First up, let me explain that the number on the side of this page, the countdown to the day I stop writing is freaking me out. How can I stop? There is still a thousand pages rattling around in my head. What if I miss something out that is really important? What if I make a blanket statement without clarifying that this is not always the case? What if the reader thinks that this is all there is to art therapy? So many unanswered questions. So few days.
I have ritual and research paragraphs to write, and then it is back to the beginning to enter further reading and experiential exercises. Then, after a final proof read myself, it is up to my trusty editors to pick up my spelling errors and strange writing quirks. I feel so indebted to them already!
I have a trip to Brisbane to teach in early March for Ikon Institute SA. I just keep thinking how great it will be to just walk along the river after a day of lecturing, just eating a leisurely dinner and to NOT BE THINKING I NEED TO WRITE ANOTHER FEW PAGES!
Ok. On with the show. Today’s snippet from the book (unedited …), is about story telling and book making. I like to tell a good story. I like to add emphasis at those very funny, sad, or amazing points. I like to see my listener take the journey with me. There is something quite affirming about watching your listener take the emotional path you have led them down. I also like to hear good stories. Ones that challenge my thinking, cause me to wonder how I’d manage such circumstances. Stories that make me laugh at the incongruity of it all. Story telling is largely how we relate our experiences to others. It’s not often we do a factual account with nothing more than dates, times and actions unless we are telling this to the tax consultant. Usually we tell our stories with emotion, with something about our beliefs stamped on them. We tell stories with humour, or with great sadness, and we like nothing better than to ‘see’ that we have been ‘heard’ by watching the listener experience something of the emotion we have expressed. Story telling has a real place in therapy.
Story and Art Therapy
So often the use of an externalised model of therapy, the construction of metaphor and the freedom to create, result in a great deal of storytelling. This often occurs naturally throughout the therapy sessions and noting details of the story may make it possible to construct an actual storybook as a celebration of the journey taken, the results achieved, or the hurdles overcome. A method for such storytelling that has become increasingly popular in psychotherapy in recent years, is the Hero’s Journey. This concept was documented and explored by anthropologists and mythologists such as Otto Rank, in “Der Mythus von der Geburt des Helden” (Rank, 1922) . (Recent English version “The Myth of the Birth of the Hero: A Psychological Exploration of Myth”).(Rank, Richter, & Lieberman, 2004) and Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces 2nd Edition, 1949) who fully described the stages and universality of this model.
This monomyth, as it is often referred to, is a universal story structure now used by writers and filmmakers the world over. Not only does the model beautifully encapsulate the cyclic calls to adventure, the struggles, battles, desperation, successes and personal growth, but the structure of such stories has great appeal to humankind. Our experience with an old washing machine has parallels with Luke Skywalker’s struggles in Star Wars. We might not have such huge life and death issues to deal with on a daily basis, but for many people, the supposedly small battles can be, at times, overwhelmingly big. It is in our empathy for the character in the story, that we generate a sense of resonance and this resonance connects human beings.
Story telling in therapy not only further enables externalisation, metaphoric expression and presentation of unconscious material, but it also allows the story teller the power to connect with the listener, the audience. The old English proverb, ‘a troubled shared is a trouble halved’ somehow resonates with this ability we have to leave some of our pain with another in the form of empathy. Even in celebration, we join together, advertise our success and take great joy from the ability of others to ‘feel’ our joy.
Thus a story telling and art based book making process can be extremely beneficial in therapy. The book itself memorialises the experience, the challenges, the battles and the joys. It is a trophy, a reminder of the journey- The Hero’s Journey!