Using stories in counselling
Stories have been used by human beings for millennia to make sense of our world; to create visual ‘films’ in our minds to help us navigate through our lives.
An example of how this can be used in counselling may be as simple as using a visualisation when someone feels that their thoughts are all confused and jumbled up. The thoughts could be visualised as a ball of tangled up wool and the process of counselling as gradually teasing out the ends until the ball of wool becomes less tangled.
A more in-depth story might be helpful to share with those who are experiencing more complicated issues. The story below illustrates this in terms of someone who has been bereaved and is struggling with the grieving process.
Grief is experienced by each person differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve, nor is there a set time frame. However, there are certain stages of grief that most people will experience to some degree or another. These include initial shock, anger, hopelessness, deep sadness, and sometimes depression. This is followed by a form of acceptance and a realisation that, although life can never be the same again, a different life will gradually form around them. The following story may help to illustrate this process and may help to offer some comfort to someone who is feeling there is no way forward.
The day someone dies you stand stunned, paralysed, and blind on the edge of a sheer cliff. You fall headlong, out of control into a deep, dark whirlpool of grief. Powerless to resist the strength of the whirlpool, it throws you around, twisting and turning so that you have no idea which way is up and which is down. Black water fills your mouth, your ears, your eyes; you can’t see, hear or speak. You spin violently around and around in a sickening vortex. No light is visible above you and you fear that you will be dragged further and further down until there is no hope of return.
As time passes, however, the churning slows just a little; enough for you to understand what is up and what is down. You realise that with a tiny kick you can propel yourself up a little, no longer totally at the mercy of the whirling darkness. Your eyes clear slightly and you start to see shapes and colours in the water. Moment by moment, the spinning slows, allowing you to feel stronger and stronger, finally noticing a pinprick of light above you and hands reaching down to help you to the surface. As you rise up, you see that each layer you move through is just a shade lighter, and gradually you register sound; soft lullabies that draw you into rest and sleep.
At times the whirling whips up again, threatening to draw you down into the abyss once again. For a moment you give in to it, finding it easier not to resist, but then you catch a glimpse of colours reflected and sparkling into the water from above, and just for a second, a splinter of joy ignites your heart.
As you kick further and further to the surface, pictures start to come into focus all around you; memories, joyful moments, and happy times, and these form a net below; an intricate web of strong, silken strands that protect you from the deepest of the dark.
One day, you realise that you have broken the surface, that you are breathing fresh new air. You tread water, looking around you see have come up into a slightly different landscape than before. However, you can still recognise comforting landmarks in the distance. There are life belts floating within your reach and familiar hands reach out to support you.
Contacting a professional
If you are struggling with the feelings associated with bereavement then counselling can provide invaluable support through the grieving process. Initially, this might just be talking about the person who has died; telling stories about them. The counsellor may encourage the keeping of a grief journal to monitor feelings and see how they change over time. They may encourage the setting up of rituals to remember occasions such as birthdays or maybe starting a memory book with photos. They may also provide support with any issues that may have arisen in the relationship and need to be resolved.