Decolonising identity stories

Decolonising practice

An introduction from Tileah Drahm-Butler

Decolonising Identity Stories

Tileah Drahm-Butler discusses how narrative therapy can be used as a decolonising practice.



Now you can read Tileah’s chapter on the same topic:

Decolonising identity stories: Narrative practice through Aboriginal eyes

This chapter is from the book Aboriginal narrative practice: Honouring Storylines of price, strength and creativity by Barbara Wingard, Carolynanha Johnson and Tileah Drahm-Butler

Closing words from Tileah

This Post Has 72 Comments

  1. Eugene

    Hello everyone!
    Thank you Tileah for such a fascinating and insightful talk! I was really interested in the points you made about the politics of experience, and how looking at these issues within stories can contextual shame…leading to further strategies for externalising shame. It was a really interesting talk, thank you so much.

  2. Cynthy Reese

    I have much to learn of the impacts of colonization. There is so much strength in the invitation to consider the problem as separate and distinct from the person and their culture. Even just in this short time I have been privileged enough to ask another if the coping narrative they had for themselves was theirs or was it from another in the group? When did it show up? Do you remember your story without their shadow? Hold onto your hats! Heart and head connected, there was a glimmer then a full frame of the strength and determination that has stood firm since 1788. Now to strengthen the remembering.


    Tileah’s video and chapter are something I’ve now read and watched more than twice. Her experiences and teachings are so relevant to my work as a mental health peer support worker and also my current Master of Social Work studies where I’m learning how to decolonize or rather, unsettle, my practice as a settler on Anishinaabe land on Turtle Island (Canada). It is helpful for me to remember the ways in which colonization impacts peoples’ wellness, but also that there are stories of resistance and resilience for Indigenous people within those experiences of colonization.

  4. Kate Coomber

    Hi from Melbourne.
    I really liked the last part of Decolonising Stories where Tileah writes about mapping, and how useful and relevant this can be for Aboriginal people with an oral and visual history of storytelling. It is something we should all learn as the map is an object of significance in so many ways. For colonised peoples – especially here in Australia, mapping and labelling places was an assertion of ownership and a way to keep people in or out of places. Drawing your own map, with interior reference feels especially relevant for narrative therapy. I also love the idea of yarning with a purpose. Of speaking to the strengths in the story and finding an underlying but stronger narrative about people’s advocacy and self-efficacy.

  5. Zach

    One of the more powerful things I held onto from this section was the following statement:
    “Placing skills and knowledge in history, with rich descriptions of how they were learned, can enable these to be more accessible to one’s identity story; therefore, to the conclusions that they make about themselves.”
    This has stuck in my mind as an excellent example of how powerful narrative therapy can be for anyone, especially indigenous cultures. In order to understand ourselves, we must understand where and who we come from. Helping people understand who they are through story telling of generations past is an excellent way of providing this self sense of meaning, and I for one am very excited to learn more and add this to my skill set.

  6. Molly

    Prior to these videos and readings I was unfamiliar with the term decolonization. Tileah explained well how we as therapists and clinicians can help provide space for clients tell their stories in decolonized ways through Narrative Therapy practices, especially because the words counseling or therapy can be seen as colonizing. As a counselor in training myself, I think it is easy to forget that there is still a stigma against mental health and therapy no matter how much I wish that stigma would go away. It’s extremely prevalent still in today’s society and we can harm our clients by not remembering the social pressures and embarrassment attached to those who seek help for their mental health. This can can a lack of progress as it may deter clients from opening up or being completely vulnerable. Furthermore, there are different stigmas in different cultures to take into consideration which is both difficult but rewarding when working to understand clients of different cultures better. I am eager to learn more.

  7. Rita

    Thank you to Tileah for such a powerful sharing on the subject of decolonising identity stories. There is significant reframing of my work available through these teachings. I really resonate with the ideas of “yarning with a purpose” and “re-authoring strong stories” through the use of narrative practice. The practice of defining wellbeing in one’s own way feels like a very useful place to begin guiding a therapeutic yarn.


    I find some tension in the language I use in my work with clients, and the labels and language I feel I need to use to advocate for my clients within a ‘colonised’ world. I am usually more sensitive to this than my clients are – they know they need to behave a certain way to get what they need in a mostly non-Aboriginal world. It is good to have the reinforcement of the concept that single stories are incomplete (in my letters there is most often a single story, while still trying to tell the story in a way that support the client’s strength).

  9. Bonnie Borchardt

    I teach at a Training Center in Zambia, I’m a Chaplain and Registered Psychotherspist in Canada I’m taking this course alongside our Zambian Counselling students and I want to learn how to respect their traditions while we present counselling practices we learned in our Universitues and Seminaries. We try to bridge the cultural differences by having translators who are themselves mental health practitioners. They can fill the places we miss and tell us what we need to understand about Zambian families. This course is really helping me be more conscious of respecting tradition and continuing to learn. Thank you for stretching us and keeping us accountable.

  10. Warwick Wallace

    I reflect back now how clear stories were told by our old people that were in detail and created that imagery to embed into our minds as children but also how it can be engaged in therapeutic conversations towards healing. Very powerful.


    As someone who has studied narrative therapy from a Western lens (as I learned about it through my western education), the idea of narrative therapy being decolonizing is extremely powerful. I have worked in indigenous communities in Canada for years and have often found that “counselling” or “therapy” and my position as a social worker is often situated in a colonial framework. If the basis of the work its self is colonial, what hope do I have to do my work in a decolonizing way. I had known that Narrative Therapy came from Indigenous frameworks and was taken and westernized. But to hear how narrative therapy was intended to be and how at its heart it is decolonizing is really powerful for me. It allows me to better situate individual experiences in the collective in my work and properly acknowledge the history of colonization and how that in turn affects the story of the individual I am working with. I also love how it brings forward the stories of the ancestors and the skills and knowledge that have been passed down. I am very excited to continue to learn more.

  12. petronela

    Decolonization is not a term that is usually used in our everyday conversation. So this presentation helped to understand the term much much better, and i believe the knowledge with be useful when offering therapy services.

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