Narrative for Social Work(ers)

Course description
It is commonplace nowadays in the social sciences to refer to the ‘narrative turn’ – the notion that human beings exist in a world replete with  narratives and that the narratives we tell about ourselves and others help  form our worldview, our relationships, our life course and our identity.  Social work, as an activity that seeks to influence others, can thus be seen as a narrative enterprise: we listen and respond to the stories of service  users, we formulate explanatory narratives as a means of understanding the  lives of others, we work with service users to adapt or amend the stories  that shape their lives.  Furthermore, social workers operate within wider narratives – for instance, those of mental health, child welfare, (dis)ability, gender, ethnicity, class or power – that can support or undermine our work with service users.  Finally, we, as social workers, are shaped by the stories we tell and are told about our profession and our practice.

This course explores the theory and practice of narrative as it relates to social work.  Integrating narrative theory with personal and professional experience, the course will provide an opportunity for students to explore how narrative can provide a creative and constructive way of working with service users, both individually and collectively. The course covers narrative theory, narrative therapy, thinking with stories for personal and professional development and working with narratives in groups and with those who are narratively dispossessed.

The course will be framed around the development of narrative literacy – an understanding of narrative theory drawn from literature and the social sciences, understanding of ourselves and others as narratively constituted, an understanding of how narratives work in the world, and the application of narrative to the theory and practice of social work.

Course objectives

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate a broad theoretical understanding of the nature and role of narrative in personal and social life;
  2. Demonstrate an understanding of the uses of narrative in social work;
  3. Demonstrate a basic understanding of narrative therapy, its techniques, strengths and weaknesses;
  4. Critically evaluate narrative therapy and practice in terms of theory and practice;
  5. Demonstrate an understanding of, and ability to work with, stories as a means of personal and professional development.