How to Use Storytelling as Therapy

One of the wonders of storytelling as therapy is how children will absorb lessons learned by characters in a story without being defensive about their own issues. Children who have gone through traumatic experiences can process those experiences and learn to trust and feel safe again through repeated stories with positive outcomes. Children watch the story's characters overcome similar obstacles, which boosts confidence that victory is possible and positive outcomes are realistic. Follow these guidelines when using storytelling activities as therapy:

  • Be Subtle: While you want to address the topic of concern, you don't want to be too obvious about it. Was this child ridiculed at school by peers? Make sure the story is about a similar situation, but not the exact same one. Has this child just lost a parent? You might want to use animals as characters instead of people. You also might want to adjust the loss in the story so that the parent is not the same gender as the one the child lost. 
  • Be Creative: You need to tell the story in such an enthusiastic and creative manner that the child forgets he is dealing with hurt and gets involved in the story itself. A highly entertaining story can still convey a significant message or feeling. Dig into the storyteller's arsenal of props, puppets, stuffed animals and story boards to make your story exciting and interesting. Vary the stories significantly; if you tell the same story over and over, your child will catch on to what you're trying to do, which can prompt defensive feelings.
  • Be Positive: Always end the story positively, with a happy ending where the character finds solutions for the problems. Use the story to explore feelings, prompt conversation and broach the topic of concern, but make sure you allow the characters to figure things out in a way that will stimulate your child to think about positive outcomes.
  • Invite the Child to Invent Stories: You will gain a great deal of insight as to how your child is coping if you listen to her stories. By making up her own stories, your child may process distressing events even further, exploring emotions and solutions as she spins tales. Listen carefully and allow your child freedom to pretend.
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