What is narrative therapy?

Sharing stories in ways that make us stronger

Narrative approaches to therapy and community work are vitally interested in the stories of people’s lives, and how stories can be told in ways that make people stronger.

It is possible for counsellors to invite people to tell and re-tell stories in ways that can offer hope and healing. With the use of narrative practices, we seek to honour and acknowledge the stories of hardship and loss that people have experienced. And at the same time, we make it possible for people to tell other stories of their lives as well, stories that bring strength and possibilities.

As Kaurna Elder and narrative therapist Aunty Barbara Wingard describes, ‘We assist people to tell our stories in ways that make us stronger’.

Aunty Barbara Wingard

Aunty Barbara describes how stories are so important and people are the experts of their own lives.

What is narrative therapy?

Here is a very quick response to the question: What is narrative therapy? 

The danger of a single story

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. 

Listening for more than one story: Strengthening resistance

As Chimimanda Adichie describes, it’s  important to move beyond the single story. This is what narrative therapists and community workers do in our work. We listen for more than one story.

This extract is from a workshop held in Rwanda with counsellors who are all themselves survivors of the 1994 genocide.

Strengthening Resistance

Aunty Barbara Wingard

Telling stories in ways that make us stronger.


This Post Has 82 Comments

  1. Nicole

    Having your own story/narrative is so empowering. It gives us that control and strength and recognizes our own capacity for healing and growth.

    Chimimanda Adichie experience of writing about one way she saw the world because that is all she knew as a young person. However, as she grew she realize the more narratives that come from many individuals experiences. Our stories make us who we are but there is more than one single story.

  2. Eugene Ford

    I’m really enjoying the content so far, but naturally I’m curious how I can expand on what I’m learning and articulate the ideas of rewriting stories in a way that is not offensive or triggering to others.

  3. Karlina Elskeling

    The experience of sharing stories in safe spaces is a very deep way if connecting and empowering others with their own voices . It helps to get it out and release , sound debrief share and relay it in so many levels and an absolute honour to hear it too ❤️

  4. yagia gentle

    When Aunt Barbara talked about reading people their stories back to them i thought how that must be empowering to someone with limited communication skills, but then i realised that it is a method that that would empower anyone with an emotionally charged experience to share.

  5. Nicola

    I have watched the video on being cautious about a single story several times over the last year and it resonates deeply each and every time. When first in training 27 some years ago my practicum supervisor talked about meeting clients each time as though it was the first time. Not carrying forward preconceived notions, judgements, ideas about that person but always being open to ‘seeing’ them. Not engaging in a single story also reminds that culturally we must meet one another with that same openness, grace, curiosity, compassion.

  6. petronela

    This is an amazing way to re-enforce the idea that there is more to life than the bad/ not so nice things that may have happened in our lives. For individuals to move from sadness to what is “preferred” stories.

  7. nyawney@gmail.com

    This is a beautiful approach to empower and support Indigenous peoples. Our history is founded in oral story here in Canada and our voices have been oppressed due to Colonization and oppressive policy. I love that we can give back people’s voices through sharing our own stories and that we can change the narrative by the sharing of stories.

  8. Karen Yau

    I find the power embedded in a story, whether it is narrated by people or the media, is intriguing for it can be empowering or disempowering. Narrative therapy helps people to take back control, tell their stories with their own words and invest more meanings to it. I really like the idea of looking at story as single but multifaceted.

  9. Julia Lucila

    Hermosa introducción. En el documento sobre “Strengthening Resistance” me parece hermosa la frace: “We want to listen to how people have responded tothe trauma”, es como tener el posicionamiento de -Ante todo trauma siempre existe resistencia. Esto me parece hermoso, es parte de la doble escucha, y me remite a la escucha que propone Marshall Roseberg en “comunicación no violenta”.

    Beautiful introduction. In the document on “Strengthening Resistance” the phrase “We want to listen to how people have responded to trauma” seems beautiful to me, it is like having the position of -In front of all trauma there is always resistance. This seems beautiful to me, it is part of double listening, and it refers me to listening that Marshall Roseberg proposes in “non-violent communication.”

  10. sullateskee@gmail.com

    Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk was absolutely beautiful. I resonated with her quote “A single story creates stereotypes. Not that they are not true, but they are incomplete.” Being a First Nations Peoples in the US, this was impactful when thinking about the lack of narratives that have been told about my tribe and others within our school system. So much so that I began to believe them for a while, and found it hard to stay grounded in my ancestral roots for a time. I think it’s beautiful that she pushes us to engage in all stories, adding multitude of layers and richness to every client we may see.

  11. reece.gunn@cofcqld.com.au

    Narrative Therapy seems to have a really positive strengths based approach that I think would fit really well into the experiences of the young people I work with, who not only focus on their stories of trauma and loss and pain, but also their stories of their personal strengths and their interests and the enjoyable experiences of their lives, so to be able to pull this together into a more clear and meaningful way would I think be of great benefit for them in moving forwards from their traumatic lived experiences.

  12. Rhianne

    I think the word ‘resistance’ is a powerful one to use. It acknowledges difficulty and struggle but also determination and strength.

  13. Sushma Shrestha

    I was deeply moved by Chimimanada’s story and it made me reflect about my own biases that are based on single story. Framing our opinion based on single stories will form a disconnect and we will not be able to build that connection with people alike or different from us.

  14. Nicole Cassar

    It was nice to hear someone for another culture not understand the concept of ‘authenticity’ of one’s culture – when people say that will be Aboriginal authentic, I ask them what does that mean.

  15. Paul Hobson

    I appreciate how Aunty Barbara speaks of becoming stronger through the telling of their stories. I see so much importance in people being the expert in their story and as a result of this, narrowing the power gap between “professional” and “client”. This approach follows hand in hand with the strengths based approach that has guided me through both school and my professional life over the last 6 years. I also love her comment about laughing at one’s self as its something I take comfort in doing to myself and just the ability to laugh even in the face of trouble or a problem.

  16. toni.kernick@gmail.com

    I loved hearing Aunty Barbara talk about ‘telling our stories in ways that make us stronger’ and reflecting these stories back to the community. The impact of hearing your story in your own voice must be so powerful and healing.

  17. Tammy Townsend

    Chimimanda Adichie, your story is inspirational. Your honesty makes me reflect we are probably all somewhat guilty of looking at a single story at times, no matter how hard we try to take an unbiased approach in life.

  18. Elizabeth Tomlins

    Chimimanada Adrchie- what an amazing young woman and compelling story. really touched by the comment ” Show people as one thing over and over again and that is what they become”. The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete and make it about one single story – Robs people of dignity”

    I try to practice with those I encounter “To listen for more than one story” this is enriching when listening to others.

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