Is The Story Within a book about psychology?
Yehudit Silverman: I wouldn’t say it’s a psychology book because it is very much steeped in the arts, though it is definitely therapeutic and a way to safely uncover inaccessible aspects of the self. People can use it personally and therapists can integrate it into their practice.
The process involves an in-depth relationship with a self-selected myth or fairy tale that evokes a personal sense of relevance, although not understood. Once the story and character are selected, then the creative adventure begins — without being required to understand or make the character or life connection, people can enjoy creating masks, artwork, costumes, dramatic scenes, music and movement, as they identify with their character.
This “not knowing” and trust in the journey itself allows the depth work to be done and allows the internal story, the one that is hidden, buried and hardest to access, to be gradually revealed, often for the first time.
So, when we go through a process like this — using a myth or fairy tales and ancient stories — the wonderful thing is the protagonist is on a quest. They’re going toward something to identify and face all these obstacles in a quest that has a sense of meaning. And this can give us a way of working with our own obstacles and challenges.
Does this describe creative arts therapy?
YS: Yes. Each art brings a different element into the process and each art affects people in different ways. In part of the book I talk about people’s creative DNA. Sometimes we don’t know what it is until we explore these different arts and we find out whether we are visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile, etcetera. So it’s particularly important to experience all the arts.
How does the book follow up on on your 2004 documentary The Story Within – Myth and fairy tale in therapy?
YS: In the film you can see people go through the process, and the book offers a comprehensive step-by-step guide.
The book description says you explore “in-depth relationships with a self-selected myth or fairy tale.” What does that mean?
YS: One of the most important aspects of the process is the search and discovery of the right story. I worked at several hospitals as a therapist in Montreal and in the book I include clinical examples. Part of the process is beginning to trust one’s own sense of knowing, intuition and the unknown. For example, a child’s story may still haunt you but you don’t know why it makes you uncomfortable when you read it or hear it. So that can be the story.
Your method is also based on a lot of classroom teaching at Concordia.
YS: For 20 years I taught a class called Creative Process in Clinical Practice, which was renamed The Story Within. I began my teaching career teaching this class and a lot of alumni now use it in their practices.
For the upcoming online The Story Within Conference, several alumni will share video performances. wearing masks and costumes of their characters. Years later, many alumni still have a relationship with their characters and have kept their masks and costumes.
I feel it was a privilege to witness people have the courage to go through this challenge facing parts of themselves that were difficult and come up with such incredibly creative ways of expressing that.
Tell us a bit more about The Story Within Conference on October 7.
YS: We are bringing together an amazing panel of leaders in the field from drama therapy, art therapy, music therapy and social sciences. And we will have three half-hour panels. I’m really looking forward to the dialogue and exchange and feel this will be of great interest to faculty and students from many different departments as well as for the general public.
Can all this also help people deal with anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic?
YS: I really believe this work is important because — especially now — we are suffering much anxiety over our health, jobs, politics, future, the climate, all of it. And I think that people need to find a sense of meaning in their lives; I think meaning-making is essential for psychological and physical health. I believe that the arts really help. They are life-giving and life-affirming. And I think that going through this process gives people a sense of their own quest.
The conference offers an opportunity for participants to learn how stories are used in therapy, research and social action and to generate reflection, and perhaps new ways of thinking about the impact of stories in their lives. My book offers a step-by-step process for people to go through as a way of working through these challenging times.
The Story Within Conference, presented by Concordia’s 4TH SPACE, takes place virtually on October 7 from 12 to 3 p.m. (ET).