling psychology, I was totally ignorant of the effects of colonization in our country. I just accepted whatever was taught about colonization–as being a good accomplishment–in history class. I realize now how biased, racist, oppressive, and vainglorious our history books have portrayed leaders of the new colonized world. It is only recent that these leaders are becoming a stain on Canadian pride! How boastful we are as a nation.
    If any of you get a chance to watch the current Canadian series ‘Thunder Bay,’ please reflect on the evident racism which is eye-opening and deeply disturbing. We have only begun to realize the horrors of residential schools, loss of Indigenous language and culture, and the poverty-stricken lives that most Indigenous peoples live to this day because of colonialism. I only hope we as a society can move forward towards acknowledging that our home and native land should be noted as our home on native land!

  2. Anna Weber

    This module spurred thinking for me around the question of how I increase approachability and invitation for accountability of my own practice. I am especially recognizing the systemic ways that disinvest people from being able to make critiques and the ways that I am mostly held accountable by insurance companies as opposed to the individuals with whom I work. I appreciate Just Therapy’s framework and plan to look more into their practices. I am considering how the power dynamic between client and therapist could be one example for how I can invite and structure accountability, whether through treatment update questions or discharge plans that specifically center feedback from the client on what is missing, what they need, or how therapy could change.

    Collaboration in medical records and viewing one’s therapy notes as an extension of their story also brought multiple questions for me on the practice I have witnessed in substance use treatment centers where client’s notes are used “against” or “for” them in child and youth services or drug court hearings. I am wondering how to ethically use collaboration when a client might want something like a relapse to be kept out of their notes. At the same time, preferred stories cannot be ungrounded and I am still considering ways in which I could ethically work with a client to rewrite a story that is used in hearings surrounding parental rights.

  3. Glynis Thorp

    Thankyou for sharing Tileah. Narrative therapy fits just so well when working with Indigenous peoples. I am always keen to learn more. Story telling is such an important part of their lives and those who live and interact with Indigenous peoples.


    More wonderful knowledge and experiences shared on this page. I am learning more about decolonisation practices, and the idea that decolonisation continues today. The presentation about June inspired me to continue to ask questions about how the said problem is truly influencing someones life.

  5. Steven Colbran

    Our identity is our story sits so key in the work we do in this space.
    Giving people the opportunity to tell their stories with a focus on the indigenous world view.
    There is such an opportunity to talk and yarn and tell stories with purpose and work through any impacts of problems on people’s lives. Rather than seeing them as a problem themselves.
    Re-authoring is a really interesting concept and valuable experience for all, looking for alternative stories.
    Steven Colbran
    Mackay QLD

  6. debbie webster

    Using narrative practice as a decolonizing tool in therapy sessions and valuing the experience of the storytellers is a great way forward and honors the storytellers as owners of their own valued life experiences. This allows for a collaborative approach to therapy sessions.

  7. Sandra Owen

    I thoroughly enjoyed and feel grateful for the opportunity to be allowed to hear your narrative i.e. learning journey and appreciate the precious gift of being allowed to hear the stories of others who have been through so much in their journey. In my reflection, I see decolonizing as awesome and necessary to offer empowerment back to their self-worth and esteem. I can only say as an outside witness. It moves me when I hear their fight for justice. I ally with them to uphold their justice journey.


    Thank you so much for sharing. It is so inspiring for me. I jotted notes while watching the video. People who come to consult me are the expert of their lives and asking right questions to further enrich their stories is so important. I will keep it in mind that while I’m doing the project in community I’m part of it. Thank you.

  9. Kate C

    A thoughtful insight into Tileahs’ work and approach. It is heartening to read or listen to these stories where people, through narrative practices may be restored to themselves without the problem. It’s very powerful to consider how impactful this must be for Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander people in Australia as colonisers have used those damage-centred stories to keep people from finding their strength and resistance.

  10. sjwalker

    I really enjoyed listening about June. The idea of collaboration and really allowing the voice of the client/patient to be heard is so valuable. Not only as the person placed to offer help, but to the client/patient. It offers a clear invitation to them with respect, no judgement and a recognition of vulnerability and trust being present. I loved the question ‘is it ok that SP impacts you being social/your relationships’ and the time for June to ponder to have that honest moment with herself and say ‘No!’. I feel like in that moment she was able to decide to take control back of her life. It is those moments that are so heart warming and fill you with pride – when the person chooses to fight for themselves and to want to be accountable and responsible for the life they life/want to live.

  11. Michele McCrea

    The extracts and videos in this section have been inspiring to me, especially ‘Just Therapy’ and Tileah’s presentation on Decolonising Identity Stories. I now have more confidence and tools to continue and develop the collaborative groupwork I am currently doing with migrant women’s groups in Australia.

  12. Lynda Shevellar

    Thank you Tileah for this beautiful warm presentation. I loved your framing of narrative practice as a spiritual practice. I am particularly grateful for your problematising of wellbeing – and the resulting invitation to people to define what wellbeing might mean for them. There is so much richness here to reflect on further. Thank you for your generosity in sharing these ideas.
    Warmly, Lynda Shevellar

  13. Mercy Shumbamhini

    I am Mercy Shumbamhini from Harare, Zimbabwe. I have enjoyed the articles on collaboration and accountability in this chapter. I was touched by June’s experience with outsider witness retellings. I have used collaboration and accountability in my work with children and their families and with widows. What I found helpful in this work is the use of the bottom up and non-blaming approaches. I can say that this is not all that easy, it requires an on-going personal reflection and receiving feedback practices from the people who consult with me. I would like to continue learning with the people whom I meet to co-create narrative practices and ideas that respect their knowledges, skills and ways of life that they prefer.

  14. Pat

    Thank you Tileah! I love your language and you make it so accessible. The “Strong Story” will stay with me forever. You make it possible for me to imagine a day when the indigenous people of the Americas will also experience such profound respect for their knowledges and ways of life.

  15. debbie r

    as a financial counsellor it is interesting to hear about the thoughts around counsellor verses yarning and how it impacts upon people attending.

  16. ShiPing Jiang

    Tileah presents two cases very clearly from her de-centered position to successfully externalize the problems from the people, the clients. Tileah empowers her client by de-contructing her clients’ stories from the perspective of social and cultural context, and re-authoring their stories in co-operative manner, which it demonstrates their co-researcher positioning. The whole presentation is enjoyable to watch and insightful.

  17. Elizabeth Tomlins

    thank you for this message and the content of this presentation.
    Thank you for speaking of Yarning & Shame. As a non Aboriginal mother of Aboriginal Children working in Family Services with Families often disconnected with their history your message provides confirmation and knowledge that will help me in both my work and family.
    I am encouraged to acknowledge my families expertise in their lives.
    Also encouraged by June’s story what great ways to empower those whose lives we work with; Further the man with no name and the writing of hospital notes is so encouraging as I will bring this to my time with families and further encourage them to collaborate with me in writing their story in notes that will be read by others.
    Thank you for another great time of learning.

  18. Sue Phillips

    Thank you Tileah, yes even our language counselling verses Yarning could make a big difference to engagement and hearing their story & understand their perspective without judgement & honouring others’ knowledge and emotional and social wellbeing, also the knowing of shame that impacts with the story told.

    1. Lou Scanlan

      I enjoyed hearing this, thank you Tileah. Particularly how you explored the origins of values of importance, bringing them to the front and connecting them to the person’s strength story. Love it. Thank you.

  19. Jocelyn Phelps

    Thank you to Tileah for a wonderful presentation. I love hearing the word “yarn” used in this powerful way (Americans also have that term). The practice of “translating”, of shifting concepts into language that can be more usefully heard, is very powerful. As coaches we can make good use of this to help clients uncover their hidden or forgotten resources.

  20. Carly Tredway

    This is a lovely presentation that speaks volumes about the power and identity theft of colonisation for Australia’s first people. Without speakers like Tileah, the rest of Australia (all immigrants of some description), we could not know this perspective or the power of a yarn.
    Thank you

  21. Elizabeth Tomlins

    Thank you for these amazing stories and listening to Tileah. What a great way to encourage the remembering of a rich culture and to enable the positive stories to be revealed that allows healing. It helps this non indigenous parent of indigenous children/grandchildren to have tools to build restoration, healing & pride in my family & the wider community I work with. Thanks again

  22. Tamara Lazaroff

    Thank you so much. I love the hopefulness of your talk and way of speaking with people. Honestly, makes my heart feel full and soaring.

  23. Jerome

    I enjoyed this talk linking up many aspects of narrative work. This has helped to label and name what we can do in therapy to build new narratives – namely noticing and highlighting the small acts of standing up to problems. I particularly liked how this was linked to a standing up to more culture-wide injustice and prejudice.

  24. Carolyn

    Lovely Tileah – so meticulous about context ….. again just listening before I come up your way in early November to talk a little to an audience i don’t know .

  25. Dianne M Leonard (Port Macqaurie)

    Good to see and hear you Tileah. I heard you speak of Yarning(counselling),Storytelling, strong story, History, externalizing, Shame, centring people as the experts and honouring others’ knowledge and emotional and social wellbeing. Thank You.

  26. J Louise

    Thank you Tileah for sharing your work. I am hopefully that non-indigenous people in the cities can hear more and more strong stories – it is good for all of us.

  27. Melanie Murad Baldwin

    Thank you Tileah for sharing your story and stories!!! I am inspired to share this video with many friends from both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds. I am currently a PHd candidate and really hope to link via email with you!!! Kindest regards, Melanie Murad Baldwin

  28. Alta Mitchell

    Wow, the story is so similar to my Navajo culture. We still live with a lot of shame, racism, and disrespect in our communities. But, as Navajo people we still hang on to our culture and tradition today and we are still strong.

    Thank you for sharing your presentation.

  29. Jacqui

    The concept of a ‘strong story’ really left an impression on me. What a powerful idea.

  30. nanette langley

    Amazingly inspiring story that opens space for us all to see how colonization still affects indigenous people today. Tileah offers a way through the damage towards an understanding of the reasons why indigenous people are suffering. Then she gives us a brilliant map of how to untangle the yarn that has caused this suffering.

  31. Carolynanha

    Beautiful Tileah, it was lovely to sit and listen to your story about shame and how you questioned it in so many ways. Your practice is so honoring, both in resistance and survival. You are an inspiration.

  32. Clara

    This was brilliant, it pulls together important aspects of what I have learnt already and I really like the story behind the story concept in particular. What a great young woman!

  33. Sylvie St-Jacques

    Acknowledging people as “the experts of their lives…” Profound yet simple idea. Great talk!

  34. Alara Cameron

    What an amazing, beautiful and strong young woman. She speaks with such clarity and holds great knowledge and wisdom beyond her years. It strengthens my spirit and fills it with hope to know we have leaders/healers like her with in our communities. Keep up the deadly work sister.

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