I received the following email from an acquaintance, Andre Heuer, who has been working in Liberia. It was so amazing, because I have just come from an 8 day practitioner training in Hawai'i, in which each person's telling his or her story became much more important than any curriculum that I wished to impose. Check this out. Andre writes:
"One of my major tasks in being in Liberia was to explore and experiment with the CVT counselors to find ways to integrate their tradition of storytelling with their clinical training. In Liberia this was important because storytelling is a natural way to teach and communicate. The need was to find a format that would be culturally appropriate and sound clinically. The desired outcome was that the counselors would deepen their clinical understanding by seeing their work through the perspective of storytelling and grow their skills in using story in their counseling practice. In addition the process had to be co-created in conjunction with the counselors to insure ownership. Surprising and what should not have been unexpected was the deep desire on the part of the counselors to tell their stories and to be heard."
This was what was so amazing in Hawai'i with my practitioners: so many people needed to tell their story and to be heard. When people tried to hide in the group, other members came after them to cajole them to talk story.
Andre writes, "They expressed this as a need and as a means of gaining support. Therefore the challenge was to create a culturally appropriate process that enabled the counselors to receive support in a non-therapy group; to cultivate an awareness of and the skills to use cultural, literary, and personal story; and to provide an opportunity to learn new stories.
"The natural format was a group process and was both clinically and culturally appropriate."
Just as happened for Andre in Liberia, a group process emerged in Hawai'i, in which members supported and encouraged each other to tell their stories. Some members even dramatically acted out their stories for everyone else as an audience.
I think what is now being called "Heller Work," and what used to be called "family reconstruction", is just an opportunity to dramatically tell the stories that run through our families' collective consciousnesses.
Andre writes, "Liberians in general feel strong ties to their clan and community. Also the counselors work in teams and usually work clinically with groups. Finally, storytelling and receiving support from others were a natural fit. As we shared and worked out the format the term Story Circles was adopted as the name of the process.
"The counselors developed a ritual of calling each other to attention to begin the group. Each group of counselors chose their own way of doing this. Some chose song, others a call and response, others very simply chose to start with a "Hello" in their own language, and one group chose to begin with "Once Upon a Time." As a fairly religious community with strong ties to Islam and Christianity for the next step each group chose prayer. This prayer could be said or song and they agreed either Christian or Moslem. The telling of personal story would be next and each person would be given three to five minutes to tell their story. Once the story is told the group would acknowledge with a "Thank you" the person sharing the story. The group ends the Story Circle by sharing for fifteen minutes what they personally gained from hearing each other's story. "
What a great format!
The second part of the session is focused on learning a story. The story is told or read and several steps are taken to encourage the learning of the story. The second phase is a discussion about the story and then the circumstances and with whom to use the story. This discussion encourages critical analysis of story both clinically and personally. (I have not fully described this part of the session because of the complexity of the approach.) The session ends with an opportunity for each participant to briefly tell the group one thing they are taking with them from their time together.
As the clinical supervisors experienced how well the process was working for the counselors a decision was made to adopt the Story Circles for use throughout Liberia. In the next two weeks I will be intensely training selected clinicians in the details of the process and conducting story circles in all of the counties served by CVT.