The tradition of storytelling has a long and illustrious history dating back from cavemen drawing on rocks and stone walls to portray news, warnings, or victories over obstacles all the way forward to video blogs and chat rooms on the internet. Everyone has a story. Most people enjoy telling and hearing them. Witness the number of times specific videos are accessed or articles are read to see the power of a story told well.

Storytelling also has a therapeutic effect when a person relates an incident that happened to them or witnessed. It gives the storyteller a chance to really look at the event and feel the emotions they were going through during the episode. The listeners can then interact with the storyteller by asking questions or making observations that perhaps the storyteller had not considered. This is especially helpful if the listener(s) is a trusted person who has no relation to the story’s events, so they may be objective in their questions and comments.

Warriors of ancient times were encouraged to share their view of the battle to analyze a more comprehensive account of the situation for future skirmishes. It also served as a way to decompress from the rage of war. It allowed the warrior to integrate back into the daily activities of the clan or tribe. Acknowledging what they had gone through helped build trust. By recognizing difficulties or trials, we can acquire the appropriate means to get through them and become better in the process.

One way in using storytelling as therapy is the client can relate the incident that seems to be blocking their progress, telling it in a manner of their choosing. The practitioner or therapist can then question the story to understand the who, what, where, when, and why of the remembered details. Together they can explore the broader picture of the whole event, which may sometimes delve into historical events or people to gain a broader scope of all the implications for the recent happening. Putting this all together can give the client a clearer picture of why the event happened and how they can learn from it.

Another way of using storytelling in therapy is for the practitioner to relate a story from a different tradition with a similar circumstance to the client or use another client’s account (while protecting privacy) that has similar elements to your present client. Then allow the client to observe the same features for themselves and see their own outcome to their current circumstance differently. The practitioner can use well-placed questions and gentle guidance to help the client see possibilities instead of obstacles.

Telling a story, whether for entertainment, giving a report to supervisors or authorities, or perhaps relating an emotional incident can help the speaker gain insights and connect with others. We are social creatures and therefore use stories for a variety of reasons. Reading a story to children before bed helps them connect with their parents or caregivers. Allowing veterans of war tell their experiences gives them validation. Encouraging your loved ones to express their feelings about their day build trust. Stories are how we live our lives.

~ Detail of Great-Grand-Father’s Tale of the Revolution—A Portrait of Reverend Zachariah Greene- 1852 Metropolitan Museum Open Access Collection

~ Read the story of Catherine Denton in Metaphysical Girl: How I Recovered My Mental Health
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