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Stories of the Individual (Part 3)
By Christiane Brems, Ph.D., ABPP

Individuals, and especially children, use storytelling to reveal information about themselves to family members, friends, teachers and other significant individuals in their lives; to express feelings and needs indirectly; and to engage in problem-solving (White & Epston, 1990). All of these uses of storytelling are relevant to storytelling used for growth and healing by facilitating the transmission of information and wisdom, the teaching of values and facilitation of relationships, uninhibited self-disclosure and catharsis that results in psychological growth. Personal storytelling provides an excellent medium for children to "[work' through some of the problems of growing up" (Schwartz, 1964, p.384). Children tell or write stories to communicate with parents, friends, and teachers, and to express meaningful material directly (when they openly write about their personal experiences) and indirectly (when they write about fictional characters).

While storytelling comes natural for children, many adults have forgotten how to tell a story, whether about themselves or invented. Returning to the art of storytelling can be a powerful experience for adults, as is easily evident in psychotherapy. In counseling or psychotherapy, adults are asked to tell their life story. They often make remarkable discoveries about themselves by merely engaging in this narrative about their lives and experiences. Children who are asked to tell stories will reveal themselves not only through their actual life story, but also through their fictional narratives. For example, a child telling or writing about a frightened turtle afraid to come out of its shell may well be expressing her or his own fear and reluctance to make contact with the outer world. A child writing about the calf who starved because its momma cow ran out of milk may really be writing about an emotionally starved home environment (Brems, 1993).

In sum, individual stories allow the free expression of feelings, needs, problems, conflicts and beliefs, and through this self-disclosure provide opportunities for mastery and the creation of a sense of knowledge. Through their stories humans can symbolically confront problems, test various solutions, and arrive at acceptable alternatives. Stories help people confront challenges more openly and confidently, facilitate competent problem solving, and result in enhanced self-esteem (Smith, 1989). Sharing individual stories is cathartic and educational for the individual and often can be profoundly helpful for others, who may identify or find themselves in a similar situation. Through such sharing of the individual story, the story becomes a shared and bonding event, as is often used in the Stories of the Family, although the individuals sharing do not have to be related.

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Related Articles
Stories of the Family (Part 2)
Stories of the Cultural Group (Part 1)
Using Stories for Growing and Healing

About the Author: Christiane Brems, Ph.D., ABPP, is a professor of psychology at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She came to UAA in 1989 from a faculty position at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. She received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology in 1987 from Oklahoma State University. She is a licensed and board-certified psychologist and a certified interactive imagery guide. She has been in private practice as a clinician and consultant in Oklahoma and Alaska (including in the Anchorage and Bethel areas). Dr. Brems is the author of several books, including the Comprehensive Guide to Child Psychotherapy; Between Two People: Exercises Toward Intimacy; Psychotherapy: Processes and Techniques; Basic Skills in Psychotherapy and Counseling; and Dealing with Challenges in Psychotherapy and Counseling. She is an active researcher, author of more than 60 journal publications, and co-director of the Alaska Comprehensive and Specialized Evaluation Services at UAA.

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