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The Power Of Storytelling

Written by: Andrew Cowie, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Storytelling is an incredibly powerful medium through which to convey important life lessons. Our subconscious mind absorbs the message embedded within the allegory of the story and works out ways to apply it to our own lives without us even having to be consciously aware of it.


Who doesn’t remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare and its lessons regarding persistence and the dangers of over-confidence? Such lessons stay with us for life because of the simplicity of the message and the power of the imagery used to convey it.

It’s a concept that will be familiar to anyone who has practiced Eriksonian-style conversational hypnosis in which stories embedded with metaphor are used to bring about profound therapeutic benefits for a client. Hearing stories about how other people have overcome problems, challenges, or illnesses can inspire and motivate us to delve within to find solutions to our own issues.


The Ancient Greeks were masters of the use of storytelling as a teaching tool and regarded it as a science. Their myths and legends of the exploits of various gods and goddesses were meticulously crafted to convey spiritual, moral, and life lessons, and the same can be said to be true of Aesop’s Fables, the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, the parables told by Jesus and the Hindu legends contained within The Mahabarata. Mythology stirs the pot of our subconscious, enabling intuitive insights to rise to the surface of our conscious awareness.


In medieval times, the exact same function was served by the legends of Robin Hood and those of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. These were the Eastenders or Coronation Street of their day, containing many elements which would serve as the template for modern soap operas, including cliffhangers, story arcs, and subplots, meticulously crafted to keep hungry readers of the tales returning for more. The storylines tackled contentious issues such as incest, adultery, betrayal, murder, unrequited love, and evil doppelgangers and introduced the concept of the love triangle as a compelling storytelling device.


In today’s world, we see the very same themes and conflicts being explored in soaps and in blockbuster movie franchises such as Star Wars and the DC and Marvel Universes. Writers of the popular British soap opera Eastenders have openly admitted to basing storylines on the ancient Greek legend of Agamemnon a classic example of how such tropes adapt and evolve to remain relevant for contemporary audiences. It matters not whether the stories are based on actual factual events, or if they are entirely fictitious. Their power to educate and inform is just as effective regardless.


Swiss psychologist Carl Jung was among the first to postulate that such stories all conformed to a common template. Jung believed that mankind's rich history of myths and legends symbolized the archetypal processes we all go through in the course of our lives. The characters in these mythic stories, whether they be the gods and goddesses of ancient pantheons or the superheroes of modern comic books and movies, also represent the various different archetypal aspects of our own psyche and those of the other people we meet in our life's journey.


These themes were key to the work of American psychologist James Hillman who taught that the images or myths a person is intuitively drawn to are indications of their soul's true calling and that by identifying that life calling and actualizing it, we can unlock our full potential. The mythological hero or archetype we feel most drawn to, therefore, becomes a template for us to model as we create our own adventure. The principle works just the same, no matter whether our hero of choice is Jesus of Nazareth, Robin Hood, Superman, Wonder Woman, or Harry Potter.


The same concepts were also central to the work of Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature whose work included the study of comparative mythology and comparative religion. Campbell famously wrote a book titled The Hero With A Thousand Faces (1949) in which he shared his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero shared by world mythologies. Campbell’s hypothesis that all stories conformed to a basic common template which he termed the monomyth, or Hero's Journey, gained widespread international recognition after George Lucas credited it with inspiring the Star Wars saga.


I make strong use of storytelling as a coaching and therapeutic tool, including sharing my own story of how I recovered from stress and burnout a decade ago. Time and again I see the weight visibly lift from a client’s shoulders when they realize that I’ve struggled with mental health issues myself in the past. They find it easier to open up and talk to me as soon as they realize that I have personal experience of being in a dark place and that my knowledge of the subject isn’t purely academic. Sharing your own story can build rapport and help find commonalities.


Storytelling is also a great way to forge connections with younger people, making use of contemporary versions of ancient archetypes, drawn from popular culture. The concept of regeneration from the sci-fi series Doctor Who can be used to symbolize renewal, rebirth, and recovery from setbacks or trauma. The gargantuan story arcs of Harry Potter and Star Wars are ripe for plundering for examples of tragedy and personal growth. And superheroes are a fantastic medium to illustrate how we wear masks in certain situations and how we all have a more powerful version of ourselves hidden behind a vulnerable exterior.


Most superheroes are flawed characters who struggle to fit in socially but who have been blessed, or cursed, with a remarkable gift that sets them apart from the rest. This can have tremendous resonance with any young person who feels like an outsider, though the use of characters from pop culture can be equally effective with adults too.


As a former journalist, writing and telling stories has always been an integral part of my life and work. Now I use the power of storytelling as a coaching and therapeutic tool to help clients undergo healing and personal transformation. If you’d like to learn more about how I use storytelling as a tool at Phoenix Coaching & Therapy, and in its associated esoteric training school AMHOP, just email info@phoenixcoaching.co.uk


For more info, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and visit my website!


 

Andrew Cowie, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine Andrew Cowie is a transformational life coach, psychotherapist, and author dedicated to helping people overcome adversity and achieve their full potential. He came to the world of therapy after a 20-year career in newspaper journalism was brought to an abrupt end by severe burnout. In the course of his own recovery, he was introduced to meditation, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, yoga, martial arts, and NLP. He went on to retrain some of the world's leading spiritual and personal development teachers to become an expert in these fields. Andrew has since dedicated his life to passing on this knowledge, synthesizing the various disciplines into one overarching system blending ancient spiritual practices with the latest cutting-edge techniques from the field of modern psychology. He is the owner of Phoenix Coaching & Therapy and the founder of its associated 'magical training school' The Ancient and Mystical Hermetic Order of the Phoenix (AMHOP). His debut book Rise Like a Phoenix was published in 2021 and is described as a manual for personal regeneration. Andrew works with clients worldwide and is passionate about mental health and exploring the latent potential of the human mind.

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