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Understanding personal change through storytelling in a therapeutic community

Jenelle Marie Clarke (Business School, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, UK)

Therapeutic Communities: The International Journal of Therapeutic Communities

ISSN: 0964-1866

Article publication date: 12 December 2016




The purpose of this paper is to explore the potential for personal and community transformation through storytelling within a therapeutic community (TC) through the analysis of one narrative case study.


The paper uses a narrative research design to describe and theorise the individual narrative of a TC client member, “Emily”, who self-identified areas of therapeutic change. Emily’s story is a single case of personal and community transformation. Analysis focussed on story of her weight loss to understand her changing role to herself and the community.


Emily’s story reveals the social complexities underpinning individual transformations within a community context. This complexity is particularly evident as Emily experienced visible weight loss but identified that the meaningful change is her changed relationship with herself and others. Using theories on symbolic interactionism, analysis of Emily’s narrative indicates the TC played a role in facilitating personal change and that through sharing her story with the wider TC, the community shifted its perspective on food and weight loss.


The paper expands the discussion on how storytelling practices within a TC contribute to therapeutic change. It is argued that community relationships play a key role in facilitating a changed relationship with self and others, and that stories themselves play an active role in shaping community meanings.



This research was conducted at the University of Kent and further data analysis conducted at the University of Nottingham, with thanks to Dr Jennifer Fleetwood, Professor Nick Manning, Professor Ruth McDonald and Dr Gary Winship for their guidance with this research. Thanks also to Philip Archard for reading through this manuscript and providing feedback. In particular, with thanks to “Emily” and the TC, “Haven”, to conduct and disseminate this research. The research was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care East Midlands at Nottinghamshire Healthcare. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.


Clarke, J.M. (2016), "Understanding personal change through storytelling in a therapeutic community", Therapeutic Communities: The International Journal of Therapeutic Communities, Vol. 37 No. 4, pp. 184-193.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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