What is narrative therapy?

Posted by on Jun 18, 2018 in Uncategorised | 19 comments

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.


  1. After listening and watching the single sided story, I now reflect on the stories I have heard about the indigenous people of Canada that made me see the dangers of a single story.”

  2. Thank you for this powerful reminder that we can create sacred, healing spaces in which people can tell their stories in ways which make them stronger – a powerful resistance to some of the deficit based practises which exist in social work/ psychology.

  3. This is a great foundation to begin my journey into narrative therapy: “stories are important”, “people are the experts in their own lives”, the dangers of a single story” and “telling stories that make us stronger”. History has always been written by the dominant culture and therefore most of the stories (children books, tv programs) have been written by the dominant culture. But this is changing and the “Other” is starting to tell their history and stories.

  4. I wondered if the therapy can be performed like a workshop which helps more people, unlike we usually do as individual session. How powerful it is ? or how is the people/technician ratio like to make it impactful

  5. What a powerful TED talk. I had never considered the fact the children’s books in Australia presented one story and one experience and the consequences this would have on children are not part of this single discourse. It is also interesting and so true that I feel foolish for not even considering that there are multiple stories and discourses of White Australians and New Zealanders where there is only limited stories of Indigenous Australians and New Zealand Maoris, and often these stories are so limited and provided by individuals who are not part of these cultures. I find this perspective very refreshing as I have witnessed the negative stories attributed to Maori and seen how it does not fit with my Maori family and community. I hope in the future there is more than a mere shelf of Maori children’s books.

  6. I’ve seen that TED talk before and wow how powerful is it! I love too the concept of stories and storying…and how this fits with Aboriginal cultural ways anyway…and the listening to stories aspect…how we all love to hear stories. I fear this is a skill and a beautiful part of human culture everywhere that is going extinct, listening to and respecting stories and story-tellers!

  7. Listening to the danger of one story made me think about what I have been taught in school and how we are conditioned to believe there is only one story. As children we accept what we are told and read without questioning.

  8. I love the concept of finding a balance of the stories of our life. We can’t pretend that some stories haven’t happened but we can create balance by thickening others! Love this TED talk (-:

  9. This TED talk is so powerful. Reflecting on my experience as an Aboriginal woman – this speaks to the daily challenge of redefining the single (or more specifically,dominant) narrative that is ever present for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

    • I found myself reflecting on the conversations that I have had with an Aboriginal woman who works in my team. She is very strong and part of her resistance to colonisation is how she curates her story and doesn’t allow others to interpret it or tell her what should or shouldn’t be in it. Through her I have learned some more stories that have helped me be curious beyond the single story. Narrative has powerful effects for both the teller and listener.

  10. I found the reading “Listening for more than one story” particularly interesting and very practical. I like the idea of making a list of the effects of the trauma in order to demonstrate that these issues do not define the individual but instead are effects of the trauma they have experienced. On the flip side making a list of the stories of resistance/healing/reclamation is a nice positive way to round it off. Both lists give the counsellor opportunities to explore further with the client. Looking forward to implementing this into my practice.

    • I loved the talks and the understanding that there are different untrue and true story’s, I can relate to the way the story’s were told about the Aboriginal people in all parts of Australia during Colonisation. How a Nation of people are judged on these story’s.

  11. I believe in this so much… that we are our own experts in our stories by telling our stories we empower ourselves in a culturally appropriate/safe way and is really important for our people to be heard.

  12. The exercise of telling our story is political, and has a sense of justice. Returns the ability to have control over life and its course. It is a very powerful exercise and necessary mainly in cases where there has been abuse. I find the material presented in this course very beautiful and useful.

  13. Thanks for sharing. It is a lovely thought, that a story is told then retold in a positive and stronger way that builds.

  14. The power of the written story read back in the person’s own words. No assumptions or interpretations – just written as it was said.

  15. I love this stuff – it’s standing up to and challenging the predominant voice of colonisation that we all too easily wear inside whether we like it or not

  16. Even though my story remains part of my lives, my lived experience, I don’t have to live out or from the ‘old’ pain story, I can create a new story encompassing the strengths and learnings from my lived experience. Once I create the new story that facilitates healing opportunity I can then practice living out that new story until it becomes the dominant story line and the ‘old’ story gradually has less influence in my life.

  17. I think we do the same thing with individuals who have heard voices. We tell one story, we give them one label and when they try to tell theirs we say they are “delusional”. It’s important to hear everyone’s story and what they are experiencing in their own words.

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