I attended an introductory course on narrative therapy last week, and this weekend I was at the annual gathering of the network of biblical storytellers.
Story certainly is the lens through which I see and interpret the world.
Narrative therapy, as I thought it would, has given me some language and an approach to helping people that is comfortable and helpful for me. It is a language and an approach of curious wonder. An approach that trusts the story to its work of healing, rather than positioning oneself as the 'healer' or expert. Most of the people who did the course were counsellors or social workers, which put me in a minority of one as a person whose work context is within the realm of Christian community. Even so, this approach is as helpful for me in this context as it is for people working with those who experience violence or trauma, refugees, students and their families, the dying and grieving, and others. You see, I will come across people with many experiences, and while in my role it is inappropriate to be counselling or offering therapy, as a person said to me over the weekend, pastoral conversations are still therapeutic. Story in many contexts is therapy of a sort I suppose. And this is where we need to trust the story to do its work.
There is a temptation in pastoral conversation or therapy to hear a person name a problem and want to help them to solve the problem, move beyond it, or to fix the problem.
Narrative therapy allows space for the problem story to be told and explored, and for alternative stories of hope or initiative that may have been subordinated by the problem story. As we tell our stories, as the alternative stories have space to also be told and explored, a person is invited to look at their life from a different perspective, so break free from the hold of the dominant story, and to understand more about themselves than just the problem. This is healing. The problem is not ignored, or even 'killed' or beaten down. It is acknowledged. But it is no longer allowed to dominate more positive stories of this person's values, skills, knowledge and achievements. A person is empowered through such an approach to claim or reclaim the positive stories of their life, and to live with hope, courage, strength and a restored sense of self.
This is the healing power of story.
At the storytellers' gathering this weekend, I had a few conversations with fellow storytellers, who were interested to hear about this course, and this approach. Being story people, it makes so much sense to approach our task of helping people through the lens and with the tools of story. It really is about journeying with people and their story.
The 2010 gathering is going to be held in Adelaide, and so I'll be involved in the organising of it. I am wondering if we might follow up on this theme of story and healing, as there are a number of us interested in this connection. I think it would be a good opportunity to explore it some more, and to equip us further in our work as storytellers to help people find their way to healing through story.
I am also keen to explore how we provide space for the artistic responses to the input of the weekend - we are very good at inviting people to respond with words, but less good (not just the network, either) at encouraging the less verbal responses such as drawing or painting, clay, dance, music, poetry (which is verbal I know, but it's a different kind of words). Some of the readers of this blog will know that this is one of the aims of The Esther Project, the new community of faith I am involved with at the moment. There are others in the network who will be keen to work with us on providing this space, too.
The gathering this year has been quite different to previous years, in that there was space for non-verbal responses if you were looking for them. There is always a focus of the gathering to be a nurturing time for the storyteller - nurturing with skills, reflection on the task, teaching, and building relationships with other tellers for encouragement and support. This year, though, there was nurturing of the soul in a different way. We were encouraged to sleep if that is what we needed, to walk, to sit in silence, to wonder. There was one workshop that was more a ritual of healing, which was splendid. A number of us commented that this weekend offered more space, room to breathe, that others, and has been quite rejeuvenative in a different way to other more input-driven weekends.
And so story weaves its way through my life, my work, my soul. I am hoping to find the non-biblical stories that I will tell that also invite us to reflect on the story of our lives, and of the Sacred in our midst.