Story Therapy in Child Development: What You Should Know

03 December, 2020
In the following article, we'll briefly learn about the technique known as story therapy. This helps children with and without disorders to have better emotional intelligence through the use of storytelling as support and therapy itself.

Story therapy can be a great therapy for every child’s development. In fact, today the technique’s been perfected so much that it’s already used even with adults or children with disorders.

The use of this therapeutic technique applies, above all, to working with young children who show cognitive or behavioral issues. However, as we’ve mentioned, this segment is no longer the only beneficiary.

What’s story therapy?

Child therapy through storytelling has shown great effectiveness in all types of children. This is because it allows the prevention of future problems, as well as a broad development of emotional intelligence and education in values.

By using stories, we approach the child and their inner world from a more empathic point of view. With this technique, it’s easier to speak their language, to understand their symbolism and, furthermore, to spend great time with them. In this way, it strengthens and encourages emotional ties while the child develops their personality and their relationship with their social and environmental surroundings.

A teacher reading a story to a group of preschoolers.

Coined by Lorenzo Antonio Hernández Pallarés, a psychotherapist from Murcia, Spain, professionals have implemented this technique worldwide for more than two decades with considerable success. In fact, the Ibero-American Association of Storytellers came into existence in order to expand the values and benefits of storytelling.

In the words of its own founder and creator, we could talk about a healing technique through stories. This therapy helps not only to prevent, but also to heal, enhancing the personal growth of children and adults. What’s more, it places special emphasis on children with diagnoses like autism, dyslexia, Asperger’s, or ADHD.

Hernández Pallarés understands stories as maps of consciousness and psychology that help the message that the subconscious receives to become conscious. That’s why this tool, complemented with other therapies, addresses very deep symbolic aspects.

What does this therapy work on?

This therapy works with children using three types of stories. In this sense, Hernández Pallarés’ own classification divides stories into three large groups and their use depends on the objective at hand:

  • Emosemic stories: These stories transmit and produce emotions. In general, they contain mostly illustrations. Currently, there are many of these being published.
  • Monosemic stories: These stories offer a particular message. In this case, we find many examples that come from philosophy, from Hinduism to Zen, Sufi, etc. Others, like those by Jorge Bucay, would also fall into this classification.
  • Polysemic stories: In this typology we find very varied meanings. For example, we have fantasy stories that create imaginary worlds, the classics that have been passed down through tradition and the collective subconscious, etc.

The polysemic story is the most useful for storytelling. This is due to its symbolism and the varied and humanly rich legacy it brings. Therefore, its characteristics based on warning, learning and transmission of experiences are greater, more interpretable, and very complex.

An illustration of a row of books that look like a row of buildings on a street.


The classic tale and the polysemic tale

The classic story has been passed down orally from generation to generation for several centuries. It adapts to each era in regard to purpose and language, but possesses a more enduring message. This is transmitted through symbols until it reaches the unconscious.

The polysemic tale, on the other hand, reaches the magical and symbolic heart of the child. That’s why it’s so important, especially in the preoperative stage, as Jean Piaget called it. And it’s precisely this symbolic and magical language that this type of therapy uses to reach the child’s difficulty, analyzing two levels:

  • Interpsychic or interpersonal level: Each character acts as a mirror of his or her own personal relationships with parents, siblings, friends, etc.
  • Intrapsychic or intrapersonal level: Each character and symbol in the story represents different aspects of oneself.

The benefits of storytelling

We could say that the benefits of story therapy are that it:

  • Increases the child’s creativity
  • Educates in good values
  • Promotes great emotional and cognitive maturity
  • Shows children the pleasure of reading
  • Encourages imagination
  • Promotes healthy communication
  • Encourages children during their worst moments
  • Serves to support therapies for the eradication of disorders
  • Teaches ways to solve problems
  • Improves children’s social relationships
  • Maintains the relationship of the adult with the child

In conclusion, storytelling is an excellent therapy that supports the treatment of all types of disorders. In addition, the use of stories encourages children to develop their imaginative and creative abilities.