What made you get “out of the box” and adopt therapeutic storytelling in order to treat your patients?
So, what brought me to storytelling? I’m realizing that this was a therapeutic tool. I was actually studying what have been the therapies for other cultures, because the challenges that we face as human beings are not new. In the west, a dominant culture has been signed, but prior to that all cultures have had to deal with generational trauma and individual trauma. The stories within that culture are going to give us a great deal of understanding of not only how do we deal with trauma but then what are some of our taboos and limitations that could impede our healing. So, for example, we have just talked about sexual trauma, so the notion of a female patient now being broken forever more and then the assumption that this would not be something that a woman would recover from, is based in the idea of virginity being a commodity and then, if it’s broken, then that shame and that woman’s worth is diminished. In fact, that was a cultural view, of what would be the impact to trauma in term of term of how she is perceived. Sometimes, women who did recover from those experiences would then seem almost as outcasts, because they flipped the system. So, looking at the history in different cultures, the cultural stories and the epic stories, for all of us they contain symbols that give us resources and also warnings.
When a client would leave the room, for the last time, I would ask “What made the difference?” and I would want to hear “that wonderful intervention” or because they felt heard or something like that. And so often they would say something that would fell into place when you told them “that” story or when you used “that” metaphor. And now I think in terms of psychotherapy is about healing the conflict between our rational minds and our emotional somatic mind. The relationship, the language those two can share is symbol. A symbol can describe quite complex systems that the body knows about but which the cognitive mind finds very difficult to understand, because it thinks in black-and-white terms. A symbol is something that both those intelligences can understand and find a better report with each other. In terms of stories, this is quite important for me, in terms of structuring beliefs systems. Beliefs are mini stories: “If this happens, then that will happen”, a cause and an effect. There are complex strings of “a cause and an effect” in stories that reveal the belief system that has been torn asunder by a disturbing experience or which means that the story am carrying can never bring me to actually succeed in the outcomes that I want. Working with people’s imagination and structuring stories actually helps them not only to build this bridge between the cognitive and somatic but also to beginning to find more empowering beliefs.
Then, the other thing is that storytelling is the most “whole brain” we can be: you need every one of your sensory systems, your logical system, your memory, your imagination, everything is fired off. And stories work behind us. Stories create community: what we have shared, what we can understand, in terms of people feeling connection and empathy… If I tell you a story about one of my clients, for example, and I could tell you of how she got herself away from a really dangerous situation and how she went through a recovery – you have never met this person, she is not here, she is not now, but you’re willing to listen and begin to lend your own emotional reality to what goes on for her. So, stories not only help the storyteller and the creator to heal but they also help us to bind in terms of empathy, because listening to a story and making meaning of it is empathy in action.