Story Centric Education
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There is very little difference between the process of true education and the process of counseling. Counseling like education has been around for a much longer period of time than the descriptors themselves.

Counseling is a broad term with many specific meanings. According to one dictionary meaning counseling is, "Direction or advice as to a decision or course of action."  Contrast this with the implied operational definition in the following, "Listening is the foundation of counseling..."1  For the purposes of this article we will use a definition, which is more in keeping with current psychological practices and understandings.

Counseling is a process where one person assists another to gain perspective with respect to the challenges of their life. This process works best where the counselor listens to the stories of the one being counseled and may create other exercises that create "openings" for a person to understand elements of the past which are destabilizing the present. 
Counseling involves encouraging one to find the strength within themselves to grow and develop.

Professional counseling involves more than this, but the major part of a counselor's work is actively listening to the client, asking non-judgmental questions, and mirroring back what is being heard.

In some cases all that is needed to enter into such a dynamic process is to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere, build rapport and trust and then simply ask the question, "How are you today?" Though this works, and works well, it does not work in all cases and it is not necessarily the most efficient means to the end.

This is where stories come in.  For the purpose of this article we are considering the following types of relevant stories:
  • Client Stories - stories that a client shares with the counselor (there are many sub-types)
  • Stimulus Stories - stories (fiction or non-fiction) that allow a client to gain insight
  • Parallel Stories - individual experience that a listener or reader has during a "stimulus story"
  • Future Stories - stories or affirmations that one creates about the future
The purpose of "client stories" as is implied above and can be found in many textbooks on counseling.  There is no need to go into that further here.  The remainder of this article will deal with the remaining three story types and how they can interact in the counseling process.

The story, "Trying Too Hard
2" describes a scenario where one person assists another, by suggesting a course of action but never suggests a specific solution.  In the story, Hakim, a fisherman, helps his niece, Cantara, by encouraging her to, "Go for a long walk every day." and to not dwell on her problems, and to listen for messages.  The story gives no details of what the problem was, nor does it give any details as to what solution was found.  It implies the value of meditation by walking and implies much about the process of intervention into a crises.  This story is a good example of a stimulus story that can be read by the counselor or by the client or both.

The story has so little descriptive detail that a reader or listener can insert themselves or in some other way identify with a character or a situation in the story.  When the listener / reader does this, their experience is called a parallel story. They create their own experience and take away what is needed for their own growth.

After such a story a
counselor may ask questions such as:
  • What do you think Cantara's problem was?
  • Is it possible that a fisherman can be so wise as Hakim was? 
  • If so, how did he get his wisdom?  
  • How did Hakim help Cantara to solve her problem?
  • What problem was Cantara working on?
All of the above questions empower the "client" to become the guiding light for their own growth.

The process of using a stimulus story such as
"Trying Too Hard2" can be further stretched by creative writing or journaling.  The counselor can ask the client to talk about how they would like to be in the future, about how they would handle a particular situation, or to write or talk about a fictional character.  More often than not, a person in crises or growth will write themselves into such a story, giving themselves further insight without the need for comment by the counselor.

In summary, we need more stories such as those in Still Reflections: Stories of the Heart  and In the Glow of Understanding, stories that are psychologically "safe", stories that do not glorify violence, infidelity, or the use of drugs and alcohol.  Additionally we need additional material or curricula such as the book Story Centric Education

If you have suggestions or opinions on the ideas presented here, please contact us.

Steven Fletcher, January 2005

1 Intentional Interviewing and Counseling, Ivey and Ivey
Still Reflections: Stories of the Heart, Fletcher, P. 322
3 Anticipated publishing date - August 2007

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