Many different stories are used within dramatherapy session.
Stories allow us to look at the “me and not me”, how am I like this character? How is my life similar to this situation? How is it different. Sometimes the distance of a story from reality can provide the safety to explore experiences which may be painful. Sometimes a story can touch our emotions in a deeper way (for example when we may cry at a film).
There are many different types of stories which might be used within dramatherapy:
“We are a collection of stories. It is in the telling of these stories that we understand who we truly are, how we perceive ourselves, how we see others and eventually how we are able to understand how other people see us.”Rose, R. (2017). 3. Communicating with children – therapeutic life story work techniques. In R. Rose (Ed.), Innovative Therapeutic Life Story Work: Developing Trauma-informed practice for working with children, adolescents and young adults (pp. 52-91). London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Page 70.
Sometimes in dramatherapy you will explore your own story directly. This might be reenacting an important moment or drawing out your the main events of your life story in a timeline. Sometimes the aim is to faithfully recreate what happened and sometimes there is an opportunity to change something and rewrite the ending to be how you wish something could have been.
Biographies or Autobiographies
There may be times when we explore someone else’s story. Perhaps someone you know or are connected to – we could explore legacy burdens or inter-generational trauma by exploring the story of your grandparent. Or perhaps the other person is someone famous who you admire and in exploring their story we can get closer to the character traits which make them one of your heros.
Myths and Legends
“[Myths] have to do with the serious matter of living life in terms of the order of society and nature’Moyers, Bill and Joseph Campbell. (1988) The Power of Myth. Betty Sue Flowers (ed.). New York: Doubleday. Page.138.
Many people define myth as meaning “untrue” but the original word described a story which is about:
- our origins (how did we get here?)
- our relationship to the divine or our higher power (who made us and what is that being like?),
- our life purpose (why are we here?).
From a dramatherapy point of view, whether such stories can be proved to be true is not the main focus; instead the question around such stories is often “how does this story shine light on what is true for me”.
Sometimes myths from our own culture or belief systems can have a particular resonance and may be important to explore. But even ah atheist may find a resonance in exploring a myth.
It is sometimes said that British culture is built on three mythology structures:
- the Jedeo-Christian mythology with stories from the Old and New Testament. This cannon includes the temptation of Adam and Eve, Moses leading the people to freedom, little David beating the giant Goliath, Esther speaking out against injustice, the testing of Job, Mary willing to serve and Jesus as the redeemer and saviour.
- the Greek mythology from the Titans to the Olympians to the Age of Heros. Stories about the lightning god Zeus, Demeter -the goddess of spring and her daughter Persephone, the Trojan war over love and betrayal, the labors of Hercules, the drunken revelry of Dionysus, the punishment of Sisyphus.
- the original British or pagan mythology including stories about Merlin, Morgan, Bran, Oghma or Le Fay. Many of these stories were lost or changed when the country converted to Christianity but may survive in place names, or in fairy tales and legends.
There are many other mythologies which can be drawn upon within dramatherapy; stories from other religions such as Hindu mythology, stories from other cultures such as Polynesia mythology, stories from other times such as Norse mythology.
Fairytales and Folk tales
We often think of fairy-tales as stories for children but originally they were often quite gruesome (the brothers Grim began editing the stories as they collected them and the versions many of us are familiar with have been given a Disney happily ever after which is very different to the original).
Faerytales are any stories about mythical creatures; often færies (original spelling) but sometimes also Pixies, Brownies, Mermaids, Selkies, Dragons, Goblins, Elves, Dwarfs, Centaurs, Unicorns, Harpies and many more. Or sometimes the creatures are real but with human qualities such as the ability to talk. Often there is magic.
I would also include UFO stories in this category (fun fact, did you know people used to report encounters with fairies in about the same frequency as people now report encounters with aliens? The switch in the story told happened around the same time as the Space Race).
These stories often include a moral “stay on the path and don’t talk to strange wolves” (Little Red Riding Hood).
Often the dangers faced by the characters may be a bit like our own lives – so we feel like we too are trapped in Rapunzel’s towel or like our past mistakes are crashing down around us like Jack and the Beanstalk.
Some stories are written to help clients with a particular issue. I like the stories “Nathan Meets His Monsters” and “The Huge Bag of Worries”.
Theatre Plays and stories from film or television
There are dramatherapists using Shakespeare in prisons, using soap operas with clients with psychosis, using films with clients with addictions.
During lockdown in 2020, I began to watch superhero films as many of my clients talked about the importance of these characters.
Novels and short stories
From the classics, to the summer read. Any genera of book could be explored.
Made up stories
Sometimes stories will be created during a session. These might be improvised or created as a group or written during a reflective writing time.
Or maybe the stories were made up by our subconscious and came to us as dreams.