There’s nothing like a brilliant story, or a good yarn. Narratives and stories can build us up to greatness and break us down to dust. They are sometimes full of colour and life, shared vibrantly, and others dark, hidden away and full of grief and sorrow unimaginable. Stories are an ancient part of human beings and existence, and are a powerful agent for learning, knowing, breaking, healing, and coming together. Stories are such an integral part of all human culture, and we are sharing and consuming them more frequently than we consciously realise.
Indigenous Australians are renowned for the Dreamtime or Tjukurrpa stories, and the way in which it has passed down knowledge, wisdom, law and language largely through storytelling alone. Narratives and stories continue to play a major role in the shaping of all of our groups, and individual lives through the ongoing reality of storytelling and negotiating narratives, even on the global stage.
Foucault’s position suggest that is virtually impossible to be situated outside of culture in any action in which we partake (Madigan, pp. 30-31, 2019)
So how do you tell a story? What stories do you love? And most importantly here, what stories do you share and not share?
A fundamental question that Madigan (p. 9, 2019) asks in relation to narrative is, ‘who has the rights to the story being told?’ In and of itself there is not always a simple answer to that question. Almost everybody knows the feeling of their own deeply personal stories being misrepresented for example, and felt violated in some way by that – until you realise lies or warped information doesn’t change the truth. Yet on the other side of the coin, there are many grander narratives; like Australian politics for example; that we all play a part in, in one way or another, but lack full ownership of – but which impact our lives. Much like the famous Hans Christian Anderson story of the Emperor’s Clothes.
In many ways our stories, especially the ones we experience, represent a fundamental part of how we choose to identify with, and have agency in the world. One can only imagine then, how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have felt when people or culture violated, language and culture misrepresented.
Often the health gap for Indigenous Australians is directly related to mainstream services not understanding Indigenous cultural law and business. For example, as you many of you have experienced or witnessed, many Aboriginal women are reluctant to accessing adequate gynaecological care & reproductive health services; particularly if the Doctors are male; due to it overstepping into ‘secret women’s business’ (Newman, Acklin, Trindall, Arbon, Brock, Bermingham & Thompson, 1999). This is evidenced by official data proving that the mortality rate for cervical cancer in Aboriginal women from various regions of Australia is up to four times the national average (Newman, Acklin, Trindall, Arbon, Brock, Bermingham & Thompson, 1999).
The starting point of Narrative therapy in summary, is basically contending that the formation of the ‘self’ is performed as a long two-way communication of information between the inside and outside world, between your own body, thoughts, conduct, self-understanding, self-surveillance and active participation with “internalising cultural dialogue mediated through prevailing external cultural norms” (Madigan, pp. 30 – 31, 2019). In other words, it is an understanding that the ‘self’ is shaped through what things have happened outside of you and within you, to you, by you, or what you have witnessed – and the impact this has had.
At the heart of narrative therapy is an unswerving commitment to a relational/contextual/anti-
individualist therapeutic understanding of persons, problems, and relationships. This relational/contextual/anti- individualist practice was founded on a therapy designed to counter the prevailing dominant psychological ideas regarding the skin-bound individual self (Madigan, p. 4, 2019).
Of course to assume that the ‘self’ is basically a ‘story’ or a ‘narrative’ that can be changed raises the nature/nurture debate question of ‘how much of who we are is innate and how much is a product of our environment’? Well the answer is that we are both evidently natural and educated by the world in some shape or form. This is an important thing to remember when engaging in any form of reconciliatory, healing or therapeutic practice, as not everything about a person, group or situation needs to be ‘fixed’ for want of a better term, just because there has been an experience of oppression.
Some things need to be accepted the way they are. In my own experience over almost my entire adult live, I have predominantly found that Indigenous people and groups in remote areas seem to embody this kind of acceptance of diversity in a ‘way of being’, and are of the most kind and welcoming people I’ve been privileged to form bonds with. This is not exclusive to the context, but most certainly a distinct characteristic of remote community life from my meandering experiences.
A the end of the day, people from every section of society are human, and subject to the same cross-section of power dynamics, and of course the ‘human condition’; the characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence, such as birth, growth, emotionality, aspiration, conflict, and mortality. This is why learning, teaching children, and healing through narrative and story-telling; especially around a fire; has been so effective since ancient times.
For more information on how to use narrative therapy in your practice, or to access resources check out this brilliant website www.
Madden, Shelley. 2019
Marsten, D., Epston, D. & Markham, L. (2016). Narrative Therapy in Wonderland: Connecting with Children’s Imaginative Know-How. UK; Norton & Company.
Madigan, S. (2019). Narrative Therapy(2nded.). Washington; American Psychological Association
Narrative Approaches. (2019). Retreived from www.narrativeapproaches.
Newman, J., Acklin, F., Trindall, A., Arbon, V., Brock, K., Bermingham, M. & Thompson, C. (1999). Story-Telling: Australian Indigenous Women’s Means of Health Promotion. Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal, 23(4), 18-21. Retrieved from https://search-informit-
Pinkola Estes, C. (1992). Women Who Run with the Wolves. United States; Ballantine Books.
Wikipedia. (2019). The Emperor’s New Clothes. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/
Wikepedia. (2019). The Human Condition. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/
Wright, S., Lloyd, K., Suchet-Pearson, S., Burarrwanga, L., Tofa, M. & Bawaka Country. (2012). Telling Stories In, Through and With Country: Engaging with Indigenous and More-Than-Human Methodologies. Journal of Cultural Geography, 29(1), 39 – 60. DOI: 10.1080/08873631.
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