Stories are powerful. How we tell them can be healing. Some stories are buried, and some are bubbling at the surface. As a therapist, the art of asking questions to demonstrate curiosity and interest in a safe environment can invite the most private of stories to be revealed. And therapists – real live humans walking the earth too - have their own stories.
I recently spoke to a small group of psychologists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists – a crowd experienced in listening and responding to the most sensitive of stories. For this talk I volunteered my own story of traumatic loss on September 11th and my methods of coping the days, months and years following. Though I’ve spoken and written about this sudden loss many times as my own therapeutic outlet, it surprised me that after all this time, my voice can still shake. My hands can still tremble. And the lump in my throat that I walked around with for months can reappear as if it never dissolved.
This experience reminded me that our stories are very much alive. They deserve the attention we choose to give them, whether it’s telling a tale once, or retelling it as an exercise in building our immunity to something that once knocked us off our feet. And it doesn’t matter who we are or what our profession is. There are no pre-requisites in storytelling. If it will make you feel better – tell it. If you still have something to say – tell it again.
The practice of narrative therapy allows any personal experience – a job change or loss, a divorce or separation, a health threat, legal situation, death – to become stories that someone tells in their own words without judgment, allowing for exploration. These are opportunities to therapeutically transform a negative and painful experience into a more manageable and even empowering situation.
The sharing of similar stories such as in peer support groups can provide mutual comfort among those who are facing similar situations. The more we share our stories, the less we may feel alone. Yes, this can create a sense of vulnerability. But vulnerability can lead to strength when we help one another. The provision of peer services has become more recognized and formalized in mental and behavioral health, enabling more people to benefit.
None of us are storyless. All of us have a voice. How we tell the story is where the power lies.