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 Post-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

This Post Has 76 Comments

  1. jillsummerwill

    Jill, Vancouver, Canada , I really enjoyed this chapter as it puts into context a lot of practice tools which I have used but without really understanding the intention. Working mostly with families with what is meant to be in the best interests of children, these articles really made me reflect on how the ‘thin descriptions” and stories we are told about the children are often told to them or about them by others. This then becomes their narrative and the narrative that we work with them from. It really made me reflect on when people can’t tell their own stories themselves that we reflect on the narratives that exist and look at the context, who told them, how they were created and how they became the story. I am really looking forward to using this along with a systemic approach to see how people’s stories interact and conflict, who is the dominant story teller and how to chanllenge the narrative and ensure that everyone’s individual story is heard and considered in looking at te relationship or family story. I am also excited about how to move away from a “problem” solving methodology and looking not only to address the presenting issues but changing the narrative as to why and how the problem’s exisited and help people understand themselves in the context of their own lives.

  2. ricmathews.lmhc

    I’m watching this video and reading the articles of this charter from New York City on Wednesday night, October 11th, 2023, while in the background I’m seeing and reading news coverage of the current crisis in Gaza and Israel. I’m thinking about all of the friends and colleagues I’ve seen in grief and heartache this week. I’m thinking of the people I know, both intimately and some only through online relationships, posting on social media about their firm stances supporting one side of this tragic conflict. I’m seeing the arguments and the fighting and the ways people are recklessly forming opinions about what’s happening while partially or grossly misinformed. I’m thinking of how my patients this week, whom are of various races, cultures, religions and backgrounds, have struggled to place their feelings and articulate their complex emotions about these events, even with me in the treatment room. As I think of what I’m seeing, hearing, reading, listening to and experiencing myself as part of a global community, as a person of color, as a descendant of oppressed and traumatized ancestors, and as a mental health practitioner, I am grappling with how to mobilize the tenets of this charter in the immediate context of the current crisis. Every article herein holds a powerful truth that so desperately needs to be shared at this very moment in time, and I’m grateful to have encountered this charter today. My thoughts and meditations this week will be to offer these ideas to all of the aforementioned in my realm of contact so that someone, somewhere, somehow will pause and make space for someone else’s story.

  3. Belinda

    I really enjoyed each articles, especially the overall theme of empowerment and agency. What drew my attention was Article 3: Everyone has the right to invite others who are important to them to be involved in the process of reclaiming their life from the effects of trauma. I initially thought this was a strange idea to put into place – why did it need to be explicitly stated that we’re able to invite important others into our healing process? We have the right to privacy, so it goes without stating that we’d have the right to also give our consent to share? Why don’t we change that statement to, “Everyone has the right to invite, or not invite, others…” ? And that was when it occurred to me that, traumatic experiences, vulnerability and pain, are often shrouded in shame and secrecy. It actually goes without saying that often times, they’re kept private. We’re often expected to heal in private. Hence, it’s more powerful to include in this Charter, the right to invite important others to be a part of our healing process. The most powerful way to heal shame is through connection, and this Article represents that sentiment.

  4. Lorna Downes

    I’m recovering from a virus and nourishing myself with rest and food for the soul. I really enjoyed this video as an antidote to the push for video content that’s maximum 3 mins. My discipline is a family/carer lived experience worker and I’m also studying social work. I’m particularly drawn to Article 3 – Everyone has the right to invite others who are important to them to be involved in the process of reclaiming their life from the effects of trauma as many of the families I’ve worked with and my own experience as a family member is that of exclusion from the process or recovery and healing.

    As a lived experience (or peer) worker I’m also drawn to Article 7 – Everyone has the right to know and experience that what they have learnt through hardship can make a contribution to others in similar situations as this is the foundation and core of my work and how I personally make sense of the trauma and hardship I’ve experienced. We can use our experiences as offerings to others so they may learn from and potentially avoid unnecessary hardship themselves and, if they so chose, in turn help others.

  5. Olena

    Thank you for this video and for invitation to discussion.
    I agree with all the articles in the Charter, they are important both for the therapist and for the person seeking help.
    The most gorgeous one for me is the Article 7. Everyone has the right to know and experience that what they have learnt through hardship can make a contribution to others in similar situations.
    I think this is a very powerful thing, because not only it can help others, but also it gives so much meaning to the person, that their experience is important and of high value. It can be life changing.

  6. annie.coole

    Hi David
    The narrative charter is full of unconditional positive regard for each individual to tell their story. It is one of mercy and grace in laying one’s opinion and preconceptions aside for the voice of another to be heard.
    Your story is one of the most powerful things a human being owns. To allow another the honour to reveal “all of themselves” emotionally, psychologically and physically through their story and being received in fullness and completeness, there is a sense that trauma and pain of the past not only can have a transforming enabling on the one telling their story but also a powerful healing and restoration to those who are privileged and honoured to hear it. Holding others stories is the most privileged thing counsellors. Thank you for sharing the Charter and the wonderful work the Dulwich Centre is doing.

  7. denise.potter72

    Hello, I’m writing from NSW Australia.
    Thank you so much for sharing, I’m a social worker and this is allowing me to build on my knowledge and skills especially when working within an adolescent framework.

  8. Julie

    I am writing from Queensland Australia. Happy to be here and introduce myself. I particularly found these articles of interest as I work in the addiction space as a counsellor. Many of our clients have underlying trauma. Being able to approach the subject with an empathic attitude is not just a technique but a respectful attitude and non-judgmental stance that goes beyond the surface, reaching the hidden and often many layered depths of the client. The story telling rights, demonstrates this perfectly. I also think I can use some of the framework for receiving and documenting trauma stories in my own practice and have found this whole section of particular use to my practice when working with clients who have experienced past trauma

  9. Emma H.

    I really appreciate the article to honor the broader context that influences individuals, groups, and communities. In many ways this is a simple concept, but can still be overlooked or assumed instead of considered with real intention or depth. I am new to the practice of narrative therapy and this framework for considering how narrative therapy can serve individuals, groups, and communities who have experienced and continue to experience marginalization and oppression is extremely helpful.

  10. Laurie Sharp

    Dear David,
    Thank you for sharing this charter with us. I really appreciate the focus on healing in the context of either individual or community. I have been a firm believer that storytelling, the ability to share, to be seen, to be heard is of great importance and that sometimes. just his alone can be so very healing. When we add the layer of corporate storytelling, the possible healing becomes so enriched and broad. The possibility of healing both an individual and a group, family, or community is simply amazing. Therapy at its best. I believe in the power of individual narratives, family narratives, and community narratives.

  11. Valerie St Germain

    Retelling one’s story can be powerful yet devastating, reliving the terror one has experienced. This framework (i.e. A framework for receiving and documenting testimonies of trauma by David Denborough) will be very beneficial in empowering the individual in telling their stories.

  12. lisamoore.aus

    The experiences and the stories that have been part of the Charter’s development are compelling. The determination to keep justice and healing in the same space – is a powerful reminder that whatever we do as therapists, we must not overlook one in pursuit of the other. In more simplistic terms, the Charter illuminates our work. I have worked in countries where the OHCHR was published in national documents but overlooked at the local level. It wasn’t easy – but appreciating and understanding the OHCHR helped to keep the competing stories and voices in balance. I am new to Narrative Therapy – but it resonates with my lived experiences. Seeing the Charter and hearing how it came to tell its own story, is a great comfort. Thank you.

  13. Sonya Enkelmann

    Hi David
    Thank for your work on the Narrative Therapy Charter of Rights. I am a social worker working with victim-survivors of sexual violence; many of whom have a history of child sexual abuse.

    I would appreciate an explanation of Article 2: Everyone has the right for their life to be understood… in the context of their relationships with others.

    any insight is appreciated.

  14. Raasha Shaikh

    I see these comments filled with passion for great events of human suffering. I do not work in such space. I work in Mumbai, India with primarily the privileged upper-middle class, my work is towards problems that exist on a more individual scale. While trauma and pain is very much prevalent in their lives as well, I avoid using strong words like ‘injustice’, as we are trying to work against catastrophizing and self-victimization. I do however, resonate with all of these articles, especially article 4. I always make it a point to acknowledge their strengths in hardship and am often the first to do so in their lives. I believe it is very important. Thank you for this.

  15. TuiFleming

    Is this Charter that is articulated in the video, written up anywhere for reading/download please?

  16. Isabel Beuve

    Hello David, and greetings from Spain,
    Although it is not my field (Í am a linguist), this has made me reflect on the fact that the absence of collective therapy practice in my country might be one of the reasons why we are still, as a society, struggling with the remnants of our civil war. This also causing a model of selfish citizen.
    Besides, í have found some relation as well with the theory of the third space. It is usually mentioned with regards to politics (neomarxism, post structuralism ), but í do consider it very fitting in narrative studies, so it may also have some applications in therapy when dealing with social issues.
    Best regards,

  17. Sergio Chacón

    Hello, David
    Greetings from Temuco in southern Chile, the ancestral land of the Mapuche.
    I’ve been working about 17 years with people who suffer from their relationship with drugs. I stand from a harm reduction perspective to address these challenges of change and this rights chart clearly summarizes my point of view on therapeutic work in this area. Thank you very much for creating this proposal that will continue to illuminate my practice.



  18. Manpreet Kaur Mann

    Hi David, thank you for sharing. I am a social work student at the University of Wollongong. This charter is helpful for me because it makes me aware that I need to keep my clients at the centre of my practice and to work ‘with’ them rather than ‘for’ them. I know that it can be challenging for me because I am very new to it but it is a very interesting therapy for me because I will work for the human rights and justice of my clients by giving importance to their narrative by being simple with the client rather than complicated and judgemental for hearing their narrative (stories) and to hold them. This charter and narrative therapy help me to understand that everyone has their own and unique story to tell others. As a therapist, I need to provide proper justice and space to the clients for telling their stories. Thanks

  19. Chantelle M

    Hi David,
    Thank you for sharing this information on the Charter. I am a family Violence practitioner and about to move into a space of working with adolescents and their families. The discussed articles for the charter, really highlighted to me, on how as a society, I think we fail often at ensuring these rights are given to those, who cannot freely advocate and communicate for themselves. Previously I worked with children in out of home care, and their voices and rights to tell their story, to share their experiences without prejudice and judgment was not definitely not something you would see a lot of the time. Especially in children where there would be significant escalated dangerous behaviors. These children would be viewed as a product of their environment essentially, but not allowing the child to voice how they felt their trauma had impacted them. We seem to do a lot of talking about, not talking with. I have noticed this further in my current practice, particularly of those with disabilities, where the individual may have verbal communication complexities. Again, it seems they are categorised into a ‘box’ based on the “stereotype” for their disability. I reflect within myself, how are we as practitioners in the space, ensuring the equal right and opportunity for these women (in relation to my current role) to be able to share their stories and experiences, which would so enrich their understanding of their experiences. As a practitioner in the family violence space, I work hard and making sure the voice is heard of the woman, but it is much tougher space to ensure that children’s experiences are heard and validated. These charters definitely make me reflect on my own practice and to help me build on my skills, to ensure I strive to keep advocating to ensure the voices of those silenced are heard and their right to share their own story in their own way is given. Thank you for such a great thought provoking and reflective session.

  20. Tom Coope

    There is much talk within healthcare organisations about placing the person at the centre of their care and treatment, but in practice this seldom happens in my experience. I think a much more radical approach is needed to give the person an audible voice and this charter provides a strong foundation for advocating for positive social change. It also provides clear principles for individual practitioners working within systems that have the potential to cause harm. We cannot promote healing without acknowledging and addressing systemic inequality and injustices. Thank you for this informative and thought provoking session.

  21. Sammy Sahni

    Thank you for sharing, as someone who is always inclined towards social work and understanding social justice, the charter and other articles particularly the one about human was a humbling experience. I am able to witness myself and my responses and also of others in a compassionate and non judgmental way. I am looking forward to experiencing how this will reflect in my future work with marginalized communities.

  22. Julia

    Hi David,

    thank you sharing, and allowing me to build my knowledge and skills around working with clients. So much stood out to me in this video. I appreciate the way the charter focus on people as the expert of their own experience, something which I aim to keep at the forefront of my mind when any person is consulting me. I reflected a lot on the story and history written about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders here in Australia. How much of it is the colonial perspective, thus minimising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people own experience and reality of our history. It is such a thin story which does not uphold the 1st right you discussed. Article 4 also stood out, externalising the problem and the legacy of the trauma. I am looking forward to continuing this course.
    Thank you again,

  23. debbie webster

    it is important to be true to the nature and intent of a clients story and respect their rights and the dignity of their stories. A charter to support their narratives and respect their human rights and their right to healing and justice is imperative. it brings to mind the human rights abuse that has been visited on refugees and asylum seekers who have sought refuge in Australia only to receive treatment that is not representative of a compassionate country. Their stories were ignored and manipulated to support the harsh treatment they received.

  24. Sandra Owen

    Hi, David, I understand how important it is to protect people i.e. clients’ confidentiality and personal narratives in a non-bias, non-judgemental way which in turn provides a safe space to allow clients to unwrap their narrative whilst keeping in mind the power imbalance that a professional has on a client. We can adjust to mitigating that power imbalance by being respectful of the power of the client and that it is their narrative does imply they are the professional of their story. I love the charter and what this represents a client-centered approach.


    Hello David,

    As I take this course, India burns in the flames of the second wave of Covid. While many suffer, a lot of people are now reeling under anxiety and related mental health challenges as they cope with grief and loss and helplessness. While watching you read the charters, I was reflecting on Michael White’s idea of how social justice is deeply connected to emotional trauma. An entire generation who are now going through collective trauma due to a broken system in India, will the government or the prospective governments take responsibility of the damages they cause. How will this entire population who has now witnessed so much suffering due to the pandemic recover from feelings of guilt of not being able to save their loved ones or children who have lost their parents recover from childhood trauma. And if at all, the locus of the problem is not the person, and indeed socio-political, then how does one work towards helping these people recover from the trauma they now face, without the external accountability and responsibility.

    My question would be though, how do you make the system (be it family, community, government) partner in someone’s healing. While the idea of “externalising” the problem helps destigmatize mental health challenges and also puts the onus out, how does one reconcile with two. How does one make the system accountable.

    Thanks, Anindita

  26. Samantha

    Hi David, thank you for sharing. I’m a Social Worker and the charter for me reminds me to keep clients at the centre of my practice and to work ‘with’ them rather than ‘for’ them. This can be challenging when working in statutory organisations but it is still possible. It also reminds me that the human rights and justice narrative doesn’t have to be complicated but can be as simple as being with the client, hearing their narrative and holding them. Justice can be as simple as providing them space to hear their story. Because I hear similar themes with my clients (I.e. family court issues), sometimes I write their narrative for them in my head before I’ve even heard their story. It’s judgemental and I realise it’s impacting on my practice as I’m not putting them at the centre and not giving them the justice they deserve. This charter and being new to narrative therapy reminds me that everyone has their own story to tell which is unique to them. I’m planning on printing this and putting it where it’s visible to serve as a reminder. I’m also planning on sharing it with my colleagues. Thank you! 🙂

  27. Grace Love

    Dear David,
    Thank you for sharing the Chapter with me.
    My attention was drawn toward two articles. In particular, Article 3 that made me think of my hypnotherapy work where the emphasis is on the privacy and confidentiality of the experience itself. I seemed not to question that in terms of those people who may wish to invite others to be a part of their experience and that those invited others may actually contribute to my clients’ healing journeys. I now plan to address that by adding a sentence around that to the FAQ on my hypnotherapy website. Secondly, Article 4 moved me deeply, as I reflected how at times I see others through the lens of one storyline or some kind of deficit in them. I can witness myself with compassion, non-judgement, and I acknowledge the impact of my single story in relating to others. With this, I commit to continue to stay curious and open not only to hearing but looking for multiple stories of people’s lives.
    Thank you again, Grace

  28. Mahlie Jewell

    Having read this I realise I do a lot of work with people (and with myself) to dig into the negative stories and unpack them but not so much on the positive (strengths-based) stories and this is something I need to do to keep in balance. So much of the time people need to speak about their trauma, which is important and valid, but it’s also my job to remind them that they have stories of incredible strength. Thank you for this.

  29. Eden Goodman

    I was very intrigued by article 3 because I have found within my culture that there is a stigma towards inviting other people into your trauma. There is an assumption that people must learn to cope independently and not burden others with their past experiences. I think this mindset is really isolation and can make people feel alone and misunderstood. In many ways I believe therapist have been the ones to occupy this space and walk alongside client’s as they reclaim their lives after trauma but I like the idea that anyone can be a companion in this journey.

  30. Eden

    I was really intrigued by article three because of it’s emphasis on inviting others into the process of reclaiming your life after trauma. I think there is a stigma towards this idea of sharing your trauma at least within my culture. There is an assumption that your trauma is your own and it is your responsibility to find ways to cope. I like the idea of sharing your trauma and having someone walk alongside you during your healing. I think in many ways therapists have occupied this space but I like the idea of anyone taking on this role.

Leave a Reply