In psychotherapy and writing, the story forms a common central theme. Both are concerned with how we live our lives. Both depend on the telling, exploring and interpreting of our personal experiences.
So it’s not too surprising that, as a therapist and writer myself, stories have always held a fascination for me. As with most children, at an early age I became enthralled by fairy tales, those archetypal stories gathered together by Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm, filled with the magical places and characters we all carry with us into adulthood.
Now I find, in both writing and therapy, that the story is able to provide something even more important. It has the ability to bring about a unique depth of self-understanding, awareness, and healing.
As the author Timothy Radcliffe writes:
‘We make sense of our lives by finding a story to tell of them. The story that we tell shows who we are. Our identity is grasped as we re-write our personal autobiography as we grow older. So then, when we make decisions, they are decisions about who we are and not just about what we do.’
In psychotherapy, the therapist guides this process and contains it. Above all, the therapist listens, and shows us how to listen to ourselves. They provide a safe space in which we can hear and reclaim our own story. As that story unfolds, we have the chance to review where we’ve been, what we’ve done, what’s happened to us, and what it’s felt like. What went right, what went wrong – how we’ve arrived at where we are now.
Gradually, things that have been hidden or forgotten, some of them painful or confusing, tragic or traumatic, emerge. We become reconnected with aspects of ourselves that have been lost, with feelings that have been locked away. Repressed emotions are released.
Life – for all of us – is a messy business. So we try to impose order on it. In some respects we succeed; in others, we fail. Because in the end, much as we may wish to, it simply isn’t possible to control the entire flow of events and relationships. By telling our lives, by looking at our own story, the details and detours of our attempts and our frustrations gain coherence.
And so we come to know ourselves, and those we have been closest to, and this awareness brings with it understanding and acceptance, which in turn leads to healing. We become more integrated, stronger, and better able to trust ourselves. We can live our lives with greater confidence.
The story continues…