“We are not made more by the stories we read, but the stories we share” –Jay Kristoff
Becoming a therapist was not my first career. English and language was (not that you can tell by the frequent use of run-on sentences and misuse of punctuation). While psychology was fascinating and had been since I started reading textbooks on the subject at thirteen; I always knew I was going to be an English teacher.
Then I became one….and hated it. I thought when I moved into the realm of therapy that I was going to be in a vastly different profession. I could not have been more wrong. However, it wasn’t until recently that I realized why. I don’t know what sparked the catharsis; but suddenly I realized the value sitting at the core of my Self that drove my heart in the direction of both professions: stories.
In Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury had people begin to identify themselves by the stories they had memorized from banned and burnt books (spoiler alert). In many ways, humanity is already grounded in the stories we carry with us. Sometimes it can be our own stories but often we also carry the stories of others.
“Do you know why books such as this are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features. This book can go under the microscope. You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are. That’s my definition anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies. So now you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life.”
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
As a lover of literature, stories have always drawn me. So too am I drawn to the intricate stories of my client’s lives; how they weave and intersect with the lives of others, culminating in all of humanity sharing one, very loosely woven story together.
This story-focused approach to therapy may be why most of my blogs here focus on stories or why when I do trainings, stories are heavily involved. I also frequently use children’s books in therapy sessions, even with adults. Stories share a transcendent quality that, when tapped into, can reach the core Self of those around us. It connects to those shared-experiences and tells the people we meet “hey, I’ve felt that too. You are not alone.”
While many of my peers may have involved themselves in the psychology field due to a fascination with the workings of the mind, I am now learning that that is not my driving purpose in this field. My purpose is to help people safely share their stories and maybe even rewrite their endings. Clients comes to us like a “choose your own adventure” book, waiting for guidance and assistance. While that guidance may not be given openly, often the skills we teach and space to process information that we give helps our clients make their own decisions and turn their own pages. We are there to catch them if the page they turned to was a negative outcome, and we are there to celebrate with them if the page they turned to was a positive one.
In the end, we don’t write people’s stories; but we give them the tools to guide themselves towards the larger core of themselves and, hopefully, find their purpose and get their values in alignment.
It is easy to actively listen and embrace the client with empathy and compassion when we focus on the story they bring with them; a heavy tome that needs some editing and reframing. It is through this lens that I hope to move forward as a better and more attentive therapist.
Within each client’s story, there is something that even the therapist can learn. What have you learned lately?
How have the stories shared so intimately by your clients shaped you and molded that sense of Self?
What stories can you bring to the therapy room that might build on the skills and positive rapport with your client?
My challenge for you is to, for at least one session, view your client’s disclosure as a story in a book. Perhaps you will find that their story is now more compelling or perhaps even more tragic. Either way, I hope it is something you both learn from.
“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitched the patches of the universe together into one garment for us.”
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
Brittany Lash is an LPC-S in Texas currently managing two inpatient psychiatric units. Her passions are providing care to individuals with serious and persistent mental illness, reworking broken systems, community collaboration, and mental health policy. Her clinical specializations are crisis intervention, risk assessment, trauma work, and providing care for those who have lost loved ones to suicide.