Do they still teach the Mutual Storytelling Technique? Recently, we’ve had a number of inquiries about how to use one of our storytelling card sets. When I mention the Mutual Storytelling Technique I’m met with silence. So here goes:
The Mutual Storytelling Technique was developed by child psychiatrist Richard Gardner in the 60’s and is outlined in a variety of publications including Play Therapy Techniques, 2nd edition, edited by Charles Schaefer and Donna Cangelossi. Storytelling, like play, communicates with children on multiple levels. Stories serve as models, teach values and skills, and can provide insight on both a conscious and unconscious level. The Mutual Storytelling technique uses the child’s language to introduce mature responses and healthier resolutions to the child’s difficulties, as they are communicated in the child’s spontaneously produced stories. One of my favorite tools for promoting storytelling is Dr. Gardner’s Pick and Tell game. I also enjoy Dr. Gardner’s Storytelling Card Game. You Can Imagine: A Storytelling lends itself very nicely to Mutual Storytelling as well.
Another great storytelling technique is outlined in Joseph Strayhorn’s book, The Competent Child. Dr. Strayhorn’s technique involves identifying specific skills and telling a story about that skill. For example, if a child is working on “listening the first time” all the stories will be about that skill. A collection of random pictures are spread face down in front of the child and therapist. The child can go first, but if she prefers, the therapist can go first. A picture is drawn from the pile (I use about ten pictures cut at random from magazines and pasted on construction paper) and a story about the skill is spontaneously created. If the therapist or child don’t like the first picture they draw, a second picture is picked. Of, course, any of the games mentioned above can be adapted to this technique.
I introduce storytelling the same way, regardless of the technique or storytelling tool being used. I simply say “we’re going to play a storytelling game.” As we begin I explain the story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Then I add, “tell me what the people are doing, feeling, and thinking.” When the story is over I ask the child what the moral or lesson of the story is. If the child can’t think of a moral or lesson I ask them to make up a title. Storytelling techniques are quite effective with children who are “stuck” or resistant to other forms of intervention, but can be used will all children.
Some children will view storytelling as work and other children may experience performance anxiety. In these situations it will be important to provide support and encouragement. It is helpful to provide prompts such as, “How does a good story usually begin?” or “What would you like to name the people in your story?” Creating a story in therapy is not a language arts task, all stories are good stories. It is also important to ask questions and make sure you understand the story. As children become more comfortable they will produce more elaborate stories that will provide insight into their issues and feelings. As children make progress in therapy their stories will start to have more adaptive and healthier responses.