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Tree of Life

Samantha Lock

The existing research indicates a need for flexible psychosocial strengths based tool well suited to working with children and adults who have had traumatic or difficult life histories. The Tree of Life (ToL) developed by Ncube (2006) in Zimbabwe uses the tree metaphor and the main elements were adapted to incorporate the narrative approaches; roots (origin, family, ancestry, culture), ground (place of residence, hobbies), trunk (skills, memories), branches (hopes, dream, wishes), leaves (important people) and fruits (gifts) (Ncube, 2006). The intervention is split into a 4 part process; Part 1: Drawing the tree of Life and re-telling (See appendix 1), Part 2: Forest of life (See appendix 1), Part 3: When the storms come, Part 4: Certificates (Ncube, 2006) and has since been adapted to meet the needs of individuals, in various contexts.

ToL is a collective narrative tool (Denborough, 2012) that aims to promote a feeling of identity and connectedness and allows an opportunity for people to re-author their stories. The three narrative principles most recognisable in ToL are; Deconstruction of dominant problem stories; Development and enrichment of preferred stories and living and witnessing of preferred stories.

Implications for EP work

Educational psychologists work within schools, families and communities, and are well placed to have an active role in researching new ways of applying psychology. The research has shown the ToL can be a tool used to reduce the amount of people labelled as ‘hard to reach’ as it allows the development of a safe place to manage feelings and experiences, to feel valued, respected and understood.


ToL could fit nicely with the new CoP (Department for Education and Department of Health, 2014) as there is more emphasis on the importance of the voice of the child and person centred planning, the use of art in ToL is an inclusive and non-threatening tool, and due to the visual nature of ToL there is potential for working successfully with pre-verbal children. It can lend itself as an assessment tool or as an intervention strategy, which could inform future work with children and young people. It could also be an effective way to open up communications and understanding within families.

With increasingly diverse communities, individuals, especially children, require an opportunity to create preferred self-narratives and capacity for reflection in order to forge meaning and build identity (Solomon, 2014) and an opportunity to help themselves move forward unhindered by past experiences.                                                                      



Department for Education and Department of Health,. (2014). Guidance on the special educational needs and disability (SEND) system for children and young people aged 0 to 25. Retrieved from

Denborough, D. (2012). A storyline of collective narrative practice: A history of ideas, social projects and partnerships. International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 1, 40–65.

Ncube, N. (2006). The Tree of Life Project: Using narrative ideas in work with vulnerable children in Southern Africa. International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 1, 3–16.

Solomon, A. (2014). How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are [Video recording]. Available at