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 191 Comments

  1. Sarah

    Hi, this is Sarah from Gimuy Cairns, Australia. The sentence that stood out to me in this chapter was “being in the real world means to change and re-change the world, not to adapt to the world” from the interview with Paulo Freire. This made me think about how often “coping” is a goal in counselling and wondering if this is more a form of adaptation than a healthy skill building. I think it can be both. It will be something I’ll be thinking on more in sessions – is this a problem we should be “adapting” to, or one we should aim to change entirely?

  2. Kelvin

    I have taken extra time to reflect on this chapter… The question that has caused me most reflection is “In what ways might you begin to experiment with these ideas or methodologies?” Initially, the apparent limitations on my life due to COVID19 left me feeling doubtful that experimentation is possible. Then I considered that my roles in my various communities are largely limited to one-on-one contacts. It was at this point I began to reflect on my interests and passions and am now thinking about looking into whether there is a community project focusing on food sustainability that I might be able to work with.

  3. Chrissy Gillmore

    Chrissy from Aotearoa, New Zealand

    I really loved the first article ‘Pang’ono pang’ono ndi mtolo’
    This project used soooo many of the concepts of externalising, creating personas of the issues. I love the way the community was engaged before the group work took place. I love the Mr/Mrs AIDS and Mr/Mrs Care and how the villagers asked questions to these personas. I like that the questions were the same for the villian (AIDS) and to the hero (Care). I love that there was focus on the future, hopes, dreams, strengths. The celebration and documents were included at the end, as was future thinking around next steps and obtaining feedback regarding feelings from those who engaged in the process and the personas. It was a really cool process that brought together the concepts of narrative therapy. I think there is a lot of power in the process within the group. It’s really cool. I could see myself using a concept similar to this with ‘bullying behaviour’ at the school I work at. It really makes a lot of sense. I might put more discussion around the titles of the villian and hero though.


    I was really impacted by the community collaborations with the different indigenous populations. It really resonates how different communities experience similar problems, and coming together to discuss these problems can lead to solutions.

  5. kidsmoked

    I loved the interview, it really resonated with me. I’ve always wanted to write songs but something has always stopped me. It was a very entertaining and enlightening interview. Very Grant McLennan, David.

  6. jguest

    The Mount Elgon project really stuck with me. I loved the metaphor of raising their head above the clouds from the surrounding landscape. I thought that that was a very powerful image for the community. I also loved that the community members wrote down their stories in booklets that were then available for others to respond to. David Denborough’s songs in the interview at the end made me think of the power of music and how can help people to remember their own strengths, skills and knowledges. I am just about to embark on some work with women who have escaped human trafficking and this whole section has generated many ideas for me. I am excited

  7. marguerite

    Marguerite Sligo Ireland
    Empowering communities through collaboration, acknowledging stories, skills, histories and by working together,how communities take responsibility for and help themselves reach their potential.
    Many thanks for sharing such inspiring stories.


    What has really resonated with me is the passion and meaningfulness of each project. The one project Mental Health: supporting children whose parents are struggling with their mental health had me become curious as yes these children need to have a space to explore what is coming up for them. Bianca-South Australia

  9. Sharon Heinrich-Zweck

    There are so many variations on ways to use Narrative therapy. I feel like a dizzy kid in a sweet shop. How do I pick the best one for my context?

  10. Manmeet

    This is Manmeet from Punjab, India.The biggest problem we are dealing with is drug-addiction among the youth of Punjab. There are two ideas which have stuck out for me. Little by little we make a bundle and Healing stories partnership with aboriginal and Torres strait islander communities. Using these two techniques we can start a project which will involve the communities/villages and can work for the betterment of our youth.

  11. Caleigh-Anne Kennedy

    What has stood out for me is how empowering it is for participants to be able to share their stories, create their own documents, book, or songs. This enables them to be able to really own not only their skills and strengths but their whole story, their history and heritage.

  12. Jacob

    I really liked reading the interview with Paulo Freire where he talked about examining systems of oppression and expanding the way that we teach students in regard to social inequity. Reading about the ways education surrounding systems of oppression expanded awareness of systemic issues really got me thinking about ways that this could be used in therapy practice to give a new lens to view a client’s personal narrative through in a very similar way to feminist therapy. I loved the way that they invited those who were experiencing homelessness to be apart of their commune and the ways that through educating others they were able to create a 40,000 person march on their legislator to show the alternatives to the way that life currently was. I love the idea of expanding clients awareness to broader forms of violence that they are experiencing to better validate their experiences of poverty, homophobia, racism, or misogyny and help them to heal from the systems of trauma that they may have experienced.


    Jennifer, Ontario, Canada
    What stands out for me is the use of song to express oneself in a narrative way. This is a creative way to share thoughts, ideas, feelings in a comfortable way. I plan to use this approach with post secondary students.

  14. Danielle Terbenche

    I am writing from Toronto, Canada. I enjoyed many of these projects. I think what struck me most was that stories are given more power when both the individual and collective voices are captured in culturally-sensitive ways. As a historian (psychotherapy is a recent career change for me) I have been interested in exploring narratives. Single narratives frequently disempower individuals or groups of people. Lately, I think the “statue” debates/destruction in North America and elsewhere demonstrate this as statues impose a narrative. I wonder if a community project such as the ones presented in this unit might offer some solution as to these disagreements.

  15. Bill Sinclair

    Hello, I am writing from Seattle, Washington, USA. I was really moved by the article, Li.ttle by Little we Make a Bundle. I kept thinking of COVID-19 and how instead of listing to Ms Community, we are giving full voice to Mr COVID. Our crisis stems from remaining single sticks rather that forming a bundle. Separate but Together we are Safe and Strong. Cooperative action could save so many.

  16. Carol Tsang

    Greetings from Hong Kong. In my self-reflection, I believe that the collective approach is positive. It could strengthen the victim’s sense of organizing. However, how to trace the sorrow to the hope is another meaningful topic. The real hope is not only talking about a program or methodology. One’s belief about ‘who they are’ is their the core value. There are lots of reason why people to go through so much but the most important is what did they learn and what did they find. In the way, I think the narrative songwriting is to lead people to go back to see their life experiences and their own history. I might called them as a second time story re-telling.


    Pierre, Johannesburg, South Africa
    What stands out for me, is the power of people’s rich experiences, and how we can learn from them to again help others. This was particularly evident in the David Denborough insert.

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