There’s a new therapist in town

Words, symbols and characters form the foundation of Storytelling Therapy, which helps heal people through visual imagery, says Dr Eric Miller, director of World Storytelling Institute

Published: 11th September 2019 06:03 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th September 2019 06:03 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Storytelling has traditionally been used to give comfort, guidance and warning. Hearing about a character who has faced challenges that are similar to those one is facing may give one ideas about how to handle a situation.

Working with stories can help a client see that he/she is not the only one who has experienced a particular challenging situation. Using metaphors and symbols may help a client to get a grasp on what is on his/her mind. The feelings and thoughts are no longer vague and fleeting.

A premise of the arts therapies is that through artistic play, material can come up from the client’s subconscious which can provide a key to what is in the client’s mind and heart. Just as all forms of arts — singing, expressive movement, drawing, etc — can occur within storytelling, they can also all occur within Storytelling Therapy.

Storytelling is a very specific and distinct way of sharing stories — it involves primarily using one’s voice and body in a social gathering. People tend to bond as they share stories with each other. Only now is Storytelling Therapy emerging globally as one of the arts therapies.

The Storytelling Therapy process may assist the client to compose a fantasy story that encapsulates, in metaphorical form, what the client feels he/she needs to do to move forward in life. This story may be healing and/or inspirational for the client. Storytelling can help a client get in touch with him/herself by — perhaps metaphorically — bringing up and working with personal and/or social issues that the client is experiencing. Fantasy can be an escape from reality, but it can also take one — on an imaginative level — to the heart of one’s existence.

Healing stories

Any type of story can serve as a model of the past and for the future. However, healing stories tend to have the feeling of fairy tales.Stories of ancient times can certainly help solve issues of the present generation. The relationships, emotions and types of situations in traditional stories are universal and timeless.

People may be more interested in stories from their own cultures or from distant cultures. The client takes the lead in deciding what images, metaphors, characters and events should be used in his/her healing story. The facilitator can make suggestions, but the client decides, because only he/she knows what clicks with him/her.

Working with healing stories affect clients irrespective of their age and gender. However, some clients are more sensitive about and interested in matters of the imagination than others. People who were told or have read stories in their childhood tend to have respect for and awareness of the power of story.

Why use metaphors?

Metaphors ‘lift’ us into our imaginations, often extending and refreshing the way we see the world and understand things. Metaphors speak directly to the imagination, bypassing our rational brain, and helping one build connections through images and feelings. If a metaphor is traditional and conventional, using it could help one to feel related to and supported by one’s culture and society. If a metaphor involves nature, using it could help one to feel related to universal processes of nature. Moreover, a metaphor can take an experience that is intensely personal and relate it to the outside world.

Stories you can use

Dr Eric Miller

One client was a very shy young girl. In her healing story, a small domesticated cat went wandering in a forest. Here the cat met a lion, and was encouraged by the lion to be more expressive and self-assertive. The small cat took this advice and encouragement to heart — and so did the client.
One client, a young woman, was feeling alone and depressed, perhaps in part because as a child she had lost her mother. This client also recalled that a pet rabbit of hers had passed away around the same time she had lost her mother, and that she had buried the rabbit all by herself. In this client’s healing story, a ship carrying some senior women came to where a young woman (representing the client) was living near a beach. The women showed to her a ring with the rabbit’s image on it.

This image also appeared on the moon. The women were members of a healing tribe, and they had come to invite the young woman to be their student. In this story, the losses of the client’s mother and pet rabbit are transformed and compensated for in order to give the client a sense of social and cosmic belonging.

Once a client has helped to compose a healing story, telling and discussing this story tends to give them a feeling of confidence that he/she is dealing with his/her issues. Now the story can ‘do its work’ on the client.

One needs to have earned a Masters degree in Psychology or Social Work to provide counselling, but anyone could use the methods of Storytelling Therapy to facilitate healing or personality development. For details, call: 9840394282.

The process

 Gathering stories that are similar to aspects of the client’s life story. These stories could be called associative stories, and could include grandmother stories, stories of movies, historical stories, and stories about things that happened to someone one knows.  
 The client may talk to and as the characters in his/her personal-experience stories and/or associative stories.
 Changing the stories. For example, adding characters and episodes; telling a personal-experience story as if it had happened to an imaginary character; and transposing a story to other social settings (such as royalty, or animals).
 Finding metaphors for aspects of his/her life story. These metaphors may first appear as sayings or proverbs.


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