Saturday, 5 May 2012

Once upon a story: Storytelling, analogies and metaphors

There are many cultures on earth, each with rich traditions, customs and opportunities for storytelling. All these forms of storytelling are valuable. All are equal citizens in the diverse world of storytelling (National Storytelling Network).
It has occurred to me for some time now that stories are powerful tools to convey that which is often hard to describe, explain, or sell.
Photo by M O O M O O !
Along with stories, metaphors and analogies are equally powerful tools and the three often work together. As we draw ever closer to an ideal mental health service model, I wonder how we can best convey, indeed pitch, the model to the project stakeholders.
Story as vision
Stories connect people to other people and to place, to the land and sea. Like the songlines of the Aborigines, stories map a place in a way beyond symbols and geography (Scott Edward Anderson).
How do we ensure the story holds up? Is the use of metaphor adequate? How do you keep the primary message clear? And what of multiple metaphors and analogies to tell the same story? We also need to come to some consensus on the shared story.
The model we are developing is taking shape much like an organism you could say, something that sits in cupped hands, lovingly held, like a flower unfolding. The layered petals add depth both to the metaphor and to the model - and so the analogy builds.
Story as explanation
When people hear stories about people they can identify with, the people in the stories become role models and their peers are encouraged to behave the same way. Such stories tend to be repeated and their lessons are spread (Kim Harrison).
What does it take to tell a great story? I came across this essay, The Healing Potential of Metaphor in the Narrative (2001), when searching for relevant mental health projects. The metaphor of water is used here in the "tidal model", an analogy of the ocean and one sailing on a wellness journey. When confronted by pirates (i.e. a health crisis) one must find a way to recover...and so on it goes. Reading about this model got me thinking not only about the power of narrative approaches, but how one must commit entirely to such a process - there's nothing more distracting and drab as a half-baked story!
Story as process
The most popular functional areas in which storytelling was used were envisioning and  goalsetting, reframing a situation and building self esteem. A smaller number [of coaches] said that they used stories to help with such issues as problem solving, empowerment and achieving success. (Margaret Parkin).
How might story be best used in our research project? Stories can explain, captivate, mobilise and remind. What would our (research) story achieve for us? At this point it would necessarily explain and perhaps more importantly mobilise people into action to bring about much needed change in the provision of mental health services (particularly to Aboriginal people).
A whole range of stories would also help to support the model in explaining each of its components in relation to Aboriginal people and their experiences (good and bad) of mental health services. These types of stories are hard to ignore when they come from direct lived experience.
To date we have used story techniques in our group work, including the role play scenarios, in addition to "elevator stories" and yarning. All have produced tangible outcomes and promoted deep thinking. And, as we draw nearer to an outcome, story may serve us well as part of our consensus and "sign off" process.