| [Part1] | [Part2] | [Part3] | [Part4] | [Part5] | [Part6] | [Part7] | [Part8] |
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.
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
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 ~
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.
| [Part1] | [Part2] | [Part3] | [Part4] | [Part5] | [Part6] | [Part7] | [Part8] |