Narrative Approaches to Youth Work


SKU: 9781138091436 Categories: , , ,

Conversational Skills for a Critical Practice

This is the book that youth workers who want to put into practice their desire to “meet youth where they’re at” have been waiting for. Narrative Approaches to Youth Work provides hope-filled and fresh conversational practices anchored in a critical intersectional analysis of power and a relational ethic of care. These practices help youth workers answer the all-too-common question, what do I do when I do youth work? The concepts and skills presented in this book position youth workers to do youth work in ways that honor youth agency and resistance to oppression, invite a multiplicity of possibilities, and situate youth and youth workers alike within broader social contexts that influence their lives and their relationship together.

Drawing on the author’s 30-plus years of working alongside young people and training youth workers in contexts ranging from recreation centers to homeless shelters, this book provides a rich and deliberate mix of theoretical grounding, practical application, real-life vignettes, and questions for in-depth self-reflection. Throughout Narrative Approaches to Youth Work, readers hear from a wise and thoughtful squad of youth workers talking about how they strive to do socially just, accountable, critical youth work.


  • Foreword by Jennifer White.
  • Introduction: Matching Your Practice with Your Intentions
  • Section One: Philosophical Groundwork for Relationally Engaged Youth Work
  • 1. Where You Coming From?: A Philosophy for the Practice of Youth Work
  • 2. Power to the People: Positioning and Author-ity
  • 3. Response-Ability: Relational Ethics and an Ethic of Care
  • Section Two: From Philosophical Groundwork to Praxis
  • 4. That’s a Good Story: Conversations that Do Things
  • 5. Can You Hear Me Now?: Listening, Really Listening
  • 6. Do Ya Feel Me?: Understanding the Other
  • 7. I’m Not Telling, I’m Asking: The Art and Craft of Curiosity
  • 8. You Got a Problem?: Language for Problems and Protests
  • 9. Turn It Up: Making Meaning of Pop Culture
  • Section Three: The Personal and Political Labor of a Youth Worker
  • 10. Lemme Work On That: Cultivating a Reflexive and Reflective Practice
  • 11. Fight the System: Critical and Political Conversations Beyond the Drop-in, Rec Center, and Squat

Author Bio:

Julie Tilsen, PhD, provides training and consultation for youth-serving agencies and teaches in the Youth Studies program at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of Therapeutic Conversations with Queer Youth: Transcending Homonormativity and Constructing Preferred Identities. Julie’s work is featured in several professional training videos.


“Julie Tilsen’s Narrative Approaches to Youth Work is the first book to introduce cutting-edge, relational approaches to the field of youth work. This is not the typical handbook for youth-workers-in-training; it is not filled with recipes, strategies, and techniques for success. Rather, it is brimming with an entirely new way of thinking about how professionals work with youth; indeed, it questions the very idea of what it means to be a professional. Tilsen’s writing is clear, engaging, and accessible. What a gift to have this book for students, youth workers, and all practitioners in the helping professions.” – Sheila McNamee, University of New Hampshire, USA.

“Creating authentic conversation with youth must be considered our key motivator in successful youth work. This book reminds us that youth work is not something we do, but what we do with youth. Tilsen reminds us that by asking What’s Goin’ On? we must learn to not only listen but to respect the response.” – Shirley R. Steinberg, University of Calgary, Canada.

“This is a rich, stimulating, coherent, and practical guide to perspectives and practices for working relationally with young people. Everyday examples and quotes from youth workers ground concepts and theories, inviting youth workers to see, hear, and understand their own worlds and practices, and those of the youth they want to join with in a ‘partnership of existence.’” – Michael Baizerman, University of Minnesota, USA.

“This book is inspired, passionate, lively, conversational, engaging and, perhaps most importantly, useful for the many hats and environments we occupy. Tilsen asks us to act: with intention, informed by theory, and with young people at the centre of our relational ethic. It is a jumping off point that compels us to think of our own contexts, cultures, organizations, spaces, youth, and selves and then take that critically reflexive practice and go out and do that change. Narrative Approaches is a timely invitation, one we’re all seeking to take up, with some guidance to show us the way.”— Carys Cragg, Relational & Youth Child Care Practice.