Introduction to Autobiographical Storytelling
Our own personal story is how we make meaning and construct our sense of selves. So our memories are vital and they feel important to us, partly because memory and emotion sit together in the limbic system. Storytelling has always lain at the heart of human interrelatedness and caring. Throughout history communities and individuals have tended to describe and define themselves by receiving holding and telling stories about themselves.
Working with autobiographical storytelling is a creative doorway into exploring and making sense of our experiences, imagination and inner life. Working creatively with personal life experiences we can explore ways of crafting memories into stories, so encouraging a natural way to consider the significance of life’s experiences. The aim being to help find understanding acceptance and forgiveness. It creates a space to reflect, to attach a sense of meaning to the past and make sense of life. It works towards a holistic sense of healing.
"Stories can become vehicles for truths and such truths can carry healing." Monroe 2009
Palliative Care Work
I work using life review with terminally ill clients in the wellbeing centre at our local hospice. Life review is the systematic and structured process of recalling past events and memories in an effort to find meaning and achieve resolution of one’s life in order to give emotional and spiritual support. Life review also allows people to feel heard and valued, as well as being a way of passing on your own values or lessons to future generations. It can affirm uniqueness and self – worth.
This approach has been pioneered in Coventry and is now being taken into other hospices around the UK. I read this quote to myself each time I leave for the hospice;
‘Everybody is a story, everyone’s story matters. Our true identity, who we are, why we are here, what sustains us, is in this story.'
I begin by spending time with patients just explaining what it is that I offer and then working with individuals who want to work in more detail. It is very much driven by how they would like it to be and is developed with the aid of life reflection questions and other prompt techniques memories are generated and so the stories begin.
These reflections can be recorded in many ways and the idea is that it is unique to the patient and their experience- it can be an audio recording or a physical book, it can contain just words or they can choose to add photo’s, drawings, sayings, quotes, advice. It can also just be a conversation. It can be for the patient themselves or as something for family and friends too.
As Sally said:
“I want to leave some way of my daughter ‘knowing me’ as she grows up even though I wont be there. I want it to be my words and reflections not someone else’s – this has given me the space and structure to do this – its really important to me.”
When working with someone who is terminally ill their story isn’t finished… their totality of life. The work is on the other side – what is the work still to do with their experience here. Story makes you part of humanity, your own story becomes part of humanity freeing identity and giving it back to the world.
Once upon a time there was a story
Its end came
Before its beginning
And its beginning came
After its end
Its heroes entered it
After their death
And left it
Before their death
Its heroes talked
About some earth about some heaven
They said all sorts of things
Only they didn’t say
What they themselves didn’t know
That they are only heroes in a story
In a story whose end comes
Before its beginnings
And whose beginning comes
After its end
translated from the Serbo-Croat by Anne Pennington
As detailed on the Storytelling Workshops page of this website Sue offers bespoke workshops for coaches, health professionals, leaders, managers, support groups and individuals looking to enhance their personal impact and understanding of themselves.
Please click here for more details.
Autobiographical Storytelling with charities
Taken from Egmont Grassroots newsletter for donors published on 30th January 2015 based on autobiographical interviews conducted on site by Sue in December 2014
INVESTING HOPE IN CENTRAL MALAWI
In the small village of Stima, Dowa district, straw roofs patched with plastic sacks dominate the one-storey high skyline. A make-shift shack is the only shelter that Lucia and her three young children have against the heavy rains of Malawi’s wet season. Her husband, who is often too ill to work, lies on a bed unable to get up, as water seeps through the straw into the rooms below. Over 1 in 20 people in Dowa district are HIV+.
Most of Lucia's neighbours live on less than £1 a day. Simply getting enough to eat is a struggle, let alone accessing treatment or education. Understandably, attaining credit is impossible for many of the residents, particularly women.
To help women like Lucia better support their families, the Egmont Trust has recently funded a project by the Micro Loan Foundation (MLF) to enable women across Dowa District to access credit. MLF provides low interest loans and also offers women business training and mentoring. Borrowers are encouraged to form support groups that cross-guarantee each other’s loans, which has resulted in a 99% repayment rate.
Lucia helped form the Stima credit group and used her first loan of £12 to purchase tomatoes to sell at the local market. With the money from the sale of her tomatoes, Lucia purchased half a bale of tobacco at auction, which she sold for 8 times the amount of her loan. This allowed Lucia to buy metal sheeting and nails for her roof. It will be the first time that anyone in her family has had a home with a waterproof roof. Lucia is about to apply for another MLF loan so that she can start breeding goats, and plans to save for her children’s education.
The work of MLF shows the dramatic impact that a small amount of money, and crucially the faith in people to help themselves, can make in the fortunes of a family like Lucia’s.
Using Autobiographical stories
This story has been shown to health care professionals at a recent I Care NHS Conference to stimulate discussions around the interpersonal aspects of care.
"I will be empathetic Compassionate and patient in my Approach to others. I will be Respectful of their needs and when necessary I will Escalate concerns appropriately with advocacy as my only motive."
Storytelling For Impact
Sue recently led two workshops at the Macmillan Cancer Voices Conference.
The workshops explored the art of creating and telling a great story to inspire others to take action. Using an example of a crafted story about a cancer experience the delegates examined what it is about the crafting process that can inspire others. A well told story stays with us. It leaves an imprint in our consciousness and paints us a picture we keep in our minds.
The groups were given the tools to craft powerful memories into stories for the different audiences they are addressing, whilst considering the boundaries of personal storytelling. They were empowered to use this story to inspire change with others.
Feedback from the delegates on the day was powerful:
- “You have inspired me - I have the title of the story I’m going to write about myself.’
- ‘I have to make a speech at Downing Street next month and I was going to tell a story as part of it - but it just wasn’t flowing. Now I know it wasn’t the right one - your workshop has given me the clarity I needed - thank you.”
- “I have learnt so much in this workshop about myself by listening to other people’s stories”
Autobiographical Story Performing
The Dr John story also forms part of a performance evening with my colleague Hannah McDowall.
To learn more about Hannah see her blog:
See the Performance Storytelling page on this website for more details:
Community Building with Autobiographical Stories
Aspley Guise Memories
As part of a community building exercise Sue gathered autobiographical stories from a number of Aspley Guise residents and wrote the script for a performance in St. Botolph's Church with over 200 attendees. This was subsequently made into the film above which she narrates.