When Not To Speak In Stories

I think it also needs to be said that metaphor therapy may not be relevant for every child. Some children, depending on chronological age, mental age, and cognitive development, may be more concrete and less abstract in their thinking. If you can give a child a clear directive and he or she follows it, why bother messing around creating and telling stories (except for the fun of it)? Similarly, I do not want to give the impression that metaphors are the only way to do therapy. Though stories have a universal appeal and their effectiveness as a teaching tool has long been demonstrated, there are children (particularly teenagers) who may not appreciate or benefit from such indirect approaches to treatment, perhaps seeing them as evasive, condescending, or irrelevant. There may be parents who do not understand the process and even become angry that they are paying their hard-earned cash for you to "do nothing" but tell stories to their child. It is important to watch carefully for such signs and—in the art of all good therapy—adapt your interventions to the needs and responses of your clients. Often the problem may not be in the process of storytelling, which has a universal appeal, but in the relevance of the content for that particular child. In general, the more strings you have to your therapeutic bow, the easier it is to make those adaptations, and the more effective your interventions. Metaphor therapy is just one ofthose strings—and may not be the best or only one necessary to reach the child's therapeutic goal. Further discussion of the pitfalls in metaphor therapy and pathways that may be followed to enhance therapeutic effectiveness can be found in Chapter 14.

Let me summarize this chapter on the magic ofstories with a favorite tale that has its origins back in 1794, when a small boy underwent surgery for the removal of a tumor. Can you imagine what thoughts would have been going through the mind of a nine-year-old child facing the prospect of a surgeon's knife more than 200 years ago? Of course, he did not know that antibiotics were yet to be discovered or that Louis Pasteur had not yet enlightened the medical world about the need for sterilization. Chemical anesthetics for the control of pain were to remain unknown for another century and a half.

In the absence of anything else to offer the child, he was told a story to help distract his attention from the procedure. So intriguing was the tale that he later avowed he had felt no discomfort whatsoever.

Could a story be that powerful, and could its power linger? For that child, it certainly did. Eighteen years later the very same boy handed one of his own stories to a publisher. What was his story? Snow White. Yes, the boy was Jacob Grimm, who went on to become one of the world's most famous tellers of fairy stories—stories that continue to be retold in words, in print, in plays, and on movie screens two centuries later.

In this chapter I have attempted to illustrate just some of the ways stories can inform, educate, teach values, discipline, build experience, facilitate problem solving, change, and heal. These are just some samples, like a plate of food randomly selected from an extensive smorgasbord, and not meant to be a comprehensive list of the values of stories. Other examples of the power of stories to invoke emotions, to inspire, or to create mind-body feats are given in Burns (2001). The question to occupy the next chapter is, how do we communicate such healing stories effectively?

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