Exercise

■ Children will tell you—verbally or nonverbally—how your story is being received.

■ Watch their behavior, posture, level of attention, eye contact, fidgeting, muscle tone, and rate of respiration.

■ How attentive are they? What feedback does this give you about the content of the story and the way you are telling it?

10. Be Flexible

Because stories permit and nurture creativity, because they allow for adaptability, there is no right or wrong way to tell a story, just as there is no right or wrong way to play music. Once you have acquired the basic skills of an instrument, you can play classical, jazz, rock, rap, or folk, following a score note-by-note or improvising your own composition. When you play a tune, there are different ways to do so, some more effective and some that are less effective. Consequently, I have called the topics of this chapter "guidelines" rather than rules. For every child your story is likely to be different and the style in which you tell it is also likely to be different, because no one child, circumstance, problem, or outcome is exactly the same as another. At first this may seem a formidable challenge, not just to the process of using metaphors but to any process of therapy, but as you think of the story as constantly evolving for you and your young clients, flexibility grows easier.

I have sought to provide examples of building flexibility into stories in some of the examples in Part Two through the use ofquestions that engage the listener and guide the direction of the story. Story 73, "Collaborative Problem-Solving," is based on a case in which I told one child (I shall call him Darren) of another child (true story) with a similar problem of insomnia. Through the story, Darren was engaged in helping the other child find a solution. As we discussed what might and might not be useful for this other boy, Darren would go home, test them out himself, and come back to discuss what we could discard from the story and what might be worth offering. He made it clear when he thought something would not work or whether the other boy was not ready to take that step yet. The story—and its outcome—was developed collaboratively, adapting and changing as Darren learned the skills for sleeping more comfortably in his own room. Research affirms that metaphors developed with the client have the greatest efficacy (Martin, Cummings, & Hallberg, 1992), and this is explored more in the sections on Child-Generated Metaphors and Collaborative Tales in Chapter 3.

The flexibility of stories is relieving news for the both the novice and the experienced metaphor therapist. A perfect healing story does not have to be there in your mind instantly and completely just when you may need it. It can evolve over a period of time, can be thought about between therapy sessions, and can be developed in conjunction with your client. . . . And children generally have an unbridled creative imagination that makes collaborative storytelling both easy and effective. Give them the opportunity to be an active part of the storytelling and usually they jump at the chance.

Step back a little and observe how your stories evolve. Let yourself be surprised by how differently you tell a story to a teenager this week or a younger child next week. Allow yourself the opportunity to see what works best for you and the child you are working with at that time. Keep the door open to experiment and discover.

Following our analogy of learning to drive, we have moved from the basic steps to the multiple skills required by a regular commuter. Following the guidelines presented in this chapter, we have progressed from developing confidence in our storytelling abilities to telling tales with enthusiasm and integrity. We have examined how to create outlines for telling stories that fit with detail and reality, while observing the listener's responses and being flexible enough to adapt the tale to the needs of the moment. Hopefully, you will have discovered that while telling an interesting and meaningful tale it is also possible to observe your client, ask yourself questions about the processes that are going on for the child, and adapt the story to most effectively fit his or her needs.

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