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Uncommon Ideas for Therapists

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History of Storytelling - Part 1

Traditional Tales - Part 2

Story for Schizophrenia - Part 3

Changing Meaning - Part 4

The Storyteller's Art - Part 5

Enchanting Bird 1 - Part 6

Enchanting Bird 2 - Part 7

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The Storyteller's Art

When you bring a story out and tell it, perform it for an audience even if that audience is made up of only one person, you spin it out and improvise on it. The way it develops on the day depends a lot on your interaction with your audience and how ‘right’ you can make it for the time and place.

Of course if you are a professional like me you draw on a knowledge of traditional ways of embellishing and extending tales as well as having a few tricks of your own up your sleeve. I’m a musician, a trained guitar and lute player in fact, and I also know my way around a range of unusual ancient and ethnic instruments, all of which can help to establish the right kind of mood for listening.

And of course professional storyteller figures of many cultures (rawis, kathakars, griots et al) have been bards and minstrels, probably because music (or even sensitively used raw sound) can enhance listening and imagining. On the other hand, I’ve seen storytelling combined very effectively with conjuring, juggling and even paper folding.

Now what a professional does with a story in a situation that’s really about entertainment (or just possibly art) might seem very different from what a therapist or a counsellor or for that matter an educator would do, but there have to be common threads.

Amongst these, I’d identify particularly the real need for empathy and respect between audience and teller combined with improvisation that is related directly to improving communication and developing real attention, not there just as a frill. I’d also rule out of any effective storytelling interaction any hint of the ham thespian and what I’d call (in a shorthand I think you might just understand) “getting off” on a story; insincerity of any kind is not usually helpful to human relationships.

The thing is that any kind of storytelling situation is, at least potentially, alive. There are discoveries to be made for both teller and listener. In a way, the distinction people make between ‘telling your own story’ and telling a tale that comes from tradition is false because we’re all always telling our own story.

As the poet, James Berry, once wrote when signing his book of Anansi stories for me: “A storyteller wants to be all his characters - or knows he’s all of them.”

Next, The Enchanting Bird

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Roger Elliott
Managing Director