Documenting people’s skills and knowledge

Introducing documentation

Tileah Drahm-Butler

Living in the shadow of genocide: what sustains us

This video is a collective narrative document that honours the skills of  counsellors and assistant lawyers of Ibuka (‘Remember’) which is a genocide survivors association in Rwanda.

Please also read these letters written between Rwandan, Jewish and Aboriginal  counsellors:

Strengthening Resistance: The use of narrative practices in working with genocide survivors

An encyclopedia of young people’s skills and knowledge

In narrative therapy and community work, we try to document people’s skills and knowledge. We do this in lots of different ways! Here is an example of a a recent project that documented the skills and knowledge of diverse groups of young people in many different ways … writing, video and songs!

Encyclopedia of young people’s life-saving tips 

Documents in therapy

Eileen Hurley (USA) tries to assist young people in jails to create ‘non-criminal records’ through narrative documentation.

Establishing non-criminal records, International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work


A booklet of women’s stories

A collective booklet from women who are survivors of domestic violence – a presentation from Natalie Smee


Sometimes songs can play a powerful part in narrative practice. Here’s a song that was generated from a narrative gathering in Narrandera Koori community:

We remember those who’ve left us

Closing words from Tileah

This Post Has 21 Comments

  1. TeriLucas

    These stories of trauma from around the world and across time are incredibly moving. Thank you to all contributors for sharing your stories. Through knowing more about your experiences, we can all develop greater empathy and understanding, and hopefully become better at assisting others to move through their grief. We all deserve to be free to live lives that acknowledge the past, rejoice in our resistance of the trauma and celebrate our survival for a better future.

  2. Miranda Leon-Madgwick

    The power of documentation in working with my community women members, came to life in the form of a photo story book.
    I as the Aboriginal Team leader of a Family Violence Therapeutic program for Aboriginal families, was informed by some of the women that they want to explore their culture.
    My team were non-Aboriginal but we were all trained in Family Therapy and our lived experience assisted in the healing process.
    An adult daughter and mother wanted to do this culture group sessions, we had guest Local Women Elders come to yarn about their stories, their culture and the families.
    We started making Possum Skin clocks for each of the women, did Aboriginal healing cards, played Troy Cassar Daley CD’s,
    explored their Aboriginal Connection to Country, designed images to put onto their possum skin cloaks – these told their stories and share a meal together before the end of each session.
    The mother and daughter shared this new connection with the mother’s mother and her mother, the daughter and mother requested to visit these women to show them their finish cloaks and explore if they were interested in doing a Return to Country trip for a smoking ceremony on the river bank. The older women enjoyed and wanted to come, and I quickly made their possum skin clocks. These women were not part of the healing sessions for mother and adult daughter but this new spirit within mother and daughter came alive in the story lines from their kin.
    This was all recorded in Photo story books all each of the women – four generations that came and the fifth generation little girl received one too.
    The women decided what they what in the book, the photos, the personal writing of the experience and the acknowledgment to Country.
    From two women 5 generations were healed through their story book.

  3. Soraya Sek

    Thrilled by the rich collaborative contributions in this module!

    I loved the encyclopedia of life tips by young people, I think our society would benefit a lot from giving young people the space, as this project did, to share their unique perspectives for all our benefit.

    I also really appreciate the other resources (including Strengthening Resistance and the DV booklet) demonstrating the value of survivors of trauma sharing their stories, as a powerful recovery tool and immeasurably helpful in assisting others who have suffered trauma.


    I found this section quite powerful. Thank you to all those who shared. Connecting to the work shared by Eileen Hurley, I would like to explore ways to braid this technique into work with youth involved in the criminal justice system in my community.


    It’s taken a few days to work through Documenting Peoples Skills and knowledge. Thought provoking and on occasion I was deeply touched and moved with emotion I had to allow some time to let things settle within me. Particularly enjoyed survivors resisting the effects of genocide and interview from Angela. Powerful stuff; stories of resistance, resilience and migration of identity, what an honour it is to be able to read these stories.


    This makes me think “How can we integrate alternative documentation in to the mainstream of mental health culture?”
    I would also like to think about this in terms of the modern age of social media (which is possibly the most documentation that any society across the globe has been a part of to date)and how that interacts with indigenous knowledge and customs.

  7. Patricia

    I liked the different ways of coping expressed by the survivors of genocide Rwanda
    naming of children after family members killed and parents taking on the orphans of this genocide


    I found this topic very interesting and incredible content. In the health care settings I’ve only known documentation to be written. These resources have opened my eyes and mind about documentation. It made me think about documentaries and how these are a narrative.
    It made me realize we all document in many common like song, dance, spoken, music, art, written etc. The strength, resilience, humour people, discover / use when given very limiting survival / living options. I really appreciate everything in this topic. Thank you

  9. Nadine

    Reading the letters in Establishing non-criminal records has really given me some ideas on how this could be done when working with young people. I love the idea of putting a story on paper that can be kept, and referred back to. Young people creating a new story in writing, of how they would like their future to look like is a powerful way for them to see the possibilities of hope.

  10. Julie

    I took great interest in the “Establishing non-criminal records” by Eileen Hurley. I would like to introduce these into my work with adult male clients in correctional facilities as a personal reflection of our work together. I was interested to read the many forms that she wrote to the men.

  11. Natalie

    Recently, on ABC radio Cassie McCullagh was interviewing Stan Grant. They were discussing many things pertaining to Australia’s first nation people and how the recorded history of British colonization in Australia omits narrative from a first nations perspective. There was suggestion of a “civil rights museum”; as seen in other places where genocide has been experienced, like the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, African slavery in US, Apartheid in South Africa and the Holocaust of the Jews. If Australia had its own civil rights museum, the narrative of our first nations people might be captured in stories, songs, artwork and documentaries, honouring the memory of their story and celebrating their resilience.

  12. Rebekah

    How artful & healing is Eileen Hurley’s inquiry in her letter to Tyson. Gifted inquiry to lead his thoughts to areas where he can create new choices supported by a greater understanding why he is choosing this & not the previous ones.

  13. Michael Chanas

    Realising that I am not the only one to have that kind of pain. And to be able to turn to friends/others that feel that way.
    “It takes many parts to make a whole”

  14. Nicole Arbuckle

    This has been my favourite unit so far. I liked looking through the encyclopedia and hearing the helpful tips from the participants. Some things I gleaned are that society needs all of us together, we cannot place more value on someone else because each of us are here to contribute something to society. Dr’s need patients and engineers need labourers, we are all needed. Also, the part about how having respect builds relationships, I think this is very important. I was interested in the comment one of them made about how they would make their body so tired that their mind would forget their depression, this is a good way of looking at the therapeutic benefits of exercise. I thought the statement about the government and action was really powerful. ‘The government leads people into depression and then tries to lead the out again’. This really resonated with me, I think the government has a lot to answer for the current state of services. I also liked the video on bullying and found some helpful tips to pass onto my niece who has been experiencing really bad bullying. I liked the impact of music and how you can choose to listen to the words of artists instead of the negative words of the bullies. Something to consider which I think is important and transcends playground bullying, is to find the person will take action when nobody else will and also to never ignore it when someone comes to you for help.

    I got a lot out of the domestic violence booklet presentation but the thing that resonated the most with me was the statement that women are not passive, there are many things they are doing every minute that ensures their safety and that they are doing the best they can with what they have available.

    Thank you for a great and very reflective unit.

  15. Kelle

    “There is power in sharing stories”. Thank you for the piece on Domestic and Family Violence. Taking the power back for women who have experienced this is the first step to healing.

  16. Tony

    A most appreciative of the time and effort the authors of these biographical life stories share with strangers the emphasis on their personal struggles and life’s learnings much appreciated

    1. Keiron

      I completely agree with you Tony, we are all fortunate to benefit from the work and bravery of these folks.


    I enjoyed the video ‘Living in the Shadow of Genocide’. This video got me thinking and reflecting on the different ways people cope, heal and transition through experiences of genocide. There really is no one size fits all despite shared commonalities. I also realised that story telling can be initiated with a person by inviting them to talk and share what sustains them during hard times including their community and culture.

  18. Charmaine

    In reading “Strengthening Resistance: The use of narrative practices in working with genocide survivors”, the sadness I felt when reading about the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsi people in Rwanda. But at the same time I was transported back in time to what it must have been like during colonisation and the mass trauma experienced by the Australian Aboriginal people, in which sadly, can still be felt and seen in ill mental health, suicides and many other devastating ways 200+ years later. Sadly, the Aboriginal people did not have access to immediate mental health therapy at the time until many, many, many decades later. I can see that sharing documents between countries can have a profound effect on helping others and each other to heal and strengthening resistance.

  19. Angele James

    In listening and reading of resistance and survival I am taken to a place of reflection. Reflecting on my own family’s story of leaving a home country because of the impact of war, of traumas that have occurred in our family both known and unnamed, and my own experience of family violence. Taken to a place to reflect on the strengths shared and drawn on to ensure emotional and psychological survival. The part that music, words and dance have played across generations. How easily these can be lost when we take a path of avoiding pain when we don’t know how to carry it with us and don’t know how to seek support to do the same … and how powerful, hope full and strengthening it is to collectively find ways to trust to feel again, to connect in our humanity and nourish those parts of self that are still there in spite of the traumas.

  20. Beccy Smith from Brisbane

    While reading ‘Strengthening Resistance – The use of narrative practices in working with genocide’ I admired the work of the Rwandan trauma counsellors, assistant lawyers and the Dulwich team in their workshop. Sharing stories from other communities like the Aboriginal people from Port Augusta and their stories, stories of resistance and survival. One quote from ‘A message from Ibuka to the Port Augusta Aboriginal Community’ which I found very powerful and really resonated with me so I have chosen to end this paragraph with it.

    We want to say to you that we are together with you in sorrow. Your sorrow is our suffering.

    Reading Aunty Barbs message of support in the Dignity and Pride, Strengthening Resistance (pg36), to be able to sit and listen to my elders share their stories, their art and dances empowers our mob. Joining with others in dance, song and laughter – when you have lived through genocide, revelling and enjoying life has new meaning. As with my culture our people have endured feelings of despair and hopelessness. I felt pride and privilege as she talked of our ways of resilience and resistance. As an Aboriginal woman, I have listened to the stories and I still watch in our modern times the continuance of systemic oppression. How we have survived genocide and overcome generational traumas through love of our culture and peoples. I’d like to share a quote that was shared during a work meeting last week by one of our non-indigenous staff “They buried us in the ground but they didn’t know we were seeds” I found this quote to be profound as again it demonstrated how our parents, grandparents and great grandparents have suffered overwhelming sorrow, terrors and pain and loss, and of our resilience to keep moving forward.

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