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 128 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed learning about the Mt Elgon Self-Help Community project, community members creating togetherness, young people’s smiles, creating their journeys in booklets, receiving feedback, building strengths. This was so inspiring.

  2. There are 3 things that really stood out for me in this section: The personification of Aids and Care in the Little by Little article was inspiring, as was the Muslim video where young people are taking the lead to enact change. I also believe that Music is so powerful, so Narrative Therapy and Music seem to go so well together. Music is such a creative way to enable people to write about what is happening for them and to process these emotions and things that have happened to them. Music enriches storytelling. Having a musical background, I want to experiment more with this idea.

  3. Goodmorning from Cyprus!
    The Tree of Life concept, a popular metaphor focusing on how life is facilited through conversations. I can see “witnessing life stories”, “enrichment of preferred stories”, “deconstruction of problem stories” in the Tree of Life process. I can see potential in applying it in school settings where families and the community collaborate. It could be used with traumatised children, refugees, teenagers in emotional pain. It is a psychosocial approach easily adaptable to work with various school-wide populatios. Where do you come from? Who are the people more special to you? What is your family’s motto or saying?What skills are you good at? Questions that invite children to tell stories about themselves and their relationships with others. Very powerful material. Thank you.

  4. Mandi from Calgary, AB

    One of the things I enjoyed most on this page was seeing African ways of knowing displayed so clearly. I have been struggling to find ways to connect with Western Ways of knowing, and it’s a relief to see myself reflected in these approaches.

  5. I enjoyed how David Denborough’s ‘rescuing words’ part from his discussion of the use of song in narrative practice. Words are so powerful not only to individuals but to groups and communities as well.

  6. The Tree of Life was amazing to read. I’ve started to think about how beneficial this would be for making meaning out of trauma. I’m currently about to finish a webinar series training in trauma and this had me thinking about how meaning making isn’t usually an approach that is used within the first phase of trauma treatment (using Hermans model of trauma). However, I have been reflecting on Aboriginal ways of knowing, being, and doing and the ways in which meaning making is very important to this cultural group. Hence, I can see how placing meaning to the experience is something many people from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities seem to thrive and do already. I appreciate learning ways other cultures can transform therapeutic knowledge and ways of practice- and Tree of Life opened my eyes up to differing ways of practice.

  7. I enjoyed reading about the Tree of Life and also about the work in progress about linking young people’s stories about living with a parent with mental illness. In my work with young people there is so much stigma and shame within the family in these cases and I think narrative practice could be of great help

  8. Caleb Mackey from the state of Kentucky in the United States of America. My two favorite parts were the little by little we make a bundle article and the song catcher. I enjoyed the little by little because of how it signifies the importance of people being unified in order to better fight the opponent. Teamwork makes the dreamwork. I also enjoyed the song catcher because my undergraduate was in vocal music. Music is one of my passions and I can see how using narratives can make excellent lyrics for a song that can inspire others!

  9. I really enjoyed learning more about how Collective Narrative Practices can be implemented and integrated within communities. I appreciated reading the article the article Little by Little we Make a Bundle and learning how villagers were able to connect to their own histories and create caring communities and take collective action.

    I also appreciated learning about the Mt. Elgon project in Uganda and how Narrative Practices enabled them to “spark and sustain local social action and environmental and economic projects”. Reviewing the steps that the community took to envision and celebrate their hopes and dreams was powerful.

    I am hopeful and excited to use Narrative practice with my clients and help them envision their own dreams.
    Rockville, MD, USA

  10. Hello Everyone
    I like the most Mt. Elgon Self-Help Community project because it is related to community like my profession . Moreover, it helps people to recognize their strengths, and empower them to move forward in their life.

  11. This one caught my eye as I am in the middle of working on a huge project within the community using many of these ideas. It is great to see this course is out for everyone to see. To be able to have communities come together would be amazing for everyone.

  12. Beautiful stories and interesting to see how narrative therapy can be applied not just to individuals and families but also to entire communities. Inspirational. Thank you.

  13. I really enjoyed learning about the Mt. Elgon Self-Help Community project because of the emphasis on community building and lifting up young people. They worked together to share stories of pride and survival, listened and asked questions about witness accounts, and looked at their hopes and dreams while connecting them to the histories of these hopes and dreams. I also really appreciated the call to action for young people and acknowledged the progress being made.

    What I am curious about is using the Tree of Life approach in Narrative Therapy. I believe that I have clients currently who would really benefit from speaking about their roots without becoming re-traumatized.

  14. Writing in London, England. This page was difficult for me. The tree of life, and also the “messages to other men” videos, emphasising knowing your culture and your roots. Because my family moved here from elsewhere, I don’t really know where I am from. I never really knew any of my aunts or uncles or cousins. (I think some of them are now in NZ or Australia, as it happens.) Any attempt to “go back” or engage with a culture or language i know nothing about, feels very artificial and pointless. I am of England now, and my children all regard themselves as entirely English, even though I am not.

  15. I am currently working with families from Aboriginal backgrounds. The stories of Mt Elgon and the Australian Aboriginal Communities encourage me to keep asking these families to share their stories and to work alongside them to help them recognize their strengths, victories and the way they want to move forward. I am passionate about what I do and the stories you have shared help me to keep going though sometimes my own heart breaks with the stories shared.

  16. I found myself engaged with the idea of sharing the skills of one community with another. I can see how this would increase their sense of capacity as well as their connections. I imagine the reduced isolation would create more hope for change.

  17. The idea or project that stood out for most in this Collective Narrative Practices chapter was in the article Little by Little we Make a Bundle. In particular, personifying the problem of aids and allowing the community to talk about through the medium of drama. In particular, I found it really neat utilizing the two characters of Mr/Mrs. Aids and Mr/Mrs. Carer to address change and create the alternative narrative from suffering to courage.

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