Recently I was interviewed about story medicine — a way of engaging with stories that generates wonder, wisdom and compassion. It inspired me to share the three major turning points, or moments of reorientation, that brought me to understand Story as Medicine.
Three is a special number in fairy tales and magic generally. I’m sure I could share many, many more. But for now, let’s start with the three major moments.
1. Suffering from my first major case of heartbreak at 19, I found myself in a psychiatrist’s office – desperate for an explanation and prescription drugs. I was in my first year at Melbourne University and majoring in psychology. Noticing my fascination with his books, particularly the large, authoritative tomes on psychological disorders, this wise Irish psychiatrist, said to me:
“You won’t find the answers to love inside those textbooks, Kate. When it comes to matters of the heart and human nature you’ll have to turn to the works of poets and storytellers instead.”
I switched my major to literature and immersed myself in the world of stories. This moment changed my career direction, but most importantly, I remembered that reading and listening is not just an act of acquiring knowledge – it’s a way to come home. Not long after that I discovered the work of Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes who formally introduced me to Story as Medicine.
(Oh, and in case you’re wondering – yes, I did find love again. But that’s another story.)
2. While on maternity leave from my senior teaching role, I found myself in emotional despair. I had a new baby, an active toddler and a husband working offshore for weeks at a time. So I started a blog called ‘Rig Wife Survival Guide.’ Even though I’d whined to friends and family about my everyday struggles, nothing brought me clarity like the act of writing. Life changed. My husband left the rig lifestyle behind. And I started a copywriting business. I learned that no act of writing is without consequence. Words are a form of magic.
3. Word Love grew out of my passion for and expertise in language. Since 2013 two patterns became clear. First, I realised the power of helping people understand and share their stories. And second – I found myself resonating with healers or those who did work of a holistic, caring, creative, heart-centered nature. Then I was described as a “word therapist” and that’s when the penny dropped. I love to work with story as a healing art. I always have and it’s what I’m here to do. So in 2015 I flew 14,000 kilometres to study formally under Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes (remember her from Point #1) and consider myself a life-long student of her work.
There are so many small and large moments from my life that remind me that stories are medicine. But unfortunately I see this healing component minimised or overlooked in our hyper consumer culture. We consume ‘stories’ that may lack nourishment at best and at worst poison our minds and souls. I’m devoted to restoring story as a form of healing. Discernment is the first step. Because becoming aware of stories within you as well as those you’re consuming is necessary for mental, emotional and community health.
Words can either harm or heal. Stories can either spark compassion and collaboration or they can undermine our humanity.
If you feel called to work with story as medicine you’re in the right place.
And if you’ve got a spare half an hour to listen to my recent chat about story medicine with Melissa Farrugia, grab a cuppa and come on over.