Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

'My Story to Be Told': Explorations in Narrative Documentation with People from Refugee Backgrounds

Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

'My Story to Be Told': Explorations in Narrative Documentation with People from Refugee Backgrounds

Article excerpt

I receive the email from my supervisor, and my heart jumps: do I have time to read the letter now, or should I save it for later? I usually open the letter right away, even if I only have time to skim the words. I know I will return to them later, to dive into them and explore their depths. I am there on the paper, my words that have been rescued. It's a funny sensation seeing oneself on paper, though it was not me who wrote or collated the words. It was someone else, listening with care and attention to the words I spoke. The words are sometimes profound and poetic, sometimes deep and inspiring, and sometimes plain and simple. They are my words, though, rescued from drifting off into the universe to maybe be forgotten or spoken again at another point, but never fully remembered in the way that I uttered them in that moment.

I have been the recipient of narrative therapeutic letters in my personal supervision relationship for some time. I began receiving these letters before I entered the world of narrative therapy as a practitioner. I have experienced first-hand what it is like to see my own words documented in print, to feel a sense of being meaningfully heard by my supervisor. I have been surprised and delighted by these letters. They are not merely a record of our conversations, but an extension of our conversations. I have discovered in the reading of them things that I do not recall saying, and yet I can hear myself in the words. These letters have been an integral part of my engagement with supervision and to my developing personal and professional identity. I guess, then, it is not surprising that on entering the world of narrative therapy, I would find myself especially drawn to the practice of narrative documentation1 or, to put it more poetically, 'rescuing the said from the saying of it' (Newman, 2008; White, 2000a).

My personal experience of therapeutic letters formed the beginning of my interest in the narrative practice of documentation and in early 2014, while studying in Adelaide, I read Newman's (2008) '"Rescuing the said from the saying of it": Living documentation in narrative therapy' with interest and delight, and wondered about the many possibilities for this in my practice. This wondering led me to pose a number of questions:

* How do we make decisions about what is and is not recorded?

* How do we use creativity and personal flair while being true to those with whom we meet?

* How do we consult those we meet with to ensure we are appropriately representing them and their stories?

* What kind of document do we create, and what will be most resonant for those with whom we meet?

I have continued to ponder these questions, recognising that there is no 'right' answer - rather, there are many possibilities depending on who we are working with, where we are working, what our role is, and many other contextual factors. These questions have, since I first reflected on them, become a sort of guiding force in my developing practice of narrative documentation.

A growing body of narrative therapy literature explores the context of working with people from refugee backgrounds.2 This paper hopes to contribute to this body of knowledge and will explore the practice of narrative documentation in work with people from refugee backgrounds through an in-depth case study.

Introducing Rayan: Hearing the trau ma, listening for resista nce a nd survival

Rayan is a man in his late 20s from Sierra Leone. He fled Sierra Leone when he was about 15 years old, settling in Australia when he was about 22.3 I first met Rayan when he was referred for counselling. During our first session, Rayan shared with me details of his past and his life now. He spoke about 'constantly dreaming war'4 and experiencing highlydistressing flashbacks of atrocities that had been done to him and those he loved, and were powerfully diminishing of Rayan and his attempts to escape them. Rayan's whole family was taken away when he was a young man, and only discovered in the past few years that his mother and siblings were alive. …

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