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 148 Comments

  1. Hannah R

    Hi all. I’m Hannah, a junior doctor from Bristol (UK). I have found working collaboratively effective both when working on the wards and in the community. I think perhaps that time has often contributed to the efficacy of these endeavours – I find that when I am rushed, with a long list of jobs to complete, that I find myself slipping back into a less collaborative approach. I was particularly moved by Sue Mann’s article, with regards to her collaboration with the women she was working with in writing in their medical notes. How and what we write in the medical notes has been something that has challenged me for some time. How can I ensure that I do not perpetuate thin narratives or epistemic injustices? The idea of inviting the people am I working with to help write my notes is compelling.

  2. Jason

    Jason from Toronto, Canada. I find so many themes here very compelling. I am a therapist in training in my first community counseling placement, where I have been working on basics like chart writing. I have found it surprisingly hard to know what to include and how to understand the significance of the narrative I create in these notes. The idea of including client voices collaboratively is really interesting, but also challenging. I think some of the barriers are inertia and stress. When we have so many obligations and time pressures, we often do only what is required. While I love the idea of making charting a part of the therapy, not least since client’s are legally allowed to access their therapist’s notes, it would involve more time and complexity. And doing it in a group practice means challenging, potentially, some of the norms of the practice, especially when these norms are highly regulated. But this way of thinking is amazing and worth exploring.

  3. hjgolden

    I really enjoyed this section, it helped me think through some of the thorny issues I’ve been wrestling with for a while, in terms of how I can address my own privilege honestly and relate to people in ways that dignify their own experiences. The UK is becoming more fragmented and unequal; it’s hard to know how best to foster an alliance with someone who already feels patronised and misunderstood. One of the problems with working in peer mental health is how much work done in an oppressive system is actually collaborating with and perpetuating injustices. I don’t see a way yet to work totally outside these systems so I need go find a position that allows me to be effective without harming others. My commitment to this way to working is firm and had been refined by the recent Covid19 outbreak, now I do not have the luxury of choosing not to work in contexts where there is systemic inequality, instead I need to get in there and work in a narrative practice, critically engaged way.

  4. Michele McCrea

    Michele from Adelaide, Australia
    For the past 6 months I have been working with migrant women’s groups in school-based community hubs to build community capacity for strong relationships and community safety and to address problems that impede access to domestic violence services. I approached this task with an attitude of wanting to learn about what works for the communities by asking questions and trying out different ideas, and this has started to bear fruit. Narrative ideas and approaches have been especially helpful to me in developing methods and ways of working that are collaborative and culturally sensitive and meet the needs of the women and communities.


    Emily Williams, Newcastle NSW, Australia. I really enjoyed Sue Mann’s article, I think it gives us all hope that even within structures like hospitals we can çhoose to work in our preferred way. I think what has held me back before is just ‘going with the flow’ with other workers and, not thinking about the wider impact. I think back to my social work placement and I saw other allied health professionals just working in the systems. It gives me hope to create a new way of working. I have been working in collaboration. I am working with a family at the moment and I provide them a copy of my notes after our session to review, make changes, I find it powerful as this family has experienced the child protection system so this way of working is creating a foundation for a trust relationship.

  6. Rhianne

    Rhianne (Brisbane, Australia)
    Such a powerful concept. Sue Mann’s story was particularly powerful. I have to write case notes in my job and while I take great pride in being as accurate and neutral as possible, I hadn’t thought about the opportunity of case notes for people to tell their own stories.
    I also think in some ways knowing that our expertise as practitioners is in the scaffolding, not in holding the answers is a relief. I don’t need to know everything. I can support the real experts in telling their stories.

  7. Bill

    Bill, USA. As a gay man I have been thinking about the “colonizing” that was imposed by the dominant heterosexual society. This observation provides an interesting bridge for me to explore the “damage” story within my community as well as to be alert for similar stories from other communities.

  8. Jasmine

    I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The privilege in expertise, advice can be detrimental to clients, instead a de centered approach allows the client to feel agency, autonomy and feel like an expert. People will protect what they feel value to, even in the face of trauma. Evaluation through pausing and reflecting, a client can ask for consent for the influence of what has been externalized, for example paranoia, and as a result uncovers and clarifies values. Re-membering allows someone to find their own antidote to their externalized problem, in ways that enables reclamation. I can see the value of these skills and strategies while collaborating with a school that is located in an indigenous community. I mainly work in schools and acknowledge my privilege as the history of colonization shows up in my privilege.
    The concept of the de-centered therapist to me, is a way of professional life that maybe at first is intentional in execution but becomes integrated into whom the therapist is with the client. When a therapist is influential, it means that they hold the session, not the client, and allow the richness of the session content to flourish, such as scaffolding, and exploring. Collaboration with the client is made possible, these concepts can be used when I collaborate with teachers at schools as well, especially during consultations with them.

  9. Amanda Clifford

    Amanda in Limerick, Ireland
    Each country has its own way of communicating a narrative & through that, expressing family experiences in emotional stories. I am learning to use the Narrative Approach while collaborating with my clients & our communities to help them with the trauma of past, that has been the storyline through generations. Thank you for sharing this important approach to help tell stories that haven’t been spoken.

  10. Shannon

    Shannon from Sydney, Australia

    For the past 10 years, I have been working with minority groups who are labelled my media and general social stereotypes as “damaged” and less likely to aspire than others. These “damaged stories that are the most easily accessible, as expressed by Tileah, has underscored to me the need to incorporate the personal narrative with the larger social stereotypes and challenges that people face, as they can directly impact that same personal narrative. Tracing elements of survivace is something I will take forward into my work with these groups, as well as the assumptions and beliefs they have about the dominant culture, and how alternative ways of knowing and being can be celebrated and forged.

  11. EdaUtku

    Eda from Sydney here.

    Somehow the discussions here connected me to one of my favourite films of all time, The Breakfast Club about five seemingly very different juvenile delinquents who end up in high school detention. By the end of the day, they see more similarities than differences.

    Through collaboration with the people we’re “yarning with for a purpose” we cultivate sensitivity, greater humanity, perhaps the gold that would enable us to write a story as poignant as The Breakfast Club, but we can call it the Christmas Club as have we really thought about whether the idea of Australian Christmas even honours the wealth of cultures that make up this land, for example?

    Accountability or reciprocity is what builds trust within a society and the more ways we can introduce scenarios where we are accountable to each other (not just formal jobs that most people tend to find pointless and hate) the better. Narrative therapy approach resonates with me as it is a conversation and not one person is more knowledgeable or authoritative than the other.


    This “chapter” drew me into both encouraging (i.e., retrospective) and inviting (i.e., future-oriented) reflection. I was mindful that, based on external appearance, it is easy for those I work with to perceive me as a representative of those who have colonized and oppressed. This awareness has made me aware of the limitations that are imposed with ‘names’ such as client, patient, parollee, student, intern, and even counsellee. This awareness draws me to acknowledge the dangers of being seen to collaborate with the oppressors and to adopt a position of humility in which I learn from the other and move toward what Augsburger refers to as “interpathy” which can only develop as I am able to see the world through the lens of the other person.

    As Sue Mann and the other contributors to this chapter identified, some individuals live with dominant which they experience as limiting. In my experiuence this happens when the person’s identity and personal story is hidden behind either a coporate dentity such as “spouse/child abuser,” “abuse/accident victim,” “immigrant,” “accident victim,” etc. In recent my experience, a significant colonizing influence is the insurance system which can limit an individual and their identity to a diagnosis which empasizes limitations and de-emphasizes competencies.

    At this point, I suspect the most relevant next step involves working with individuals in ways that invite them to take an active role in developing their own treatment goals and to collaborate with them about the treatment plan.


    Jillian. Australia. I always type up draft feedback forms with brief notes on each session as required by my organisation to ensure continued funding. I then routinely email these to collaborate with my clients until we agree on what they feel comfortable revealing outside of the counselling session. I believe this has the added benefit of refreshing for the clients what we discussed without any depth, and it gives them a sense of ownership over what is being said about them. In particular they find it useful if I include brief dot points on what we plan on doing in our next session e.g. goal setting, and homework e.g. client intends on following up on meal planning with NDIS.

  14. ManmeetKaur

    This is Manmeet from India. Sue Mann’s idea of collaboration is a powerful tool but due to the principle of confidentiality I don’t know how to use it in my work.The therapist is influential but not imposing is the essence of the counselling process. As a Japanese saying goes, do not catch a fish for a hungry person but teach him how to fish so that he can always catch a fish for himself. So when we make our clients realize their own strengths and skills, they can make right choices for themselves .

  15. Sophie Moroney

    Hi Sophie from Melbourne, Australia here! I enjoyed reading Sue Mann’s article. In my personal experience of going to see doctors and therapists and my professional experience I have never thought a lot about medical notes and who sees them and how personal these notes are. This article made me think about how I could use collaboration in my work and how powerful this could be in giving people ownership over the direction of their therapy and what other professionals know about them.

  16. Chrissy Gillmore

    Kia ora, Chrissy from New Zealand. I only live a few minutes drive from the Just Therapy Team, yet have not yet visited them! I think I must remember to continue to listen to the ‘story behind the story’. I do like this and it also reminds me of person centred therapy where we’re working on the edge of awareness. I really appreciated the last video. I do like the concept of decentering and influential because it privileges the client’s expert knowledge of themselves and what they want. They have an entire history of themselves. I love the concept of listening for the story behind the story, the alternative stories, where clients have worked in the acts of resistance to broader issues. I also like the concept of the presence of shame and how this can be rooted in colonisation. This was a really great chapter, thank you.


    Personally, I really enjoy collaborating with others on all sorts of projects! I’ve worked on research projects, clinical consultations/conceptualizations…all of these with collaborators. It helps get a better picture of what you’re trying to accomplish. Everyone you’re working with has something to bring to the table, and when everyone respects each other there is so much that can be accomplished! Some collaborations are mandated by management or some other ‘higher up’, which can create an initial tension in collaboration. However, I’ve found that once you go into that initial meeting with others on a positive note and voice your willingness to work together, it seems to work out alright.
    For me, the steps to build collaborations comes from having an open-door policy! Make your interests known to others, and when they are discussing something you’re interested in, join the conversation! Don’t be afraid to mention that you would be interested in collaborating…that’s how it all gets started!

  18. Rebecca

    Rebecca from Singapore. I think collaborations are possible when the worker and client have a mutual agreement and understanding of the process. What I’m curious about is how does legal issues come into recording, especially in Sue Mann’s article about medical records? The confidentiality of those records and if there is danger apparent. I think sometimes it might be difficult to draw a clear line and collaboration also does not mean allowing the client to do as they wish. I really like the terms ‘sense of belonging’, ‘spirituality’, ‘hope and inspiration and reconciliation and freedom’ as key pointers towards in collaboration.

  19. Jennifer Guest

    Jennifer writing from Canada. I am particularly intrigued by Sue Mann’s collaborative process in the hospital records of patients. I think it is very powerful and could be a total game changer for people but am very curious to how that could be done in my province under the college’s rules around record-keeping. I think that questions like, “how is this conversation going for you?” or “should we keep talking about this or would you be more interested in…?” are absolutely crucial in the therapy process. It gives the client the license to be in control of their own story, skills and knowledges.

  20. Pierre Matthee

    Pierre Matthee, Johannesburg, South Africa. I really liked the article by Sue Mann. As a social worker in a medical field, documenting in files are often difficult. By collaborating with the client/patient is such an amazing and wonderful idea. Thank you!

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