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

June 24th, 2010

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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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