2002: Issue 2

Posted by on Dec 1, 2016 in | 0 comments

2002-no-2Welcome to this special issue of the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work on African-American perspectives: healing past and present.*

The process of putting together this edition has challenged, inspired, confronted and moved us. The papers and interviews included here are wide ranging and of considerable scholarship. In Part One of this journal you will find descriptions of an inspiring community research process, a startling oral history project, and a practice-based framework for moving towards ‘post colonial’ or culturally appropriate therapy. You’ll also find heartfelt interviews in relation to the meaning of home, the significance of reparations and honouring ancestry, and the implications for therapists in questioning the concept of punishment. All of these writings are based in African-American history and experience.

From here, the journal branches out to include voices from Indigenous Australia, Samoa, Ghana and South Africa. These are thought provoking pieces of writing.

The second part of this journal consists of two collaborations which we hope will be of significant assistance to therapists engaging with poststructuralist ideas and with externalising practices. The question and answer documents that are provided in this section are easy-to-read and yet have been crafted with great care so that the substance and thoroughness of ideas are still conveyed. Whether you are a seasoned narrative therapist or new to the ideas we hope you will find these two pieces highly relevant and helpful to your practice. We would love to hear your feedback about this.

Towards the end of the journal we’ve also included two reviews of recent training events – one a conference in relation to the experience of Holocaust survivors and their families, and the other a workshop that was held in South Africa earlier this year.

As you can see, within this journal are many stories, many ideas. We look forward to hearing about your experience of reading them.

Before you do so, we would just like to thank the authors who have contributed to this issue as well as all those people who have worked hard behind the scenes and who have participated in the conversations that made this journal possible. These conversations have taken place over some years in Adelaide, in Atlanta, on the banks of the Murray River in South Australia, on the Cape Coast of Ghana, in Samoa, in Oklahoma, in the UK and in South Africa (not to mention those phone calls that have criss-crossed the globe!) This journal edition has certainly been a collaborative effort. Thanks to all of you who have been a part of the process.

David Denborough

* Regular readers will notice that for this special issue we have used North American spelling for those articles within the African-American section. For some reason, it didn’t seem appropriate to convert the spelling to Australian English!


Showing 1–16 of 17 results

  • We are making history now— Vanessa McAdams-Mahmoud


    Working as a psychotherapist at Spelman College, each day I hear stories from young African-American women and their partners, friends and families. These are stories about every conceivable issue and experience. I am able to share in the happiness and joys of these young women’s lives as well as witness stories of sadness and confusion.

  • Talking of home and journeys of the spirit— Hugo Kamya


    I work with many families who have left their homelands and have come to build new lives in this country. Whenever I meet with them I think a lot about the meaning of home. I now live far away from the place where I grew up, which was in Uganda. Talking of home, for me, brings tenderness and a sense of connection. For me, the word ‘home’ evokes a sense of being nurtured and comforted and being in communion with others. It also brings a sense of longing. Within the word ‘home’ is where, in the words of Buechner (1973), ‘the heart’s deep gladness meets the world’s deep hunger’.

  • In Our Own Voice: African-American stories of oppression, survival and recovery in mental health systems— Vanessa Jackson


    A review of the history of mental health includes few references to the African-American experience. Robert Meinsma’s Brief History of Mental Therapy offers a review of philosophical and medical views on mental illness dating back to 600 BC that includes nearly a thousand entries. However, this very comprehensive document boasts fewer than five entries pertaining to the experiences of people of African descent. A similar criticism can be offered of the timeline compiled by the American Psychological Association (Street 2001). African-Americans have a presence in America dating back to at least 1619 when the first African indentured servants arrived in America (Bennett 1993).This chapter attempts to supplement the official records by offering a few accounts of African-American psychiatric survivors’ experiences, and the philosophy and policies that guided the treatment of our ancestors and which still influence our treatment today.

  • De-colonizing our lives: Divining a post-colonial therapy— Makungu Akinyela


    I am a therapist of African descent, born in the United States. I consult primarily with families of African descent. I believe that the emotional, relationship and mental health concerns that families present to me in consultation can be best understood within the social, cultural and historical context of resistance against racial domination in the United States. Those families who come to see me are commonly struggling with questions and issues that have their roots in slavery and Jim Crow segregation as well as the current system of what I refer to as American racial colonialism. While it is now over thirty years since the end of Jim Crow, and many of our people are no longer legally discriminated against, Eurocentric thinking, metaphors and dominant narratives continue to define relationships among Africans in America and between African and European Americans.

  • In appreciation— Norma Akamatsu


    A note of appreciation.

  • Reparations: Repairing relationships and honouring ancestry— Makungu Akinyela


    When damage has been done to a people, when there has been exploitation and one group has benefited from this, then a key aspect of repairing the relationship between these groups are processes of reparation. Processes of reparation enable the damage that has been done to be mended and relationships to be healed. Where abuse has occurred, it is of great importance in order for healing to take place, that the effects of the abuse be fully acknowledged, and that the perpetrator of the abuse engage in acts of redress and reparation. In my experience, where this occurs there is a much greater likelihood of relationships being restored. This is true in therapeutic contexts as well as larger cultural and social contexts.

  • Suggestions for further reading— Anita Franklin



    When asked to provide suggestions for further reading in relation to the theme of African American experience, I chose these three books as I believe they are particularly applicable to the situation of African Americans and others of African descent living in the West as a result of slavery and colonialism. I have found, when I am asked to teach about Black America, that these texts are the ones which I find myself recommending to students time and time again.


  • To be a healer not a jailer: Implications for therapists in moving beyond punishment— Kenneth V. Hardy


    I initially began to think critically about the issue of punishment when working with young children. The first thing I noticed was that in families where children received frequent and excessive punishment there were vivid effects on the child’s development. When I saw a child in therapy who I was told was sneaky, or manipulative, or lying in relation to routine matters, upon asking various questions what came to the fore was that often these children had very good reason to fear punishment, either from their parents or from others outside the family. I came to see how these children had developed coping strategies in response to the fear of punishment. Time and again, I saw how an over-reliance on punishment had created more problems than it had effectively addressed. I particularly noticed how the legacies of punishment became problematic for families as children reached adolescence.

  • Stories of pride (a much loved previously published article) — Barbara Wingard


    In June 2001, Barbara Wingard, Cheryl White and David Denborough travelled to the USA to meet with people from African-American, Latino and Native American communities to talk through cultural protocols in relation to the upcoming International Narrative Therapy and Community Work Conference to be co-hosted by Dulwich Centre and Spelman College in Atlanta Georgia. The following piece of writing was created from an interview that took place on the banks of the Murray River upon our return to Australia. We’ve included this piece of writing because it powerfully makes the links between the experience of Aboriginal Australian, African-American, Latino and Native American communities.

  • Opening the Door of Return— James Anani Amemasor



    To begin, can we ask you about your role here within this castle … what is it that you do here? And why do you feel this is important?

    I work here at the Cape Coast Castle as the Museum and Monuments Education Officer. This job is very meaningful to me as it gives me the opportunity to express to others the values that I hold dear. It is my role to introduce our visitors to the history of this place, a history that we cannot run away from. Our history is very important to us. It helps us to appreciate what has happened in our country and enables us to then work out how we can forge ahead. Our history helps us to understand what is happening today in this land and assists us in travelling into the future.

  • Honouring Samoan ways and understandings: Towards culturally appropriate mental health services— Kiwi Tamasese


    The following paper was created from a series of interviews with Kiwi Tamasese that took place in Wellington, New Zealand and also in Samoa in 2000. This paper discusses some of the findings from a research project carried out by The Family Centre. The full report Ole Taeao Afua: The New Morning – A Qualitative Investigation into Samoan Perspectives on Mental Health and Culturally Appropriate Services by Tamasese, K., Peteru, C. & Waldegrave, C. is available from The Family Centre.

  • The healing of memories— Fr. Michael Lapsley


    Fr Michael Lapsley was born in New Zealand and trained as a priest in Australia before moving to South Africa. He was expelled from South Africa and went on to become an ANC chaplain while living in both Lesotho and Zimbabwe. In 1990, while in Zimbabwe, he opened a letter bomb and lost both his hands and one eye in the subsequent explosion. He now lives and works in Capetown as the Director of the Institute for the Healing of Memories. The following interview took place in Capetown. Cheryl White, Jane Speedy & David Denborough were the interviewers.

  • Externalising: Commonly asked questions— Maggie Carey & Shona Russell


    The following questions and answers about ‘externalising’ have been created in response to regular requests from practitioners. We’ve tried here to respond to some of the questions we are most commonly asked in training contexts.

    We’ve enjoyed the collaborative process of coming up with these questions and answers. A wide range of people have been involved and we’ve really appreciated this.

    We hope this document will be of assistance to those engaging with narrative ideas. We look forward to receiving your feedback!

  • Poststructuralism and therapy – what’s it all about?— Leonie Thomas


    Narrative therapy is very influenced by poststructuralist ideas and yet, for many of us, it can be quite a challenge to actually understand what poststructuralism is! Personally, we have been excited, challenged, stretched and sometimes exhausted by trying to understand poststructuralism and what it might mean for our practice as therapists.

    While this is a complex topic, this is only a brief piece of writing. We’ve simply focused on a few areas and tried to offer some answers to commonly asked questions. We are not meaning to imply that these are the correct or only answers, we’re just hoping that you’ll find them helpful. We’ve certainly learnt a lot in putting them together.

  • A review of the Transcending Trauma Conference— Lucy Raizman & Bea Hollander-Goldfein


    On December 2-3, 2001, the Transcending Trauma Conference sponsored by Penn Council for Relationships in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, provided a rare opportunity for the sharing and acquisition of knowledge. What made this conference different? There were many factors, but the most significant was the fact that the presentations were based on the multiple realities of the trauma experience as described by trauma survivors. Discussions of theories and ideas served only to enhance the understanding of the complexity of human adaptation to horror and devastation. The words and stories of survivors themselves and their family members offered insights that described the impact of trauma and their unique experiences of coping, adapting and rebuilding their lives.

  • A review of the Transcending Trauma Conference— Lucy Raizman & Bea Hollander-Goldfein (Copy)


    On December 2-3, 2001, the Transcending Trauma Conference sponsored by Penn Council for Relationships in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, provided a rare opportunity for the sharing and acquisition of knowledge. What made this conference different? There were many factors, but the most significant was the fact that the presentations were based on the multiple realities of the trauma experience as described by trauma survivors. Discussions of theories and ideas served only to enhance the understanding of the complexity of human adaptation to horror and devastation. The words and stories of survivors themselves and their family members offered insights that described the impact of trauma and their unique experiences of coping, adapting and rebuilding their lives.


  1. Listening to Tileah I was provoked to contemplate my own use of language when working with clients. I enjoy the narrative model of practice and I am aware that for some there is definitely stigma attached to the process of counselling or therapy. I have only had one experience of working with an Indigenous person as a client and I will be sure to look at my use of language. I like the idea of it just being a yarn, it takes the pressure and onus off of the client to do something.

  2. Hello:

    This is Andrea from Toronto.

    I found particularly helpful the discussion in the FAQ around the use of metaphors of conflict and combat. I expect to be working in healthcare settings with critically ill patients and their loved ones (mostly children and parents), and I anticipate hearing them use these kinds of combative metaphors during our conversations. I also anticipate meeting many people who are mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted from “fighting” these problems. I appreciated the comments in the FAQ about combative metaphors, and the suggestions around exploring other kinds of metaphors which may be less conflict-laden and draining on their emotional resources. Thanks again for making this material available!

  3. I have started to use collaboration with clients when I am asked to write a report. I ask clients what they see as the areas of change and challenge of which they want others to be aware. I also at times share my report with the client first to be sure it accurately reflects their experience. In this way they are both acknowledging their ongoing journey and being acknowledged for the work they have done.

  4. Mike here, in London. I too was interested in “We were unwittingly adjusting people to poverty or other forms of injustice by addressing their symptoms, without affecting broader social and structural change.” It’s a really difficult question. I was involved for about 10 years in working with people suffering from homelessness. Sue Mann’s story really rang true for me. One thing I was involved in was a choir for marginalised people, literally helping them find their voices. That, I felt, was useful, and collaborative. But I have always been suspicious of things like distributing left-over sandwiches to people sleeping rough on the street, as if that made it OK for them to be there as long as we give them some stale sandwiches. Or giving them tents or sleeping bags. What message does it send? Even though it may be well-meaning.

  5. Hi, I’m Mike. I work as a couples counsellor in London, England. My main training was 50% psychodynamic and 50% systemic. Narrative work was touched on briefly, for one module, and I am looking forward to learning more. Couples certainly do bring stories, often rather thin stories. “My partner is selfish.” Or “My partner had an affair”. Full stop. That’s all there is to know. Even in happy couples, people seem to get shaped into rather thin roles: this partner is the one who’s good with people, that partner is the one who’s good with money, this one cooks, that one drives. If the relationship ends, they may discover, actually *I* also can drive, cook, manage my money, make friends, I am a complete person.

  6. I think it will be an important part of my practice to investigate with clients which elements of our systems (social, cultural, political, economic) that are contributing to or mitigating their problems and suffering. I was particularly struck by the following sentence from the Just Therapy article: “We were unwittingly adjusting people to poverty or other forms of injustice by addressing their symptoms, without affecting broader social and structural change.” I think it is incumbent upon those of us in helping professions to work with the people we are helping to begin addressing the systemic issues that are contributing to (or creating) their problems. Otherwise, we may fall into this trap of “adjusting people to injustice.”

  7. Hello! My name is Andrea and I am a Masters student in a spiritual care program located in Toronto.

    After reviewing this chapter, I’m reflecting upon the question that was raised: “how do we respond to grief when that grief has been caused by injustice?” and thinking about it in the context of working with seriously ill children and their families in a hospital/hospice setting. Patients and families in that setting also face grief that has been caused by injustice (in the form of incurable illness), and I see how the narrative metaphor can be used to help those families begin to reclaim their own lives in the face of tremendous loss caused by uncontrollable circumstances. I can see how the Articles of the Narrative Therapy Charter of Story-Telling Rights would be tremendously helpful when working with patients and families as a framework for telling and receiving their stories about their lives and their problems.

    For me, the material in this chapter also raises the question of how we can help to facilitate healing in a world where systems are seemingly becoming more unjust and creating deep suffering. My initial thought is that we continue to listen to each other’s stories with deep compassion, and the teachings of this course will help to provide us with new ideas and skills on how to do this.

  8. 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.

  9. “Narrative therapy doesn’t believe in a ‘whole self’ which needs to be integrated but rather that our identities are made up of many stories, and that these stories are constantly changing.”

    I like this, I find it very compatible with my beliefs as a Buddhist. In Buddhism, as I understand it, mistaken beliefs about a solid, fixed “self” are the source of our suffering.

    I work with couples using EFT for couples, and in that approach, there is a big emphasis on externalising the problem as “the cycle that you get trapped in”, and encouraging couples to come up with their own name for it.

  10. Thank you for this. I am a counsellor, and trying to make as much as possible of my notes “in quotes”, that is, writing down things that the clients said. And not my own opinions.

  11. hello

    I the ED of a Friendship Center in Terrace, BC where were mostly target the indigenous population in our city of 12,000. I found your video interesting and something that we may want to try. Havee you been able to to do any follow ups studies to gage the long term effect of your program?


    Cal Albright
    Kermode Friendship Center
    Terrace, BC

    • Hi Cal, thanks for the interest. At this point the only followup has been through conversations with with people who return to volunteer on additional walks or engage with our other programs.

      However, a group of fourth year medical students at a local university have offered to run a pre and post measured study / report in 2020 as part of their studies which should be interesting.

      Let me know if you would like more information.


  12. Thank you for this overview of Narrative Therapy. I am returning to practice after some time away, and these reminders are timely and appreciated.

  13. Hi Chris

    I really enjoyed watching your video about Narrative Walks. My project is based in Blaenau Gwent, in South Wales, Uk. I’m wondering whether I might use such an approach in my work with our Youth Service, who support young people between the ages of 11 and 25. Have you any thoughts on this? Are there any resources available, either free or to purchase?

    Best wishes


    • Hi Paul, m

      Much of my early attempts of the program were with the 15-20 year old age bracket and I found it worked really well. When I recently had an opportunity to run the program again with this age bracket – I extended the finish time so that could spend more time at the stop points and have a fire at the last resting place to talk about our intentions after the walk. This meant that we used head torches for the 2km which added a bit of a sense of theatre to the day. It was pretty cool.

      If you email me on hello@embarkpsych.com I can send you the manual. Or ask any other questions via this page so others might share in the answers.