Dr Marlene Winberg

PhD Philosophy and Literature (UCT) Masters of Art in Fine Art (UCT) BA Speech & Drama (UCT)


Narrative Therapy Practitioner

I pay my respect to the !xun San Traditional Council of Elders, whose indigenous knowledge of narrative healing has enriched my understanding significantly. I also acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal philosophy of healing through the arts, the Dulwich Centre on the Dakota Traditional Lands, Michael White and David Epston for bring clarity to the global narrative therapy movement.

Dear Reader

You may well ask: what is Narrative Therapy? In short, it is a form of psychosocial therapy that emphasises the importance of language and story in how people perceive their lives – and their problems. Narrative philosophy and neuroscience believes that our stories are so ingrained in our bodies that they often become invisible to us.

This traditional parable illustrates it differently, pointing out how a wider perspective to one story can bring about a life-saving change:

A farmer went down to the river each day to collect water in his two pots. One day, one pot said to him: “Farmer, I have a crack. When we reach home there is only half the water left. I think you should get a new pot. I have become useless.”

The farmer replied: “Well, that is one way of seeing it. When I look at the path to the river, I see that your side has green plants growing from the moist soil. I think I will keep you.”

Narrative Therapy is a specific methodology that helps people reframe their view to themselves.

“When I lost my leg in a car accident a few years ago, I felt lost, useless and sometimes depressed. Narrative Therapy helped me to re-construct the story of my life – as a strong person without a leg, with values and skills that are not dependent on my lost leg. ” (Johannes Vos 2018.

Narrative Therapy empowers people to change those thought patterns that no longer serve them. In Johannes’ case, the narrative journey helped him to integrate his traumatic experience and significant losses into his life in a constructive, healing way. He joked that he re-programmed his brain’s software.

Narrative Therapy’s creative process supports people in recovery from illness, grief, addictions, divorce, anxiety, depression and trauma. We use mind-mapping, writing, art-making, music, painting, clay and conversation to assist people in reconstructing their stories.

From cave paintings to neuroscience

As human beings, we have used narrative healing ever since we first started using images and language to share our stories – way back during the days when we were cave dwellers sitting around a fire. Today, neuroscientists are able to trace our evolved narrative biology through research with MRI images showing us how our brains are wired for storytelling. Our hippocampus, a little sausage shaped part of the brain, is our body’s main narrative hero, working hard to integrate information and make sense of our experiences. Our neural networks are always busy connecting and processing information into narrative structures. Narrative Therapy helps people to change habitual thought patterns that do not serve them. It gives you the tools to re-programme the software in your brain and install your preferred stories based on your skills, values and aspirations.

How can Narrative Therapy help you ?

“Narrative Therapy introduced me to grief as a verb, something you do. It helped me to deal creatively with my overwhelming loss. I looked forward to my weekly narrative practice, knowing how healing each one would be in my journey with grief.” (Amanda van der Hulle 2021.)

Narrative Therapy offers people a creative, nurturing structure within which they feel safe enough to mourn, to honour, to remember, make peace and re-establish their identity after their loss. Amanda used a combination of storytelling, poetry, writing, clay modelling, painting and writing to reconstruct her experience with grief.

Expressing your Story

Narrative therapists use specific literary, expressive and creative art techniques to help clients externalise their stories and become more conscious of their narratives. During this process people often discover how personal narratives are imposed on them from the outside, and stops them from growing into their unique selves.

“I was an abuse survivor at the age of 15. I changed my story of being a victim to becoming a child rights activist who councils other children who have been through a similar experience. I think my story is now stronger than it was before.” (Maria Ndlovu 2020.)

Narrative Therapy cannot wipe an experience from your mind, but it can teach you creative and cognitive techniques to calm trauma and understand how to recognise and cope with it. In Maria’s case, the aim was to transform the energy of a traumatic experience into a narrative that turned her insider knowledge of this abusive experience into one that had no shame, benefits other young people and made her feel proud of herself. She thought of her reconstructed story as being true to her values and aspirations. She called it her “narrative of justice and peace”.

Story as a metaphor for life

When we use story as a metaphor for life, we become more objective and therefore gain greater insight into the problem we want to work on. This is true for all aspects of our lives, wether we are suffering from a loss, stress and anxiety, depression, anger, healing from injuries and illness, or coping with challenges such as addiction, puberty, menopause, new motherhood or a change of career.

“After my divorce, I developed a habit of venting my anger in a kind of self-talk that became obsessive. Especially when I was driving. My narrative journey helped me to change this habit and opened up new, different possibilities for me.” (Angie Carelse 2021.)

Narrative Therapy Goal

The Narrative Journey helps people to move away from a single story about themselves, to a richer, multilayered narrative with many possibilities. Narrative Therapy’s goal is to help you re-construct your stories into healthy narrative structures that support your life. Let us say a narrative therapist helps you to edit and update your stories while you create new pathways in your brain’s.

Narrative Therapy is a specific methodology that involves three stages:

Showing up for your story

Showing up for your story means focussing on it for long enough to map it out and give expression to it. This process allows us to find our voice, explore important experiences in our lives and think about the meanings we have placed on these experiences.

Shaping your story

Shaping your story helps you to think about re-constructing your story into a preferred personal narrative, based on your values. This reflective methodology brings greater self-knowledge, because are deconstruction your personal story into smaller parts to gain clarity.

When people find it hard to talk through a problem they have, we use visual art techniques to externalise the problem part of the story, so that we may create a space between ourselves and our problem. We use Victor Frankl’s famous quotation:

This helps us to separate from our problem and look at it from a distance, so that we may become more objective. This distancing from the problem part of the story creates a space that allows us to explore meaningful and healing ways to respond to a problem.

“The problem is the problem. The person is not the problem.” (Michael White 2000.)

Stepping into your preferred story

Stepping into your preferred story means figuring out how to make your re-authored story an integral part of your daily life. Narrative therapy teaches you specific techniques to change habitual, unhelpful thought patterns. This narrative practice allows us to re-train our brains to adopt different narrative patterns.

What can you expect from Narrative Therapy Sessions?

The Narrative Journey begins with an introductory session of one hour. This experience is followed up by a course of six one-hour sessions, or more, depending on the person’s needs. During this time, you can expect to

1. Identify and externalise your personal narrative

2. Gain insight and clarity into the problem in your narrative

3. Break the problem up into smaller parts

4. Identify your habitual thought patterns around the problem

5. Learn alternative coping strategies to change your response to the problem

6. Develop a preferred narrative that reflects these changed narrative patterns (CBT)

7. Keep a narrative therapy journal

8. Be encouraged to focus on a non-blaming approach to your problem

My professional journey

I have developed The Narrative Journey as a response to my work with people and their narratives in schools, universities, indigenous people’s organisations, prisons and child rehabilitation centres. I have drawn on a wide range of disciplines, including philosophy, oral history, narrative psychology, anthropology, archaeology, neuroscience, literature, expressive and creative art, and indigenous healing as practiced by cultures all over the world, including healers in Southern Africa, South-America and Australia (www.manyeka.co.za).

This research shaped my doctoral thesis at the University of Cape Town’s Faculty of Science, where I had the opportunity to work with a team of scientists to find a balance between quantitive and qualitative research in a module for narrative healing as a community intervention. I worked with groups of indigenous !xun San refugees, whose history of war, loss and trauma had become their dominant narrative. The thesis demonstrated how indigenous narrative traditions and contemporary theories of narrative therapy could work together to create therapeutic outcomes in a culturally sensitive context.

As the South African co-ordinator of the Swedish-based, international non-profit organisation, The World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child since the turn of the millennium in 2000, I have counselled thousands of vulnerable women and young people from all walks of life, different countries and cultures (www.worldschildrensprize.org). Have a look at my books below – these publications are inspired by how people tell their identity stories and how this telling affects their lives.

My private practice is based in Kalk Bay, an urban fishing village at the southern tip of Africa. You will also find me at the Corner Health Therapy Clinic, 19 Recreation Road, Fish Hoek, Cape Town. To make an appointment, call +27 (21) 782-6958. www.cornerhealth.co.za

To book an appointment for an introductory online session, call +27 (0) 83 3925153 or send me an email.

Thank you for dropping in.



Books & Audio Stories

!Nanni’s Sketchbook

!nanni’s Sketchbook – annotations of loss and abundance celebrates a 19th century collection of children’s narratives, drawings and paintings made by the Namibian !kun child, !nanni and his three friends, Tamme, |uma and Da. This book illuminates their history and reconstructs the story of where they came from, how they were abducted, sold to various masters and ended up in the Cape colonial home of linguist Lucy Lloyd – where they made the collection with her. The author explores the children’s visual and verbal trauma narratives and demonstrates how the telling of their stories, their paintings and drawings facilitated their healing.

The !kun children’s archive is part of the larger Bleek and Lloyd Collection – entered in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.

Manyeka Books info@manyeka.co.za

Kapilolo’s Kulimatji

In this remarkable book, Kapilolo’s Kulimatji – a !xun San storyteller’s memoir, Kapilolo Mario Mahongo recounts for the first time from an indigenous perspective, the heart-rending results for his family and San compatriots of their involvement in the independence wars against Portugal and South Africa in Angola and Namibia. Mahongo is one of the unsung heroes amongst indigenous San in southern Africa as they continue the struggle to survive and retain their identity, culture and languages far from the place of their birth.

Kapilolo’s Kulimatji – a !xun San storyteller’s memoir, told to narrative therapy practitioner and editor, Dr Marlene Sullivan Winberg, between 1994 and 2017 and accompanied by her own account of the circumstances that led to her 23-year friendship with Mahongo, is an emotionally charged book and a welcome new genre for southern African indigenous literature (Dr Janette Deacon).

Manyeka Books info@manyeka.co.za

Children’s Books

A series of 6 children’s books with indigenous San stories and illustrations by !xun artists and storytellers themselves.

Manyeka Books info@manyeka.co.za


Back To The Land

Text by Marlene Winberg

Photographs by Paul Weinberg

With an introductory essay by Achmat Dangor

In 1994, people began to return to land in rural South Africa they had lost under apartheid. This book chronicles that process and other related aspects of the South African government’s land reform programme between 1994 and 1996. It allows the voices of the marginalised people to be heard beyond their own communities.

Paul Weinberg

The Storyteller

The Storyteller is a collection of traditional narratives from the Kalahari Desert and the Okavango River villages in Botswana. It was made when groups of young storytellers gathered in D’Kar and Shakawe to perform and record their family stories. Twenty-three tales were written in Naro, Khwedam, ||Anikhwedam, Ju|’hoansi, Thimbukushu, Otjiherero, ShiYei and English.

This collection is a reflection of a changing oral tradition where cultures meet and integrate; where computer technology exists alongside traditional healing, where people work in their small offices and libraries in the desert, quietly creating their own educational futures. It testifies to a younger generation’s capacity to record, write and translate their elders’ oral traditions.

This little book, enhanced by the work of the San artists at the Kuru Art Project in the Kalahari, honours the Botswana tradition of storytelling and the diversity of its language heritage.


Audio Stories

The Mud Baby

A fertility story narrated by traditional !xun healer Meneputo Manunga Manyeka. Translated by Marlene Winberg. Accompanied by !xun music.


The Water Woman

This story narrates the birth of a traditional San healer. Translated by Marlene Winberg. Accompanied by !xun music..


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