As I continue to pursue the practice of storytelling, I become aware of more and more benefits derived from this age-old communications art form- particularly in the lives of kids. In some cases, creating and writing stories to be told by others have great therapeutic benefits for young authors.
I currently hold a continuing series of Storytelling Club sessions at our local Barnes and Noble Booksellers store. These sessions are primarily for kids from age 8 to 12, but they are open and free to anyone, including adults. During a recent program, I told a fable written by a local15-year-old boy. This sparked a spirited discussion about the fun and challenge of making up and writing stories. Were now planning a "Short Story Writing Contest."
I learned the value of having kids create and write stories in a very dramatic way many years ago when working as a counselor at Boys Town, Nebr. One of my young charges was a 13-year-old lad who was particularly depressed with his situation. He came from a very difficult and problem-proned family situation. Now at Boys Town, none of the other boys liked him, he tearfully told me one day in my office. They called him "The Professor" since he often used big words and seemed to "speak down" to his fellow young Boys Town citizens.
He was so down on himself he even had thoughts of taking his life, he said. Searching for a way to turn his thinking around, I suggested he write a story about his life, focusing particularly on the positive things that happened to him before and after coming to Boys Town. Since writing was one of his favorite things to do, he immediately liked the idea and said he would start it that very day.
He worked hard and long on that story. When completed, he brought it into my office with a big grin on his face. It was a very good story -- well thought out and nicely written in every respect. I sent it to a friend of mine in Omaha -- a personality on a major radio station (WOW Radio). He liked it so much he scheduled it for a reading, complete with background music and production, on his radio program. Word about the upcoming program spread throughout Boys Town, and nearly everyone listened to that very special narration.
That story, written by a troubled youngster, seemed to give the boy the positive spin needed to whirl him out of depression. He suddenly had more respect from his peers. He was still called The Professor, and had his share of problems. But now he could balance the negative and positive elements in his life in a normal manner. After all, he now had a success-proven talent writing stories.
I was reminded of a quote by noted storyteller and educator Ruth Stotter: "Art has traditionally been used to access dimensions within ourselves. A current hot button is the recognition that storytelling and story listening positively affects an individuals psychological and physical well-being."
Observing the therapeutic value of storytelling in several cases, I decided to interview a seasoned and well-respected psychologist, Dr. Susan M. Lesnik, PhD, to see if a professional ever uses storytelling-related techniques. Heres what she said:
"I often use storytelling as a means of finding out whats troubling my very young patients. I will sometimes start a story and ask the youngster to continue it in whatever way the boy or girl desires. It brings out things buried deep within a persons being. Its a great way to analyze problem areas in the patients life. And it helps the young person, or sometimes adults, sort things out in their own mind. They feel secure in putting their thoughts in the framework of a story, keeping their real lives at a safe distance. Theres something about storytelling - it has great healing capabilities."
Dr. Lesnik has observed the power of storytelling for most of her life. During the interview she mentioned that her father was a well-known professional storyteller in their home state of North Carolina. Storytelling is the oldest and still the best teacher. And it does indeed have healing and therapeutic powers seldom recognized in todays sophisticated society.