In Our Own Ways: Beyond psychological colonisation

Beyond psychological colonisation

This web resource seeks to trace histories of practitioners, teams and communities in diverse cultural locations creating their own culturally resonant forms of healing practice within the fields of family and narrative therapy. It is hoped that this will assist in current initiatives in avoiding psychological colonization and also acknowledge how the projects below have transformed the field of narrative practice and continue to do so.

Just Therapy Team

From the late 1970s, long before narrative therapy was ever known, the Just Therapy Team from the Family Centre in Aotearoa New Zealand and Dulwich Centre in Adelaide were in dialogue and friendship. The Just Therapy Team led the way in inviting/challenging the field of family therapy to consider the imperative of different cultures self-determining their own forms of healing practice. This team has a three tikanga (cultural) organisational structure of Māori, Pacific Island and Pākehā (European) sections who work independently but share resources inter-dependently and created forms of cultural and gender partnerships and accountability that have been powerfully influential. Their work included family therapy and community work as well as social policy work and research.

We have included three pieces from the Just Therapy Team’s work here:

The work of the Just Therapy team and their collaboration, friendship and partnerships set the scene for later developments.

Reclaiming our stories, Reclaiming our lives – Narrative gatherings: An Aboriginal Australian invention

In 1993, Tim Agius, then Director of Aboriginal Heath Council of South Australia approached Dulwich Centre to collaborate on responding to Aboriginal families who had lost a loved one to death in custody. Determined to create a culturally appropriate response to grief caused by injustice (both familial and collective), Tim suggested a gathering shaped by narrative therapy ideas. This led to the development of the first narrative gathering at Camp Coorong: ‘Reclaiming our stories, Reclaiming our lives’.

Included here is a video of Tim Agius describing the gathering.

The write up of the gathering: ‘Reclaiming our stories, Reclaiming our lives’.

‘Pang’ono pang’ono ndi mtolo’: Little by little we make a bundle: The work of the CARE counsellors of Malawi & Yvonne Sliep

In 1996, the work of the CARE Counsellors of Malawi & Yvonne Sliep led to significant developments. They engaged with the narrative practice of externalising but transformed it into a collective and theatrical process in ways that fitted with Malawian culture and also centred local metaphor and proverbs.

We have included here the write-up of:

And three accompanying interviews:

We  have also included an extract of a video of the work of the CARE Counsellors which proved profoundly influential. You will see members of the CARE Counsellors playing the roles of ‘Chief of the village’, ‘AIDS’ and ‘C.A.R.E. (standing for Community Action Renders Enablement). This form of narrative theatre / collective externalising was then carried out in villages in  Chichewa (the local language). To read more about this influential work please see the article above.   

When Aboriginal Australian practitioners watched this video they were then inspired to create their own forms of practice.

In South Australia, Barb Wingard, a participant in the Aboriginal Women’s Health and Healing Project, created a number of programs inspired by the ideas of the CARE counsellors. You can read her work here:

‘In our Own Ways’ publication

In 2000, Dulwich Centre published a small printed resource called ‘In Our Own Ways’. It was introduced by these words:

At the inaugural Dulwich Centre conference (1999), a number of significant conversations took place in which people from a range of cultural backgrounds spoke of how cultural traditions influence their explorations of ways of working. A part of these conversations related to ways in which they are engaging with narrative therapy (an approach to counselling and community work that seeks to re-engage people and communities with their own stories, skills and knowledges).

In these conversations, a range of important considerations were discussed including:

  1. How can cultural communities reclaim/retain their own ways of healing?
  2. Are there ways in which narrative ideas can be used in this process?
  3. While engaging with narrative therapy or other approaches of healing that draw from western culture, how can care be taken to ensure that distinctions remain clear around what are traditional knowledges?

A number of people involved in these discussions said that they would find it helpful to have a document that explored some of these questions.

‘In Our Own Ways’ featured writings by First Nations practitioners and African American and Jewish narrative therapists. Here are three pieces from this publication:

Divining a post-colonial therapy

The following influential paper is by Makungu Akinyela. He describes his hopes for an African centred therapy:

It is my hope that African centred therapy could provide African individuals and families a space to talk about their lives, to make sense of their relationships, free from the interpretations and judgments of dominant Eurocentric culture. It is my hope that a post-colonial therapy could offer a ‘liberated territory’ in which New Afrikan people could re-value their lives before heading back into a world that is so often hostile to the hopes and dreams of our people.

De-colonizing our lives: Divining a post-colonial therapy by Makungu Akinyela

The following two pieces were published in the same issue of the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work (2002, Issue #2) as Makungu Akinyela’s paper. They provide powerful and moving descriptions of cultural/political reclamations.

Opening the Door of Return by James Anani Amemasor

This interview with James Anani Amemasor took place in Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, West Africa where he was the historian in residence. Cape Coast Castle is one of the key fortresses used by the English for the purpose of slavery. Cheryl White, Makungu Akinyela and David Denborough were the interviewers.

Stories of Pride: Linking the experience of Aboriginal Australian, African-American, Latino and Native American communities by Barbara Wingard

In June 2001, Barbara Wingard, Cheryl White and David Denborough travelled to the USA to meet with people from African-American, Latino and Native American communities to talk through cultural protocols in relation to the upcoming International Narrative Therapy and Community Work Conference to be co-hosted by Dulwich Centre and Spelman College in Atlanta Georgia. This piece of writing was created from an interview that took place on the banks of the Murray River upon return to Australia. This piece of writing powerfully makes links between the experiences of Aboriginal Australian, African-American, Latino and Native American communities.

Seeking to avoid psychological colonisation: Stories from Sri Lanka – responding to the tsunami

Seeing to Avoid Psychological Colonisation: Stories from Sri Lanka – Responding to the Tsunami by Shanti Arulampalam et. al

In December 2004, tsunamis devastated areas of Sri Lanka’s coastline and local community workers and psychosocial workers responded to the aftermath. This paper documents the ways in which dedicated local organisations were determined to hold onto and utilise local knowledge and expertise in responding to the experience of Sri Lankan communities and avoid psychological colonisation.

Tree of Life and The Imbeleko Approach

In 2005, Ncazelo Ncube-Mlilo a Zimbabwean psychologist and narrative therapist, had the idea of combining narrative practices with the metaphor of the Tree of Life (Timmel & Hope, 1984) in order to develop a culturally resonant way of working with vulnerable children in Southern Africa. The Tree of Life narrative approach has subsequently been embraced by many. We have included here a video of Ncazelo speaking about the Tree of Life and her Imbeleko Approach; a chapter about the Tree of Life approach; and a handbook on the Tree of Life approach created by REPSSI.

Raising heads above the clouds: Caleb Wakhungu in Uganda

After being trained in Social Work in the city, Caleb Wakhungu returned to his rural village, in Mt Elgon, Uganda, to develop ways of using narrative practices to spark and sustain economic projects. In a process Caleb describes as ‘raising people’s heads above the clouds of poverty’ this work responds to social suffering and material (economic) conditions and refuses to separate these. His work is a most powerful example of developing a unique culturally resonant approach that has gone on to influence others.

Watch the presentation here. 

Honouring Rwandan healing ways

In neighbouring Rwanda, survivors of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi embraced narrative practices as part of their work as Ibuka counsellors (link to Adelite’s interview). In more recent years, Chaste Uwihoreye has developed forms of practice that honour Rwandan healing ways, language and proverbs. During the pandemic this work also took place through radio, television and social media in most sparkling ways.

Decolonization of narrative therapy into Latin America

Within the following video presentations (in Spanish and English), marcela polanco addresses the decolonization of narrative therapy into Latin America through the means of “translation resistance” (Tymockzo, 2010). Drawing from the same political, epistemological and theoretical tenants of narrative therapy, she presents its translation into her Colombian Spanish. Marcela proposes a therapy of solidarity as a Latin American version of narrative therapy. She presents this proposal as furthering the life of narrative therapy keeping it from becoming colonizing, refreshing and reinventing its practices when ‘arriving’ to a new linguistic context — Colombian Spanish.

Watch the videos here. 

Cultural Democracy: Politicising and historicising the adoption of narrative practices in the Americas

Many practices of narrative therapy have spread widely around the world when adopted by practitioners of diverse cultures. In this paper, marcela polanco presents a personal reflection on her attempts at politicising and historicising the adoption of narrative therapy into her local culture. In a spirit of cultural democracy, she departs from acknowledging her own heritage of mestizaje, including the history of colonisation of Latin America. Following, she briefly presents three phases as possible preparations for the initial arrival of narrative therapy to her culture and subsequent dialogue among cultures: a) adopting a decolonial critical stance; b) foreignising narrative practices; and c) facilitating cultural agency. She illustrates her attempts at dialoging with the foreign term externalisation to translate/reimagine its decolonial version in her local culture.

A Brazilian invention: Community therapy

Brazilian family therapists, community workers and musicians combine in the a unique form of practice known as ‘community therapy’. This Brazilian way of working that responds to various forms of social suffering and ‘psychic misery’. The following piece includes an introduction to the history, key tasks, and stages of a community therapy gathering; a description of one example of a community therapy meeting; and a brief exploration of how ideas from narrative therapy have been introduced into community therapy practices.

Community therapy: A participatory response to psychic misery by Adalberto Barreto & Marilene Grandesso   

Further metaphoric practices

The Tree of Life narrative approach, described above, was the first of what are now known as metaphoric narrative practices which seek to animate local folk culture as the means for reauthoring. These forms of practice often do not involve direct first person speech and they also act as ways of democratising narrative practice (link to chapter) – they are not only used by professionals but also by grassroots community members.  

Included here are four of these:

Narratives in the suitcase by Ncazelo Ncube-Mlilo

Seasons of Life: Ex-detainees reclaiming their lives by Palestinian narrative therapist Nihaya Abu-Rayyan  

The Team of Life (based on sporting metaphors and originally developed as a way of responding to former child soldiers in Northern Uganda) It is now embraced by Brazilian practitioners.

My meeting place: Rearming ourselves with cultural knowledge, spirituality and community connectedness by Vanessa Davis

When Vanessa Davis learnt about the Tree of Life approach she decided to develop her own form of practice based on Aboriginal visual literacies. The result was ‘My Meeting Place’ 

First Nations narrative practice

Following the lead of Aunty Barbara Wingard and Tim Agius, in recent years First Nations practitioners have developed a whole range of Aboriginal narrative practices in both the Southern and Northern hemispheres. The following paper describes a synergy between First Nations oral traditions and narrative practice:

Stoking the embers of ancient fire: Counselling First Nations adolescents within a narrative approach by Darlene Denis-Friske

It is the thesis of this paper that the oral tradition of Canadian First Nations people lends itself towards a rich cultural predisposition to meaning-making through narrative, leading towards a narrative approach as being culturally sensitive, deeply respectful and meaningful in counselling work with First Nations adolescents. In addition to a discussion about the vital importance of working within the existing narratives of First Nations youth, the author unfolds a personal narrative as a Canadian Algonquin person. This narrative piece serves to highlight externalisation, re-authoring of the story, the opening of possibilities, and the provision of a new context for the experiencing of adversity.

To view a range of Aboriginal narrative practice initiatives, click here.

This video and paper from Tileah Drahm-Butler describes how narrative practice through Aboriginal eyes involves decolonising identity stories:

Decolonising identity stories: Narrative practice through Aboriginal eyes  

Azima ila Hayati – An invitation in to my life: Narrative conversations about sexual identity

In 2007, Lebanese-Australian narrative therapist Sekneh Hammoud-Beckett, in collaboration with young queer Muslims developed a form of practice that involved deconstructing ‘games of truth’ in relation to attitudes to homosexuality and the process of ‘coming out’. It is a way of working that has since become profoundly influential in many contexts.

Azima ila Hayati – An invitation in to my life: Narrative conversations about sexual identity

To read more of Sekneh’s work, see her recent paper ‘Intersectional Narrative Practice with Queer Muslim Clients.

This paper also includes descriptions of the work of Ola El Hassan and Lobna Yassine in developing Skills, Values and Story Cards with Muslim young people.

Narrative therapy, Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese medicine

Ming Li is a narrative practitioner in Beijing, China, with an interest in the resonances he sees between some narrative ideas and practices, and those of Buddhism, Taoism and other aspects of Chinese culture, history and medicine. In the following interview, Ming draws on multiple domains of knowledge and experience to describe some of the congruencies and points of difference he has noticed, and to explain what draws him to using a narrative practice approach in his own context.

Read Ming Li’s article here. 

Gender and culture together

From the earliest days of these initiatives there has been a focus on not separating issues of culture and gender; tracing the liberative gender elements within cultures; attending to privilege and cultural assumptions; and developing meaningful cross-cultural partnerships. Taimalieutu Kiwi Tamasese has been a key influence:  

Working for gender justice across cultures: An interview with Taimalieutu Kiwi Tamasese

Current explorations in relation to feminisms, intersectionality and narrative practice can be found here.

Looking forwards, looking back  

This web resource has traced some of the histories of practitioners, teams and communities in diverse cultural locations creating their own culturally resonant forms of healing practice within the fields of family and narrative therapy. They are also examples of stretching, transforming the field of narrative therapy and community work. The work continues …




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