“There’s simply no way to understand the human world without stories… It’s story that makes us human.”Will Storr, author of The Science of Storytelling
Date of the last update: 07.02.2023
Telling stories goes as far back as the emergence of homo sapiens. As social creatures, a desire to share our experiences, reflections, and creatively imagined tales is the origin of the diversity of languages spoken today. However, although technological developments and an ever-faster modern society has made 60-second Instagram reels the most common source of storytelling today, slowing down and listening to (and learning from) meaningful stories is more important than ever before. As well as evoking emotions, connecting audiences, and sparking ideas, stories can be a catalyst for transformative personal growth, and therefore, also a unique starting point for therapeutic activities.
Table of contents:
- So, what is storytelling?
- What is the connection between storytelling and psychotherapy?
- The Future of Ecotherapy
You can read this article in 3 minutes.
Whilst some people consider ‘storytelling’ to be an overused buzzword in the world of communications, according to a leading researcher Will Storr (author of The Science of Storytelling): “There’s simply no way to understand the human world without stories… Stories about people being heroic or villainous, and the emotions of joy and outrage they triggered, were crucial to human survival. We’re wired to enjoy them.” Storytelling is the creative use of words to elaborate narratives – whether they’re anecdotes from real life or tales of magical faraway worlds – that capture the listeners’ imagination, and let us expand our minds in new ways. Stories may simply transmit important information, entertain captivated audiences, evoke excitement, or – of most interest in psychology – trigger deep emotional reflection.
Elements of storytelling are being adopted in a variety of sectors, and psychotherapy – the art of healing and accompanying personal development – is one of the practices that can most benefit from it. To better understand how our community of ecotherapists and nature lovers can use storytelling in their journeys, we met with the Scottish ecotherapist and storyteller Stephen McCabe, who integrates these two activities through publicly-funded in-person group sessions in Edinburgh, as well as facilitating private online group programmes that bring together people from across the world. Both programmes combine stories that have symbolic meanings, and with nature connection activities where the participants experience the stories’ morals in their own environment, using the combination of the inspiring power of stories with the healing power of nature to boost their well-being.
The first story Stephen shared with us was how he himself entered the world of ecotherapy. Years ago, whilst navigating his own mental health challenges, Stephen was recommended to try the practice of mindfulness. He told us that one day, whilst strolling in a city park with his dog, he decided to try this seemingly vague practice of ‘being aware of your surroundings’. Leaning against a tree, he listened to the movement of the leaves in the wind, the sounds of the birds following their instinctive activities, and, simple as it sounds, he said “I saw nature come to life all around me. I realised that I live in a beautiful world, and I already have everything I need around me. I started to do this every day, and it changed my life.”
Next came Stephen’s realisation of how his ecotherapy aspirations could be deeply complemented by storytelling. One day, as part of his psychotherapy training, he took part in an activity in which the group were told an old Greek myth about the protagonist’s cathartic journey into darkness, their time spent in the woods seeking solutions, and their use of creativity to find their way out. Following the storytelling, the group were then led into nature, and carried out the activities shared in the story. “I can’t put it into words. The experience of going outdoors into dark spaces with this story in mind really connected me with aspects of my life that the activity alone wouldn’t have done. It was taking the story into nature that made the difference”. Here he found his calling.
Today, Stephen tells stories to both his groups – fairy tales, archetypal myths, and both real-life and fantasy stories from across the world – to incorporate moral reflection into his clients’ nature connection practices. To conclude his belief on the storytelling/ecotherapy connection, Stephen summarised:
“Traditional stories from across the world are often deeply linked with nature. Delving into their imagery, messages and wisdom can connect us with those shadowy places within our minds where nature’s landscapes are carved. By paying deep attention to nature-based tales, and rekindling our relationship with storytelling, we welcome nature back into our mindscapes, deepening our connection with the Earth. Folktales, myths and legends are not irrelevant to today’s world: they point towards the importance of nature itself. Never before has this message been so important, neither for humans nor for planet Earth.”
Inspired? Watch our short yet insightful conversation with Stephen here:
Reflecting on ecotherapy as a whole, Stephen stressed that “Our connection to nature can be a lifelong therapeutic support, even for those who explore the practice alone, and who cannot afford psychological support. He even shared stories of people who were unable to leave their homes because of disabilities, but who benefited even from simply opening their window and searching for sounds of nature, and, as a result, not feeling so isolated from their natural environment. According to Stephen, the main challenge for ecotherapists is finding the right clients. As his online courses are private, the participants tend to already be aware of the importance of nature. In contrast, his clinical patients in Edinburgh are referred to him as part of a mental illness treatment package. Stephen finds this second group the most rewarding, watching people who have grown up isolated from nature, and who often have similar experiences to that of his younger self experiencing the healing power of nature for the first time, and seeing them too making it a core part of their lives. To expand the practice of ecotherapy, and to allow more and more people to connect with nature – both for their own health and for that of the planet through their care – we must find ways for these more isolated groups to access and be supported in establishing their connection to nature, which is our birthright.