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 117 Comments

  1. I feel very inspired by the collaboration of community in understanding challenges and concerns and putting the community at the centre of how to overcome these challenges. It’s so important not to assume one way of thinking, grieving or healing is best – which can be so destructive. A community’s social and cultural past and peoples’ strengths are not sidelines in this section’s stories. I am particularly grateful for reading Healing Stories Partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities. Thank you for allowing us to learn and understand more.

  2. Catherine from NW Western Australia. I was inspired to hear about ‘Little by little we make a bundle’ metaphor. A fantastic visual for remembering an important message and so the facilitation of the message meant that the learning was meaningful for individuals on so many levels.

  3. Hi Maureen from Australia, WA originally from South Africa. I loved the song by Mary Heath regarding domestic violence. This song touched me as this was my story for 23 years. Yes, indeed the question is not why doesn’t my sister just leave, the question should be When will you leave my sister…. alone. I am no longer a victim I am victorious.

  4. Unity as a Sign of Strength
    The bundle of sticks metaphor stood out for me:
    *one stick can fairly easily be snapped, but several sticks bundled together are impossible to break in half: little by little WE make a bundle.
    *1 stick can create a small fire easily extinguished. Many sticks can burn an entire bush. Strength in numbers.
    For peoples who are accustomed to communal living group therapy can be more culturally in tune with the needs of the community. I like the example of how the group would break into smaller, more homogeneous groups (men/women/youth) in order for their voices to be better heard and where they would then document a plan of action.
    Another metaphor, The Tree of Life, intrigued me. Someone mentioned in the comments below that this methodology has faced criticism. Can someone point me to those critiques? A google search doesn’t show any negative reviews as far as I can see.
    Talking about how some problems (cancer) can be meaningless and have no answers resonated with me. There are no answers to “Why?’ So how do we find meaning? Perhaps when the trees of life come together in the forest, families can see how their skills and knowledge can help others “get through the storms” and all is not for naught. Little by little our tress of life builds a forest that makes meaning and creates strength. In the Linking Stories and Initiatives article this concept of unanswerable questions was also addressed. One youth said that asking unanswerable questions is important because it shows respect for the person who has died. The living document of this article reminded me of the Making Sense of Suicide document from a previous module and I find these community documents helpful for all involved.
    Leah, Canadian in Cairo.

  5. There was so much to celebrate in this session. Mr & Mrs aids the Mt Elgan Self Help stories of the children and the creation of a solar panel. The learning to celebrate with traditional dance. The stories from the indigenous communities were and are inspirational. I am learning so much from these sessions. Thank you to all who have contributed.

  6. Before studying this chapter, I had already searched around to find details of “Tree of Life”. While, found more about it that lead me to implement one in my own practices. Thanks for sharing all these and look forward to gain more experiences for it.

  7. Anita from Waikato in New Zealand. I have been part of an on-line mum/step mum community for about 9 years now. While it isn’t set up to run on narrative therapy principles, a big part of the support offered is about challenging the narrative. It’s about helping each question our presumptions and assumptions. This community has evolved to become a group of friends committed to ‘owning their sh*t’ and becoming people who challenge their own narratives, along with supporting our friends to do the same. I think there can be a great value in exploring on-line communities and support groups. There is always a danger of these groups becoming echo chambers and spaces where people become more entrenched in their narratives, narratives that are perhaps not serving them as well as they could. Looking at how we can embrace narrative therapy principles and practices in an on-line community is a big part of how I want to develop my practice.

  8. In my original culture, people are not familiar with the concept of therapy, however, still have a lot of trauma in their history and cultural oppression. This collective way of working with narratives appear beneficial for my people’s group to overcome their dominant narrative.

    I am currently making effort to connect to a narrative practitioner in my own culture for a possible new project. I hope this goes well and I can contribute to the recovery of my community.

  9. Singapore.
    The project “Little by Little, We Make a Bundle” struck me as powerful for communities who are facing external issues which threaten/ harm their communities.
    For example, urbanization has impacted Ulaanbaatar’s agrarian economy, and many are struggling to find employment. Some who fail inadvertently turn to alcohol for solace, and this in turn affects a whole generation of youth who need adults to guide them through this confusing time.
    Framing these challenges as external events may help them take a step back to assess what is happening to their communities, and help parents and children alike to look hard at options/ creative ideas so that good healthy choices can be made while they figure out how to adapt and overcome the challenges

  10. Pedro (Spain)
    The project that catches my attention is the tree of life. In my opinion, an incredible way to connect the person with his roots and likewise the rest of people inside of the community. I think that a way to work with this could be using the tree of life in jails, with prisoners. We tend to think that because they did something wrong they do not have feelings, emotions, wishes and, of course, hope. So, it could be a fantastic experience to use the tree of life inside of a prison and connecting prisoners with their origins and also within the system. I am wondering what this could bring?

  11. Joy in the Wheatbelt, WA.
    I am really struck by the ability for Collective Practices to cross to larger groups of people. So often counselling is an individual work for a single person or a couple. This can extend sometimes to a family but so often trauma and problems that impact the individual are communal and have a much broader reach. An individual can work through things on his or her own but I can see the potential for larger change that could come with collective practices like these.
    An example of this is from the project in Uganda where when only one child was sponsored, that this child would then be able to make a gift to the other children in the family. This is a physical example but I think it could extend to emotional or spiritual gifts as well.
    Another gem that I pulled out from this section was from the interview with David Denborough. When he talked about “rescuing the words” I was reminded of the role of the counsellor in this practice. Instead of rewriting or giving someone different words, the goal is to pull out, repeat or “rescue” the words that the individual or community are speaking or using. This was also practiced in the Uganda project when the outsiders gave their perspectives but used the words that they were hearing from the community. There is something amazingly powerful in this seemingly simple practice.

  12. Hi all, Cordet from the UK again! I have once again enjoyed listening to and reading these innovations. I was surprised to see the tree of life metaphor here, which I recall being used in a conference that I went to a year or so ago, and remember then being inspired around service user involvement in the development of service user involvement in the UK. It was really interesting to see how it was developed, and to engage with narrative practices in a broad, community based manner. The projects were inspiring to me as they seem to be approaches to ensure that collective voices are heard, and how to engage with, and respect a broader range of culturally different groups. I felt particularly gifted to have the opportunity to witness some of these different interventions and was in awe of their creativity.

  13. Hello All;

    It’s Shane again, writing from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Canada. The idea that stood out the most for me was the song writing/playing. I find it interesting that this would be the stand out project for me, as I don’t have any musical capability so I cannot transform this idea into action on my own. However, what I really liked about it, and the rest of this module, was the demonstrated scalability of the Narrative process. It can work for individuals, small groups, larger communities, and as demonstrated by the “Song for Australia” it has the potential to resonate at a national level. This is level of flexibility I have not encountered with other modalities.

    In all honesty, I doubt that I will action any sort of song writing (and definitely no singing) in the immediate future. However, I will keep this idea lodged away for the day when I am collaborating with people possessed of the necessary skills.

  14. Very inspired and energized by the work David Denborough shared about songwriting and narrative practice. As a social worker/music therapist I have frequently used songwriting as a practice and found it very powerful. Now thinking of it through the lense of narrative practice really opens up new ways of approaching this with and makes me feel more connected to others who are using songwriting in their work. I’m very grateful to Dulwich Centre for making this resource available.

  15. Ann from Ireland.
    I am a big fan of Freire and was really inspired by his idea of a pedagogy of desire. We have a homelessness crisis in this country at the moment. This is due to a neo-liberal housing policy of over dependence on the private sector for housing. This marginalizes those who cannot afford to access housing in this way. We have seen an increase in men and women, young and old living on the streets. We have families living in hotels and ‘hubs’ and their is a concern for the mental well being of the parents and children living in these circumstances. There is a fear now that homelessness is becoming ‘normalized’. I think this idea of a pedagogy of desire is an excellent idea to make it clear that living without a home is not normal it is a social, historical, political and economic event. We need to explore the reasons for people being on the streets and discuss with the people living without homes, their wishes and desires and what needs to be done. I do not believe that people aspire to live on the streets nor do I believe that it should ever happen. The saddest thing I heard from a man living on the streets in Ireland was ‘If I don’t wake up in the morning, problem over’. I am interested in getting involved in a community based research project with people experiencing life without a home and hearing about their wishes and desires and as Freire says ‘creating a context in which street people can rebuild their wishes and desires’.

  16. Amandine expatriate in Ankara, Turkey, Life coach in education and teacher
    Is there an idea or project that stands out to you most at this time?

    The tree of life project stands out; in fact, I learned initially about narrative practices from this project.

    What about this idea or project has sparked your enthusiasm or curiosity?
    I love the symbol, first of all. In Turkey where I currently live, it is a powerful symbol. With the environemental crisis that we know nowadays, I think it is very relevant.

    In what ways might you begin to experiment with these ideas or methodologies?
    I loved the idea of creating a song about our streghts and resilience. Im sure I will try it with my clients.

  17. Paulo Friere makes an interesting point about education no longer being seen as formation, just as training. While elevating the idea of freedom, it does appear as though the dreams and hopes of the individual believer become subjugated to the mass, whether in small communities or large. Within such a system, ‘legalism’ can counteract ‘faith’, forming a spirit that is biased towards actions (externalized vain rituals), which appear ‘more correct’ than words regarding hopes and/or dreams. The environment in which this nurturing occurs is important: a judgmental, harsh atmosphere creates critical, carping people, whereas an atmosphere of nurturing and care gives people the space to intelligently question concepts which may just be social prescription.

    When something goes wrong in a community, whether, for example a family, or a church community, foundations can become shaky. The hope and faith of many is called in question and members tend to isolate themselves with others who feel the same as they do. The only way to prevent a fracture in the ‘body’ is to communicate in an open manner. In this a remembering of the how, what and why this community gathers is reinforced. It is good to learn to know that when one member of a close community suffers, all the members suffer. As with the tree of life projects, I use a ‘seed of truth’ metaphor, which has developed through the marriage of creative writing, art, narrative therapy and art therapy. Externalizing and the witness of the drawing give a voice to the many unshakable foundations we actually have in our lives, and the truths which govern the setting sun or the genetic information contained in a seed. Such knowledge is comforting, a stable foundation on which a community can build a house of hope, which will not be subjected to every wind of change. Music too is an instrument of intensity, capable of producing penetrating emotional redirection and awareness.

    1. Hello my name is Tom from Bristol UK. I can’t find a way to make any direct comments for some reason but I am able to respond to Cheryl and her interesting comments, so I will do that instead.

      Paulo Freire reflections in ‘Making History and Unveiling Oppression’ were insightful. Thank you for your additional comments which I also found useful. It was refreshing to frame social injustice through a bigger narrative of the prevailing neo-liberal story and ask how can we be writing alternatives in our communities.

      I will be adopting the Tree of Life project in a refugee scholarship programme I am involved with. We want to nurture the individuals, tackle the isolation they experience and draw them together as a group, it seems like an excellent exercise to do this as it is multi-faceted and well structured. I like your inclusion of the ‘seed of truth’ metaphor in that exercise.

      I was inspired by the Mt Elgon Self-Help Community Project – the way that the community had reframed the role of the sun and the wind in their communities, linking the efforts of the young people with their ancestors was profound.

  18. Cheryl Penn, South Africa.
    Paulo Friere makes an interesting point about education no longer being seen as formation, just as training. While elevating the idea of freedom, it does appear as though the dreams and hopes of the individual believer become subjugated to the mass, whether in small communities or large. Within such a system, ‘legalism’ can counteract ‘faith’, forming a spirit that is biased towards actions (externalized vain rituals), which appear ‘more correct’ than words regarding hopes and/or dreams. The environment in which this nurturing occurs is important: a judgmental, harsh atmosphere creates critical, carping people, whereas an atmosphere of nurturing and care gives people the space to intelligently question concepts which may just be social prescription.

    When something goes wrong in a community, whether, for example a family, or a church community, foundations can become shaky. The hope and faith of many is called in question and members tend to isolate themselves with others who feel the same as they do. The only way to prevent a fracture in the ‘body’ is to communicate in an open manner. In this a remembering of the how, what and why this community gathers is reinforced. It is good to learn to know that when one member of a close community suffers, all the members suffer. As with the tree of life projects, I use a ‘seed of truth’ metaphor, which has developed through the marriage of creative writing, art, narrative therapy and art therapy. Externalizing and the witness of the drawing give a voice to the many unshakable foundations we actually have in our lives, and the truths which govern the setting sun or the genetic information contained in a seed. Such knowledge is comforting, a stable foundation on which a community can build a house of hope, which will not be subjected to every wind of change. Music too is an instrument of intensity, capable of producing penetrating emotional redirection and awareness.

  19. carmen from sydney australia, I loved the tree of life idea and have shared it with a few of my colleagues, am thinking of trying it out in a community group I run. I was also very inspired by vikki reynolds’s video.
    btw I couldn’t find the radio program via the link though.

  20. Sherri from Melbourne, Australia here. I found all of the projects inspiring and heart-warming, and I think that the essence of empowering people to find answers and strength within themselves and their community is a great foundation for any project or initiative.

    I just wondered if anyone has experiences of working with interpreters when taking a narrative therapy approach and how they have found this?

    Secondly, there was a specific issue that cropped up amongst clients who had migrated to Australia and presented with pain and injury as a primary diagnosis, but were referred for support with symptoms of depression and anxiety (potentially PTSD also). Are there some good narrative resources on pain management and links between physical and mental health that are available or examples of initiatives targeting these issues with people from a narrative perspective?

    Thanks for such a richness of resources and materials you’ve provided here.

        1. Thank you so much Hetty. This is really helpful.

          What a great community!

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