Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Story Circles:Recieving Support and Learning Story and Counseling Skills

One of my major tasks in being in Liberia was to explore and experiment with the CVT counselors to find ways to integrate their tradition of storytelling with their clinical training. In Liberia this was important because storytelling is a natural way to teach and communicate. The need was to find a format that would be culturally appropriate and sound clinically. The desired outcome was that the counselors would deepen their clinical understanding by seeing their work through the perspective of storytelling and grow their skills in using story in their counseling practice. In addition the process had to be co-created with the counselors to insure ownership. Their participation led to the surprising to me but what should have been obvious was their deep desire to tell their stories and to be heard. They expressed this as a need and as a means of gaining support. The challenge, therefore,was to create a culturally appropriate process that would enable the counselors to receive support;to cultivate an awareness of and the skills to use cultural, literary, and personal story in their practice; and to provide an opportunity to learn new stories.

The natural format was a group process and this was both clinically and culturally appropriate. Liberians in general feel strong ties to their clan and community. Also the counselors work in teams and usually work clinically with groups. Finally, storytelling and receiving group support were a natural fit. As we shared the term Story Circles was adopted as the name of the process.

To begin the story circle the counselors developed a ritual of calling each other to attention. Each group of counselors chose their own way of doing this. Some chose song, others a call and response, others very simply chose to start with a “Hello” in their own language, and one group chose to begin with “Once Upon a Time.” As a fairly religious community with strong ties to Islam and Christianity for the next step each group chose prayer. The prayer could be said or song and they agreed that the prayer could be either Christian or Moslem. The telling of personal story would be next and each person would be given three to five minutes to tell their story. The topic could be about their work or from their life past or present. Once the story is told the group would acknowledge the person telling the story with a “Thank you,” The group for fifteen minutes ends this segment of the Story Circle by sharing what they personally gained from hearing each other’s story.

The second half of the session is focused on learning a story. The story is told or read and several steps are taken to encourage the learning of the story. The second phase is a discussion about the story and then the circumstances when to use the story and with what type of client. This discussion encourages critical analysis of story both clinically and personally. (I have not fully described this part of the session because of the complexity of the approach.) The session ends with an opportunity for each participant to briefly tell the group one thing they are taking with them from their time together.

As the clinical supervisors experienced how well the process was working for the counselors a decision was made to adopt the Story Circles for use throughout Liberia. In the next two weeks I will be intensely training selected clinicians in the details of the process and conducting story circles in all of the counties served by CVT.

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