Gentle Place Publishing
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Cultural Understanding and Psychological Healing
Through Stories

Though the academic community recognizes the efficacy of using stories for psychological healing and growth, this power is often overlooked in this media driven age. Throughout history, stories have been used to edify “nearly all of man’s existence” (Bettelheim). Studies of history, religion, anthropology and linguistics, demonstrate that stories were used as far back as we have evidence of human culture.  They have been the “center of community life” (Robert Atkinson) and the primary method of education for many years.  Stories were used to communicate and pass down cultural norms and religious principles. 

Stories, whether read or told, teach us “by attraction rather than compulsion” (Northfolk).  Stories guide us without preaching and teach us through experience. Stories stimulate the various senses and this stimulation creates high involvement and, therefore, effective learning.  Neil Postman states  that personal, national, and religious stories are needed to maintain vitality in our identities and that, “without stories as organizing frameworks we are swamped by the volume of our own experience, adrift in a sea of facts” and that stories give “us direction by providing a kind of theory about how the world works—and how it needs to work if we are to survive.”

No matter where we were raised, most of us carry psychological bruises and trauma. Though it may vary in intensity, most humans need intervention to heal and grow.  This intervention can come from teachers, friends, mentors, or from counselors and psychotherapists. Stories can help us all heal from our pasts, adjust to new environments, create cultural understanding and offer hope and encouragement  for our future.

Short, powerful, well-focused stories (cleansed of unintended messages) accomplish this best. With a plethora of stories to choose from, educators, community workers and parents need not settle for mixed messages in stories. When teaching chemistry, the wise teacher only puts chemicals that are intended to be combined on the student’s lab tables.  In like manner, an educator, parent or therapist should select stories that contain only elements that they are willing to have the student or patient combine.  Teaching chemistry and providing mentorship have much in common; both can be instrumental in the creation of new understandings, but both require careful preparation and the exercise of wisdom.

Chosen carefully, stories can have a profound, lasting and therapeutic effect in building cultural understanding and sound mental health. Such stories can illuminate our schools, community centers and places of worship; they can decrease violence by increasing understanding and offer hope to our communities and our nations.

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