Question the Use of Storytelling for Every Problem

The greater the range of therapeutic tools therapists have available, the better they can serve the needs of any particular client. Metaphor therapy is just one of those tools in the therapist's tool kit, and it is appropriate to ask on what occasions it may be beneficial and on what occasions it is not.

I once organized a conference in which one of the presenters stated that he had learned only one form of therapy and that it was all he had ever needed. I feel concerned when I hear such statements, which imply we need to put the client into our model of the world, rather than that the therapist must adapt to the client's model. This is particularly concerning for child therapy.

While metaphors are one—and not the only—way ofworking, they have a universal appeal that can be incorporated into many therapeutic approaches. It is possible to tell a healing story in a psy-chodynamic model, a cognitive-behavioral framework, a solution-focused strategy, or any other in the extensive range of therapeutic approaches with which we may work. However, we need to stop and ask whether a story is appropriate, or even necessary, for this particular child. There is, simply, no point in making therapy more difficult or complex than it needs to be. If it is possible to use direct suggestions with a child, do it. If you have, say, a lonely and withdrawn child who will respond to a directive like, "Before our next appointment, I want you to join a sporting club or deliberately make more contact with others kids at school," there is no need to weave complex or intricate metaphors to achieve the same end.

Perhaps the clearest example for me of a failure in using metaphors was with my own daughter. She had engaged in a behavior that I considered inappropriate, and I felt it my responsibility as a parent to let her know. Having thought about it, I considered communicating the message in a story rather than saying it directly. I contemplated the story over a number of days and told it to her one day when she and I were alone in the car driving home. I thought I had wrapped the story up nicely as we pulled into our driveway but she leapt from the car, slammed the door behind her, and wouldn't speak to me for the rest of the evening. Obviously the story had an impact, based on the reaction it elicited, but not the impact I had intended. The lesson was important for, in retrospect, it seemed that the story had been too direct, and represented my desired outcome rather than an understanding of her situation. It was useful for me, if not for her, in that it led me to question whether that particular metaphor—or indeed a metaphor at all—was appropriate in the circumstance.

Because stories have a relatively universal appeal, it is often not a question of whether metaphor therapy is an appropriate intervention so much as what story is an appropriate intervention. If storytelling is not proving to be helpful in therapy, it may not be the storytelling itself but the content and relevance of the tale to the listener. At such times we need to ask ourselves, "Is the character one with whom the child can identify?" "Does the problem addressed sufficiently match that of the child?" "Are the resources being offered relevant for, and doable by, the child?" "Can the child relate, in a useful way, to the outcome?"

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