The Narrative Foundation works with Narratives as its focus. This basically means working with the stories people share with us as people make use of narratives to make sense of their lives and the world they live in. The narrative approach is embedded in critical thinking and places emphasis on the effect of stories on people’s lives. People are viewed and acknowledged to be the experts of their own lives and thus in their stories. In the work we do we explore how people experience their stories and the effect of the stories on their lives. Through the retelling of stories, either individually or collectively, we can re-author our lives and take more agency.
Narrative Therapy was originally developed by Michael White in Australia and David Epston in New-Zealand. Narrative Therapy is a method of therapy that attempts to separate the person from the problem. The Narrative Foundation mainly focuses on the application within a community setting. From Narrative Therapy evolved a strategy called Narrative Theatre.
In recent years the field of psychosocial support has received a lot of attention and support. This movement has been highly welcomed by those working in war-traumatised countries. “Comprehensive Psychosocial Approaches to Healing Communities: A guideline for community workers in Burundi” is one of a series of manuals that has been published by War Trauma Foundation. It is also the follow-up for “Healing communities by strengthening social capital: A Narrative Theatre approach. Training facilitators and community workers”.
As the work has evolved over time it has become clear that once the overt symptoms of communities recovering from war have been identified the deeper issues have to be addressed. There are five main areas that have been identified as being essential to healing and rebuilding social fabric on a community level:
- decreasing destructive behaviour through the reviving of values;
- understanding and working with local leadership to address broader issues;
- assist in low level conflict resolution and mediation before it escalates into larger conflicts that could result in more violent outbreaks;
- providing psychological first aid and referring difficult cases
- promoting development activities and agency in groups in the community
These topics have been written up in the form of chapters for a manual by the trainers responsible for the different sections. Although the factual information used in this manual is drawn from recognised bodies of knowledge, the training itself needs to be closely linked up with people’s reality. It is not about learning a list of facts or signs and symptoms but understanding how these impact on someone’s life and what appropriate responses would be.
The Enneagram is a tool that can be used within narrative work to create a better understanding about yourself and others in your life. It helps you discover what motivates you and what your coping strategies tend to be during stressful situations. It is particularly useful to discover your own blind spots in the way you view the world and to identify what paradoxically drains your energy as you put attention on the very things you try to avoid. The enneagram is a circular diagram on which personality types are places in numbers one to nine. The numbers are then connected by arrows in significant patterns which point the way to integrated functioning or to less healthy coping mechanisms. No one type is superior to another. The personality types are not unique to the enneagram as it can be found in other psychological personality theories, but the Enneagram opens a way of understanding the complex interaction of different personality traits and is used to highlight strengths and identify areas that a person may want to improve. The main idea is to break automatic habitual responses to that may not give the effect you hope to achieve.
In addition it helps you see where someone else may be coming from and to not take every reaction you get personally – what a relief!
In the narrative tradition the work is typically done in groups as the focus is on relationships and communication and helps to build bridges between people.
Taking back practices
Academic research or evaluation of programmes by organisations continue to be done, however, it has actually become quite difficult for organisations to raise funds for on-going programmes unless this is supported by “scientific” evidence that the programmes are working. On the other hand when we conduct research we try and understand the complex nature of behaviour and use the results to provide more effective responses to behaviour that is seemed harmful to self or others. The behaviour we explore or the impact of the programmes we evaluate is given to us by the communities we serve. Seldom do we acknowledge the value of the indigenous knowledge to our “intellectual” body of knowledge. Even more seldom do we give our findings back to the communities in ways that can be accessed, understood and questioned.
There are many creative ways in which findings can be taken back to communities apart from the written word – dance, drama media, visual arts, music and poetry are all examples that communities could embrace. The nature of the creativity is informed by what people value but also by the resources available to the people who take back their findings. Narrative Theatre has been used successfully as a way of sharing findings with local communities. We respond to local requests and work with existing local resources.