Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Expressing Grief through Storytelling

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development

Expressing Grief through Storytelling

Article excerpt

The authors describe the use of storytelling to assist children who have experienced the death of a family member or friend. The results support the theory that children are able to use narrative to express grief and loss and that artwork can aid in the expression of both experiences.


Facilitating the expression of children's grief is an important goal of therapists who work with grieving children. Creative expression as part of the therapeutic process can help the child express emotion and process grief (Glazer, 1998). The purpose of our study was to document the efficacy of storytelling as an intervention technique with children who have lost a loved one through death. The story used in this study was based on our experiences while working with the families of grieving children at the Mount Carmel Hospice Evergreen Center of Columbus, Ohio. The Evergreen Center offers programs for children and families that are designed to promote movement through the grief process. The evening support group program is designed for school-age children and their families. Storytelling has become an essential component of the program as one of the expressive art techniques that form the core of many of the activities.

School-age children who have experienced the death of a loved one express grief in a variety of developmentally appropriate ways. The grieving of the school-age child is complicated by his or her level of cognitive ability. Worden (1991) noted that concepts such as finality, causality, and irreversibility are abstractions, and understanding them is related to the individual's level of cognitive development. It is important to develop opportunities for children to process grief in developmentally appropriate ways. Storytelling encourages reaction and processing; thus, the child and adult work with the story in ways that are meaningful to the individual.

Telling one's story is a part of mourning. In support groups, the sharing of stories is a critical element of the process (Harvey, 1996). It is therapeutic to tell one's story; the individual is able to verbalize the events and feelings. At the same time, when a person hears the stories of other people and hears their responses to his or her story, that individual realizes that others have had the same feelings about and experience with grief and mourning.

The therapeutic value of the narrative may lie in the metaphor in that the individual finds his or her own solutions by contemplating what the story seems to imply at a specific time (Pearce, 1996). Bettelheim (see Pearce, 1966) suggested that stories can provide growth opportunities for working through concerns that preoccupy the individual. One of the ways in which this occurs is through reframing, that is, the shifting of experience from one content to another (Pearce, 1996). The goal is the emotional development of the child, clarification of anxieties, and the development of problem-solving skills.

Stories have been used to heal and cure (Pearce, 1996). All people have listened to the stories of other people and have stories of their own (Pearce, 1996). As people share their stories with others, they name and shape the meanings of their unique life experiences (Harvey, 1996). Narratives have been seen to be important in the lives of children as well as in the lives of adults. Hearing stories told and read by family members and friends and, later on, reading stories are major ways in which children learn about the world and the people in it (Hedberg & Westby, 1993). Children learn to share their experiences, both real and imagined, in the stories that they tell (Hedberg & Westby, 1993). Narratives can stimulate thought and understanding (Pearce, 1996). Hedberg and Westby also noted that children are likely to produce the most complex stories when the thematic content of the stimuli matches their previous experiences and interests.

In addition, other creative experiences can help children heal. …

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