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Stories that hold us back and stories that heal

Posted Jan 10 2011 6:50am

Since I shared my story here about my father’s heart attack and illness, I’ve been reflecting on the healing power of words, metaphor and story.

I came to my work as a therapist through my fascination with stories – the stories we tell ourselves inside our minds, the stories that get passed down to us from our parents or respected teachers and the stories we need to tell someone else so that we can be listened to, witnessed, heard.

Some of these stories can be unhelpful or, over time, we outgrow them. If we keep telling ourselves the same unhelpful story over and over again, we can get stuck in it, temporarily losing our ability to embrace new possibilities.

When I was first studying on the creative writing for personal development programme at the University of Sussex, I began working as a volunteer ‘writing mentor’ with clients of this amazing organisation .

I met people who wanted and needed to process painful experiences by getting them out onto the page , shaping their stories in some way, giving them form and meaning. I learnt so much from the people I met and worked with that I decided to research the area of writing and healing for my PhD thesis and then to train as a therapist.

The tradition I now draw upon in my work as a therapist and coach includes the work of Milton Erickson, father of modern hypnotherapy (although, to my knowledge, Erickson never called himself a ‘hypnotherapist’). Erickson was passionate about the hypnotic power of story – the way that stories can work on an unconscious level, drawing us into the narrative, helping us to gain new insights into our experiences, sometimes without us even needing to know consciously that anything is happening.

Erickson loved to craft therapeutic stories for his clients.

When my father recently moved from the acute ward in the hospital to a smaller ward to begin his recovery, he was cheered by being able to swap stories with the other patients he could now meet and talk with, people who’d had similar experiences to his own.

And I too have reached for a story to guide me through the last week or so – because I believe that we can choose and shape the stories we tell ourselves about everything and anything that is happening in our lives.

Before my father’s collapse, I had already signed-up for Bloom by Moon, a beautiful space held by Amy Palko about crafting a relationship to the goddess myths and lunar cycles.

For this January Moon, Amy shared with us her re-telling of the Persephone myth. In Amy’s telling, Persephone grows into her full womanhood by accepting and integrating the world of darkness, eventually reconciling her life above ground for half the year with her life beneath the ground, shining her light into the dark tunnels of the underworld as a guide for lost souls and bringing the fruit of her knowledge of death and darkness upwards with her into the light.

This is the story I choose.

It’s a powerful story, one that reminds me, at this challenging time in my family’s life, of the gifts inside the darkness and our ability to shine light, wherever we are.

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