Telling stories

As far as stories are concerned, I have already written about the importance of histories in my early learning. The other source of interest in stories also came from my religious upbringing. Stories have considerable importance in theology, not surprisingly so since the Bible is largely a book of stories and all the most powerful religious messages come within the context of (e.g. the 10 Commandments brought down from the mountain) or through the very fabric of (parables) stories. I can remember preachers – possibly my father – making much of the fact that when asked a theological question by the Pharisees, Jesus would reply with a story. At his trial before Pilate, Jesus responded by refusing to be drawn into an argument and let his life story speak for itself.

All this must have struck a chord as psychologically true and it chimed in with a distrust of the academic that co-existed in my student days with the enjoyment of an absorption in an academic lifestyle. In my work, the importance of the story, other than in relation to personal history taking, was re-awakened when I worked in the voluntary sector with a colleague called Alida Gersie. Here was someone I admired greatly, who had the kind of creative flair I felt I lacked. Her speciality was story telling. She has since gone on to write and lecture using her story telling techniques, travelling the world to do so.[1]

We had an experience together of using stories therapeutically when we ran an adult education course in bereavement and loss. This helped people explore their experience through myths and legends from across the world, both by listening to stories and also by creating their own. It was a gripping and sometimes moving experience as storytelling helped people ‘fall over’ new insights into their experience of loss, seemingly as an accidental bi-product of the stories they created. It also located people’s experience in a context that connected them to the experience of others. Someone who says they ‘know how you feel’ paradoxically isolates us because we know it can’t really be true, whereas, we can see in other people’s stories and myths aspects of experience that resonate with ours – they connect us.

We tried to identify aspects of bereavement that troubled people and found that there was a wealth of myth and legend on which we could draw to stimulate attenders at the course to tell or make up their own stories. The course sessions were as follows:

  1. The cycle of life and death
  2. How come? (sessions 1 and 2 concerned the difficulty people have in making sense of a bereavement)
  3. Why me?
  4. Why now?
  5. If only…. (about regrets)
  6. Please don’t…..(this seemed to be about the idea of sacrifice)
  7. Searching and finding…
  8. The guide
  9. Searching and not finding….
  10. Change

Alida has gone on to work these embryonic ideas through and they can be explored in much more developed material in her publication.[2]

[1] Reflections on Therapeutic Storymaking: The Use of Stories in Groups: Like a Piece of Uncast Wood by Alida Gersie (1 May 1997)


[2] Storymaking in Bereavement: Dragons Fight in the Meadow by Alida Gersie (1 Jan 1992)



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