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 62 Comments

  1. diagriene

    Very insightful and thought-provoking. I realized that it isn’t just about the single story we hear about others, but the single story we tell ourselves, too.

  2. Miranda Leon-Madgwick

    I enjoyed the conversation by novelist Chimamanda Adichie, “The danger of a single story” as I had never really saw the danger in it until she told her story.
    As a twin, I always got asked which one is the bad on and which is the good one. Now I realise that this was the single story these people had been told and until will tell them another or they find/hear another they will keep on thinking this and that why is dangerous to community and you as people start to believe this narrative and can get dream up by it and those around them.

  3. Kay

    What a wonderfully articulate young woman, Chimamanda Adichie. It is so easy to focus on a single story, especially one that has been retold many many times. Here we are reminded of the importance of asking for more, seeking an alternate version to get the full picture.

  4. Chris McFarlane

    Inspiring stuff by Chimmimanda. Helps to open the mind to the effect of a single story. Removing your bias occurs instantly when you don’t necessarily believe the reading/ writing/experience of another, but instead keep open mindedness to all elements of the story. Keeping in mind that things are ever changing also. Brilliantly delivered.

  5. deborahdowsett@internode.on.net

    This has made me think about the single story I have re-told and heard by many and now I’m more aware of the dangers associated with a single story. I love what Chimanda said about ” as single-story robs people of their dignity”. I also love what Aunty Barbara said about, “telling our stories make us stronger in healing ways”. I don’t feel I’ve truly listened to some of my clients as I’ve only heard a single story and love the idea of letting the client hear their story played back to them and asking how they feel. I’m really going to enjoy this course.

  6. jessica@yeti.net.au

    Chimamanda Adichie was fantastic. Learning about the limits of a single story was an aspect of Narrative therapy I had not come across in my degree. Such an important element as a non-indigenous and essentially from a majority back ground. A reminder to critically think, place people as the experts of their stories and seek a balance when working in support of other. Thank you Dulwich, and all these wonderful practitioners who share their knowledge, wonderful resources as well, always something to learn.

  7. Suresh

    What an impressive speech about looking for more than a single story…

  8. Leanne Fawcett

    I enjoyed listening to Chimamanda Adichie’s narrative reinforcing the danger of one story becoming the only story. A single story influences our way of thinking with an assumption of truth in the single story, not because it is untrue but rather it is incomplete. It overlooks the whole story and the whole person. It robs people and cultures of their identity and dignity.
    Chimimanda’s talk was powerful in its message to listen for more than one story. “Stories matter, many stories matter”.

  9. Soraya Sek

    I really appreciated Aunty Barbara sharing the power that some people felt in having their voices heard at a workshop relating to those affected by deaths in custody.
    It’s been my experience working with victims of crime, that our justice system does not have adequate space to hear the stories from people directly involved, rather they are voiced by the proxy of the police or prosecution system.
    I am really inspired by the potential of narrative storytelling to help people who have been through this dehumanising system heal and reclaim their story.

    1. suzanne.clarke@act.gov.au

      I enjoyed hearing from Chimamanda, I had not heard the term “single story” before and yet I have spoken of it many times. This is in regards to the stereotypical thinking about Aboriginal peoples.
      I also realised I practice “double listening” without knowing it when I am yarning with my clients.

  10. BillieJean

    I really enjoyed
    Reading the strengthening resilience, as I was reading my thought were going to clients I work with, this reading has allowed me to see that doubling listening is very important in therapy. I still have a lot to learn about narrative therapy but so far I feel drawn to it more and more with the readings and videos

  11. acaltabiano@raq.org.au

    What resonates with me particularly is the comments from Aunty Barb’s last clip. ‘Telling Stories in a way that makes us stronger’. I can see how capturing a persons story holds great responsibility on the part of the writer. The practice of reading the story back to gain approval from the person who’s telling the story provides an opportunity for the story teller to add or take out bits that are important.

  12. Elisabeth

    I am completely struck by Adichie’s quoting of the Palestinian poet, which read “if you want to disposes a people [start their story with ‘secondly’] … start the story with the … failure of the African States and not with the colonial creation of the African states, and you have an entirely different story”. It shows how important it is to understand one’s history, to understand the impacts of that history and that challenges are not in isolation. It also highlights how powerful language can be, and that to be able to unpack it and tell one’s story in it’s true order can give justice to one’s story.

  13. CouncillorP@missionaustralia.com.au

    as an Aboriginal counselor I have always walked and worked in two worlds, as many of my people have,
    I can relate to what Chimamanda speaks about in regards to the single story and listening for a second story which includes double listening

  14. Anna Quon

    Chimimanda Adichie helped me think more clearly about my experience of reading stories of white British and North American children as a young, half Chinese girl, and the ways I have as an adult also listened to media stories about indigenous peoples and issues in adulthood. “Double-listening” gives me a way to listen to stories differently, including my own.

  15. sylphillipsayre@yahoo.com.au

    Hi All,
    Wow such powerful stories. It’s affirming to hear Chimanada’s stories of identity and the impacts of other cultures, and how this can effect and influence us as people. The importance of reconnecting with ourselves. This resonates with me as an Aboriginal person, particularly in terms of being authentic. The Strengthening resistance opened my mind to supporting a person to remove the effects of the problem and encourage acknowledgement of feelings associated to the effects. Aunty Barb’s video’s was great, it resonated with me as it’s how I see people as being, their own experts to their own health and well being. I like the idea of listening and writing the person’s story/stories and reading / reflecting their story to them. Certainly something to consider. I’m only at the beginning of this course and am already wowed. Im looking forwards to the rest of this course, thank you.

  16. dmohammed

    I was enamored by Chimamanda Adichie’s Ted Talk on the danger of hearing only one story. As a First Nation Indigenous person, this “one story” narrative of my people has impacted every aspect of my life, my family’s lives, and my community’s lives. Because self-worth is connected to identity and culture, I struggled throughout much of my childhood and adolescence to distance myself from my people and culture afraid to be associated with he stereotypes perpetuated through the one story narrative of my people through dominant discourse. It was not until entering adulthood where I began to understand the strength and resilience of my people as my dad imparted another narrative – one which revealed the inextinguishable values and sacred ways of being and knowing of my people. I am so thankful for Chimamanda Adichie’s sharing of knowledge today as it has aided in inspiring my desire to continue to challenge colonial myths about Indigenous peoples through the bringing forward of my people’s stories – told by them, authored by them, and owned by them. I am grateful for these teachings today.

  17. Amelia Larson

    In the Strengthening Resistance document, I really resonated with the duality of exploring the pain narrative and allowing space for those ‘darker’ emotions while Double-Listening for moments of resistance and hope. Finding a balance between both these pieces is so crucial to moving a therapeutic alliance forward and helping clients understand that you as the therapist ‘gets’ them. Looking forward to learning more!

  18. Jo Kelly

    When Aunty Barbara talks about what Narrative Therapy is it reinforced that sharing stories not only makes us stronger, but it also helps us heal. I work with a range of community members who could benefit from Narrative Therapy and it has now got me thinking how I can make it happen.
    I have listened to ‘The Danger of a Single Story’ by Chimamanda Adichie and it still gets me. How we have read in books about lives that are so different based on stereotypes but we believe it. Though the most important thing is about how we balance the story.
    I enjoyed reading the Strengthening Resilience and how I can adapt some of that for the work I do in community.

  19. Nadine2410

    Listening to Chimamanda Adichie tell her stories really brought home that we are more than just one story. I thought of my own stories, and how some have stayed the same but some are still evolving.

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