Storytelling Matters

The Live Art and the Power of Words

Why is Storytelling Therapeutic?

One of our great privileges is to work with psychiatric patients on an inpatient, locked unit of a hospital. Clients are committed for a jumble of reasons – psychosis, depression, substance abuse, suicidal behavior, anxiety, aggression – and like a cook’s palette of herbs and spices, any and all of those issues can be mixed and matched, creating complex challenges for patients and clinicians alike.

So what do we do with such an eclectic group? We sit around a table, tell a few stories, and talk about them.

Recently, the activities director on the unit asked us for a brief, written summary that explains why storytelling is therapeutic. These are the words we shared with her.

Storytelling is a seed for growth and a balm for healing. Within every story are characters who mirror human struggle, strain with human emotion, and take human action. Because humanity in spoken stories touches the minds and hearts of listeners, live storytelling opens doorways to their inner worlds. During storytelling sessions on the unit, conversations with patients erupt about many things: emotions; difficulties; communication skills; problem-solving; coping, and; society’s perception about troubled souls, to name a few.

The sessions are effective because storytelling is done live. To accommodate the enormous variety of clinical issues, different tales are told each time. We vary telling style and story content in response to what we observe in listeners. Sometimes we stretch story moments or swap images; sometimes we tenderize the narrative or skip parts. Like word tailors, we adapt the text to measure, striving to make the best fit for the patients.

Best of all, stories contain healing images that can be taken home and remembered as beacons of light in life’s storms. To quote one middle-aged patient after hearing a story about a broken pot that was valued because it was broken: “I will never forget that story for the rest of my life.”

For these reasons and more, storytelling matters to those who hurt and hunger for inner peace.

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5 thoughts on “Why is Storytelling Therapeutic?

  1. Tresca on said:

    Beautiful! and now I want to hear the story about the broken pot …

  2. Ed Hotaling on said:

    This art has been around for so long that we have forgotten a great many of the reasons it was begun. There are the obvious, but there are others that have been lost to history and with luck, we will rediscover them someday. In the mean time, we’ll keep telling stories as long as there is an audience to hear them.

  3. Ed, as we go about doing the work of this art, we are learning and rediscovering. And might we also be inventing new reasons as well as time and society evolves?

  4. Monsoon Treasures on said:

    Stories can change you from the inside. They really are a powerful medicine. Thankyou for another inspiring post.

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