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. I’m Clayre Sessoms from Vancouver, BC, Canada, traditionally known as Coast Salish Territories. I acknowledge that my work takes place on the ancestral, unceded, and occupied territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), Nations of the Coast Salish People whose relationship with the land is ancient, primary, and enduring. I’m an uninvited settler in what is colonially known as Vancouver. Because my place of work is on stolen land I commit to support a reconciliation, which includes reparations and the return of land. Here I study counselling psychology and art therapy, and I get to incorporate narrative therapy at my practicum placement, a site that provides free counselling services for LGBTQ2S individuals.

    These materials help me to begin to wrap my head around the complexities of narrative therapy. I especially enjoyed learning about how others have used narrative therapy in practical counselling settings.

    I’m moved by how we often tend to hear, accept, or retell the thinnest stories of our lives and the lives of others. I imagine that not valuing the richness of an individual’s diverse range of stories, perhaps, it has been much easier to cling to tired old preconceived notions about others, which can cause undue harm.

    I’m left thinking about the TEDTalk by Chimamanda Adichie about the dangers of accepting a singular story of someone else, rather than leaning in and committing to understand the wholeness of that person’s narrative.

    I look forward to continuing to learn. Thank you to The Dulwich Centre for providing this accessible forum. <3

  2. in what ways have you entered into collaborations before? What made these collaborations possible?

    As a peer worker most of my work was entering into collaborations with young people. I would use curiosity to further inquire into their experience, and looking back wow these narrative practices would have been amazing to use in our youth group discussions! We would use art mostly in telling stories. Many of the young people heard voices and saw characters only they could see. They would enjoy painting these voices, externalising the character, giving it a name and talking about the story and nature of the relationship between the voice and the character. I also enjoyed illiciting these stories, as I could tell they would begin to separate themselves from the voices, allowing for guilt and shame to reduce.

    What might make it hard to enter into these practices?

    The one difficult way of entering into these practices was the note writing. The managerial culture of my last workplace meant it was not considered good practice to have clients sit with us to write notes. In fact most clients probably were unaware that workers did regularly make notes each time they had contact with the centre. We were a strengths based centre that thrived on person centred practice. I think there is a bit of a stereotype that note writing is quite clinical and removed from person centred practice, hence a certain avoidance of bringing up notes in front of clients.

    If these ways of working fit for you, what next steps could you take to build partnerships/collaborations in your work?

    I definitely believe I could continue to use art to help young people tell their alternative stories. In mental health many workers draw thin conclusions of clients – bipolar, poor attachment, violent, with even their strengths really talked about in third person. It would be great to start drawing peoples strengths out with the use of story telling, so that clients can start to own their strengths, rather than have clinicans cherry pick these out.

  3. Thank you to Tileah for a wonderful presentation. I love hearing the word “yarn” used in this powerful way (Americans also have that term). The practice of “translating”, of shifting concepts into language that can be more usefully heard, is very powerful. As coaches we can make good use of this to help clients uncover their hidden or forgotten resources.

  4. These stories are amazing examples of what we can discover when we hold onto our “beginner’s mind” and remember that the other person (client, patient) has the information and understanding, not us. We talk a lot in leadership development about “co-creating” and I think this is a beautiful example of two very complementary roles: the person who has the story and the person who helps to explore and shape it.

  5. I like the idea of narrative – there is something about giving people the power to create a narrative, rather than simply appearing in a story told by someone else. Within the narrative metaphor, I especially enjoy the fabric metaphor – the idea of strands. These may touch each other, or not, may go well together in tone or color, or not. But again, there is some power in creating and weaving the narrative.
    In my own work with coaching and leadership development, I find that the emphasis on narrative(s) helps make things more tangible, and therefore brings them to their true scale, instead of letting them take on imaginary and unclearly described proportions.

  6. I love this. Telling our stories in ways that make us stronger. Such a powerful sentiment. Sometimes through trauma, it is hard to access the words that really encapsulate that experience – though using the written word does help us access those hard to utter parts of our memories … in those cases though perhaps the story we tell ourselves is not one that makes us feel strong in the first instance – so finding a way to tell that story in a way that focuses on the strength of surviving to tell that story is just amazing!