Advantages for Using a Childs Own Story

■ When the child has created the story, he or she is more likely to accept and use the message of the story than one that is seen as being imposed by an adult.

■ If, in creating the story, the child finds a solution or solutions to the problem, then the therapeutic exercise has been successful.

■ If the child is stuck with the problem and doesn't see the means for reaching a satisfactory outcome, then the therapist can help guide the child toward finding a solution to his or her own story.

■ In working with groups of children or in classroom situations, it is possible to read aloud some of the resulting stories, stopping at the point in each story where the problem has been described and then asking the group to brainstorm solutions: "If you were the character of this story, how would you go about solving the problem? What could you try? What do you think the effects of that might be? What if there are things the character cannot change? What are the best ways to manage the situation then?"

With the generous assistance ofschool psychologist Susan Boyett and schoolteacher Claire Scan-lon, we asked Year Seven students at Helena College in Western Australia to do the homework exercise of writing a problem-solving/healing story. The students were given a written guide along the lines I have presented above. Some of the stories the children created are reproduced in Chapter 13, with the kind permission of the students, their parents, and the college.

The exercise proved extremely interesting for a number ofreasons. First, the problems on which these stories were centered were not dissimilar to the stories I hear in my clinic. There were tales of parental marital problems, abuse, separation, grief, drug use, bullying, disability, and suicidal thoughts. I want to hasten to say that it does not mean the children of this sample were facing these problems themselves, but that it was the way some of them chose to address the types of problems they saw as characteristic of their age group.

Second, most of them chose another child as the character of the story. One chose a doll, another a puppy—but none took up the invitation to create a fictional figure or use a "hero." This is worth bearing in mind when building metaphors for children in this age group of around twelve years.

Third, some of the children came up with useful problem-solving strategies or means for fixing the problem. Although it was not part of this project, it may be interesting to know the long-term predictability ofhealthy adult functioning in kids who, at the age oftwelve, are good problem solvers. Having good problem-solving skills is one of the characteristics of adults who cope well and are less likely to become depressed (Yapko, 1997). Helping to equip children with these skills may thus serve as a useful preventative tool.

In a tale about grief and disability (Story 93), even the title, "Days to Come," has the sound of hope. Erin Kelley tells of a girl in a wheelchair who wants to walk again and is "aware of the possibility." She works toward her goal, is strong in the face of difficulties, and is not deterred by the lack of others' hope, finally reaching the "best day" of her life.

Fourth, some students seemed to be very good at describing the problem, but then provided magical outcomes, offered solutions outside their control, or struggled to find effective resolutions. Stephanie Wood provided a beautifully written tale ofWillow and her only friend, Paige, whose parents were constantly fighting (Story 99, "When There is Nothing I Can Do"). When Paige is sent to boarding school, Willow is alone, sad, and frightened. Willow can do nothing to stop her parents' fighting or to stop Paige's being sent to boarding school. When a child cannot find the means to reach a satisfactory outcome—and at times there may not be one—the challenge for the metaphor therapist is to help the child find ways of accepting what is happening, reframing their ideas about it, or building better coping mechanisms. Here the therapist may ask questions like, "If Willow's and Paige's parents are fighting all the time, what can they do as kids to feel okay about themselves?" "If Willow's best friend is sent away to boarding school, how could she cope with that?" "What could she do to find another friend?"

Finally, some children produced a partial resolution. In "My Life" (Story 96), Nathaniel Watts tells of a child facing the death of a father. The story is sad and poignant and describes things changing years later when the character finds comfort in the assurance that the death was not his fault. The therapist may want to help a child who tells a tale of this nature explore what it was about the reassurance that helped alter the experience. What else might have been done to ease the pain of grief? How could that have happened earlier? What helps the character maintain his well-being now?

Similarly, in Story 98, "Rock Your Way Out of It," Jonathon Matthews tells how a single, positive experience can distract you from negative thoughts—including suicidal ideation. For his character, it was a Van Halen song. But what does the character do after that momentary distraction? How can he hang on to, or create, more positive experiences? What does he need to do to make life more meaningful and happy? What is necessary to help ensure he goes on to enjoy the "wonder full life"

as it was described in the story? These are the sorts of questions the therapist, teacher, parent, or caregiver might want to help the child explore in the context of his or her own metaphor.

Having children create such personal healing stories can be a powerful tool in educating and building preventative skills, generally as well as in therapy. It can be a win-win task, being successful if children find solutions in their own stories, and being a metaphor in which the therapist can join the child to help shape an outcome if a solution is not immediately found by the child.

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