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William Shakespeare’s Commentary on Female Political Rulers through the Character of Lady Macbeth (Part 2)

June 28th, 2010 Comments off

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To gain credibility in her abilities and in the confidence that although she is a woman, she is capable of hungering for such power and seizing this power from others, Lady Macbeth must remove all aspects of femininity from herself. If the lady wishes to sway others into believing that she is perfectly competent of exercising leadership, she feels that the spirits must literally deprive her of femininity, thicken her blood, and halt her ability to weep openly. She begs these specters to strip away the attributes that make her a woman in crying out, “Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top full Of direct cruelty. ” (I, v, 41-44). She desires for her blood congeal so that she can no longer be harmed by her own guilty conscious, “Make thick my blood, Stop up the access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visiting of nature Shake my fell purpose nor keep peace between The effects and it! ” (I, v, 44-48). If Lady Macbeth is able to halt any inhibitions of guilt that may result from any of her deeds, she can consider herself more of a man, as men do go out into battle and kill without inflicting their souls with compunction. She then begs that the physical characteristics that make her a woman be removed, “Come to my woman’s breasts, And take my milk for gall, your murthering ministers wherever in your sightless substances You wait on nature’s mischief. ” (I, v, 48-51). When Lady Macbeth desires to be “unsexed” in both emotional and physical terms, her words reveal the noted discordance between the supposed archetype of feminine nature and political ambition. Despite this, Klein suggests, “[She] is never able to separate herself completely from womankind – unlike her husband, who ultimately becomes less and worse than a man,” (169). Shakespeare must de-feminize Lady Macbeth to some extent to give her ambitions credibility and, therefore, maintain in the minds of the audience that she as a character to be taken seriously.

  Through the bullying and chastising of her husband, Lady Macbeth drives Macbeth to dismiss his own fears, which ultimately leads to his own downfall.   Shakespeare transforms the longing of Lady Macbeth into that of a masculine nature and by doing so, through her actions and words, places Macbeth in a passive role.   The playwright allows Lady Macbeth to dominate her husband to show that such reversal of sexual relations is also a reversal of political order, reflecting the issues of female involvement in the government and the aptitude possessed by women to reign over men as a monarch.   Throughout the first portion of the play it can be noted that Macbeth is continuously forced to assert his manliness to his wife, first in writing a letter to her from the battlefield hailing his accomplishments and then by murdering King Duncan.   The initial probing exposes a more feminine side of Macbeth, one of doubt and hesitation, when he asks, "If we fail? " (I, vii, 58).   Lady Macbeth replies sharply, "We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking-place And we’ll not fail. " (I, vii, 59-61), attempting to assuage his fears.   Lady Macbeth continuously berates her husband for his lack of conviction, deeming him a weak man who can easily be exploited.   She becomes angered when Macbeth determines that he will not claim the crown by treacherous means, "If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me Without my stir. " (I, iii, 143-144).   Although a man well versed in the sentiments of the battlefield, having hunted down traitor Macdonwald and "unseamed him from the nave to the chaps and fixed his head upon our battlements," Macbeth is plagued by the insistence of a guilty conscious.   Lady Macbeth proceeds to mock him because of his apparent remorse following the murder of King Duncan saying, "My hands are of your color [blood], but I shame To wear a heart so white. " (II, ii, 62-63).   Lady Macbeth finishes the deed of her husband herself, considering him not manly enough to go back and place the bloody daggers in the dead monarch’s bedchamber.   It is through the frequent insults and stabs against his manhood, that Shakespeare brings to light what a strong personality that Lady Macbeth possesses, one strong enough to assume the masculine role of acquisition of power. Upon asking the spirits to unsex her otherwise feminine emotional state and body to gain standing as a power-craving individual, Lady Macbeth acknowledges the single trait that still separates her from masculinity, at least in her mind, the ability to bear children. To remove this capacity would eliminate every aspect which would be considered womanly and, therefore, leave her a neutral ruler, unable to be influenced by the prospect of having children, which was condemned a weakness by the society.

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William Shakespeare’s Commentary on Female Political Rulers through the Character of Lady Macbeth (Part 3)

June 28th, 2010 Comments off

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The disgust Lady Macbeth holds for any child who originates from her flesh can be noted in, “I have given suck, and know How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me: I would, while it was smiling in my face, Heave pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this. ” (I, vi, 54-59). This astonishing revelation also reflects the manner in which she treats those she judges more vulnerable than herself, both man and child alike, influencing them to do horrific crimes for her personal gain. To distance herself from every preconceived notion regarding womanhood, Lady Macbeth has chosen to remain a “barren scepter”, (II, i, 62) denying herself the right to give birth in exchange for a masculine mystique, which allows her the power she is searching to gain. Macbeth, on the other hand, insists that she bear an heir to the throne if he is to occupy it, taking a more practical, parental role a compared to his wife. “Bring forth men-children only! ” he proclaims, “For thy undaunted mettle should compare Nothing but males. ” (I, vii, 72-74). The allusions made to the childlessness and the demands for a son to ascend the throne in this marriage can be found echoing in the minds of the first audience following the death of Queen Elizabeth, who died without hereditary heir. Devoid of the capacity or desire of neither Queen Elizabeth nor Lady Macbeth to yield children, each female ruler in the position of power maintains her credibility as a leader through a masculine form and nature.

Once Lady Macbeth succeeds in convincing Macbeth to undertake the unspeakably horrendous act of murdering King Duncan, her domineering nature can no longer keep him under her spell. Macbeth realizes his strengths stemming from the initial regicide and no longer needs her to fuel his ambition. As in all of human nature, a manipulative mind must have a weak soul by which to prey on, but once this soul loses its inhibitions and gains independence, the manipulative mind shall crumble. Admitting to having killed the guards of the king’s chamber, Macbeth breaks free from the original plan devised by his wife and thus emerges out of her scheme a self-sufficient figure, causing Lady Macbeth to faint in disbelief. While Lady Macbeth is seen to be reexamining the events of the previous murder, Macbeth looks ahead, anticipating the next murder, that of Banquo, which he has not informed his wife of yet. Gradually Macbeth distances his mind from the grip of Lady Macbeth, tasting the spoils of victory independently, and then actively seeking them out, ending the lives of Banquo and Macduff’s wife and children, securing that his wife have no place in the masculine acts of treason and revenge. Upon ascending the throne, “he, the man, so fully commands Lady Macbeth that he allows her no share in his new business. No longer his accomplice, she loses her role as housekeeper. ” (Klein, 175). Once Macbeth realizes his strength and no longer needs her or is in awe of her, Lady Macbeth, stricken and without an object to carry out her manipulation through, falls into periods of madness and sleepwalking. She becomes obsessed with removing the blood from her hands, as to her they appear stained, signifying a personal trial underway upon her soul. Lacking an individual to bestow upon her evil intentions and to achieve her ambitions, Lady Macbeth is forced to turn the evilness upon herself, eventually culminating into suicide as a result of relentless guilt. After losing the power of manipulation over her husband, Lady Macbeth loses her rank in the political institution of the monarchy and, therefore, ultimately ceases to exist, without the control.

The anxieties of gender role manifested in Shakespeare’s Macbeth decisively present that even such a powerful character as Lady Macbeth, or Queen Elizabeth herself, can not overcome the traditions of a patriarchal system through acceptable means. In the conclusion, Malcolm, son of Duncan, is restored to the throne and thus re-establishing normalcy in the line of succession, as deemed appropriate by the British people during Shakespeare’s time. Through the allegorical representation of the political ethos of Renaissance England, Shakespeare examines and resolutely determines that positive involvement of women within the political structure is not feasible, as demonstrated by the evolution of his character, Lady Macbeth.

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Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”

June 28th, 2010 Comments off

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Certain excerpts from Sigmund Freud’s essay of the human mind, “Civilization and Its Discontents”, could be identified as corresponding concepts that were interwoven in the novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The great analytical work of the well known psychiatrist assessed the events and happenings of this book indirectly by way of common theories in which human might act. “Civilization and Its Discontents” forced upon its readers particular ideas that could also be found symbolically in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Both the texts of Sigmund Freud and Robert Louis Stevenson shared common themes and ideas.

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The main focal point of Freud’s essay rested on civilization and the problems and strain in which it inevitably caused to the individual. Freud strongly expressed in his composition that without civilization, the human being would be subject to Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. “Perhaps we may begin by explaining that the element of civilization enters on the scene with the first attempt to regulate these social relationships. If the attempt were not made, the relationships would be subject to the arbitrary will of the individual: that is to say, the physically stronger man would decide them in the sense of his own interests and instinctual impulses. Nothing would be changed in this if this stronger man should in his turn meet someone stronger than he. ” (pages 301-302) Since Edward Hyde operated solely as an individual and avoided the wrath of civilization altogether, he assumed that he could overpower Dr. Jekyll. After all, he was stronger and more youthful than the wise old scientist, but the advancement of knowledge was on Dr. Jekyll’s side. Without this organization of social relationships, Hyde could have dominated the world, bringing evil to every corner.

The sheer power of civilization prevented the onslaught of evil amongst the masses, and alleviated the competition between men who were perhaps stronger that another. And yet, through the turmoil that existed in this world and the fickleness of society, both good and evil continued to combat in uncivilized manner as did Jekyll and Hyde themselves. This battle awakened aggressiveness deep within one’s own soul, in hope of proving his power and intelligence over another, still a form of that lingering theory of the strong commanding the weak. The presence of aggressiveness in Dr. Jekyll’s nature transcended into its own vehicle (or soul) of frustration, a Mr. Edward Hyde. Since such aggression was not conventionally thought of as civilized or desirable, it was shunned and forced to dwell deep within one’s spirit. This aggression and will to control all disrupted the relationships between Jekyll and his lifelong friends, Mr. Utterson and Dr. Lanyon. As Freud stated so eloquently, “The existence of this inclination of aggression, which we can detect in ourselves and justly assume to be present in others, is the factor which disturbs our relations with our neighbor and which forces civilization into such a high expenditure (of energy). ” (page 304). This overall aggression that reigned over Hyde’s entire soul, distanced him from the human race.

Sigmund Freud also brought to life the concept of the internal punishment that has forever scarred the human psyche, a plague that Dr. Jekyll experienced in Robert Louis Stevenson’s gripping novel. Resting always on the conscience, those unlawful and immoral deeds that one committed remained here. Jekyll was eternally tormented by the acts of Hyde, nearly driven to insanity. He could never escape the remembrances that Hyde has passed down to him through their common memory, especially those of trampling a young girl and beating an innocent man senseless. Finally, to extinguish all guilt and the madness circulating in his mind, Jekyll killed himself, and in effect, killed Hyde, too.

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Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (Part 2)

June 28th, 2010 Comments off

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Until death, humans continued to punish themselves for the wrongs that they had committed. Freud discussed the presence of these horrible memories lingering on the subconscious in his dissertation of “Civilization and Its Discontents”. According to him, the individual subconscious mind directed our thoughts and actions much more directly than previously thought. In this certain case, Jekyll represented the soul of a human and Hyde that human’s subconscious. In ordinary entities, these two were combined together to make up only one whole person, but in this book, they are broken down. Although Jekyll didn’t experience Edward Hyde’s crimes against humanity first hand, he was constantly nagged by Hyde’s remembrances. These remembrances in normal humans would compose the subconscious, but here they were given a physical form.

Also exhibited in “Civilization and Its Discontents” was the idea that civilization made more “should nots” than “should” in view of behavior. These many restrictions could suppress the human spirit and free-will without giving these omnipotent forces ways to channel the energy that they possessed. The evil side of Jekyll was silenced in the civilization that man had fallen victim to. Finally, without any other way to release this energy constructively, the dark side of Jekyll must emerged in the form of Mr. Hyde.

Unbound by civilization, Jekyll was able through Hyde to channel all the negative forces within himself and surrender to his own instincts. “The liberty of the individual is no gift of civilization. It was greatest before there was any civilization, though then, it is true, it had for the most part no value, since the individual was scarcely in a position to defend it. The development of civilization imposes restrictions on it, and justice demands that no one shall escape those restrictions. The urge for freedom, therefore, is directed against particular forms and demands of civilization altogether. ” (page 302) Hyde was the individual described and felt that he was much better off without any restrictions demanding proper conduct. He could not follow the basic laws set by moral men, so he chose to rebel against them. Another quote that was highly relevant in comparing both literary works was, “The element of truth behind all this, which people are so ready to disavow, is that men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend themselves if they are attached; they are, on the contrary, creatures among those instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. ” (page 304) As Edward Hyde expressed through his actions, he believed that this statement was true and was not at all himself, gentle. Dr. Jekyll first appeared to be kind-hearted but later his more menacing side was revealed through his alter-ego.

“Civilization and Its Discontents” by Sigmund Freud and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson carefully outlined one another in common themes, ideas, and beliefs. In fact, it may seem that Stevenson’s publication was centered around Freud’s evaluation of society, although it was not. Both demonstrated the effects in which a civilized world can have on its inhabitants and dictated the true essence of the human psyche.

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Basic Primer for the Therapeutic Uses of Literature (aka. Bibliotherapy) for Children and Adolescents (Part 7)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off

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  Should the shelves of our high school libraries house novels about the struggles of a lesbian teenager or novels about pregnancy where abortion is considered as a viable option?   As teenagers near adulthood their understanding of their world grows and expands.   Sex, violence, and drugs top the list of subjects that can lead to disagreement when evaluating literature that deals with these critical teenage themes.   Rape, incest, drug-addicted parents, domestic violence, and other subjects offend many and encroach into taboo territory.   Authors whose literature pushes at the edges of their craft may make invoke responses of disapproval to outrage.   Even if these topics are too hot for a school board to handle, the children who might benefit from a quality book whose plot line mirrors their life controversial thought it may be would be the losers should they miss the opportunity to make a positive connection through literature.  

No one saves us but ourselves;
  No one can and no one may,
    We ourselves must walk the Path,
      Teachers merely show the way.

~Nancy Wilson Ross~

1910 1986

General Literacy and its Effect on Youth

            Depending upon how bibliotherapy is defined there is another aspect that bears consideration.   It is included here because of the sheer power it brings to the individual who benefits from it.   Reading reading anything from a good book, the newspaper, or the directions on a condom wrapper is dependent upon the readers ability to well. read.     Common sense tells us that the literacy rate of any given population is likely to be tied to the quality of their lives.   Literacy abilities are often categorized using a leveling system that ranks from a low of 1 to a high of 5.   Sadly, 21% to 24% of Americans are considered functionally illiterate, having been assessed in the range of level 1.   The state and federal inmate population is in even worse straights with fully 40% of being functionally illiterate (level 1).   It is worth noting that 70% of all inmates were ranked at level 2 or under.   Compare this number to the 48% of the general population that score in the level 2 or lower range.   Can this comparison be used to further justify the need to raise the literacy rates of our population?   Is it such a stretch to conclude that the ability to read improves people lives?   If we accept that premise, could we then extrapolate that there would be a reduction in crime?   If so, as the dominos continue to fall, could the reduction in crime reduce inmate populations?   Well, as a Mark Twain once said, “There are statistics and then there are damned statistics. ”  The wisdom of those words makes a simple answer nearly impossible to pin down.   However, in general research does support the idea that an increase in the literacy of our population would be connected with the statistical probability of reducing crime and incarceration.   Offering educational opportunities to individuals already housed in our state and federal prisons as a means to reduce recidivism is a trickier issues and the data on that subject is conflicting.   Bibliotherapeutic effect of improving the reading ability of our general population is well highlighted by the examination of our prison population when contrasted to the general population.   Life quality as it relates to reading level has many other connections and the comparison offered here between the inmate and general population is but one.   The correlation between literacy and income level is well established.   There is also a strong link between low literacy levels and poor health.   So while literacy levels, don’t at first blush, seem to fall neatly into a therapeutic goal, the statistics tell a different story.

The Power of Reading

Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours.

~John Locke~
1632 1704

            Bibliotherapy cuts a broad path when it’s meaning is examined.   Stories without books, stories with books, and books just for the sake of books dot the landscape.   Each venue holds the potential to use literature as a way to improve the quality of life. If children and adolescents can connect to the literature they read, they may be well served by the insight and comfort they receive from the experience.   In addition, if children and adolescents are blessed with significant literary abilities they may improve the overall quality of their lives.   To read is to gather knowledge.   To gather knowledge is to learn to think.   Learning to think leads to better decision-making.   Better decision-making leads to a healthier, happier life.

Works Cited

Philpot, Jan, Bibliotherapy for Classroom Use. Tennessee:  1997

Cuddigan, Maureen and Hanson, Beth. Growing Pains:  Helping Children Deal with Everyday Problems through Rreading. Chicago:  1988

Jones, Eileen. Bibliotherapy for Bereaved Children. London:  2001

Brandell, Jerrold. of mice and metaphors. New York:  2000

Gardner, M. D. Therapeutic Communication With Children:  The Mutual Storytelling Technique.

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Basic Primer for the Therapeutic Uses of Literature (aka. Bibliotherapy) for Children and Adolescents (Part 8)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off

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New York:  1971

Porterfield, Austin L. Mirror Mirror. Texas:  1957

Kaywell, Joan. Using Literature to Help Troubled Teenagers Cope With Abuse Issues. Conneticut:  2004

United States.   National Center for Education Statistics.   Highlights From the 2003 International Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey. 2003 http://nces. ed. gov/surveys/all/issuebrief. asp

United States.   National Center for Education Statistics.   IALS Results. 1997 http://nces. ed. gov/surveys/all/Results. asp

United States.   National Center for Education Statistics. Literacy Behind Prison Walls. December 1994 http://nces. ed. gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo. asp? pubid=94102

United States. Quill Learning Network. International Adult Literacy Survey. unknown http://www. quillnet. org/stats. html

Shepard, John C. GIGA Quotes. Quote Topics. 1999 http://www. giga-usa. com/index. html

Steinman, Richard A, MD, PhD. “Online Health Information and Low-Literacy African Americans”. Journal of Medical Internet Research. June 2004 http://www. jmir. org/2004/3/e26/

United States. National Institute of Health. Why Johnny Is Sick:  Researcher Strengthens Health, Literacy Link. Spring 2003 http://www. nidcd. nih. gov/health/inside/spr03/pg2. asp

United States.   National Institute of Health.   Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters. 2001 http://www. nimh. nih. gov/publicat/violence. cfm#viol2

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Basic Primer for the Therapeutic Uses of Literature (aka. Bibliotherapy) for Children and Adolescents

June 24th, 2010 Comments off

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And shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tale which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we wish them to have when they are grown up?

We cannot. Anything received into the mind at this age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts.                                                                                           

(Plato, 374 B. C. p. 72)

            The idea that books affect people in profound ways has been around for a very long time.   The written word has been honored to point of near worship in its abilities to educate, entertain and transform their readers.   Stories told and stories read have the power to touch us in ways to numerous too list.    Books can entertain and educate.   Books can also heal the soul, promote personal growth and shine a light on those who may have lost their way in life.   It is no surprise then that the field of psychology and the professionals that serve this science have embraced its strength.   The general concept of using literature as a therapeutic tool has been around in one form or another since the earliest thinkers wisely recognized the power wielded by mere words.   This idea was given a modern scientific-credibility boost when Samuel Crothers first coined the term bibliotherapy in a 1916 issue of Atlantic Monthly.   Today, bibliotherapy can be broken into two distinct methodologies:  one in which stories are read and the other in which stories are told.   Mental health professionals who work with children and adolescents frequently use a form of bibliotherapy where no books are used.   A child is first asked to invent a story, create characters and formulate plots that please them. Because of the child’s youth, the story is often a conduit that reaches directly into his/her subconscious mind. The therapist then carefully examines the story and looks for issues that relate to conflicts occurring in the child’s life.     The professional then retells the story, often reframing it just a bit, so that a stronger, more healthy method of coping is demonstrated by the characters or expressed through the plot.   In child psychotherapy, this is a time-honored practice and is commonly called reciprocal story telling.   The other form of bibliotherapy assumes that good literature, when read, can offer the reader both conscious and subconscious insights into their own conflicts and issues.   While reading there is no face-to-face confrontation, there is no psychobabble interpretation to wade through.   Both factors contribute to an environment where issues are more easily processed and reconciled.   There is a large list of benefits that individuals may reap when reading selections of written works that relate to, mime or incorporate the struggles that currently occupy a person’s life.   These two types of bibliotherapy are used to effect positive changes in a child’s, adolescent’s or adult’s life.   These methods are used by a variety of different individuals, covering subject matter that is huge in its scope, and bring as a result, a rich list of potential benefits.

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Stories Without Books

Books are masters who instruct us without rods or ferules,
without words or anger, without bread or money.
If you approach them, they are not asleep; if you seek them,
they do not hide; if you blunder, they do not scold;
if you are ignorant, they do not laugh at you.

~ Richard De Bury 1286 to 1345

             As the title of this section suggests, bibliotherapy does not always include books.   This form of therapy, commonly referred to as reciprocal story telling, most often involves professionals in the mental health field.   The therapist begins by soliciting a story from the child-patient.   Because children lack the mental maturity that serves to moderate and regulate the subconscious mind, these stories often provide a valuable look into the issues and concerns that have been hidden away in their young brain.   Stories, through the use of metaphors, can store a cash of valuable information that the patient may be unable to express in any other way because he/she lacks the vocabulary or insight that comes with more maturity.   The younger the child, the more likely the story will reflect free flowing concerns or ideas generated from the subconscious mind.    This technique is used with patients ranging in age from 3 to 15 with the median age being 6 to 12.   To understand how this process works is no easy task!   It will help to combine references to theory and studies, then blending that with an individual case history.   To truly grasp this concept is far beyond the scope of this paper.   I am hoping only to provide a simple introduction that might serve as a springboard for further thought on the process.  

A Study from the 1930’s

Books are the bees which carry the quickening pollen
from one to another mind.

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Basic Primer for the Therapeutic Uses of Literature (aka. Bibliotherapy) for Children and Adolescents (Part 2)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off

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~ James Russell Lowell 
1819-1891

            A study conducted by Louise Despert and H. W. Potter in 1936 offered several conclusions after working with twenty-two institutionalized children ranging in age from four to thirteen.

· The story is a form of verbalized fantasy through which the child may reveal his or her inner drives and conflicts.

· A recurring theme generally indicates the principal concern or conflict, which in turn may be corroborated with other clinical evidence.

· Anxiety, guilt, wish fulfillment, and aggressiveness are the primary trends expressed.

· The use of the stories appears to be most valuable when the child determines the subject matter of his or her own story.

· The story can be used as both a therapeutic and an evaluation device.

            These generalizations are still viewed as valid today.   From this early study and others like it, the uses of reciprocal storytelling has continued and flourished to the point where it is considered a valuable professional tool.   Free flowing ideas coming from a child’s subconscious mind, in the form of a story, often provides the mirror that can reflect the complexity of a life that the child can barely begin to grasp.   Essential information is often garnered from this glimpse into the inner world of the troubled child.

The Use of Props

The books we read should be chosen with great care,
that they may be, as an Egyptian king wrote over his library,
"The medicines of the soul. "

             Younger children, whose expression is limited by verbal abilities, may use props to enhance their stories.   These props often include items such as dolls, puppets or crayons. Gardner commented on the use of these devises when he said, “Although drawings, dolls, puppets and other toys are the modalities around which stories are traditionally told in child therapy, these often have the effect of restricting the child’s storytelling or of channeling it in highly specific directions. ”  (p 25)  In contrast Brandell cites numerous sources that have used adjuncts, such as puppetry, finger painting, drawing, costume play, clay modeling and doll play with success. (p 4).    Brandell does qualify the use of play techniques with the statement that “ at times, the traditional therapeutic play modalities simply cannot provide the child clinician either with sufficient, dynamically meaningful information about the child or with an effective vehicle for conveying both therapeutic understanding of the child’s narrative and therapeutic communications of a more specific nature.   “Accordingly, children’s autogenic stories have long been recognized as an important source of clinical data. ”  (p 86)  Toys are used alone in play therapy but are merely an adjunct when used in conjunction with stories made up by the child-patient.   In the end, it is the story that provides the rich store of potential information and the props merely a means to that end.    

In child therapy the conduit created for these stories to flow through is safe.   Because the child feels safe his ability to express disturbing wishes, fears and conflicts become less encumbered.   The subconscious narration takes form through metaphor.   This metaphorical story now gives the therapist a rich volume of information to utilize when helping his patient to move towards stronger mental health.   Play therapy also engages in the use of props and toys.   Many of the toys are specially designed to be flexible enough to allow the child’s play to take many different forms.   In this environment it is not necessary to solicit a story of make believe to accomplish therapeutic goals.   When props are used there is a thin line between play therapy and reciprocal storytelling.   Knowing when one begins and the other ends would be difficult to clearly define, however, it is easy to see how one can bleed into the other!  

            The problems that affect children are often common with those that afflict adults.   Mental disorders such as anxiety, depression or obsessive-compulsive behavior can be explored using reciprocal storytelling.   Occasionally the after effects of emotional neglect and physical and/or sexual abuse is exposed.   But topping the list of those situations that are most effectively treated by this type of therapy are those children troubled by environmental causes such as divorce, the death of a loved one, or serious illness.  

An Example of Reciprocal Storytelling

Storytelling reveals meaning without

committing the error of defining it.


~ Hanna Arendt ~

1906 1975

            Dr. Richard Gardner uses case histories to illustrate and help therapists learn to ply their talents.   By Dr. Gardner’s own admission the soliciting and the evaluation of stories is “is not an easy technique to learn.   Proficiency may require months and even years of practice. ”  From the narrative the practitioner must tease out the ideas, emotions and issues that are being brought forward from the child’s subconscious mind.   Case histories can help fill the gap that the lack of experience creates.   To learn vicariously through an accomplished therapist is one way to understand how reciprocal storytelling works.

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Basic Primer for the Therapeutic Uses of Literature (aka. Bibliotherapy) for Children and Adolescents (Part 3)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off

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  Looking at an example makes it easier to incorporate the theoretical talk and classroom-like explanations into a living, breathing embodiment of the concept as it applies to the real world.   Here is an abridged version of one of Dr. Gardener’s case histories.   Included are the child’s story, the therapist’s evaluation and the reciprocal story.   The author of the original story is a ten-year-old-boy.  

            There was a hurricane.   In one village the hurricane blew down the mountains and the whole village was covered, but there were still people living there.   The Red Cross sent airplanes, but they couldn’t find the village because the ground all looked the same.   A radio plane picked up signals from the people underneath the mountains.   They found the place but they couldn’t find a way in.   They began a search and they found a cave.   In the cave they lost one of their members.   They found him in a deep pit.   The man had fallen and broken his back.   They put down ropes and a stretcher to rescue the man.   They took him to the plane.   They had to start all over again.   They went back into the cave, after a long search, they found a door.   They found a small stone that when touched opened the door.   They walked in and found a tower.   Up in the tower was another door.   Inside was another tunnel.   The tunnel did not seem to have an end.   They went into the tunnel.   They saw a light and went towards it.   They found steps going down.   Finally they found the village that needed supplies.   They gave them the food and then everyone was all right.  

            The therapist job is to now interpret the story.   By its very nature this process is subjective.   In this case he decided that the buried men and villagers represented the patient who feels overwhelmed by his anxiety.   The depth of his anxiety is expressed by the depth to which the villagers were buried.   The Red Cross represented the therapist who tirelessly searches him out in order save him.

            Therapists, after evaluating their patient’s stories will mentally rewrite the tale using the same general plot and characters.   They alter certain aspects to help the patient see the situation in a different, often more healthy light.   Here is the therapist’s reciprocal story offered to his patient.   In this version the villagers are framed as being very resourceful.   The group used all kinds of ideas to help rescue themselves:  banging on walls, sending radio signals, and putting crews together to begin to dig out.   They even placed a bottle with a note inside and set it free in a stream, which lead out of the mountain.   The radio established contact with the outside.   They communicated and worked together.   They dug towards each other until they met.   The villagers helped themselves while working with others.   These cooperative relationships lead to the villagers rescue.

            In the patient’s story he feels helpless, buried, overwhelmed and is waiting for the therapist to work hard to save him.   In the therapist’s version he tells the patient that if he is in distress he must help himself if he expects help from others.   Being a passive victim will not help him feel better and he is being shown that his active participation is needed.  

            The technique of reciprocal storytelling offers a peek into the unconscious mind of the child.   This works because the process of logical, mature, adult thinking has not yet affected the child.   The therapist, because he is speaking to his patient in his “own language” has a better chance of being heard.   When the patient hears the therapist’s story, some believe that the conscious mind is bypassed and the message is delivered directly to the patient’s unconscious mind.   There are no confrontations and no strange psychoanalytic interpretations for the patient to endure.   Children communicate their stories using metaphors and if the therapist is sensitive to the message being transferred there is an opportunity to provide the therapeutic help that is needed.   Occasionally that help may even be transformative.  

Growth Through Reading

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends;
they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors,
and the most patient of teachers.

~ Charles W. Eliot ~

1834–1926

            When we are finished reading a great book, what is it that we are left with?   Does any part of that book become entwined with our own personality?   Perhaps regardless of a few well-chosen words is the nature of our psyches such that it is impervious to the influence of a good story?   Or do we take something of the story’s essence with us?   If we do take something, what is it?   What ever it is, can it stay with us?

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Basic Primer for the Therapeutic Uses of Literature (aka. Bibliotherapy) for Children and Adolescents (Part 4)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off

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  Can it help us?   Do we change because of it?   Those that have faith in the power of the written word believe that indeed we can be positively affected by reading literature that give us a different view of the world.   When these changes enhance the quality of life, the science of psychology would file it under the heading of bibliotherapy.   Unlike reciprocal story telling, this form of bibliotherapy can be utilized by a large group of professional and laypersons.   Look to your librarian, your teacher, your parents, your best friend, your spouse or even yourself and you may find a practitioner who has been involved in bibliotherapy and didn’t even know it, or identified the process through some other vernacular.   To attempt to create a comprehensive list of subjects that might be covered successfully by the individual interested in books with a bibliotherapeutic benefit would be pure folly.   Some subjects might be more pervasive, but the available material is potentially endless.   If literary themes are endless, are too the benefits also endless?   Can anyone name all the different ways that any given human being can grow?   Add to this, a list of persons who might be the recipients of these benefits and what you will have is a quantity that has grown exponentially into a number too large to fathom.   In fact, one could argue that every person on this planet could be a patient involved in reading thinking, growing, and healing.   When bringing to life this powerful force of bibliotherapy, there is always a need to consider the subject matter, potential benefits and audience.

A library is a hospital for the mind.

~ Anonymous ~

The Grieving Child

            The child who has suffered the loss of a loved one through the finality of death may be a child who is locked into a confusing world of emotions.   While most children are resilient and grieve in a way that allows them to move forward in a healthy way, there are others that find themselves trapped in to behaviors and emotions that they can not begin to unravel.   For these children it is important that we realize how unresolved grief can adversely affect their lives.   Some may be come distant, reclusive and severely depressed.   Other’s shows their pain through aggressive or bizarre behavior.   Eating disorders, self-mutilation, work-a-holism and other manifestations have been documented in children who have been unable to accept or grieve the death of a loved one.   The burning question then becomes:  How to we best help these young souls?   The tools available to the caring adult, be they teacher or parent or therapist are numerous.   One way may be to allow expression of unacknowledged pain through the reading of fiction.   These stories would hopefully contain characters, situations, worries and emotions that the reader can identify with.   It is worth noting that it is not universally accepted that reading fiction of this nature holds any value.   The few studies that are out there often contradict each other, with some showing great potential and other falling short of offering any sustainable improvement for the individual.   But for the believers, some stories have brought to its readers a catharsis.   They find some relief from the emotional tension that was created by an unbearable loss.   Even if at first the relief is fleeting, once there is an opening of the mind there exists the possibility that further liberation is possible.  

Stories of Death: For Children?

To use books rightly, is to go to them for help;  to appeal to them when our own knowledge and power fail;  to be led by them into wider sight and purer conception than our own, and to receive from them the united sentence of the judges and councils of all time, against our solitary and unstable opinions.

~ John Ruskin

1819-1900

            How death is presented in children’s books has gone through a historical metamorphosis like many forms of literature.   Certainly Christianity and Christian sensibilities were at the forefront of concern when dealing with death during the 1800’s and some of the 1900’s.   However, since about 1960, children’s books show less of the directly Christian morality and pious sentimentalism of the late nineteenth century.    As fiction brings to our children more and more stories based in reality, how much is too much?   To offer up a heavy dose of life’s pain and trouble finds many objecting to the destruction of childhood innocence.   Others contend that we underestimate a child’s ability and their need to understand and experience all of life, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.   And through what better vehicle than literature?   So there has been a birth of children’s literature that contains heretofore-taboo subjects that is written for all readers, not just those who may “need” to read about death, divorce or illness.   For the general reader or for the reader with a goal in mind, the book must be first and foremost a good book.

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