To Discuss Or Not To Discuss

That is the question. Do you talk with children about the story after you have told it or not? In the literature you will find some different opinions about whether it should be discussed afterward, with perhaps the majority opting to "let the story tell its own tale." Berg and Steiner (2003, p. 82), for example, state emphatically, "After you finish reading the story, make sure there is no discussion about it—just read the story and then end the session. There should be no discussion about what the story meant to the child; trust their intuitive ways to understand the meaning and to find useful ways to incorporate this story to their life situations." This is indeed the type of directive I was given in my early metaphor training.

Such metaphor practitioners consider that discussing the steps for resolution may tend to impose the storyteller's ideas rather than allow the listener to search for his or her own meaning—and this is a real concern about which we need to be cognizant. Obviously, if the child is contemplating the meaning of the story or appears reluctant to discuss it, that response needs to be respected. Sometimes it may be better to allow listeners to engage in their own search for meaning than to interrupt what might be a useful time of processing.

On the other hand, there are metaphor therapists who consider that discussing the story helps make it practical and relevant for the child. I do not know that there is any hard or fast rule on this issue. It is not about having a rule that you always follow, as suggested by Berg and Steiner, but more a matter of listening to the needs of the child. If the child wants to talk about the story, not doing so seems to devalue his or her needs. If the child says something like, "It was funny when the little lioness found she could roar as loud as the other lions," or "I liked it when the lonely, lost little bear found his way out of the forest," the child may be opening the way to talk about his or her own experience of the tale. This gives a therapeutic opportunity to follow up with some outcome-directed questions like, "What was the most helpful thing the lioness or little bear did to help fix the problem?" or "If those characters were in a similar situation in the future what do you think would work best for them then?" This is not interpreting the story for the child but helping listeners find means for applying their own important learning from the story.

I think part of the confusion here arises out of the fact that two issues are involved and often get lumped together without being clearly differentiated. The first is the meaning the child attributes to the story. It is important to bear in mind that there is no one necessary conclusion or outcome, and that the intent that you had in telling the story may not be the message that the child derives from it. Healing stories are likely to have their greatest impact when you assist listeners to seek, and find, their own meaning—and that may be by quietly letting them discover it for themselves.

The second consideration has to do with how the child incorporates that learning in a useful and practical manner. Here some discussion and guidance may help the child take a valuable learning or insight and apply it usefully for the resolution of his or her problem.

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