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  • Writer's pictureMar de Afetos

Transformative stories: The use of traditional narrative techniques in creative arts therapies.


Myths and fairy tales are traditional accounts that accompany us, although we do not identify them. This work demonstrates how traditional narrative techniques, methodology within creative arts therapies, are excellent therapeutic tools. A bibliographical review has been undertaken to illustrate the importance of myths and fairy tales for society's organisation. Its use in the therapeutic process and as a therapeutic process has also been differentiated. The relevance of using these techniques to investigate the group's creative, psychic and social life was demonstrated through a briefcase study in an NGO for people with psychotic disorders.

Key-words: ancestral narrative techniques, myths, fairy tales, psychosis, creative arts therapies.

Transformative stories: The use of traditional narrative techniques in creative arts therapies.

From the beginning, the ancestral account has accompanied human beings to search for the meaning and understanding of society. These are characterised by orality and, while the myths have the function of transmitting memory (Vernant, 1999, p. 12), fairy tales reflect society's conditions (Schneider & Torossian, 2009, p. 135). Mythology, clarified employing four functions: mystical, cosmological, sociological and psychological/pedagogical, (Campbell, 2001, p. 139) has an indispensable role in human and collective meanings, from the moment we realise our existence to the explanation and organisation of the world. Due to such functions, myths are transmuted more slowly, while fairy tales, in turn, are rapid because of their projective aspect and because they are in direct contact with the listeners' responses (Franz, 1987, p. 2).

Although there is a preponderance of the unconsciousness of myths at the present day, and much of their ritualistic function has dissolved resulting in generational problems (Campbell, 2001, p. 141), with a specialised and attentive look we can identify the myths in their archetypal image format. The same happens with fairy tales, reflecting the society we live in, allude through cinema and literature to our moment of approaching the cultural shadow. According to Campbell (2014, p. 26), it is of extreme importance that sciences such as psychology and history come together to reflect the study and purpose of mythology in our times, since the literal interpretation in some societies is still used as a source of power, leading to intolerance and reprisal.

The traditional narrative techniques aim to understand the individual's psychic, creative, emotional and social life through the original accounts. Directed related to creative arts therapies, we acquire a global vision of the person. Concerning psychotic disorders, this is a handy tool for investigating and structuring personality and the appearance of unconscious contents.

Reflecting the very character of the study of mythology, understanding the traditional narrative technique is necessary to study it in series, observing the journey and prioritising the process. We are not interested in the aesthetic value, since our gaze focuses on the symbolism behind each line said, written, drawn and dramatized.

In the same way, what man experiences as aesthetic enjoyment of the story is far removed from what happens in the human soul, in the depths of the unconscious, when it is joined by what the narrative pours and radiates: it only experiences an inextinguishable need for the matter of the story to circulate through its spiritual veins, just as the organism has it in what corresponds to nutritive substances. (Steiner et al., 1998, p. 11) [1]

While the accounts were seen as aids by psychology. The traditional narrative techniques embrace mythology and fairy tales as therapy. Through the identification, creation, counting and listening to the traditional tales, a deepening of the therapeutic process takes place. The client's history, identified with myths and tales, aligned with the creative process, is our guiding threads in exploring the assumption and appropriation of oneself in the trajectory to authenticity.

In addition to formulating the listener's imagination, the technique propitious to the investigation - and self-knowledge - of the psychic, emotional and creative life of the one who enjoys it. Similar to other methodologies, the traditional narratives are very democratic, concretising themselves from various aspects. As a microcosm within creative arts therapies, traditional narrative techniques could possess the bias on gestalt therapy, analytics, psychoanalysis, humanistic and narrative, even reaching the philosophical and anthropological bases of the imaginary. Universality is in the comprehensive view of the human being.

The literature found is usually aimed at those who wish to work with children. However, these techniques apply to any collective because our kind is surrounded by stories full of universal symbolism. Who has never been bewitched by a story told at the bar table? Or did overreact to a friend's story? Taking a delicious turn back in time, I remember sitting in the kitchen and listening hypnotised to my mother talking about her childhood adventures! Today, I have become the one who involves others with her tales. In the course of this evidence, it is the affirmation of the existence of a storyteller in every traditional narrative therapist since we are moved by the pleasurable interest in listening, creating and telling stories! We possess the magic of drawing a parallel with the world of the imaginary from ordinary narratives.

Mythologies and fairy tales' function as an apparatus that, correlated to creative arts therapies, expands. In this way, our work is always linked to artistic expressions, since to "tell a story" we act as a mixture of archaeologists and anthropologists seeking their symbolisation.

· Example of the use of traditional narrative techniques in creative arts therapy:

This study is based on creative arts therapies with ancestral narrative techniques with analytical bias in volunteer work with people diagnosed with schizophrenia. When I joined the NGO in January of 2019, I noticed the need to stimulate creative autonomy. The workshops were once per week in duration to one hour and renewed every quarter and, at each beginning, we created a story together that, compared to the previous ones, allowed us to find new work objectives: such as the structuring of the ego and sexuality.

The first story showed us the lack of structuring of the ego, displayed by a story without textual structure where it was two stories in one and the second devoured the former one. "Devouring content" is a constant mark in schizophrenia that show us that ego is fragile. Understanding this aspect when the ego needs to be fortified, the activities usually go from the group to the individual, as it happened between January and April of 2019.

Still at the first quarter, after the creation of history with the help of storytelling's dice, we left for the production of two-dimensional, three-dimensional plastic works until reaching the body in the theatrical techniques of the Theatre of Cruelty, by Antonin Artaud, the Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal and psychodrama techniques, by Jacob Levi Moreno.

In May, we created another story without storytelling dice and with a more elaborate textual structure, confirming a more fortified ego and creative autonomy. So, from May to July, we emphasised group drama therapeutic exercises. With a small relapse in the autumn, from September to December, the dynamics movement was: individual - group - individual. In the meantime, themes of "loves that could not happen" began to emerge.

In January, we created another story in which the theme of “devouring”, city and plants was revealed. This month and the following one, we worked on fortifying the ego through artistic works relating colours to feelings and emotions, through a dramatization of these and finally, through the creation of scenes.

Perceiving sensitive changes in the group, a year later, in February 2020, another tale was written and the themes of the "transmutation of flowers" and "romance between couples that never ended up together" emerged furiously. In the productions, images like the taboo of sexuality, figures of feminine, trees, couples and trees-woman have appeared.

At this moment, I soon identified, and we were ready to penetrate the Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo, in which Apollo, shot by Cupid, falls desperately in love with Nymph Dafne who, desperate while was trying to escape from the passionate god, asked the gods for mercy and, in the act of kindness, they turned her into a laurel. Apollo, saddened, swore eternal love to it and made the laurel his tree.

Therefore, to explore such a myth, we went to the park where each group member chose a coloured silk ribbon based on the previous work and left small ties at places that called their attention and took pictures, explaining the inner world's relationship with the external.

The idea was to have continued going to the Prado Museum, in Spain, where we would see Apollo chasing Dafne painting from Theodoor Van Thulden, and I would tell them the myth, we would make a collage with the photos taken and, finally, go to the Retiro Park to take the tale, the productions and explore in the body through the techniques of the Theatre of Cruelty. Nevertheless, the pandemic forced us to close this process.

Some stories end with an open ending, but the traditional narrative therapist must always believe in the power of story, and, as in fairy tales, we shape ourselves according to the manifestations by possessing the necessary tools to create, change, transmute, and elaborate.

Coming out of a creative dependence on greater autonomy. Where the group needed the dice to create and always expected me to tell them what to do, to taking pictures by themselves and feeling free to propose activities and create, the traditional narrative techniques prove to be an excellent tool in creative arts therapies as a means of investigating our inner world and exploring the relationship with the external world.

Using creative arts therapies combined with traditional narrative techniques with analytic bias gave me a great understanding and a beautiful illustration of how it is possible to work with myths and fairy tales. It was astonishing to see the graduations exercised by the group's power and the details individually, note the deep archetypal images and the complexes in action and witness the unconscious manifesting and the transitions of the psychic energies through the transmutations of the symbolism. Therefore, I encourage you to use these narratives that have always been part of our journey to perhaps one day achieve what Campbell and Vernant dreamed of: a reassurance of the soul with science, mediated by the resignification of the purpose of ancestral accounts in our times.

Reference list

Campbell, J., 2001. Temas Mitológicos na Arte e na Literatura Criativa. In: S. Kaplan, ed. Mitos, Sonhos e Religiões nas artes, na filosofia e na vida contemporânea.. Rio de Janeiro: Ediouro, pp. 139-176.

Campbell, J., 2014. Los mitos: Su impacto en el mundo actual. 5 ed. Barcelona: Kairós.

Franz, M.-L. V., 1987. The interpretation of fairy tales. 1 ed. Boulder: Shambhala.

Schneider, R. E. F. & Torossian, S. D., 2009. Fairy tales: from their origin to contemporary clinic. Psicologia em Revista, 15(2), pp. 132-148.

Steiner, R., Grahl, U., Von Heydebrand, C. & Lenz, F., 1998. Los cuentos a la luz de la investigación espiritual.. In: R. Steiner, ed. La Sabiduría de los Cuentos de Hadas. Madrid: Rudolf Steneir S.A, pp. 7-37.

Vernant, J.-P., 1999. O Universo, Os Deuses e os Homens. 1 ed. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras.

[1] Free translation of Rodolf Steiner: “Del mismo modo, lo que el hombre experimenta como goce estético del cuento, se aparta mucho de lo que sucede en el alma humana, en las profundidades de lo inconsciente, cuando a ella se une lo que la narración vierte e irradia: simplemente experimenta una necesidad inextinguible de que circule la materia del cuento por sus venas espirituales, del mismo modo que el organismo la tiene en lo que corresponde a las substancias nutritivas”. (Steiner, et al., 1998, p. 11)

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