Collective Narrative Practices & Innovation Projects

The innovative projects which we discuss in this chapter draw on collective narrative practices that are concerned with responding to groups and communities who have experienced significant social suffering and oppression in contexts in which ‘therapy’ may not be culturally resonant. Collective Narrative Practices have a rich history and engage a diverse range of methodologies that can be used with individuals, groups and communities. In this chapter, we will just touch on a few methodologies …


“As counsellors, therapists, psychosocial workers and community workers, stories of hardship find their way to us. In some ways, we are cultural receivers of stories of suffering (Waldegrave, Tamaseses, Tuhaka & Campbell, 2003). And often this suffering is linked to broader injustices: to violence, abuse, racism, poverty, sexism, heterosexual dominance. To be the cultural receivers of these stories brings with it awesome responsibilities; for instance there are responsibilities to comfort and to somehow alleviate hardship. But there is another responsibility that I am hoping we will also engage with. How can we receive these stories and engage with them in ways that not only alleviate individual sorrow, but also enable and sustain local social action to address the broader injustices, violence and abuses in our varying contexts? How can we provide forums for the sorrow, anguish and hardship of the stories that we receive to be transformed into collective actions? I don’t mean grand social actions, I mean local, meaningful, resonant, sustainable, social action or social contributions’

(Denborough, 2008, p. 192)

For a link to the book you can visit Collective Narrative Practice by David Denborough 

The following paper is an example of conversations that have taken place in a number of villages in rural Malawi. Here practitioners engage problems in a personification with one worker playing the role of Mr/Mrs AIDS, who represents HIV/AIDS; and another plays the role of Mr/Mrs CARE, who represents the community. Members of the village are invited to ask questions of these two characters, and a conversation develops. Please click on the link to read about this compelling example of collective practice!

Little by Little we Make a Bundle

In this interview, Paulo Freire describes some of his thinking about oppression, ethical responsibilities and how these shape possibilities for social change. The work of Paulo Freire has influenced the development of collective narrative practices.

Making History and Unveiling Oppression

The Mt Elgon Self-Help Community Project, based in rural Uganda, uses narrative practices to spark and sustain local social action and environmental and economic projects. This video contains some of the stories of the work of Caleb Wakhungu and the Mt Elgon project.



One of the ways in which the field of narrative practice continues to diversify is through innovation projects. These are often the result of collaborations, invitations and challenges. Many of them involve ‘cross-cultural inventions’ and partnerships. You might like to explore some of these examples:

Tree of Life

Life Saving Tips from young Australian Muslims

Healing Stories Partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities

For more projects of this kind you can see the full list here:

Innovation Projects

Many narrative therapists and community workers are now using music and song in their work with individuals, groups, and communities. This page contains songs created during various Dulwich Centre projects both in Australia and overseas, as well as links to find out more about the contexts they were created in.

Songs as a response to hardship and trauma

You can listen to David Denborough discussing the use of song in narrative practice on the radio program ‘Songcatcher’, a Radio Adelaide production. 


For Reflection

Is there an idea or project that stands out to you most at this time?

What about this idea or project has sparked your enthusiasm or curiosity?

In what ways might you begin to experiment with these ideas or methodologies?



What do you think? Have you got an idea that might be interesting to exchange with others? Please let us know and share your thoughts on this chapter below before moving on. Please include where you are writing from (City and Country). Thanks!

This Post Has 166 Comments

  1. Alana Lewis

    Alana from San Diego, CA in the U.S.
    I really liked the Encyclopedia of Young People’s Knowledge and Life-Saving Tips. It inspired me to try to collect and save letters (with written consent) from future clients within the LGBT community. I think all the knowledge that was shared there could be helpful for future clients who want to hear from someone like them, who has actually experienced the same traumas or struggles because it makes it seem more normalized and possibly less alone. I think it was also helpful to hear the experiences as a counselor, because there is so much I have not experienced but want to understand as best I can.

    The music and songs projects were also amazing. There was so much to see and listen to that it was almost overwhelming to try to take in.

  2. Anita

    Anita from Singapore. Each and every project mentioned in this unit is special. The progressive nature of the narrative therapy that includes culture and justice as important elements of the healing process is unique and a departure from traditional therapy. I would love to be able to include music, another powerful medium of expression in the work that I do.

  3. Janine Holmes

    North Wales, United Kingdom,
    The use of metaphors and externalising issues enable children to create a different viewpoint and perspective to the one they see themselves in. It enables individuals, families and communities to alter their dominant narrative and own perspective to find possibilities and strengths within their own situations.

  4. Mercy Shumbamhini

    Hello, I am Mercy Shumbamhini from Harare, Zimbabwe. I am very grateful for this chapter, a lot of insights and a lot of learnings. I sincerely think that all of these projects would make a huge impact here in my context. I love the examples of projects to support social action and economic development. Paulo Freire’s interview was excellent. I also like the metaphor of the tree of life in working with children and families, etc. The AIDS and CARE dialogue provides an excellent framework to help communities become stronger in fighting against diseases and hardships. I was thinking it could be very helpful in building resilience and in empowering vulnerable groups in times of natural disasters and pandemics such as COVID-19.

  5. Isyeni

    Hi i´m from Mexico and I sincerely think that all of these projects would make a huge impact in communities where psychological help is in first order of importance. Yvonne Sliep conversations really made me think of problems that can be externalised and re-written in my context.
    I enjoy all of these examples because it was like being immersed in the moment they developed it.

  6. Aine Greaney

    HI I lead groups in expressive writing here in the U.S. and loved these examples of projects to support social action and economic development. I especially loved the Mt Elgon project. It seems to honour both our pasts and our future thinking, hopes and dreams.I was especially struck by a few things–the fact that it starts with a strengths-based focus. Also plan to use that element of the outsider witness. There is something both humbling and rewarding about hearing our own stories told back to us from an empathetic and attentive listener. In more than one project, I am impressed by that prospect of using a visual or non-narrative device to capture the story, e.g., the metaphor of the football match or the tree of life or the “forest” of communal life. In a previous module, we had that idea of using a road map to track our past and planned journeys. I think this will be really useful — esp among story-shy or reticent groups.


    I really love how adaptive the Narrative approach is in working within different communities and contexts. I also felt that the collective nature of the Narrative approach held so much power within it’s delivery. Hearing and seeing the different examples put forward within this chapter have been both thought provoking and enjoyable. Thank you for the work that you do at The Dulwich Centre.


      My apologies, I forgot to note, I am from Australia in Warrnambool, Victoria.

  8. John

    The issue of collective narrative (working with groups) could not have come at a better time as I have volunteered to work with a local group whose aim is to provide a safe environment (house) for a small number of vulnerable people, to get them fit and well enough to find their place in the community.

    This includes support for ex-offenders, ex-military, those suffering from mental health, those fleeing from modern day slavery and those recovering from the disease called addiction.

    This is a huge challenge and way outside of my ‘comfort zone’ but I feel led and inspired to be involved.

    The subject of externalisation – looking at individual and group perceptions of problems, talking and listening to each other, being honest and open will be key in this exercise and a huge learning curve for everyone concerned.

    The AIDS and CARE dialogue provides an excellent framework to help each individual tell their personal story, to listen to the stories of others, and hopefully reveal the identity of issues which seek to disrupt, destroy, create conflict “to divide and rule”. This then provides a platform to move on, and I love the philosophy from the Mt Elgan project, to raise heads above the clouds.

    I will be working in a small seaside town in South East England, where homelessness and poverty are taken for granted, and generally overlooked by our society, but taking a lesson from our brothers and sisters in Africa, we can help change lives.

  9. Jamie

    Jamie in Slave Lake, Canada
    There is not one of these projects that stood out to me, all of them spoke to me in some way. Watching the video about The Mt Elgon Self-Help Community Project was very interesting. Seeing how many people do things completely different than me is such a great way to learn new ways.


    Jennifer – Phoenix, Arizona, USA
    I’m intrigued by the idea of Collective Narrative (Denborough) for its seeming potential to literally build community where none exists yet. The examples provided, I appreciate, were inspiring testaments to existing groups living in hardship or poverty who are beautifully guided to strengthen or heal their people. Creatively re-writing, together, a collective stand against AIDS and toward care and healing (Sliep, et al), or gathering a group storyline that climbs incremental steps out of poverty and into sustainability (Wakhungu) make me dream outside the box a bit. Introducing art as an extension of those stories, the music and painting that become forms of solidarity and unification, further fuel my musings.

    What if a central listener–a story coach–worked to draw together storytellers who individually felt isolated and alone… and were in fact minimally connected to any social group? What if community could be built, person by person, from sharing and re-writing stories of struggle alongside one another? Though the struggles, of course, are uniquely individual, what comforts and strength might be gained within the small society of individuals learning to create preferred, thicker, richer stories for themselves? What art or service projects might they band together to forge? What isolation and emotional destitution might be assuaged?

  11. Jessie

    This is Jessie, working in Werribee Victoria. So many of these projects spoke to me, I am not sure which to highlight!
    The community conversations about HIV were so creative and respectful; true community consultation and respect for culturally safe conversations.
    I learnt so much reading about the narrative work occurring in Palestine. Especially the focus on humanizing victims of torture and trauma through their relationships with others. So much of our work is focused on the individual. We often forget the power of their context whether that is there work, their home environment, their relationship with their children.
    Also the work around preventing victims from becoming perpetrators of violence themselves really speaks to me. I work with sexual assault survivors many who have stories of inter-generational abuse and violence. This work is so important for the healing of our clients but also for future generations of children.


    Toronto, Canada. Starting to think how I could use narrative practices with a population living with psychosis. I had an interesting phone conversation with a client yesterday where I used NT approaches with her. She was hearing morbid voices and described her imagination as “wild”. We worked with this problem of “wild”, naming and characterizing it, its influence of the client, and how she affects it. She found it extremely helpful. Based on this experiencing and my learnings from this module, I am now giving much thought to how I could run groups with such a population, what would be the inclusion criteria, and what sort of questions I would ask. This module provides excellent resources for this. I particularly liked reading the Malawi HIV/AIDs and CARE article.

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