The Tree of Life: An approach to working with vulnerable children, young people and adults

How can people be invited to speak about their lives in ways that make them stronger?

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The Tree of Life is a hopeful and inspiring approach to working with children, young people and adults who have experienced hard times. This methodology was co-developed through a partnership between Ncazelo Ncube (who was working at REPSSI at the time) and David Denborough (Dulwich Centre Foundation). Ncazelo and David initially developed this Tree of Life approach to assist colleagues who work with children affected by HIV/AIDS in southern Africa. This approach has proved so successful and popular that it is now being used with children, young people, and adults in a wide range of countries across Africa, and also in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Russia, Nepal, the USA, and elsewhere.

tree 3This approach enables people to speak about their lives in ways that make them stronger. It involves people drawing their own ‘tree of life’ in which they get to speak of their ‘roots’ (where they come from), their skills and knowledges, their hopes and dreams, as well as the special people in their lives. The participants then join their trees into a ‘forest of life’ and, in groups, discuss some of the ‘storms’ that affect their lives and ways that they respond to these storms, protect themselves, and each other.

The Tree of Life enables people to speak about their lives in ways that are not retraumatising, but instead strengthens their relationships with their own history, their culture, and significant people in their lives.

tree 1The Tree of Life has been used with children, young people and adults in many different contexts, including groups of refugees and immigrants; people whose community has suffered from a natural disaster (floods); groups of young people who have been expelled from school; women who have been subject to domestic violence, neglect, physical abuse, and emotional abuse within their families; adults who are experiencing mental health struggles, and in many other contexts.

We have also recently developed an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander version of the Tree of Life, and this is being used in Central Australia, Arnhem Land, and north Queensland.

See the Tree being used in different countries!

We have included below stories and accounts from workers and communities around the world who are using the Tree of Life to respond to various forms of trauma and hardship.

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For more information

Denborough, D. (2008). Collective narrative practice: Responding to individuals, groups, and communities who have experienced trauma. Adelaide: Dulwich Centre Publications.

For training in the Tree of Life

Click here for information about the next Tree of Life workshop.