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Telling stories to transform lives


For immediate use
8 May 2008, 1.30pm

Telling stories to transform lives

Lives are being turned around through the help of an innovative new study, helping Pacific people with drug and alcohol addictions, delegates at the Alcohol Advisory Council of New Zealand (ALAC) Pacific Spirit conference were told today.

The Narrative Storytelling Project involves using narrative to capture people’s real life stories about alcohol and drug use. Guided storytelling sessions enable participants to reflect on the lessons and experiences of others, to aid them to change their own attitudes and behaviour. The learning from this process can be used in the design of social programmes to prevent the misuse of alcohol.

The unique project has been run by Fresh, a Wellington-based organisation promoting social change. Fresh Director, Magila Annandale has been delighted with the success of the technique so far.

"We have already seen improvements in people who have taken part. It could be a real breakthrough in helping people whose lives have been adversely affected by their own or others' alcohol and drug use," she says.

During the project, groups exposed to alcohol and drug use have been brought together to share their life stories, over the course of 10 to 14 sessions.

"The idea behind the project is that we provide people with the tools to become self sustaining and deal with their own lives, through self-reflection and learning from the experience of others.

"It's possible to find meaning for yourself in other people’s stories. On a very basic level, many people find this happens day to day just when speaking with friends."

She says the project is particularly relevant to Pacific people, as storytelling is an integral part of their culture.

“The mainstream models of treatment currently being offered are largely developed on Western medical understandings and target individual risk factors. This is not always appropriate for culturally diverse populations that are more community focused.

"Pacific culture in particular has a long oral tradition, something that has not been as prevalent in Western society."

The project has been such a success that conference delegates took part in a workshop to help develop the method further.

"We've had such a positive response that we’re developing a narrative storytelling 'toolkit'," says Ms Annandale.

"We believe the technique could be generalised and applied to other groups and communities as well as dealing with other social issues, such as youth gangs and family violence."


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