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 29 Comments

  1. I really appreciate how Aunty Barbara framed the importance of how stories can be told in ways that support ongoing resilience. I value the reminder that each person is the expert in their own story because it is a lived experience and needs to be respected. In my experience cognitive or behavioral models can sometimes pick apart the story so I prefer this modality because it perhaps comes from a community embodied approach through this therapeutic approach.

  2. Such an amazing talk by Chimamanda Adichie, it really highlights how our individual bias and judgements affect how we respond to other individuals.

  3. I love this. Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger. Such a powerful sentiment. Sometimes through trauma, it is hard to access the words that really encapsulate that experience – though using the written word does help us access those hard to utter parts of our memories … in those cases though perhaps the story we tell ourselves is not one that makes us feel strong in the first instance – so finding a way to tell that story in a way that focuses on the strength of surviving to tell that story is just amazing!

  4. Aunty Barbara Wingard says it all ‘Telling our stories that make us stronger’

  5. Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk was incredible. The one line where she said “a single story creates a stereotype. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete”. This blew my mind. I am ashamed to have ever participated in the single story belief of anyone let alone whole cultures, communities and countries , continents and so on. I know that moving forward I will endeavour to hear more stories and to encourage others to tell their story. I am about to run a photovoice narrative project to do just this, give a whole community the opportunity to change their stereotype.

  6. I have had the privilege of watching Chimamanda Adichie’s video a few times now and it is still incredibly powerful every single time I have watched it. A constant reminder of the dangers of single stories and the power of listening for more than one story. What I love about narrative therapy is the challenge of redefining the single (dominant) story and the healing journey that leads to this point. Celebrating that people are the experts of their own lives and being a part of the healing process as a psychotherapist is a true privilege.

  7. I appreciated hearing Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk and being reminded of my own prejudice when I focus in on the single story. I am also reminded of the problem of stereotypes in my community where indigenous people share space with a large mining focussed community. There is so much damage caused when stereotypical thinkers ‘make the one story the only story’.

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