Narrative Therapy Project: Tree of Life

The Tree of Life is a narrative therapy project, designed by Ncazelo Ncube of REPSSI and David Denborough (Dulwich Centre Foundation) for young people. I have adapted it for an adult eating disorders group and also a 6 week 1:1 programme for children. It provides a useful structure and mix of discussion and creative work. At the end of the course, the clients also have a piece of work that they can take away with them. It can also be a good home project.

I have designed a worksheet to guide you through the stages (see below) and recorded a video to explain how I tend to run my sessions (see end).

 

tree of life

TREES

Final letters: Once you have finished your tree and added your animals, take the time to write some letters to the important people you have thought about when creating your tree. You can write to thank them or express something that you always wanted to tell them. You donโ€™t necessarily need to give them the letter, but it may help to share your thoughts with them. You could also write to people who have passed on, if thereโ€™s something you wish you could have told them.

Click here for a printable copy of the worksheet

47 thoughts on “Narrative Therapy Project: Tree of Life

  1. Hi I am a student of narrative therapy in New Zealand and love the Tree of Life. Will be doing an assignment on it and presenting it in October 2013. Thanks very much.

  2. Hi Alexis, I am an expressive art therapist having a year long Nicaraguan adventure. I really enjoy the tree of life directive, and went online to find other ways to ‘wrap up’ a presentation I just did at a nonprofit, first with the staff and then with their students. I had never seen the letter as a closing exercise, and I thought- that’s perfect! I just completed the second day of presenting the tree of life, and wanted to thanking you for the inspiration of using a letter at the end – the team loved it. Muchas gracias, jennie

  3. Hi, I love this idea. I am a student in Canada. I am working on my Masters in clinical mental health counseling. I am planning to adapt this tree of life for my internship experience. I am looking for advice about designing the group. It will be for individuals who have a history of chronic mental health difficulties, co-occurring substance use, and history of homelessness. I am fairly green with narrative language, but so far love what I’ve learned. I would like help/recommendations in the following:
    1- recommended size of the group: I’m thinking 8-10 people.
    2- length of each meeting: I’m thinking 2.5hrs, but I have a suspicion I’ll need longer, maybe 3 hours with breaks built in.
    3- ideas on materials used so they can be supplied to members of the group.

    I would appreciate any help ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hi, Good luck with your Masters. In response to your questions: 1) 8-10 people sounds great. 2) I think ideally you shouldn’t go longer than 2 hours (with a built in break) as it can be hard for people to maintain concentration, especially if they’re suffering from mental health problems. 3. Lots of art supplies, big sheet of paper each, printed outline of each session and some large post it notes if you want people to leave feedback on each others tree. But that’s all just my opinion- feel free to adapt it as you wish. Hope that helps.

      1. Thank you so much for your feedback! It definitely helps ๐Ÿ™‚
        I am currently designing the group, and will be starting it in February.
        Do you have any pointers on how to screen/intake for the group? I am reviewing some other materials for this purpose, but wondered about your own experience with it.
        Thanks again, Hiba

      2. Sorry for the late reply. In the past I’ve run it on an eating disorders day unit and we just included all of our patients- there waas no screening as such. I guess it would be different if you were working with people with psychosis or other conditions though. Good luck. Hope it goes well.

  4. Hi there, i really love this project! i am a clinical psychologist, and i have often wondered what fun creative/active way to incorporate narrative therapy for the patients i work with in our mental unit. this is a fun, interactive and exploratory way to work them and i cant wait to try! thank you for sharing!

  5. I love this idea! I am giving a presentation on art therapy in my graduate school class. I thought it would be a great idea to do this project with my classmates. How do you do it in terms of step by step? Do you draw the entire tree first or have the clients draw section by section of the tree? Looking for basic guidance on how to implement this activity!

    1. Hi Julie, I tend to do it one section at a time but it’s ok to draw it all out first if you prefer. Some people like you do do the drawing for them but others are happy to do it themselves. I’ve done it as a single session of group art therapy (complete the tree in an hour) and also as part of 6 individual therapy sessions (one or two sections of the tree each week and link them in with motivational interviewing/cbt/etc). You can adapt it as much as you want really. Good luck.

  6. Hi Alexis…
    I just wanted to thank you for your guidance earlier this year. I completed this as a project during my practicum of Masters in clinical counseling from Jan – April this year. The experience was invaluable for me as well as the participants. I followed your general outline but adapted it by doing small postcards that I gave during each session. it was a helpful visual tool to guide the conversation as well as a tool to extend the conversation beyond the group session.
    In terms of letter writing, I also wrote final letters to the participants so each person got an individualized letter from me.
    I’m sharing this information on here in case it is of help to anyone visiting your page.
    again, thanks for answering all the questions i had then ๐Ÿ™‚
    Sincerely, Hiba

  7. Hi Alex. This is a beautiful idea and thank you for sharing! I heard about it on the radio yesterday. I am an adoptive mum with a seven year old who is under developed emotionally and has low empathy and low attention span. I am considering how best to use this with my daughter. If anyone has any hints or tips I would love to hear.

    1. Hi Eileen, Glad you like the idea. If she has a low attention span then it would probably be best to work on one section at a time eg roots. In terms of developing empathy- when I’m working on the leaves I tend to ask people what they value about each person they add but also what each person values about them (and other questions about that person’s perspective eg what would they say about…. if they were here? How do you think your behaviour affects them? how could you develop your relationship with them? etc). Hope that helps x

  8. Hello Alex. I too heard about your project on the radio recently and have been thrilled to hear about something that is about the positive in a person. I am a psychotherapist and frequently work with anxious clients. It can be a challenge to move a client away from the difficulties the anxiety brings, especially if it is a very limiting anxiety, into a place where they can think about how good aspects of their life are. I am going to begin using a version of your project in the new year, starting with one such client. I like the idea of working on a part of the tree each week. I am very excited. Thank you for your generous sharing of the details.

  9. Hi, Alexis, I am thinking of translating this page into Chinese in order to help counselors who are helping survivors from a recent earthquake in Tainan, Taiwan. May I do that? Thank you very much for the work.

  10. Hi I am working with children, doing play therapy with them it’s so interesting and I like to grow in this field .

  11. Hi there,
    I am a MSc Associate at Gaia University, http://www.gaiauniversity.org/. In the process of working on my action learning I took a year off to care for my terminally ill husband. On taking up my studies and the required documentation I found this page that expresses not only the life review process I am going through but also the mourning and healing. Wish to publish some of the content on this website for my MSc documentation, with your permission. Take care and be well, vm

    1. Hi Virginia, I’ve very sorry to hear about your husband. I hope you are coping. You are more than welcome to use information from this website. I hope you’ve found it helpful. Thanks, Alexis

  12. Hi, I am a graduate student at the university of texas in arlington. i am in love with this! I would like to use it as part of our curicculum with youth. I think it has a lot of potential. Thank you for posting

  13. Hello, Thanks for sharing your Tree of Life process. I have a question. I’m an art therapist and counsellor (working in oncology and have been invited to run a full day TOL process with about 30 individuals (mental health professionals). Do you think its possible to do the TOL with a group of that size? Maybe small group sharing and then giving a summary back to the larger group? Otherwise the re-telling/Forest of Trees part will be too long i think. I would really appreciate your thoughts on how to make TOL a valuable experience for partiicipants despite the large group format. Many thanks!

    1. Yes I think it would possible to do it with a group that size if you have small groups for the sharing. Maybe print out some tree outlines and example trees to help people get started as some people find the drawing aspect daunting.

      There is a video in the blog explaining the TOL process in more detail, which you may find helpful.

      Good luck. I hope it goes well!

  14. Hi,

    Could you upload the tree of life blank template for me to use, I work in camhs in Suffolk. Thanks!

    1. Hi Oli, If you download the worksheet on the narrative therapy page ( http://wp.me/p2Jomn-3X ) there is a tree outline included. You are welcome to edit the worksheet to suit whatever work you are doing. Hope that helps. Let my know if you have any other questions

  15. Hi there,

    I am so excited to try this project with teens in an outpatient office and was hoping to include some of the coping and cbt resources as well. Where would I find those worksheets? Thank you so much for sharing!

  16. Hello!

    I am a mental health therapist and was wondering if I might incorporate your worksheet into an upcoming Continuing Education Training I am giving on the Tree of Life Narrative Therapy Intervention?

  17. Hi I am a MSW student who works in a nursing home (the residents are more low functioning here with mental health conditions) and I do therapy groups with the Residents who are mostly older adults. I thought they could benefit from narrative therapy. I know they are at the life stage of making meaning and purpose of their life and reflecting over their life but I’m not experienced enough to adapt this, if that is even needed, for older adults, but do you think this exercise would be good for older adults and do you have any adaptions that should be made for older adults? Thank you.

    1. I have worked in services before where Narrative Therapy has been used effectively with older adults (including the tree of life and beads of life). I don’t think it should need much adaption. Good luck. Hope it goes well.

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