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 219 Comments

  1. Michele

    I l live in Victoria, BC, Canada. I am presently working toward a Master’s of Counselling degree. In a beautiful bit of synchronicity, this chapter includes a video of Vikki Reynolds of Vancouver, BC speaking about the Dulwich Centre’s Intersectional Feminist Narrative Project. Last term, Vikki Reynolds work was included in some course content. This week, we are exploring Feminist Theory. I am still vibrating at the intersection that I have just stumbled across as I begin my journey into the world of Narrative Therapy. I am remotely learning via the Dulwich Centre, which is half way around the world from me, only to discover a project that I feel passionate about because of my own feminist work and find myself inspired and speared on by the work of a local woman in this field. Below is the quick post I just added to my academic cohort’s discussion board related to this wonderful discovery. Thanks Dulwich Centre!!

    I LOVE this synchronicity! I have been working through the Dulwich Centre’s free on-line introductory course and came across this video through their Intersectional Feminist Narrative Project. It is a 15-minute video from Vikki Reynolds of Vancouver. Some of her writing crossed our desks in 502, and I used some of her material in my Resistance Project. If you have 15 minutes, this video is rich and current, and relevant to our learning and conversations.

    One of Reynolds’ examples around the intersections of feminism really resonates with me. Like Reynolds, and prior to birth control being readily available for unmarried women (let alone adolescents) and before abortion was legalized in Canada (1988), there was an underground network of information for sexually active youth/women. I was privy to this information during my teenage years (1980-1985). I knew that it cost $500 US and the trouble of crossing the border to Seattle to access abortion services. I saw what this meant played out in the lives of young women/friends around me. Reynolds recalls learning that while white women were striving for reproductive rights/services in Canada, indigenous women were being forcibly sterilized in Canada. I have been aware of forcible sterilization, but until these two realities were juxtaposed in this video — I did not see the stark relief. Wow.

  2. Polly Rodgers

    Hi all, I’m Polly from Stroud, UK. I’m a freelance facilitator and researcher. I became interested in narrative practices about 10 years ago when I was volunteering for a community mediation charity in London (at the time the only mediation org – I believe! – in the UK using narrative approaches, sadly closed now). It’s continued to be a thread through my work and now I’m looking for ways to make it more central. I knew about narrative therapy and narrative mediation, but for a long time I’ve been looking for a narrative approach to working with communities. I only came across collective narrative approaches recently. This module really excited me. I was particularly struck by the ‘Little by little we make a bundle’ project and the work of the CARE Counsellors & Yvonne Sliep. I loved the playful way that AIDs and CARE were externalised and given voices as characters with the potential to harm or help the community. I also appreciated the way that symbolism and ritual were incorporated at the end of the project when each member of the community was given one of the sticks that formed the unbreakable bundle, as a reminder of collective strength and the power of standing together.

  3. Kim Leebody

    I really enjoyed this chapter, especially using stories of survival, to talk about resources, skills and hopes for the future. It shifts the conversation from despair to a conversation about internal resources and drive to make life better. The practice enables the whole community to witness each other’s dream and its the community spirit that allowed each member to take their individual steps towards change. I think that the tree of life is an excellent tool for helping people see themselves from another position. It enables an individual to look at their story and the strengths gained from their life. It enables the restoring of sometimes traumatic experiences into the learning that came from the event not withstanding the pain. It offers a both and perspective which can be helpful in helping the person build on their strengths, resilience and experience.

  4. Eleanor

    The project that had really fascinated me was the ‘Little by little we make a bundle’ project which helped to address AIDs and HIV in Malawi. I think like with the sugar paper in the previous chapter, the project involved constructing separate characters to help make the topic of HIV and AIDS a lot less stigmatising so people were able to express their concerns and issues. Since a virus cannot be seen, having the characters ‘Mr/Mrs Care’ and ‘Mr/Mrs AIDS’ provided Malawi citizens a discourse to be able to confront and express their worries without judgement. Another important and incredible part of the project which was introducing a physical metaphor (collectively breaking the tree branch) to emphasise the importance of being there for one another in helping to overcome AIDs and HIV as a community – it must have been very empowering for the Malawi citizens.


    I really enjoyed this chapter. . As a counselor this chapter is extremely beneficial to me as it helps me to create a safe space for my clients and gives me a better understating of the external factors which are disturbing the client. I work with clients who have faced abuse , the tree of life approach will be extremely beneficial for such cases

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