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 58 Comments

  1. Eda

    “Yarning with purpose” that resonated with me. As a writer who seeks others’ stories, this is what I aim for. I bring conscious intention to change the narrative to empower and inspire the person I’m speaking to. Thank you.

  2. Soraya Sek

    Thanks Tileah, I love the idea of “yarning with a purpose” to reduce the stigma of counselling and mental health treatment. I also really appreciate the concrete prompts to deconstruct Shame.


    This really resonated with me Tileah. Reading the stories about the brave women you support inspired me. An important point you make about narrative practices being seen as political and spiritual action- embrace the resistance! I like the way you externalised Shame through visualisation techniques and will incorporate some of these ideas into my own practice.

  4. scotra

    Thank you for providing some context around the political nature of purposeful yarning. I have been doing that in my practice, but got so focussed on the micro end of practice and using it to strengthen individual’s views of their own stories that I neglected to keep my eye on the bigger picture of strengthening the narrative of the group, and First Nations peoples more broadly.


    Thank you Tileah, the daily journey of de-colonising ones mind is important and well worth thinking about and working towards.. Aunty Carolina’s term ‘Yarning with a purpose’ and listening for the story beneath the story all struck a cord with me. Words matter and yes Counselling and Therapy can feel so clinical. SURVIVANCE – from Vizenor acknowledging both terms survival and resistance also something new to me. I’m enjoying the learning.

  6. Marika Van Ooyen

    Thank you to Tileah For the passionate and authentic spoken and written words about decolonising identity and practice. So much stood out for me and made me reflect on my own clinical practice and the stories I am privileged to hear. What resonated for me most is the importance of people being able to define wellbeing in their own way, not in colonised perceptions that the mental health system prioritises. The importance of acknowledging shame and the barriers it creates with a focus on finding the strong story, the resistance story and what wellness means to people are all priorities I wish to carry into my work in partnership with people.

  7. Anna Quon

    I loved the examples of various people who have been through this practice with you… they were stories that made clear for me the concepts you were talking about, from shame to damage-centred stories to migration of identity. this practice makes me hopeful that there is a way to help individuals begin to tell themselves a different, strong story about themselves.


    I particularly like how Tileah yarned about Shame.
    What this means for the person who has voiced Shame. Asking externalizing open questions.
    What does shame look like?
    Where did they first notice when shame entered their journey?
    Where does the person feel shame came from?
    This reminds me of the importance of acknowledging, understanding, respecting our culture’s past as individuals family, community and the spiritual connectedness we have with each other, our countries, our Ancestors. The ways in which we people tell stories for example: songs, dance, yarning, paintings and
    other art mediums. The importance of wholistic health and wellbeing and what this means for individual people.

  9. Roy

    thank you for giving the knowledge and insight to a more suited style of communicating that anyone can practice. Too long, we as people have had to accept the “western style” of living and been made to think there is something wrong if we do not adapt to it. Cannot wait to use the tools offered

  10. Sophia

    Thank you Tileah!
    Your chapter made me think about journeys in a larger context. I guess when people come to me with different problems – it is always a journey. And sometimes it is only beginning and it could be useful to tell about it. If people know about liminal phase they can be better prepared to difficulties. Also it may help them not to expect ideal and quick results by themselves.
    And also thanks a lot for question examples. It will be very useful for my practise!
    And one more thanks for the subtitles 🙂

  11. Amelia Larson

    I really enjoyed reading about Tileah’s personal practice with clients, particularly regarding the connections mapping she does with clients at the onset of the therapeutic relationship. This is an act of vulnerability for the therapist as well as the client that so rarely exists in western therapeutic modalities. I understand the importance of kinship connections to many cultures. I see parallels between connections mapping and the concept of socially locating. Connections mapping also appears to serve as an act of transparency and identifying any dual-relationships. This must strengthen the therapeutic alliance while also giving clients the information about possible connections. This could be considered true informed consent in that clients can choose to continue the therapeutic relationship. Thank you for sharing a piece of your journey Tileah.


    Thank you Tileah, I found the concept of “Yarning with a Purpose” so powerful and wish I had learned about this in my degree. It really resonated with me in the way we use western theories to ‘fix’ someone when we are not really ‘hearing’ what the true story behind what is going on for that person. Such a bold statement to allow someone to recognize that yes “the problem is the problem, [I] are not the problem”. This gives power to the person we are yarning with and allows healing to come from within rather than trying to ‘fix’ the person through Western ideologies. I felt I had an understanding of what shame is for Aboriginal people after reading and learning from others, but the way you have written it here really outlines how deep that shame runs through generations. The examples you gave of opening up the conversation early and allowing the client to deconstruct what shame means for them would be, I imagine very powerful for that person and also for the therapist to gain that deeper understanding. Once again thank you so much, I am loving this course:)

  13. Rina

    Thank you so much Tileah for sharing your ideas so sensitively – it was so powerful hearing you describing ways you have helped thicken preferred stories for your mob and using “yarning with a purpose” to invite the wisdoms of the elders into your lives. Those stories that you are giving audience to certainly encourage individual and collective pride in indigenous heritage and step away from shame and medicalised accounts of people’s lives which are so damaging. Honouring our ancestors and heritage and telling stories in ways that make us stronger resonates for me so much in my own culture as a Jewish 2nd generation Holocaust survivor. Shining a light on stories of resistance and appreciation of family and community has informed so much of who I am today. Allowing individuals and communities to be experts in their own lives and using definitional ceremony to create audiences to these practices is so valuable.

  14. Nanci Lee

    Found this chapter quite powerful too. The concept of “survivance.” So much is laid on us as individuals healing and dealing with mental health issues. I find comfort and space in naming that these are structural issues of adaptation, survival and defiance or resistance. I look forward to learning more about how practically-speaking to yarn with a purpose and affirm in ways that resonate with people. It must take time and delicate holding to shift how we see these things together.

  15. Yolanda Chavez Leyva

    Tileah, I learned quite a bit in your chapter about yarning and doing this work in a culturally appropriate way. I was especially interested in your discussion of shame. In my work as an educator and historian, I often speak to students who feel great shame and label it as such that they have lost their mother language and cultural practices. They feel inferior and less than. Often when I describe the history of oppression and colonization, the ways in which societal institutions (especially schools) made a project out of cutting them, their parents and grandparents, off from our culture, they tell me their shame diminishes because they see it is not “them” who are to blame. The idea of “the problem is the problem; the person is not the problem” resonates do deeply with my experiences as a teacher and historian. Thank you.


    Thank you Tileah for providing such important understanding around the experience of therapy/counselling being seen as ‘colonising’, which fails to consider or recognise how the Aboriginal people have been treated and forces them to attend counselling which further reinforces this experience of disempowerment. I’m now able to see the importance of using ‘yarning’ to have conversation which brings meaning-making to their stories, without focusing on the damage-centred story which is based on stereotypes of poverty and incarceration and is often the most accessible to aboriginal people.


    Thanks so much Tileah for the yarn about decolonising practice. It had never occurred to me to use the work ‘counselling’ with my clients in Cape York communities for the one of the reasons you had identified: that there is a stigma around accessing counselling. Often in case planning meetings it would be listed as a requirement for parents to attend counselling however I would always organise a time to take the counsellor out to meet the family and when I would introduce them I would say ‘This is ___ they are here to yarn to you about anything that is giving you stress, making you sad or to help understand everything that is going on’. I’d talk to them about how hard it is to be dealing with Child Safety and that it’s important for them to get their family and people like ___ (the counsellor) around them to help them so they don’t feel like they’re doing it all on their own’. I also love the idea of externalising the problem and the shame and exploring when it has and hasn’t been there in the past.


    Thank you Tileah for sharing your idea of de-colonised practice, there were some new concepts for me. For people sent for mandatory therapy you suggest ÿarning with a purpose”; and for sitting with people with “damage centred stories”, you suggest giving them the power to determine what well-being means for them. Empowerment as a result of a de-colonised approach allows for political action and spiritual practice.

  19. Natalie

    Thank you Tileah for sharing your idea of de-colonised practice, there were some new concepts for me. For people sent for mandatory therapy you suggest ÿarning with a purpose”; and for sitting with people with “damage centred stories”, you suggest giving them the power to determine what well-being means for them. Empowerment as a result of a de-colonised approach allows for political action and spiritual practice.

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