- Therapeutic Uses of Storytelling: An Interdisciplinary Approach to Narration as Therapy ed. by Camilla Asplund Ingemark
Most folklorists are aware that storytelling and story-gathering are therapeutic activities for both themselves and the teller. Ingemark’s compilation of papers from the symposium “The Therapeutic Use of Storytelling,” held at Åbo Akademi University in Finland, December 13–14, 2012, with authored papers from Finland, Germany, Sweden, Estonia, and the United States, not only reinforces this knowledge but also gives the reader a perspective of various elements and types of stories, presented by folks from many areas of academia, including psychology, social work, history, writing, and folkloristics. Ingemark acknowledges existing research and then pushes the envelope as she introduces the reader to some pretty interesting new research.
A rich introduction into therapeutic uses of storytelling, by Ingemark, discusses the power of the flowing, dynamic form of storytelling, particularly emphasizing that telling one’s story and putting it into a narrative form help make that personal story manageable, particularly when it comes to finding a resolution or closure to the story. Ingemark emphasizes the ways in which narratives are therapeutic. She suggests that narratives, and the problems often shared in one’s story, are based on ideologies and culturally sanctioned ways of sharing stories and experiences. These ways of sharing can be restrictive, forcing the teller and listener into roles that restrict a person’s autonomy, perhaps placing him or her in an uncomfortable position—think of William Bascom’s four functions of folklore—meant for reinforcing stereotypes and values; or they can be constructive, giving the teller and listener opportunities to learn about their ways, and putting words to life’s elements that otherwise can go unnoted. Narratives can educate and entertain, allowing one to see his or her story from a different perspective and see new approaches to relationships, which is often the goal of therapy, including the possibility of being able to reinvent oneself or re-author one’s story, and, hence, one’s life and relationships.
Still in this section, Ingemark shares how some stories are best left untold, or better yet, why therapists should not open what they can’t close. Narratives cannot, by themselves, heal, but they are a tool to reconciliation. Storytelling is also a way to reflect—making sense of one’s world, sharing one’s past as a way of leaving a legacy, and purely as a way of self-reflection—creating a distance between the event and the individual. Lastly, Ingemark discusses the role of community in storytelling.
Going forward, the book is divided into three sections, with “Identity and Therapeutic Narrative,” being the first section. Here, we read about “Narrative Identity and Psychotherapy,” by Donald Polkinghorne, learning that “[n]arrative is a mode of thought that links together a set of life happenings or choices as they hinder or contribute to an outcome” (p. 21). Geir Lundby’s “From Single to Double Stories of Identity” talks about the absent, but implied stories—life experiences that are not put into a narrative: daily, perhaps mundane events that are not “unique” or “special,” and how to take the trivial and add it to the already existing story. “You Should Say Such Things That Mobile Phones Will Fall,” by Moon Meier, explores performance between the teller and listener, with the teller being not only the performer but the “tradition carrier” (p. 68) with the responsibility of teaching others how to share their stories.
The second section, titled “Coping with the Past and the Present,” shares historical writings and contemporary tales and discusses the value they are to the teller, to the clinician, and to the [End Page 115] audience. “More than Scapegoating” reaches into the past, looking at the supernatural and child-killing demons in Greece and Rome. Interestingly, the authors, Camilla Asplund Ingemark and Dominic Ingemark, suggest that when the demon is named, the terror begins to dissolve, making “the problem more tangible” (p. 81). “Dealing with Emotions” talks about...