Telling the Story

The need to tell is also a need to be heard.

Victoria Alexander

Alexander goes on to say that, “Telling the story and being heard are important ways in which the survivors can gradually claim the experience as part of their own history and move on in their lives.” She is referring to survivors of sexual abuse, but I would expand this idea to include most of human discourse. We all have the need to tell our stories, but moreover, we have the need to be heard, to have our stories received by the human community. It is through being heard that we come to better understand ourselves and others.

So much of therapy is about telling one’s story. Narrative therapists talk about the importance of story in defining how we come to see ourselves and how others see us. Stories both define us and are defined by us. Over time, particular plot lines begin to stand out; we fall back on these dominant themes to describe the arc of our personal narratives more often than not. In therapy, people learn to tell their stories, not in the ways they have always told them, but in new, more complete ways that account for any number of alternate plot lines that may have fallen by the wayside.

So much of therapy is also about being heard. One of my primary roles as a therapist is to deeply hear not only those aspects of their stories that clients tell, but also the parts that remain untold, the parts that, once discovered and nurtured, begin to emerge as important. Theodore Reik, in Listening with the Third Ear, describes how we come to better see and understand ourselves as reflected through the eyes and ears of another:

Look at this strange situation: the deepest and most vital region of the self is inaccessible to its own contemplative and inquiring consciousness. In order to comprehend it psychologically, it needs to be reflected in another person.

If you feel the need to tell the story, your story, I am here, not only to listen, but to hear.

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