2017: Issue 3

Posted by on Oct 23, 2017 in | 0 comments

Dear Readers,

As editors of this special edition of the International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, we are delighted to present this collection of papers written by new authors representing very different countries: Australia, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, and the USA.

If you’re at all like us, you are likely to think that every edition of the IJNTCW is pretty special, so you may be wondering what’s so special about this one.

This edition includes papers only by Indigenous people, women, people of colour, Muslim and LGBTIQ people, and those who live at the intersection of more than one of these identities. As editors, we curated this edition to feature the work of people who occupy social locations that are often left out of professional spaces such as publications and conferences.

In fact, everyone involved with this edition has an affiliation with one or more of those identity groups. This includes the people who reviewed the manuscripts, the people who wrote reflections for each paper, and the people who served as mentors to some of the authors. It also includes the three of us on the editorial team. This journal is special because of its intentional space-making.

The journal opens with Vanessa Davis’s paper, ‘My meeting place methodology: Re-arming ourselves with cultural knowledge, spirituality and community connectedness’. Vanessa introduces her creative and powerful practice of integrating Aboriginal art with narrative approaches in her work with Aboriginal children.

Angela Voght offers a personal account of her experience with identity, culture, connection and loss. ‘Re-membering and honouring those who come before and after us’ invites us into Angela’s work, which weaves traditional First Nations practices with narrative approaches.

Justin Butler’s ‘The alignment of Aboriginal mapping and narrative practice’ considers the relationship between Aboriginal ways and narrative practice. Justin places particular emphasis on the cultivation of decolonising and indigenising practices
with Aboriginal communities.

In ‘Tree of Life with young Muslim women in Australia’, Ola Elhassan and Lobna Yassine deconstruct the totalising discourses in uencing Muslim young people.

They describe how they integrated elements of Islam with the Tree of Life methodology in their work with Muslim youth, in order to open up a space, and an appreciation for, alternative knowledges, alternative stories, and a stronger sense of community among the young women.

Jagur McEwan’s paper, ‘The momentary hap of Bother’, takes us down the ‘Rascal hole’. Here, Jagur integrates narrative practice and queer theory to offer us a ‘love letter to the heart’ of their work as a youth worker with queer young people struggling on identity’s edges.

Continuing the theme of integrating queer theory with narrative practice, Julie Tilsen (a member of the editorial team) interviews Janet Bystrom, the founder of RECLAIM, an agency that serves queer youth. Janet describes how the ethics and politics that underpin narrative practice inform the agency’s organisational practices.

Jacqueline Sigg takes readers on a journey deconstructing medicalised discourses and their effects on identity. In ‘Walking away from “Illness Fears”: Glimpses of a narrative journey towards personal agency and justice’, Jaqueline shares her therapeutic work with a man reclaiming his life from fear of illness.

In ‘Putting down the burden: Outsider-witness practices, a family, and HIV/AIDS’, Lauri Appelbaum describes how she partnered with David, her client, and his family to preserve his stories before they were lost to AIDS dementia. Together, they create a de nitional ceremony though which David and his family re-membered each other.

Last, but not least, Elizabeth Quek invites us into the imaginative world of young people in Singapore who use superhero powers to take a stand against ‘Pocket Kering’ (‘no money’). ‘Presenting the League of Parents and Small People Against Pocket Kering: Debuting the skills and knowledges of those who experience nancial dif culties’ serves as an important reminder of the very real effects of a very good imagination.

We hope that the ideas and practices presented in this issue offer inspiration for you, and the communities you work in, to engage in critical and meaningful conversations together. We also hope that this collection of papers – authored by and reflected on by women, Muslims, people of colour, Indigenous people, and LGBTIQ people – will open doors to ways of knowing and being in the world that may be new to you.

In Solidarity,

Sekneh Beckett, Tileah Drahm-Butler & Julie Tilsen

Click here to read the editors’ closing note.


‘My meeting place: Re-arming ourselves with cultural knowledge, spirituality and community connectedness’ Vanessa Davis. (Pages 5-16)

‘All my relations: Re-membering and honouring those who come before and after us’ Angela Voght. (Pages 17-21)

‘Who’s your mob? Aboriginal mapping: Beginning with the strong story’ Justin Butler. (Pages 22-26)

‘Tree of Life with young Muslim women in Australia’ Ola Elhassan and Lobna Yassine. (Pages 27-45)

‘The momentary hap of Bother’ Jagur McEwan. (Pages 46-59)

‘Thinking Queerly about Narrative-Informed Organisational Development: A conversation with Janet Bystrom, founder of RECLAIM’ An interview with Julie Tilsen. (Pages 60-65)

‘Walking away from ‘Illness Fears’: Glimpses of a narrative journey towards personal agency and justice’ Jaqueline Sigg. (Pages 66-73)

‘Putting down the burden: Outsider-witness practices, a family and HIV/AIDS’ Lauri Appelbaum. (Pages 74-84)

‘Presenting the League of Parents and Small People Against Pocket Kering: Debuting the skills and knowledges of those who experience financial difficulties’ Elizabeth Quek Ser Mui. (Pages 85-99)

Showing all 9 results

  • My meeting place: Re-arming ourselves with cultural knowledge, spirituality and community connectedness— Vanessa Davis


    This paper introduces ‘My Meeting Place’, a process that integrates Aboriginal art practices and narrative practices to facilitate culturally appropriate counselling by Aboriginal practitioners working with Aboriginal children and young people. It offers an Indigenised therapeutic framework that contributes to the decolonisation of Aboriginal people. The paper includes a step-by-step description of how My Meeting Place was used in a one-on-one counselling session to create and guide narrative conversations.

  • All my relations: Re-membering and honouring those who come before and after us— Angela Voght


    I write this article not to step into an expert role as a narrative therapist or to speak for all First Nations People, but rather to share my experiences of narrative practices and how they helped to reclaim my relationship with my mom 26 years after her death. I write this, too, as a personal account of reclaiming my identity as a First Nations woman. I do not wish to speak in an instructive way that would suggest all people should reclaim their identity in this particular fashion, but rather to explain the impact on me as I restored parts of my story that had been lost to a modern dominant cultural worldview that often overlooks the importance of stories. Another important focus of this article is how knowledge drawn from both First Nations Cultures and Narrative Practice has influenced my work with people who are dying and their families. The weaving of these knowledges brings a different strength and a new pattern emerges.

  • Who’s your mob? Aboriginal mapping: Beginning with the strong story— Justin Butler


    As an Aboriginal person, I see firsthand how the dominant culture influences relations of power and privilege through systems, institutions and dominant ideas about best practice. My work involves exploring ways narrative practice aligns with Aboriginal worldviews and how this can support respectful and decolonising practice with Aboriginal people who consult us. In this paper I describe practices that challenge damage-centred accounts that locate problems within individuals and communities. Guided by our Aboriginal worldviews, I work alongside the people with whom I meet in my work to and ways to decolonise our minds and explore multi-storied accounts of people’s lives by starting with and building upon stories of strength using narrative maps of practice.

  • Tree of Life with young Muslim women in Australia— Ola Elhassan and Lobna Yassine


    This paper explores how the Tree of Life was re-created and adapted for a group of young Muslim women living in Sydney, Australia. Blossomed from these conversations was the nourishing source offered from trees, and from the Islamic faith. Reconciling these two sources led to an uncovering of ‘survival skills’ that the young women draw on to resist the struggles of everyday life. The innovation of women guest speakers from the local Muslim community added to the richness, and power, of these conversations. The Tree of Life opened up a space, and an appreciation for, alternative knowledges, alternative stories, and a stronger sense of community amongst the young women.

  • The momentary hap of Bother— Jagur McEwan


    This paper is many things, it started as a conference paper exploring what would happen, as community service workers, if we stepped away from language like the ‘complex needs client’, instead playing with an archetype such as the Rascal, the mischievous ‘trouble maker’, and seeing the Bother in trouble as a way to connect, to a journal piece that invites you into a liminal space I shared with one particular client in an LGBTIQA+ specialist organisation, who taught me how the dispossession of hope, which I came to acknowledge as her resistance, in the face of not being deeply seen, but wanting to connect with others, was cause for honour. This journey is peppered with Queering narrative approaches such as externalising, re-authoring and acknowledging the absent but implicit as acts of exorcising that which has been internalised, carving alternative identities and writing oneself back in from the margins, so endemic in the struggles of the collective LGBTIQA+ communities and our histories of erasure. Finally, it has become a reflection on my decentred practice; a love letter that strikes the blood of my work.

  • Thinking Queerly about Narrative-Informed Organisational Development: A conversation with Janet Bystrom, founder of RECLAIM— An interview with Julie Tilsen


    Maintaining a narrative practice within conventional organisational structures that are informed by modernist and medicalised ideas of identity, professional expertise and ethics can present a variety of challenges. In some contexts, governmental regulations and market-based funding directly affect the practices of service providers by imposing regulations and limits that stand in opposition to the relational intentions of narrative practice. This is particularly true for narrative practitioners who work alongside marginalised communities with intentions of doing justice. One organisation, RECLAIM, in St Paul, Minnesota, USA, is striving to meet this challenge. RECLAIM is building a community organisation that serves queer and transgender young people. Julie Tilsen (co-editor of this issue) sat down with RECLAIM’s founder, Janet Bystrom, to learn how, as an organisation, RECLAIM aspires to embody narrative practices and principles, not only in the therapy room, but also in its policies, procedures and everyday organisational practices.

  • Walking away from ‘Illness Fears’: Glimpses of a narrative journey towards personal agency and justice— Jaqueline Sigg


    This paper describes a therapeutic journey with a man who reclaimed his life from ‘illness fears’ and their devastating effects. It invites the reader to become an audience to the client’s resistance to dominant mental health discourses and the pathological self-narratives these discourses shaped. The article highlights particular turning points where the client reclaimed places in his life that fears and medical discourses had previously occupied.

  • Putting down the burden: Outsider-witness practices, a family and HIV/AIDS— Lauri Appelbaum


    The narrative therapy practice of de nitional ceremony and outsider witnessing can create spaces for people and communities to move through dominant problem stories to new, richer stories of hope and connection. This paper looked at the use of outsider witnessing in a new setting, with a long-term survivor of HIV/AIDS, and his family. This paper introduces David, his history of experiences with HIV/AIDS stigma, trauma, and homophobia, and his current struggles in his relationships with his family. The outsider- witness experience with David and his family is described, with detailed re-authorising conversations between me, David, and his family. Outsider-witnessing practices provided David and his family a way to move through dominant stories of stigma, shame, and disconnection, to richer stories of love, connection and commitment to one another. The paper discusses recommendations and ideas for re-creating these experiences with other long-term survivors, in community and in partnership with AIDS service organisations. The paper concludes with reflections.

  • Presenting the League of Parents and Small People Against Pocket Kering: Debuting the skills and knowledges of those who experience financial difficulties— Elizabeth Quek Ser Mui


    This paper describes a narrative collective practice model that was applied in a Singapore community that experiences financial difficulties and other complex issues. The ‘Pocket Kering’ (‘no money’) project involved four stages. First, conversations with families in their homes elicited rich descriptions of their experiences of Pocket Kering, and the skills, values and knowledges they had employed to respond to it. The second part of the project brought the ‘small people’ together in a day camp where they engaged with the ‘Pocket Kering Monster’. The children identified and shared their ‘superpowers’: the skills, values and knowledges they had used to shrink the monster when it had appeared in their lives. The third part was called ‘Operation M’ (for money). The children were employed to plan and run a small income-generating project using their superpowers. The final stage of the project entailed a definitional ceremony in which the stories of the children were told and retold, and their preferred identities were acknowledged by an audience of community members and parents. The paper concludes with critical reflections on the project, including considerations of power and privilege.


  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.