"Notes on Using Storytelling for Therapy"
by Dr. Eric Miller (PhD in Folklore)
The time has come
for Storytelling Therapy to take its place alongside Drama
Therapy, Dance Therapy, Music Therapy, Visual Art
What is Storytelling Therapy? It is, simply, using storytelling
for therapy. This can be done in many ways, as the below begins to
Talk Therapy itself largely consists of Storytelling. A major part of
Talk Therapy is that the client tells about what happened in the past.
Client and therapist together review and discuss how things happened, why
they happened, and perhaps how similar experiences (if negative) could be
avoided in the future. Thus, alternate possible ways that things could go
There is a difference between one’s life, and one’s life story. One is
at the centre of one’s life. Thus, one may not have very much
perspective regarding it. Sometimes in one’s life, many things may be
“up in the air”. It may at times be difficult to detach oneself from
one’s situation and view one’s situations in a cool and objective
manner. One may not always have a clear sense of where one is going.
On the other hand, when one constructs one’s life story, one is constructing
an object, a story, that is distinct from one’s self, and that can be viewed
as a whole. One’s life story -- like any story -- has a beginning,
middle, and end. Thus, one’s life story may seem more manageable, and
at times may be more inspirational and less anxiety-provoking, than one’s
If a client’s life -- and life story -- is not going according to plan, the
client may wish to engage in “Life-Story Repair”. Such repair work
takes the difficulties into account, makes the best of the situation, and
charts a new course towards an as happily-ever-after ending as possible.
When using storytelling for therapy, the stories may be supplied (recalled,
composed, etc) by the therapist or by the client. The client discussing
a story, and perhaps telling a story to others, may help the client to
grapple with and work through challenges that she or he may be facing in real
Whether a story's characters are humans, animals, divinities, aliens, etc --
all stories are composed of situations. Storytellers and listeners can
imagine themselves in a story’s situations, and can consider if they might do
things the similarly or differently from how the characters are doing
things. This provides the tellers and listeners with opportunities to
re-live past events, and to practice what they might do in future events.
Projection, Identification, Empathy, Imitation,
and Imagination are key processes when it comes to people and
storytelling. People project themselves into story
characters. They tend to identify, and feel empathy, with
the characters. This occurs through the use of people’s powers of imagination.
People may then imitate the characters of their favourite stories.
In the course of Storytelling Therapy sessions, therapists and clients could
make lists of challenging situations that clients may face in a wide range of
contexts, including those in relation to:
1) Family members,
2) Colleagues and others in the workplace, and
3) Health, economic, sexual-orientation issues.
Then they could consider these challenging situations, and -- using their
imaginations, their abilities to weave fantasy -- they could compose and tell
stories based on these situations.
These stories could be called, healing
stories. Various possible endings
to these healing stories could be explored.
It may be that the client's healing may occur most powerfully when the client
creates or finds his/her own healing stories, and when the client tells such
stories to others and leads discussions about these stories. It is good
for the client to be in an active role -- as much as possible -- in relation
to the Storytelling Therapy process.
types of stories one could work with in the Storytelling Therapy process are:
1) True-Life (Autobiographical) Stories, and other Documentary Stories.
2) Traditional Stories (Epics, Fables, Fairy Tales, etc).
3) Made-up Stories.
Therapists and clients might also consider ways in which the imaginative,
oral verbal, physical, and social processes of storytelling could be
above material provides some background thoughts in relation to Chennai Storytelling
Festival 2014, scheduled for 7 Fri, 8 Sat, and 9 Sun Feb 2014. This is a teaching-and-learning festival,
featuring three days of free storytelling-related workshops (a number of
which people could participate in via videoconference).
above material is also providing guidelines for the Storytelling Therapy
component in the year-long Diploma Course on Expressive Arts Therapy
being offered in Chennai by the East-West Center for
Counselling, and Women’s Christian College (annually, from Dec to Nov).
This Storytelling Therapy component would be led by Dr Eric Miller
(Storytelling resource person) and Ms Magdalene Jeyarathnam (Counselling
In this course of study, participants would engage in numerous activities in
which they would later be able to lead their clients.
Expressive Arts Therapy utilises various modalities for therapeutic
purposes, including forms of Storytelling, Drama, Dance, and Visual
Dr Eric Miller
(Director, World Storytelling
Institute) is a Scholar and Trainer in regard to Storytelling. He
is not a Therapist, and thus does not use storytelling for therapy with
clients (his PhD is in Folklore).
However, Chennai's Center for Counselling does have Counsellors on staff who
are trained in the therapeutic uses of stories and storytelling (as well as
in the other Expressive Arts Therapy modalities).
Even those who might not be enrolled in the year-long Expressive Arts
Therapy Course may apply to attend the Course's three-day training
component in Using Storytelling for Therapy. This
training will also be available independently of the year-long Course, with
customisable duration and content.
For further info, please contact Ms Magdalene Jeyarathnam, 98841 00135,
firstname.lastname@example.org ; and Dr Eric Miller, 98403 94282,