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Painting of Cinderella

The Power of Story in Therapy

Stories are just for children aren’t they? Not for adults certainly.  For adults, they are at best a form of entertainment but certainly not something to be taken seriously.

Throughout the evolution of our brain and for most of the history of the human race everything we learnt was through our ears.  All of our knowledge was passed to us through word of mouth. We heard things, remembered them then passed them on to the next generation – we had an oral tradition.

Prior to Gutenberg’s press in the early 1400s there were only a few thousand books in existence –  painstakingly copied by hand – but within 50 years there were 20 million and very soon we expected to learn everything from books and very quickly stories became just something for the children.

We use stories in therapy.

Although we expect to gain knowledge from books someone forgot to tell our brain that.  We are very receptive to story telling because that’s what our brain is used to and as a therapeutic the story is perfect. As Mark Tyrrell wrote:

Stories bypass the shredding effects of over-analysis and conscious reasoning. Stories are inherently hypnotic in that they fixate attention and appeal to the imagination. This makes them the perfect device for delivering fresh patterns of hope as well as more specific suggestions for change.

Take the story of Cinderella, a story that needs no introduction because you will of heard of it.  Cinderella as a story has thousands of known variants throughout the world and possible was in existence from the 1st century BC.

Why is it a great therapeutic story? Because (Source – Wikipedia):

The word “cinderella” has, by analogy, come to mean one whose attributes were unrecognised  or one who unexpectedly achieves recognition or success after a period of obscurity and neglect.

Just imagine how the power of that message works subconsciously. 

Here’s a simple, well know, story that perfectly illustrates the power of the story in therapy.

Two Wolves

One evening an old Cherokee was sitting by a fire with the other braves from his tribe. As they passed the peace pipe from one to another, each brave spoke a few words of wisdom and then passed the pipe to the next.

When it came to the turn of the Old Cherokee, he looked around and noticed that his young grandson was listening intently. He took the pipe and started to tell a story about a battle that goes on inside people. 

He said, “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside each and every one of us. They are locked together in mortal combat”
One hurts and harms us. It is made of many different things:

  • Rage
  • Envy
  • Jealousy
  • Greed
  • Arrogance
  • Self Pity
  • Guilt
  • Resentment
  • Lies
  • and False Pride

The other helps us. It is made of different things:

  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Hope
  • Serenity
  • Humility
  • Kindness
  • Generosity
  • Truth
  • Compassion
  • and Love”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “So tell me, which wolf wins?”

“Ah, the right question!” replies the elder.

“The wolf that wins….. it depends…… (pause)” 
It depends on which one you feed.”

photo of the two wolves story

Two Wolves Story

Please feel free to call us if you would like to find out more about how we can use the power of the story to help you.