I pay my respect to the !xun San storytellers and healers in southern Africa who are the traditional custodians of many of the narratives concepts I work with in helping people heal their broken stories. I also acknowledge the teachings of the Dulwich Centre in Australia, whose Narrative Therapy programme offers an insightful model for counselling and community work.
Thank you for visiting my website. People sometimes ask me: “What do you mean by therapeutic storytelling and narrative therapy?
I mean that we have the power to step out of our broken stories. The ones that hold us back, or make us ill. I mean that narrative therapy can teach us the skills to repair our stories and instead, use it to create meaningful narratives about who we are, what we value and how to live despite our brokenness.
Because we are storytelling creatures by nature, we have used stories to slay our terrifying monsters for time immemorial in an attempt to create meaning and free ourselves of tyranny.
Narratives can make worlds and it can destroy them.
Brady came to consult with me just before lock down because he was suffering the dark aftermath of a complicated divorce. We continued working with his story on Zoom and by the time he had completed the narrative therapy programme, Brady told me: “I am regaining my ability to be the driver of my own car, rather than getting lost in figuring out the confused map my divorce made.” He said that thinking about his divorce as a broken story in his life, and not his whole life, helped him to separate himself from his problem.
My work takes me into places of safety for juvenile offenders. Behind bars, I hear stories of addiction and gang violence committed by the teenagers. Yet, when they tell me the stories behind their incarceration, they speak the circumstances of their unmaking. I help them to separate themselves from the reason why they are in prison, so that they may begin to think about their problem story as separate from themselves. This opens a space in which to grow and re-imagine their young lives.
The narrative therapy programme I teach happens in three movements:
SHOWING UP TO YOUR BROKEN STORY
Over the past 25 years of research, teaching, storytelling and counselling, I have developed my understanding of therapeutic storytelling into a structured process that allow people to show up to their broken story and externalise it with courage, compassion and curiosity. Narrative therapy offers you tools to sit with your story for long enough to understand it more fully. It allows the process of repairing, re-imagining and remaking so that you can find your unique story. You get to know yourself better.
It is possible to transform your broken story into fuel for a better story.
STEPPING OUT OF YOUR BROKEN STORY
Stepping out of your story means that you gain distance and a sense of detached observation. This psychological move allows a tiny tweak to occur in the brain: you stop your mind from allowing the story to engulf you. By separating yourself from the story and pausing in this liminal space, you can learn to deconstruct your broken story. You can learn to objectify it, see it as a plot, characters, events and emotions. You begin to recognise how the threads of a story can enslave you – or liberate you. You get to assess its value in your life. What kind of a story is it? What values does it embrace? How does it serve you? What is it asking from you?
FINDING YOUR MULTIPLE STORIES
With this new awareness in mind, you may focus your attention on thickening the plot of your life with alternative stories. Many people have little choice in their life circumstances, yet everyone may decide which personal stories they want to develop. This intentional narrative work gives you the opportunity to create a multi-storied map for your ever-evolving stories, while helping you to separate yourself from your problem story. Neuroscientists have a term for our brain’s ability to develop new pathways with new narratives: brain plasticity.
MY ROLE IN YOUR STORY
As a doctor of philosophy with a life-long interest in art and narrative studies, I think in terms of dominant stories and alternative stories, dominant plots and alternative plots. I think about connecting with people to explore the stories they have about themselves, their relationships and how it shapes their lives. I think about what new scientific research tells us about the narrative capacity of our brains. I study indigenous forms of knowledge and examine how, and why, we have always navigated our lives through the telling of stories.
In my private practice, I accompany the person consulting me on a structured journey of bringing difficult stories to light. I teach her the skills to re-consider her broken story with care and focussed intention. In this respectful way, my clients may transform their broken story into a useful personal narrative that embodies their core values. Above all, I think about my client as the expert of her own life – a self-healing, multi-storied human being.
I hope that I have answered that meaningful question: What do you mean by therapeutic storytelling and narrative therapy?
Below are a few of the books I have written about, or with, people whose stories were marginalised by war and centuries of oppression. These stories focus on breaking the myth of our lives being a single story, while bringing to light the multiple, liberating narratives that illuminate the rich lives of the human beings in these stories. The books are available as free eBooks. Just write to me and I’ll send you a copy.
You may also listen to two carefully crafted audio stories below, set to traditional !xun music. The Mud Baby and The Water Women were taught to me by indigenous San healer, Meneputo Manunga Manyeka. I hope they will help you think about stories as metaphors for life.
Why not embark on a journey of healing your broken story?
You can make an appointment for a phone, zoom or face-to-face consultation by emailing me.
Yours in storytelling.
!nanni’s Sketchbook – annotations of loss and abundance, celebrates a 19th century collection of children’s drawings and paintings made by the Namibian !kun child, !nanni and his three friends, Tamme, |uma and Da. This book illuminates their work, reconstructs the story of where they came from, how they were abducted and ended up in the Cape colonial home of linguist Lucy Lloyd – where they made the collection with her. The !kun children’s archive is part of the larger Bleek and Lloyd Collection – entered in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. This book brings to an end the marginilised voices of the chidlren in the famous collection.
Manyeka Books firstname.lastname@example.org
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 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 email@example.com
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.
The Storyteller is a collection of folktales 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.
A fertility story narrated by traditional !xun healer Meneputo Manunga Manyeka. Translated by Marlene Winberg. Accompanied by !xun music.
This story narrates the birth of a traditional San healer. Translated by Marlene Winberg. Accompanied by !xun music..