Tuesday, 24 February 2009

How to Tell Stories that Heal

An unusual day for me. I have been on a workshop called How to Tell Stories that Heal, a day of exploring therapeutic story-telling with story-teller Pat Williams. It has been a day of cross-hatching my seperate lives as social worker and writer, and exploring how I can combine these two parts of my life.

I was nervous actually. These domains and each identity are usually very seperate (almost as though I have two lives). So, this morning as I walked to the venue, I wasn't sure whether I was social worker or writer. I decided to try and be both (not easy, as I see them very much as left brain/right brain ways of being.) But I introduced myself as both and tried to bring together these different identities.

Pat was an interesting trainer. I'm not sure how old she is, but I couldn't help but think of her as a wise old tree. She seemed to contain so many stories from different ages and cultures. She began with the metaphors in the opening lines of Dante's Inferno: 'Midway upon the road of our life I found myself within a dark wood, for the right way had been missed.' She shared stories about Mulla Nasrudin by Idries Shah, Hans Christian Anderson, African folk tales, stories from the Oddysey, the Bible, newspapers, social research and her own examples of stories she has told as a Human Givens therapist.

She is an amazing story-teller, drawing people in to her stories without us even being aware she was starting to tell a story, yet suddenly there we were listening to a tale about a lion, a Persian princess who is anorexic and believes she is a cow, or blackbird that helps a small boy find his way home. It was magical at moments, and quite awe inspiring how naturally she told the stories, the trance that people seemed to be in as she told them.

The whole day was exploring how people can use these stories as healing tools. There were all kinds of professionals there, teachers, therapists, GPs, social workers, support workers, people who work in hospices, psychiatric wards and so on. A real mix of experiences all wanting to use stories creatively in their work, wanting to learn a little of the magic, know how stories could possibly heal.

I learnt, that even though I am a writer, I am not a natural story-teller. We practiced story-telling, creating stories, and responding to people's problems with healing stories. It is not an easy task for a story to just roll from the tongue, to find a story from within my own repetoire. It also felt a little embarrassing or awkward, I think because of my inexperience in verbal story-telling.

When I write fiction, I have the time to research, to play with language and find the right words, to find the story and explore where it is going, how it will evolve. With verbal story-telling, there is a need to bring a story out in the instant, sharing it with others, confidently, in a way that lulls them into the trance of story-listener.

Many stories came back to me from my childhood, stories I read over and over, especially fairy tales, but also myths, stories from well-known books or films. I had forgotten all about the Ugly Duckling, the Princess and the Pea, and a story my dad used to tell me about a fish that got lost and then found it's way home. I think I had forgotten or mislaid my memories of the magic of listening to stories, and perhaps because I don't spend much time with children, my experience of telling these kind of tales needs a little practice.

I can tell stories from real life, of films I have seen, stories from soap operas or news items. But not the magical, the mythical, the dream-like, the folklore tales... It's made me excited to re-discover these stories and read more, perhaps build a repetoire of stories I can use in my work or just to enjoy for myself.


Megan said...

sounds wonderful, inspirational and challenging (I think I might be a quiet, secret storyteller, rather than a loud and healing one)

Michelle said...

Annie, this sounds like an amazing, rich experience.

angel readman said...

sounds very challenging- the integration of selves, being both writer and social worker that day sounds like interesting progress- anfsomething that could feel different and very good. It's lovely to hear those magical storytellers- but no way could i do it. they always have a calmness, old wisdom charisma- i need a laptop, thinking space to plot, and time to make the right words x

The Dotterel said...

Fascinating. Since finishing 'Writing Therapy' I've been amazed at how much coverage there's been about the use of literature and literary techniques as part of healing. Especially love the 'Poetry not Prozac' people - what a name!