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 205 Comments

  1. Rhianne

    Rhianne from Brisbane.
    I love that narrative practices go beyond individuals and in to communities and groups of people in ways that are culturally appropriate and not too therapy-ish. I found Paulo Freire’s use of language in his piece powerful – the responsibilities we have to fighting oppression in creative ways. Using songs makes a lot of sense but I am not musical so I get bit put off by that line of working.

  2. Jasmine

    I live in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The statement by Yvonne Sliep stands out to me the most as she said that ideas are generated from the inside, not being imposed form the outside. This to me reflects how healing comes from the inside communities, not by facilitators on the outside. When healing from the outside is facilitated, it continues the story of colonization. This parallels work in Canada regarding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, developed by indigenous persons and communities that rather than being facilitated by the Canadian government and other supports, was held, and heard by the ‘outsider’.
    I found that the Suitcase intervention is an accessible and impactful way of helping, especially children from marginalized communities, conceptualize their identify and what their place and role in is community. Using recycled materials, and easy to find low cost materials, I would start to experiment with the suitcase intervention by bringing the materials to the rural community I live in and providing individual or small group therapy creating the suitcases.


    I continue to be enthralled with this journey; the concept of our responsibilities as healers for local social action and justice; the incredible innovation in adapting narrative concepts to local context for powerful results, the power of words like “ripples of conversations”; and then the power of song and its linkage to outsider witnessing – loving it!

  4. Georgina

    I was particularly drawn to the article about Mr/Mrs AIDS and Mr/Mrs Care. It seems that it is an approach that could be easily adapted to a number of different contexts. I think it would work particularly well with young people who may sometimes be reluctant to openly discuss taboo or difficult topics with adults/outsiders.

    I am also drawn to the idea of using songs as part of the therapeutic process as I am conscious of the power of music in my own life to help me to move through the whole gamut of human emotions and challenges.

  5. nguyenju

    This is Juanna from Canada. An idea that stands out to me the most at this time is the use of song in narrative practice. As a music therapist, this idea appeals to me greatly because of this acknowledgment of the use of music having a therapeutic effect in combination with psychotherapy. I intend to continue to do music therapy again in the future, whenever that may be. And I would like to experiment with songwriting interventions using narrative concepts of attending to alternative stories in my practice.

  6. Shereen2809

    I’m Shereen from Singapore! First and foremost, I’d like to give a shout out to the team behind Dulwich Centre for the rich resources. Thank you so much for compiling these videos and articles.

    The Tree of Life approach stands out for me. This seems to be the one approach that transcends culture and therapy goals. Filling up one’s “tree” naturally prompts clients to reflect on their cultural narratives, histories, personalities, relationships, strengths, hopes, and dreams. Contrast this with the case of Mr/Mrs AIDS, the team had to do extensive research and thoroughly understand the community in order to design relatable characters. I also like the Tree of Life approach because it is intuitive for clients to pick up.

    What sparked my enthusiasm was the Mt Elgon Self-Help Community Project. I have always seen narrative therapy as a modality for individual or family counseling. This project showed me the possibility of using collective narrative practices to ignite social change. An exciting way to experiment with this in my community is to invite various age groups from the same neighborhood to share collective experiences and to brainstorm concrete steps to combat ageism.

  7. Amanda Clifford

    Hi, I am Amanda & I live in Limerick city in Ireland. I use Narrative Therapy with my one to one clients. But Narrative Therapy is such powerful tool when working with different communities. It gives communities the power to make a difference, the power to make changes. It harness each members’ strengths, knowledge & skills. Love learning about different projects, so much hope & understanding.

  8. Natalie

    I love narrative approaches to therapy, as it is so important to consider external factors that may affect individuals, families and communities. When people are faced with hardships, they tend to internalize the problems and blame themselves when often there are numerous factors that are contributing to their hardships or negatives outcomes. I love the tree of life approach because it is focused around empowerment and making people stronger or more resilient, and is very person-centered for example, individuals gets to complete their own ecogram or genogram but in the form of a tree. It is a privelege to be able to access such important and crucial information, thank you.

  9. Julio Grijalva

    Hello, Julio here, from El Salvador.

    The project that really caught my attention was the Tree of Life Project, I think it provides an excellent platform for people to get the most out of different narrative practices, such as externalization, re-membering conversations, the absent but implicit, for example.

    That is what piqued my interest about it, and as a volunteer practitioner at my university’s clinic, I hope to someday soon put it into practice with the people I get the chance to assist there.

  10. jackie.turner

    I really loved the Mr &Mrs AIDs paper. I loved the way that it created a safe space for questions and so created greater understanding within the community. I feel this could be adapted for work with children and young people within a pre bereavement group to offer the chance to ask questions and learn together and so build knowledge and understanding whilst also breaking down the isolation they can feel within their situation.


    Reflections on Documents and Audiences

    Very much enjoyed this ‘module’. Working predominantly with people within organisations, as groups or individuals, I recognised the benefit of my sharing with coaches reflection notes in an email following our conversations. I make clear that these are not ‘minutes’ so much as my recollection of the important things in our conversation. In sharing it, I also invite the coaches to let the notes trigger their own recollections, and to feel free to edit and amend the notes so that they become even more useful for coming back to in our next conversation. I did find myself wondering what other ‘documents’ I could begin experimenting with, such as documents of knowledge / authority at the conclusion of a programme of coaching for instance.

    I was particularly interested in ways I might incorporate outsider witness practices into organisational conversations. Having ‘fishbowl’ conversations is fairly common, where one small group of people sit together in a circle with a group of colleagues observing and listening from an outer circle. The roles and places would then be swapped, and those from the outer circle would then be invited in to have a conversation about what they heard and saw, while those who’d been in the original conversation sit on the outside, listening. I can imagine a number of ways of elaborating these practices to help elicit stories of workplace experience, for example as part of the design process for a development programme.

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