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  • Writer's pictureFullerRelationships

Storytelling and Psychotherapy

Updated: Dec 10, 2023

Shhh…The Secret of Psychotherapy and Storytelling

Judge, jury, executioner…aka couples therapist! Couples who come in to see me tell their stories with one question in mind, “am I right or am I wrong?” with the hope that I will “rule” in their favor and support them in their bid to be right.

So these couples come and tell me their story….

Storytelling has always been an integral part of psychotherapy. However, the importance of storytelling has also been correlated with what we call, “white lies”. We even have what is called, creative license, which allows the storyteller the freedom to alter how they present facts in a way that serve their purpose.

With this in mind, I am often asked, “how do you know if they’re lying?”

Herein lies the art of listening, because if I were to listen to the content of the story I am being told, I can fall into the trap of listening to determine what is a lie and what is the truth, and I limit myself and I am no longer effective as a therapist. I must listen with curiosity and with the goal of reflecting back with questions that push the storyteller to learn about themselves and their world.

These are the stories that I fall into, where I let go of my own perspective and I allow the storyteller to tell their story, their truth, and their reality. Every day, I hear stories, stories about everything you can imagine. But these stories need to be heard differently, where I focus not at the truth but rather on who is in these stories and what is their need for these stories.

Everyone has their story, and we use these stories to connect as human beings. But what stories can I share with you that would be noteworthy? What stories have I heard that could qualify as amazing or earth-shattering, or significant enough that they convey a message that changes lives? Which one of my clients have the greatest pain or the worst or the best story?

What story can I share that will make a difference in your life?

And here is the secret that I want to share with you…It is not the story but the act of storytelling. Psychotherapy is not about the stories that we hear but it is in sitting and in witnessing as the story unfolds, as the storyteller begins to share that intimate space with another human being. It is in the sharing of oneself and having this shared reality of being real with another. It is having the patience, the interest and the curiosity to fall into someone’s story and to be there with them.

In the words of Carl Rogers, one of the founders of humanistic psychology: Before every session, I take a moment to remember my humanity. There is no experience that this person has that I cannot share with them, no fear that I cannot understand, no suffering that I cannot care about, because I too am human. No matter how deep their wounds, they do not need to be ashamed in front of me. I too am vulnerable. And because of this, I am enough. Whatever their story, they no longer need to be alone with it. This is what will allow their healing to begin.”

So, the next time you are talking to someone over coffee, take the time to remember that everyone may have their story, but what is more important is that there is someone to listen to their story. For what is a story if no one listens, what is a book if there are no readers, what is being human if there is no one to share our humanity with?

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