Collaboration & Accountability

Narrative practices respect people as the experts of their own lives. As such, our expertise is not in how we deliver ‘interventions’, but in how we provide a context, through a scaffolding of questions, that makes it possible for people to become more aware of their own skills and knowledges and how to use these to address difficulties they may be facing.

We have included here a diverse collection of resources about the sorts of collaborations that are a key aspect of narrative practice.



Amanda Worrall is a mental health nurse in the Northern Territory (Australia). This presentation tells the story of how June and Amanda found ways to use externalising conversations to name and speak about social paranoia (SP). It also describes the ways in which these conversations enabled June to reclaim her life from the effects of paranoia. This presentation was filmed at Dulwich Centre at the International Spring Festival of Narrative Practice that took place from September 21-23, 2011.


Narrative therapy and community work practices engage what has come to be called a ‘Decentred and Influential’ position from which we can work with people. In this extract, Michael White describes this therapeutic posture.

Michael White Workshop Notes

The Four Quadrants

  De-Centered Centered
Influential De-centered and influential (potentially invigorating of a therapist) Centered and influential (potentially burdening of therapist)
Non-influential De-centered and non-influential (potentially invalidating of therapist) Centered and non-influential (potentially exhausting of therapist)

It is the intention of the therapist to take up a “decentred and influential” posture in conversations had with the people who consult them – to develop therapeutic practices that make it possible for him/her to occupy the top-left quadrant. The notion “decentred” does not refer to the intensity of the therapist’s engagement (emotional or otherwise) with people seeking consultation, but to the therapist’s achievement in according priority to the personal stories and to the knowledges and skills of these people. In regard to the personal stories of people’s lives, in the context of this achievement, these people have a “primary authorship” status, and the knowledges and skills that have been generated in the history of their lives are the principal considerations.

The therapist is influential not in the sense of imposing an agenda or in the sense of delivering interventions, but in the sense of building a scaffold, through questions and reflections, that makes it possible for people to:

a) more richly describe the alternative stories of their lives,

b) step into and to explore some of the neglected territories of their lives, and to

c) become more significantly acquainted with the knowledges and skills of their lives that are relevant to addressing the concerns, predicaments and problems that are at hand.



In this paper by Sue Mann we examine ways of documenting that draw on collaborative practices, with particular reference to writing medical records.

‘Collaborative representation: Narrative ideas in practice’ | Sue Mann


The Just Therapy Team, from The Family Centre, Wellington, New Zealand, consists of Warihi Campbell, Kiwi Tamasese, Flora Tuhaka and Charles Waldegrave. Their highly respected work, which involves a strong commitment to addressing issues of culture, gender and socio-economic disadvantage, has come to be known as Just Therapy. These practitioners and their work significantly influenced narrative therapy and community work responses to accountability.

Extract from ‘Just Therapy’

This presentation by Tileah Drahm-Butler 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 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.

Decolonising Identity Stories | Tileah Drahm-Butler





For Reflection


In what ways have you entered into collaborations before? What made these collaborations possible?


What might make it hard to enter into these practices?


If these ways of working fit for you, what next steps could you take to build partnerships/collaborations in your work?



Please now join with others in reflecting on these questions and other wonderings below! Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks!

This Post Has 154 Comments

  1. Alex

    In what ways have you entered into collaborations before? What made these collaborations possible?
    I’m attracted to the mindset and practice of collaboration, and recognise that my most useful work as a coach and facilitator has been when the relationship has truly been a collaboration. Even if my intention is always that the other person or people are at the centre, that they are the ‘expert’, and that our conversation is one with a purpose, collaborating in their exploration and experimentation, this chapter has also brought back for me the times when I’ve slid towards being an advice giver, and when I’ve been in the role of ‘expert’. Sometimes that’s been too easy, triggered by what seems to be their invitation into that role. But this chapter has re-focused my attention on that, leaving me wanting to be alert to those subtle moments in the conversation which might otherwise draw it away from being truly a collaboration.

    What might make it hard to enter into these practices?
    Some of it is what I’ve mentioned above, which in essence seems to be about awareness and skill in the moment, especially when the other person in the conversation isn’t expecting this kind of collaboration.

    If these ways of working fit for you, what next steps could you take to build partnerships/collaborations in your work?
    I see them very much fitting for me in my work, and I’m already reflecting on current coaching clients, thinking about ways to help our conversations be more explicitly collaborative. One thing which will stick with me was the reminder that ‘the problem is the problem; the person is not the problem’. Sometimes, I begin working with an individual because their employer has requested or even required it, already labelling the other person as ‘the problem’, and by extension framing my work as to ‘fix the problem’. So, as much as I take good care of boundaries at the point of contracting with the organisation and the individual I’ll be working with, I’m now thinking there’s perhaps even more I could usefully do, to shape expectations around this.


    Kay, Hong Kong.

    It has been a long time since I have found a way to help people in such a helpful and concrete way, though it will take more time than just a few sessions of therapy. I was looking out to search for effective tools/ways to help children with certain special needs in their study and lives. But now, I’m so glad that I’ve come across with this course two months ago. After reading Amanda Worrall’s sharing on June’s case, I grasp a better idea of the whole process of how to develop questions to help elicit people’s agenda. Her awareness on June’s case has reminded me of being cautious and careful of people who seem to regain their status, yet she hasn’t. Thank you very much for the sharers of this chapter.

  3. wchiu

    Adelaide, Australia

    In practice I had co-facilitated therapy sessions with my colleagues and found that to be a very helpful experience. I think collaboration is made possible when there is time before and after sessions to reflect together to ensure that you are both heading the same direction or if there are differing working hypothesis about the family’s problem that this is also shared with one another. Collaboration works when people take the attitude that having more brains think about a problem is better than just having one!

    I love collaboration work as I think everyone’s experience, skills and knowledge is so different and adds so much value in providing an alternative perspective to the problem that is presented.


    Listening to the impact of considering decentred therapeutic posture on how validated June seemed to feel in the video, was heartening. I enjoyed considering some of the questions and ways of eliciting people’s know how, experiences, skills, strengths and ways of responding. The practice example about June, really highlighted honouring the person and their exploration of stories, and the proof in June seeming to feel validated, more curious and more understood seemed to indicate that June was not having expert positioning ‘put on her’.


    I found this chapter particularly enlightening and helpful. The idea that “nobody is a passive recipient of trauma” is one I find extremely pertinent in today’s society. The stories and examples told in these pieces also really highlighted the importance of externalizing the problem in one’s practice. I have entered into many different types of collaborations in the past, especially in situations where different cultures and ways of understanding were coming together in one space. I think these collaborations were made possible by non-hierarchical structures, genuine listening, group norms that were established by everyone at the beginning of the sessions, and respect and love for each other. What often makes these practices of collaboration more difficult are the systems around us that place more value on one way of knowing over another in addition to the power and funding that can be hoarded into one way of knowing over another. Therefore, I think one of the first steps in increasing these practices of collaboration is actively challenging these inequities and injustices in order to shift the balance in this sphere. That is one of the reasons I really admire the Family Centre’s practice discussed in the “Just Therapy” piece. The fact that they are engaging in healing work while also engaging in community development and social policy research is really exciting in my opinion.

  6. Kate C

    I found Sue Mann’s article really helpful, the process of separating people from ownership of their story in health records and assessments is so common and everyday practice. It’s important to think too, of who you are writing about and how you would feel about them reading it. Would they recognise themselves? Would they see themselves as being reduced just to a collection of symptoms that are negative and don’t account for all of the work and hope they may have put into managing?
    The Family Centre asks the same questions in a larger sense about recognising the problems families brought to therapy were tied to societal dysfunction, not inherent in the family. This has been a really thought provoking section. I would love to work collaboratively with clients to achieve this.

  7. 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.

  8. Rebecca

    Working with teenagers in Brisbane, Australia I find it so empowering and much more successful when collaborating with students. Often ‘expert’ adults and parents make decisions for their teenage child and outcomes fail. Inspired by Sue Mann’s article, I can continue to include my teenage clients in important case meetings and in setting goals for their education.

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