Narrative Matters

Narrative Matters

We have kept a lot of our children’s books. They represent such good value in terms of revisit rate, and they remind us of happy times.

I just had another look at Creation Stories retold by Ann Pilling and Michael foreman (Walker, 1997). The first story tells how, before there was anything else, there was an egg. A giant popped out and grew (over the next eighteen thousand years) pushing the land and sky apart until he could rely on them to stay in their place, at which point he went on to other tasks like carving valleys and mountains. When he died, all of his body parts were used in some way; his hair for forests, bones for rocks, and his tears formed the rivers.

I am impressed by the multiple layers of wisdom in this tale. At the level of content (and with a nod to the likely purchaser) it acknowledges the tiring job of the parent in creating and maintaining the space in which offspring can grow. It also introduces us to the importance of sustainability.

But at the level of process we realise that those who developed and treasured this story chose, for their progenitor, not an immortal but a flesh-and-blood being very much like us. Someone who can get tired and weep; Someone who dies and decays, and for whom it is possible to grieve.

Also, we are not invited to believe this story as a literal representation of fact, or required to believe the improbable; Dogma, immortality, and unreachable qualities, are not held up as objects of devotion or aspiration.

In this way generations are taught the importance of symbolic truth and the ordinariness of cosmic events, as well as the crucial role that narrative has in making sense of our existence and contextualising our experience.

We can take reassurance from the fact that stories will do this important job for us, particularly if they are obviously located in the symbolic realm, rather than the concrete. It is better if these stories don’t take themselves too seriously. Stories that are too eager to convince us of their truth and too bullying in their insistence upon compliance are harder to make friends with; are less adaptable; are more likely to drive us from our neighbour over issues of difference.

A parent reading this story to their child might stand to learn at least as much as the child, if not more. And I generally think that that is the mark of a proper children’s story.

Back to Home Page: Therapeutic Attitude

Everything worth waiting for is worth the wait

Everything worth waiting for is worth the wait

Jan Fortune has just blogged on Why writers need to wait – indeed, not just writers but all artists. The virtue of waiting is not generally appreciated in our everyday worlds where anything that doesn’t arrive instantly runs the risk of being walked away from – or, more accurately, we run the risk of walking away from – and therefore losing – everything that does not come to us at the snap of the fingers.

This chimes so well with what I have said about therapeutic attitude that it might be considered an argument defining therapy as art but for the false dualism. Art and science are not a mutually exclusive dyad any more than body and mind. Each involves the other; And good scientific research also requires the capacity to wait.

I shall briefly recap on waiting in therapy as this is a blog on Therapeutic Attitude.

D. W. Winnicott, the ground-breaking paediatrician-turned-child-therapist probably best-known for the idea of the “good-enough mother” wrote of the “capacity in the therapist to contain the conflicts … and to wait for their resolution in the patient instead of anxiously looking around for a cure”. In doing so he was, whether he knew it or not, echoing the poet John Keats who wrote to his brother of his admiration for people who were “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”. (I suspect that Winnicott was perfectly aware of the connection because he also wrote elsewhere that, “if what I say has truth in it, this will already have been dealt with by the world’s poets”.)

This irritable reaching after cures and facts is something we see a great deal of at the moment. Perhaps it can come as some relief to know that it was also prevalent in Keats’ time.

Everything worth waiting for is worth the wait. Therapy and healing are creative processes, the instant therapy is a con and an addiction, your doctor is an artist as well as a scientist, and emergence is the key. We are living things, and development (of which healing is an example) is a living thing. We need to create the right conditions, be patient, and allow it to emerge.

Refs.

  1. Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Therapeutic Consultations in Child Psychiatry (p2). London:
    Hogarth & The Institute of Psycho-Analysis.
  2. Gittings, R. (1966). Selected Poems and Letters of John Keats (p40-41). Oxford: Heinemann Educational.
  3. Winnicott, D. W. (1986). Fear of breakdown. In: G. Kohon (Ed.). The British School of  Psychoanalysis: The Independent Tradition (pp. 173–182). London: Free Association Books.

Home Page: Therapeutic Attitude