To peoples that have a historically oral culture, storytelling has always been considered vital and healing for individuals, the community, and the environment. Stories and the storytelling process can promote recovery, inspire hope, trigger insight and personal growth, or in other words, heal.
Storytelling can reveal ideas about human nature, reach out to people, give people roots, create shared experiences, intimacy, connectedness, and personal value. Stories can teach, allow you to share your self and bring in humour when needed. Stories offer heart to heart connections and give the ultimate ripple transformation.
Storytellers work in many places other than as entertainers. There is a place for this type of healing in group homes, prisons, hospitals, shelters; any institution or place with individuals working on their “stuff”. Storytelling can be deeply therapeutic when it isn’t even offered as a form of treatment. A storyteller, however, should never call themselves, or behave as a therapist, unless they are trained in that way.
During storytelling, listeners let go of their defences and relax into the known, safe environment of story. A shift in consciousness takes place. Those who listen actually live the adventure in their imagination. We are offered a chance to walk through our own experiences and fears in the shoes of an archetypal character.
If a story met the conscious and unconscious needs of people then it would be told and retold over generations. People often forget important details of their lives but will remember a story they heard as a child. The storytelling experience invites people to draw upon their memories and allows them to add new information to the old memories as they reframe their lives through the context of the story. Story has proven throughout time to be a way for the mind to make sense of a world that can be a confusing and unforgiving place.
Stories have been used through the centuries as a way of passing on important cultural and moral traditions from one generation to the next. Stories confirm our place in society as a safe and promising generational one. Stories provide an internal place of peace for listeners of all ages. Stories explore and transform feelings of powerlessness and fear into courage and inspiration.
Sharing of story can help people find calm while feeling strong emotions. This can ease our hearts while supporting the healing process. Stories remind us of the goodness, love, intuition and spirit that we each have within ourselves, naturally.
While a story is being told, tellers and listeners create their own story based on who he or she is. These arise within each of us in a personally meaningful way. Stories contain seeds of healing and telling them encourages growth and rebirth. Storytelling is an ancient medicine that has always served to bring people together and to stimulate creative imagination, wisdom and compassion. Listening to story is a dynamic process that delights people while allowing them to imagine that they are dealing with many different situations successfully.
I have been told that to fully learn a lesson we need to experience it three ways. A story can be one of those ways. A story is not an explanation, but an experience that is enduring and enriching. Archetypal stories are also modern and about real life experiences, basic truths and living in the world as it is.
People progress through life in distinct stages. In each stage our goals are different. We seek security in childhood, identity in adolescence, responsibility in early adult life, authenticity at midlife, power at full maturity and freedom in old age. Each of the stages of life has certain archetypes that preside over it and a lesson to teach us. All of the archetypes reside in each of us, which means we all have full human potential within us. At each stage of our lives we are vulnerable to certain types of negativity or addiction. Each archetype has inherent weaknesses and knowing this helps us to identify them in ourselves and also gives us weapons against our archetypal enemies.
Whenever you are telling, there are certain responsibilities you assume. Your listener has come with certain expectations and you need to always respect that. This place that you create should include both physical and emotional safety.
Some issues around this guideline are confidentiality, respect, appropriate choice of material, group dynamics, and a care to achieve a sense of closure within the session. The teller is responsible for bringing the listeners “home” safely. This can include offering some space between stories for reflection, reaction or sharing.
The type of group you tell to will dictate the material you choose to a large degree. If you are telling outside of an entertainment venue and are being asked to “go deeper”, then it is often best to work with staff at the facility or institution to get an idea of the rules and customs of the setting and well as what goals the staff have in mind. This way your goals for the session can be in sync with the goals of the facilitator the treatment team involved.
Ask them what they hope the audience will think about, or how they will feel as a result of hearing the stories you will tell. Ask them what some of the major issues these clients deal with are and try to transform them into archetypal images. Issues such as responsibility, facing fears, supporting each other, trust, understanding, isolation, control, safety, shame and violence are examples of the level you want the feelings to come from.
In every case, the teller needs to be aware of the emotional and developmental levels of the individuals they tell to and to choose stories and story processes accordingly. Try to be informed about the basic issues and needs of specialized groups. The more you know, the more effective your work will be. Becoming an expert isn’t necessary, but knowing common issues of breast cancer survivors, for example, can bring your telling unexpected depth and dynamics.
A storyteller needs to have a large repertoire of material. Assess your material carefully and attempt to evaluate possible negative or harmful effects that a story might produce for the audience. It is important that the teller remains flexible and can remove a story from the line-up if necessary. Many situations develop where the story you planned to tell is suddenly inappropriate due to circumstances beyond your control.
Don’t try to protect listeners from every emotion, but do know what depth clients are ready to process successfully. Don’t walk in fear around this issue. If it is a fairly standard venue and you hit a trigger for a listener then understand that this was meant to happen and they have just been offered a huge opportunity for healing. It is important to have boundaries around occasions such as these.
Considering it your job to rescue this listener would be a great mistake. Understand that listeners do have defence mechanisms and will only take what they are ready for from a story. It is important not to suggest alternate meanings or to insist on a given interpretation that you may feel is accurate. Allow your listeners to be guides to their own healing.
It is important that a teller doesn’t attempt to go deeper than their own healing. If you have emotional work to do around a story then it is only respectful of your own healing and your listeners’ expectations and safety to work through this to a major degree before you open that Pandora’s Box in public. If you are surprised by a “hit” on a trigger you thought was cleared or discover a brand new one, then understand that this is a gift. Don’t unwrap it until you are off stage and in a safe place for your own healing to progress. Telling with real emotion and even tears is perfectly acceptable if you stay in control and understand that it is your responsibility to the story to tell it properly.
If there is a certain story or type of story that you are repeatedly drawn to telling then this is an opportunity to learn more about yourself. There is a sacred, intuitive process happening for you which deserves your honour and respect. Simply witnessing and allowing are often enough to open your heart to the lessons within the story. Trust the power of storytelling.
Stories have a powerful universal energy that brings people to a place of healing, transformation, and growth. “Something” that resonated for a listener within the story is urging them, motivating them to that place of change. Allow that “something” to speak. Trust that “something”. It doesn’t care what their particular story is. How horrible or unspeakable it is, or they think it is. This “something” is unconditional love that their inner child can finally begin to accept because the child in the legend or fairy tale made it through to a loving, happily ever after. And so can we.
– Denise Miller