Reflection from Jennifer Ramsay, Professional Storyteller and Art Therapist.

Many storytellers seem surprised when they discover that as well as being a professional storyteller I am also an Art Therapist and sometimes ask “What does storytelling and art therapy have in common?”  The answer is simple because they both evolve around stories.

A lot of the stories I tell follow the structure of the hero’s journey. A character leaves his normal everyday life to answer a call to adventure. There he will find friends and mentors to help him pass the tests and enemies on his path. At the end of the journey the character is normally richer and wiser and there is learning. Every person also has their own hero’s Journey and as an art therapist my job is to accompany my clients so that they can take charge of their lives and feel comfortable in the leading role of their personal life journey. I also try help them contact with their inner resources so that they are able to overcome whatever tests may appear in their paths.

There is a Korean Story called ‘The Story Bag’ that comments on the dangers involved in blocking the expression of stories that need to be heard. The storyteller and the therapist can help these stories circulate. I feel that at certain moments in my life stories look for me in and that I am but a single link in a long chain of storytellers telling the story that begs to be told. For the story to be able to continue its journey I can use my artistic licence to adjust it a little so that it can connect with the public in our present  historical and social context. As an Art therapist I offer a space for my client to be able to convey the stories that need to be freed for his or her wellbeing. Sometimes these stories are hidden in dark corners inside the heart, or blocked in parts of the body or in remote zones of the memory or deep in the subconscious. The stories can be expressed in many ways: through painting, sculpture, collage, dancing, singing or telling stories in any of the many different formats.

Most people are able to tell a short anecdote from their life using the narrative tools in a natural, efficient way.  But when there is a sudden difficulty with eye contact for example this may be an indication that a story is trapped inside. The same thing with verbal language (tone and volume of the voice) and non-verbal language like gestures. All this is an invitation to the therapist to investigate more and help free the stories that have perhaps been trapped inside for many years and as such help the person in his or her process of transformation.

Stories are good companions in the journey of the therapeutic process. The symbolic language of fairy tales is particularly useful to relate the experience of traumatic life events and is being currently used with a lot of refugees.  Traditional stories can also be used to clarify and shed light on things and can be used in a variety of situations. One example is our difficulty in seeing the global version of our life stories because even if two brothers have grown up in the same conditions with the same parents, the viewpoint of each one of them is unique. We usually identify with only one part of what happens in our lives and filter it according to our belief system, not paying attention to, disqualifying or denying other versions. This may cause blind spots and lead to limiting beliefs. Stories like the Hindu story of ‘The Six Blind Men and the Elephant’ can serve as a metaphor to help us see beyond the little part of the elephant we are focusing on and help us to see the whole elephant. The idea is that little by little we can become aware of our different parts, our lights and our shadows, and learn to accept ourselves in our totality.

So, as an Art Therapist, I invite my clients to travel to their inner world to get to know themselves in more depth. We may visit stories from far away times in their life to listen to them in the present, in the here and now, from the vision and resources of an adult, with a view to transforming them. We can also consciously listen to the different voices of our internal communities with the hope of promoting more harmony in our daily lives.

As a storyteller I invite the public to embark on a storytelling trip to far away times and places to hear stories from different cultures.  There we can discover the richness of our world heritage which is especially important at this current moment in human history. Stories give us a chance to listen to the different voices and recognise that we have similar needs and that we are not so different after all. It has been said that we are ‘Homos Narrantes’, brain wired to tell and listen to stories. If storytelling is our true common shared heritage my hope for 2016 is that it will help promote harmony in this global community that we call humanity.


Jennifer Ramsay