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 59 Comments

  1. Yolanda Chavez Leyva

    When Aunty Barbara talks about how powerful and magical it is for people to hear their stories reflected, that resonated with me. Several years ago I co-curated a museum exhibit about student activists from the 1970s who had been on my campus and had taken over the administration building on behalf of Mexican American students. On opening day, a woman walked up to me with tears in her eyes and said she had been a young activist. She said she had never seen their story told in a positive way. They had always been portrayed as criminals rather than idealistic young people who were fighting for their community.

  2. Peta Lewis

    I could listen to Aunty Barb speak stories all day and what a powerful introduction to thinking about the power of stories and the limits of having a one story lens

  3. melinda.gregory@worldivision.com.au

    Chimimandra Adichie’s TED talk and her description of how one story flattens existence and limits our dignity and worth and experience was fantastic. Stereotypes become one truth and then limit our ability to be whole. Her closing remark about ‘there is never a single story about a person or a place’ helped me to see my own bias.

  4. catherine.d.egan@det.nsw.edu.au

    I totally agree with Aunty Barbara that “Telling our Stories makes us Stronger”, because being able to tell your story is a part of your healing journey.

    Chimamanda’s story was so powerful.

  5. bme.bookkeeping2016@gmail.com

    Aunty Barbara says that Aboriginal people claim Narrative Therapy as their own. This creates a connection between therapists and Aboriginal story tellers when they sit together, with one talking and the other listening.

  6. Nanci

    I loved Aunty Barbara’s emphasis on the stories being grounded in respect, caring, sharing, humour.

  7. Caroline

    I am an Aboriginal worker in Child Protection and Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk reminded me that workers only focus on a single story the one that began when they became involved. The similarities between this and starting a story with Secondly, are impossible to ignore.

  8. Dean

    I really liked how a person’s story once communicated to the therapist, their story is then read out to them. Really powerful and respectful.

  9. Debra

    Yes telling our stories makes us stronger and i believe healthier because we are no longer holding on to the problem story. Narrative therapy allows us to open up and challenge the discourses. Can you imagine how long a woman has held on to a certain story? What is it doing to her physically, mentally and emotionally? I believe creating a culturally safe space and meeting the woman where she is at supports her to take control of her healing journey.

  10. Julie Fielke

    one story is not the only story… need to remember this as we are all different

  11. Theresa Beetham

    What a gloriously simple, powerful and essential reminder of the multi-dimensionality of human beingness. I take note of the alert that what we take from people by reducing them to one story….and how in truth it diminishes all of us.

  12. Michael Chanas

    We are all different – and we are allowed to be.

  13. tangelico

    The TED talk by Chimamanda Adichie was enlightening. I never thought about stereotypes as being single stories, but it makes so much sense. I hope that I can learn to see people as multi-storied rather than single-storied.

  14. Kimberly Younger-Laboucan

    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.

  15. Brass Brown

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

  16. Evie

    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!

  17. Tan

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

  18. Nicole Arbuckle

    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.

  19. Kerriann Campbell

    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.

  20. Catherine

    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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