Narrative Therapy Charter of Story-Telling Rights by David Denborough

Posted by on Aug 16, 2014 in Friday Afternoon Videos | 23 comments

Narrative Therapy Charter of Story-Telling Rights by David Denborough

G’day and welcome to this Friday Afternoon on-line launch of the Narrative Therapy Charter of Story-Telling Rights. David Denborough works at Dulwich Centre and Dulwich Centre Foundation and this Charter is part of a broader project in relation to ‘narrative justice’ that Dulwich Centre Foundation International is currently engaged with:

* When meeting with people whose problems are the result of human rights abuses and injustices, how can we ensure we do not separate healing from justice?

This Charter proposes a framework for considering storytelling rights. We hope it will spark discussions about the rights of people who have experienced trauma/social suffering in relation to how their stories are told and received. We invite you to discuss this Charter with us, with friends, with colleagues, in your organisation and elsewhere. You may like to endorse this Charter or offer suggestions, changes, and or additions. Welcome to this Friday Afternoon discussion!



Further reading:

A human rights approach to psychotherapy by Khader Rasras

A framework for receiving and documenting testimonies of trauma by David Denborough

The Narrative Therapy Charter of Story-Telling Rights has been inspired and challenged by the work of the:

* Just Therapy Team from New Zealand
* Reclaiming our stories, reclaiming our lives project
* Ibuka: the national genocide survivors association of Rwanda
* Treatment and Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture in Ramallah, Palestine

The Charter is based on narrative principles of responding to trauma (see Michael White, 2004; or Trauma: Narrative responses to traumatic experience).

For discussions about human rights discourse see:

Gustavo Esteva & Madhu Suri Prakah (1998) Grassroots Port-Modernism: remaking the soil of cultures. London: Zed Books.

For information about narrative therapy responses to trauma see:

Michael White (2004) ‘Working with people who are suffering the consequences of multiple trauma: A narrative perspective.’ International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 1:45-76. Reprinted in the book Trauma: Narrative responses to traumatic experience.

Published on February 25, 2015


  1. Article 4 stands out to me quite prominently. “The person is not the problem; the problem is the problem.” It can be very difficult for people to see this when they are sharing thin stories; however, emphasis on the hidden events or thick stories gives hope that this can change. I am also a firm believer that the client should be able to share their stories on their terms; this is a powerful way from them to connect to the meaning and for the therapist to connect to them. Building a relationship in this way is important.

  2. As a Social Work student I found this session incredibly relevant, poignant and useful.

    This Charter helps emphasise the importance of respect for persons, and of client empowerment; principles that are enshrined throughout AASW documentation.
    “The person is not the problem, the problem is the problem” encapsulates how I believe practitioners should work.
    Allowing for the separation of people from problems, and allowing people to explore their stories and experiences in their own terms is incredibly powerful and important.

  3. Dear David,

    Thank you to you and everyone at Dulwich for continuing the long legacy of inspirational leadership that intersects healing and justice work.

    All the best,


  4. This idea of people having the right to define their own problems in their own words and on their own terms is so relevant for me right now. this is the only way therapy is meaningful.

  5. Having worked in Aboriginal Communities in Urban, rural and remote contexts, David’s mention of the Palestinian inspired work around “Justice is a form of healing and healing is a form of justice” resonates strongly.
    The internalising of the colonisers dehumanising language is something so apparent in the intergenerational trauma here. It appears Narrative Therapy may be helpful in giving us ways to tell and live inside new stories and possibilities without being re traumatising. “As people begin to inhabit and live out the alternative stories, the results are beyond solving problems” – I love this! Thank you for giving this information so freely!
    Looking forward to learning more.

    • Hi, Ann from Ireland. Just starting out on my journey of Narrative Practice and I am really enjoying it. Lots to learn and I love the Charter and how it is laid out. Looking forward to the rest of the course.

  6. I really appreciate what I am learning from you and the Dulwich center. I love gaining tools for helping others to regain their stories and gain courage for writing new chapters!

    • Coming from the UK I am very interested in learning more about narrative therapy as we don’t really have any equivalent models for individuals. I have some experience with client’s life “scripts” and how stories are told and used in systemic counselling however, I have found the narrative approach has helped me to notice more deeply the stories my clients (I work in a school) believe about themselves. Working with young people I can sometimes see how the stories we come to believe in about ourselves can formed and that often the young person is identified by their problem or behaviour rather than as an individual who behaves in a certain way some of the time.

      I’m hoping to come and do the week intensive course soon so I can really begin to incorporate this way of working into my practice!

  7. I have found the teachings of Narrative Therapy to be a very respectful approach to therapy which centres people as the experts within their own lives. Separating problems from people and empowering people to see their own abilities which can help to assist the person to reduce the impact the problems are having within their lives.

  8. I was quite moved by the interview with Khader Rasras. It seems so simple, yet also profound: art therapy with children and renaming objects for their use other than to perpetuate torture or abuse (like rocks – they can not just be thrown at houses, but they can also be used to build houses). This is a good reminder that every detail in narrative therapy counts. Each aspect of the narrative needs to be unpacked and described in order to identify all of the stories that live within it.
    I am also feeling energized by being at a point in my master’s studies where I am recognizing names: David Denborough authored the book we read in my class last semester (Collective Narrative Practice); a study by Dr. Mary Koss was referenced (I was lucky to have her as a teacher at the University of Arizona for my undergraduate degree) – perhaps the old adage “It’s a small world” rings true yet again. I have to say, there is something comforting about narrative therapy being a tightly knit circle.

  9. The subject of Story-Telling Rights is a very important one. It helps people to see themselves as survivors who can make valuable contributions to others. I am interested to know more about it. I particularly liked the framework for receiving and documenting testimonies of trauma. It is a useful and respectful framework.

  10. I have not been a regular watcher of Friday afternoon video sessions unfortunately. I did not realise that this group has been running since 1983. What a fabulous commitment from Dulwhich and the Narrative community. I plan to be a regular watcher from now on. I was thrilled to hear about the NT charter of story telling rights. Narrative Therapy supports me in my work with people and these principles reflect the way I prefer to work so it is good to see these values clearly documented for all. I think there could be another principle identifying the right for people to speak up if these principles are not honoured. I work as a counsellor at a Community Health centre and plan to present these principles to my organisation. Thank you.

  11. What a wonder-full set of principles with which to guide how we hear and hold stories in all contexts. I feel uplifted, and joy filled, thank you. As a side note – I enjoyed the sunshine on this windy, rainy and very cold spring (yes Spring!) day in Melbourne. I also loved that the video wasn’t edited – to me, it reflects all that is authentic and real.

    Thank you!

  12. Good night from here, but thank for sharing the beautiful afternoon. I’m a brazilian med student and sometimes I went to
    disadvantaged locations to help, diagnose and treat people who doesn’t have the possibility of care. But the best insight I could take from these experiences is that people in suffering are not really looking for a solution of their problems -and we can see that when we really can’t give them a treatment or an answer-, what makes them happier, are the opportunities to talk about their problems, insecurities, traumas, violences, family issues or anything they thing are relevant to be told. And, in return, we hear them with attention and care, without judgments, blames or any negative behaviors. People are seeking for conversations and, like the articles said, they have the right to do it. Because, most of all, talk can heal, gives it importance and empower them. That’s not something done everywhere around here but some med schools -like mine- are trying to humanize the contact with people introducing these times of conversations.

    Itajaí, Santa Catarina – Brazil

  13. I found this very timely for my work. I am part of Free2Be Safe Anti-Violence Project in Huntsville, Alabama. We are working to end violence while advocating for the human and civil rights of sexual and gender minorities – who have been subject to much social injustices in American (and all over the world!) Thank you for this information. I cannot wait to get back to work and talking about how healing and justice are so connected. It adds to the concept of healing and forgiveness, with a twist!

  14. i find this talk super interesting, because of the statements. It’s for all known that many people, and most of all, institutions in these political times, try to put certain ‘histories’ over people’s lives, such as DSM-IV or V. And in that sense, what we are allowed by these story-telling rights, is the chance to tell our story in a very local way. At the same time that we enrich our narrative with help of beloved persons.

    I also want to say, that these ‘rights’ allow people reject effects of the ‘Big’ other thoughts above us.

  15. Hello David,
    Thank you for this video. I think the 7 articles you propose are very relevant and insightful for the First Nation, Metis and Inuit peoples of Canada (FNMI).
    Unfortunately, FMNI people have suffered hardships under the hands of our Canadian government who has been trying since the 1800’s to coerce FNMI people to assimilate.
    However, Canada is trying to make amends and provide some justice and healing, for example payment for people who are residential school survivors, it is a first step but so much more is needed to provide healing and justice to the FNMI people of Canada.

  16. Hello David!
    It is so wonderful to have the (E)Charter introduced in the context of the Dulwich story and the many voices of those who contributed along the way folded into your video. I felt as though I was watching a lived charter in action as you took us (me) through touchstones that a charter with 7 important points scribed on to paper. Thank you for respectfully entering us into the conversation in this manner.
    As I drank my coffee (I did come with drinks!) I found myself reflecting on the portability of the charter too – while the rights to one’s storytelling grew from overt abuses, like the genocide in Rwanda for example, I was imagining how this charter fits in other contexts where power has been more subtly used to steal stories. For example, I was thinking how the teenager who is struggling against “depression” has rights to tell his or her story without pathologizing language being applied, inviting others to support standing against, acknowledge resistance(s), and make important contributions to others. There are many many places where the charter could be used to weave the social justice into the counseling conversation — taking the personal to the political and vice versa.
    The charter offers a very helpful mapping, if you will, of narrative traditions and work. I am reminded of why I teach what I teach and how I elect to practice. Thanks for inspiring me and inviting me to a warm and incredibility beautiful Adelaide afternoon –
    Lorraine Hedtke
    Redlands, California

  17. Hi David and all the respondents and participants,

    Firstly, thanks to David for providing a context for the charter with a selection of histories and articles that made the story-telling rights much more meaningful for me. I believe these ideas will have many effects for my practices and the practices of my colleagues. In particular I think the charter will help me to communicate with other involved parties (like lawyers, family) about the approaches I take when meeting with both people who have experienced abuse and those who have perpetrated abuse.

    Secondly, I would also like to comment on some of Andrew’s responses. When I am affected by confusions with post-modernism I find I most often turn to the words of Richard Rorty in ‘Contingency, Irony and Solidarity’, who I was referred to by a friend and colleague. Rorty speaks of taking a ‘both-and’ rather than an ‘either-or’ position. In this way I believe that rather than making a choice between individualism and collectivism, he would argue that we can act in both ways that support the individual and ways that support the collective. Similarly, I think rather than taking a position that we have to choose to assist which groups to offer justice, he would say we could act in ways that support justice for whoever asks for our support. I would personally add that by supporting justice for someone we are more likely to produce effects that reduce the risk of that person or group responding in retaliation rather than increase the risk.

    Look forward to reading what others think.



    • G’day Troy
      I wouldn’t consider myself confused by post-modernism so much (although I don’t deny the potential), but would argue that I find it valuable in given contexts; like with physics, certain rules are valuable in certain contexts (Newtonian physics, for example, in relatively slow or everyday experiences), but become invalid in other contexts and thus requiring a replacement with other ways of understanding (Einsteinian physics in the context of the speed of light). In the greater context, post-modernism even questions its own justification, its own assumed truth that it has the right to question assumed truths. Still, in the smaller context, it is a reminder, like Thomas Jefferson’s purported warning that ‘Freedom requires eternal vigilance’; post-modernism requires people to think about why they accept the ‘truths’ that they value – this I feel is good. The weakness of post-modernism being an underpinning concept in the development of Narrative Therapy, in my opinion, is that this issue of the appropriate context applies; and I feel that determining when it is an appropriate methodology/approach is not a simple thing to do.
      I do find your comments about Rorty, and his ‘both-and’ vs ‘either-or’ positions quite interesting. As a matter of coincidence, I was listening to a Radio National program that focuses on issues pertaining to the Australian Indigenous people’s experiences. I believe the program is called ‘Away’. A young chap was talking at the time and he expressed his discontent with either the so called ‘black arm-band histories’ or the ‘white blind-fold histories’. He wanted something altogether different from either, and I interpreted him as meaning that he wanted people to take a position where all groups can relate to each other on an equal basis. I would argue that this would require all people to let go of their vested interests, to be honest with each other, and to build trust. However, I have noted that in most relationships that I have observed, letting go of one’s core agenda’s, even admitting to having them, is a very difficult task; and that most people fail to be able to truly do so for any length of time. To do so is to take a great risk of exposing oneself; and it is simply easier to cling to what we are familiar and comfortable with; blaming the other for not doing what we have already refused to do.
      Irrespective, I do think that it is a good thing to work towards providing ‘justice’ (whatever that means) to everyone. The problem is to decide on what is justice. The fact that we live in an incredibly wealthy country and yet there are people who live on the street, often eating what others have thrown in bins, sleeping under bridges, etc; means that not all Australians experience one aspect of what I think is ‘justice’ – the equitable sharing of resources. But not all people share my belief that the equitable sharing of resources is justice. I believe that almost no matter what a person has done, they deserve a chance at having a fulfilling life where they are able to grow and develop their potential, and thus to benefit themselves and the whole of society. Many people who I have spoken to about my work have indicated that they would like to see all ‘sex-offenders’ locked up for life and throw away the key. Basically, the point that I am trying to make here is that unless we can define what justice is, across the complex spectrum of what it is to be a human being; we are likely to continue to live in a society where there are the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, the victims and the perpetrators, etc. The question of how to come to a definable and reasonable construct of justice is certainly beyond me to state or even conceive; but I believe that it is a worthy effort to be considered and worked towards. Perhaps the Charter of Story-Teller rights is one of the ways of doing so.
      All the best.


      P.S. I have not read any of Rorty’s works, and only briefly looked at a Wikipedia description of the man and his philosophy. From the incredibly brief information presented, I can see many aspects of value to his thoughts; but I can see many things that I would also disagree with. Philosophically, I am a fan of Plato, Heidegger, Jean-Paul Satre and Kirkegaard; amongst many others. I am strongly influenced by the existentialists; and to a lesser degree the skeptics (such as David Hume). Still, underneath all that, I can not shake an ultimate belief in a Deity that provides meaning to such concepts as right and wrong, morals, etc. Not that I claim any certainty of knowledge, divinely inspired or not. As described in Existential Therapy by Irvin Yalom, I believe that people are largely intentional beings, and thus we are at least partially responsible for creating our own world. Or, in other words, we are subjective in nature, without means of truly confirming our reality against that of any other being, and thus largely stumble through life doing the best we can. Some get it more right than others, but no one gets it perfect.

  18. Hello to David Denborough, and to all other contributors to the forum. And to the tech team – another well recorded (technically good) video and audio episode. One minor personal matter, to those who have previously posted responses to my posted comments and whom I have not responded to; I apologise for my rudeness. I am experiencing a few health problems at the moment, and sometimes time gets away from me. I would like to be involved in an evolving discourse, and do not mean to discourage this.

    Now, to the topic of a Charter of Story-Telling Rights as described by David (Big topic!). Thank you David for explaining and developing this charter. It has been my observation that in the Australian culture, we like our rights, even though we don’t formally have a listing of individual rights that are able to be upheld in a court of Law. It also appears to me that the Australian people, in a rash generalisation, don’t seem to want to acknowledge the double edged sword that rights are – that there are corresponding obligations. In the often presented example of one of the first democracies – the Athenian Democracy, a citizen had certain democratic rights that provided them with a certain level of power to both use and protect themselves with. However, they also had obligations to their society; such things as turning up to civic meetings and participating in debates, irrespective of harvest time or other time consuming and necessary tasks. Being someone who considers that social justice should be spread as far and wide in the community as is reasonably possible (obviously a very vague comment), I think that a Charter of Story Telling rights is an important and potentially empowering tool. However, what are the corollary contingencies or obligations that might be needed to be considered and acknowledged as part of the rights?

    I was very interested that David spent some time on the matter of justice, and how healing is justice and justice is healing. I personally find this an odd concept. This comment is not intended to scorn anyone who feels the truth of the idea, but is an attempt to explore it. I am minded of the interesting bits and pieces I have been exposed to about the South African experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Tribunals. In much of what I have seen, there has been little of what is commonly taken for ‘Justice’ – the idea of a ‘tooth for a tooth, and an eye for an eye’ type concept. From what I understand, many people, from both sides of the conflict, have admitted to their actions, acknowledged the harm that they have done and can no longer undo; and perhaps some understanding of why they took such actions as well as the consequences of those actions has been found. I admit that I am uncertain if many of the people who have ultimately acknowledged their actions have even faced legal action and social punishment in the form of a jail sentence.

    In terms of the survivors of a genocide; can justice ever be done? The lives taken of so many people can not be returned. The grief caused to the survivors can not be undone. The punishment of the perpetrators can not, at least in my opinion, be to cause another genocide by attempting to wipe out their race and removing all property rights from them in their turn. Someone must call a stop to the violence and death. This is not to deny that the events happened, but it is necessary to stop the cycle of reciprocal violence so that there are still people who can learn to work together to heal the harm done, and to try to work towards peace and hopefully the betterment or all. I know that David was in mid point (I’ve forgotten the point he was making), and it was an important point, but he came to the end of a sentence where he stated “… justice; whatever that may be.” In giving story teller rights, I assume that means we are giving the story-teller the right to define exactly what that justice may be – a very powerful position, and one of which I am not sure there shouldn’t be some sort of limitation to or standards for.

    And this, which is my last comment on this post, brings me to another concern I have with the foundation of Narrative therapy, even though there is so much that appeals to me in the approach from what little I have read. If Narrative therapy is at least partially based on post-modern demythifying of culture, or more specifically of assumed (unthought out) ‘truths’ (the sort of truth that the power elites just simply accept because they enable those very elites to maintain their power), the problem that I have philosophically with post-modernism is that it even demythifies itself, its right to question the assumed truths of the power structures. It leaves no standard in which to make any judgements of right or wrong, leaving only socially constructed Narrative (in other words nothing). The very concept of social justice is fundamentally an appeal to a moral foundation. The idea of justice is balanced on the concept that there is a foundation that is absolute and gives meaning to terms such as right, wrong, suffering, and persecuting, etc.

    For example, a post-modern position on the rights of telling stories is that all stories are fundamentally equal – no less and no more valuable. However, the power structures of our society obviously do favour particular stories – such as what it is to be male, or female, or indigenous, or white, or asian, etc. If you are one of the groups (such as indigenous as an example) where you often lack power and are unable to tell the story you want to tell, lack the ability to have people understand the suffering you are going through; for Narrative therapists to help in ‘healing’ such injustices, they would in fact be favouring the stories of the indigenous, or the stories of the persecuted, or the stories of the victims. In other words, Narrative therapists would be applying power against power to give a particular, and potentially previously unheard story, ‘precedence’ – its position of power and acceptance along with the other narratives. Can this be done from a purely non-biased and non-specific basis? Can it be done without admitting that one is appealing to a specific moral foundation for certainty of the ‘rightness’ or ‘justice’ of the response? Is there the risk of replacing one set of elites with another set of elites?

    Ultimately, I do believe in the concept of a foundational moral standard, even as I admit that I do not know what that is, nor what it covers and how right and wrong are defined in any definitive set of terms. I also believe that there are far too many wrongs being done on a minute by minute (second by second) basis. The history of the indigenous tribes in their interactions with each other probably can be investigated to reveal that not all tribes dealt with each other honourably (justly) – from what little I know of Maori stories, they often did not deal justly with each other, which partly relates to how their culture evolved). Some of our histories express the experiences of the indigenous tribes of Australia , indicating that they often did not experience justice from the white colonialists that have largely been the foundation of the defined Australian populace. Again, certainly part of the injustices done to so many peoples has been the process of robbing them of their ability to express and have their stories heard and understood. I would argue that the western culture in general has been undermining the rights of many of the peoples who are now rebelling in countries like Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, etc, to tell and have heard their stories – comforting ourselves with justifications like ‘they don’t want their freedom, so its OK that they are ruled by dictators’, etc. But, does using power to give other people power mean that they will use it wisely? That they will then perpetrate ‘justice’ with their new power?

    One of the most powerful things expressed in the Truth and Reconciliation Tribunals, at least I found it to be very powerful; is the concept of forgiveness. Now, I have no ideas to express how someone can forgive another for the wrongs they have experienced; particularly given the context in South Africa , or Rhwanda. But, it seems that where people have been able to find it within their capacities to forgive, they have been able to truly reconcile themselves, at the very least, with the wrongs they have experienced and not only found peace, but have grown into beings living seemingly more fulfilling lives. Where forgiveness has not been possible, it appears to me that those individuals have in fact truly become ‘victims’. I claim no right to criticize either outcome, for I have never really been wronged, nor have I really suffered horrible deprivations, persecution, violent assaults, etc. I have not walked in the shoes of people who have suffered. Still, I question whether the arbitrary application of power – the simple giving of rights and thus promotion of particular stories (which often results in the importance of other stories being suppressed) will solve the problem and provide the healing that far too many people need to receive.

    Hope I’ve been at least a little clearer than mud; and I hope I have not offended too many people – offence is not my intent.

    My regards to all


    • hi Andrew,

      Because the topic of ‘narrative justice’ is such a big topic, I won’t say too much about it here. But I am thinking of ‘narrative justice’ as a supplimentary concept of justice to sit alongside (not replace) other conceptions of justice – ‘retributive justice’, ‘restorative justice’ and so on. We plan to write and publish about this in coming months and I will look forward to further discussions! In relation to ‘forgiveness’, you might be intersted in the special issue of the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work on the topic ‘The question of forgiveness’. Thanks for your comments. I hope your health is okay. Warmly David

  19. As the birds sat as outsider witnesses, my guess is that they chirped with delight as they could hear David connect with our Friday afternoon Narrative history that has extended to the current initiatives of an on-line Narrative community. This forum provides a chorus of exchanging stimulating and vibrant ideas that are relevant to our diverse contexts.

    The talk absorbed me in deep considerations regarding this notion of inviting “justice” into therapy. It lathered my thinking about my role as a psychologist, as my training privileged the individual psyche – this talk invites an opportunity, that extends to a responsibility as a therapist. It widens the lens to consider Just-is as propelling the pursuit of peace, dignity and harmony into action. It highlighted to me that Narrative Justice exists in the face of injustices people and their communities endure, and the Charter of Story telling rights might serve to anchor our intentional practice to re-story healing. My curiosity is sparked around the kind of questions I will continue to foster in order to breathe life into these articles.

    I concur with David that there are hazards and possibilities of the human rights discourses. As humans are diverse, so are our rights; they possess a specific local knowledge…so what are the ways of engaging in rights, that from another perspective might be deemed as wrongs! Also how stories are told and received brings into question – what skills does this require of the therapist, community worker, social worker, nurse, psychiatrist, etc. so our listening is fine tuned to broadcasting justice. Like the birds, I am singing with enthusiasm about the fruition of these ideas into practise.

    Now as I sip on my cup of tea, I give a serene thanks to David; and I sit with anticipation to hear Jane and Cheryl continue to share part of our Narrative legacies.I think our work prospers further when we know where our work originated from…




  1. Re-writing Stories of Identity: Alicia's Story - ...metaphorically speaking - […] (Denborough 2017) and tell her story in a way that fits for her, not defined by others.  The Charter…

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