A narrative is a story or an account of an event. Jesus taught by telling parables to illustrate his moral attitudes and religious principles. I use narratives in family regulatory therapy and find them very effective.
The narrative helps re-create fragmented or suppressed pieces of a person’s life. A narrative can re-create part of a person’s life story that was preverbal. It can re-create an event that a child or adult remembers but could never put words to. The information in a narrative helps the left brain catch up with the right brain and the body. Traumatic events are stored in the right brain and the body. This creates an imbalance and leads to dysregulation until the left brain can help make sense of what is happened.
Megan’s narrative tells Tim’s story of his father’s two-year battle with cancer. The story ended with his father’s death. Tim was 7 years old. The family then moved halfway across the country to be near relatives. Tim is now 9 ½. Megan, his mother, brought him into therapy because he was having difficulty at school. At home he was demonstrating defiant behaviors.
Tim’s emotional trauma all started with a tumor at the bottom of his dad’s esophagus. Tim’s dad had difficulty eating because it was painful and he lost weight. It was hard for him to breathe. Due to his weakened immune system he came down with virus after virus. There were times when his dad had tubes running in and out of his body. There are many trips to the doctor for cancer treatments. There were also numerous stays in the hospital. Much of the time Tim and his little sister (1&1/2 years old when dad died) had to stay with relatives while Megan stayed at the hospital.
Megan’s detail and lack of feelings in the narrative told me that she was avoiding her own pain. I knew that Megan could not help Tim until she got past the point of her own healing and grief resolution. The level at which you can help someone else emotionally is a function of the level that you’ve resolved your own issues. My job was to meet Megan and Tim at their point of need in order to help them move forward.
At my encouragement, Megan made revisions and there was more of a focus on the emotional part of the story. Two weeks later Megan and Tim arrived for a session. I told Tim that his mom had a story for him. Tim chose to sit on the arm of the chair and leaned into his mom while she read. I coached Megan to slow down her fast-paced reading. She needed help getting into her emotional process because of the intensity of her grief. It was scary for her too.
I had them breathe and co-regulate. Tim and his mother exchanged glances. When Megan paused, Tim told her to continue. Tim was drawn into his mom’s emotional process. Tim’s body melted into his mother. I coached Tim to move even closer to his mother so they could hug. Tim snuggled. Megan wrapped her arms around him. Tim reached his limit of vulnerability. He pulled away from his mother. Tim then asked his mother to continue reading. I looked at Megan and held her hand. I told her to breath and to continue when she was ready. She described the children telling their dad goodbye as he drew his last breath. Tim sank into his emotional process. Megan wrapped her arms around him. She nurtured and comforted her son. Tim then popped up and asked “What’s next?”
I thanked them for allowing me to be part of their journey today. I praised their courage and hard work. I told them that by honoring their trauma, they would begin to move on.
Unless you honor where you’re at, you’ll never get where you’re going. I asked Tim what he wanted to do next. He put his face real close to his mom’s face. They exchanged a few words and he asked to go to Burger King.
Tim went over to the couch and I talked to his mom about staying emotionally connected with him that evening. I suggested that Megan allow herself healing time. I told Megan that the more she could heal, the more she could help Tim heal. Tim went down the hallway and Megan followed him out to the car.
I believe that their time with me helped them understand their grief. That it taught them how to process and regulate more effectively as a family. Are they there yet? No, they are not there yet, but they are in process.
Ken Thom, MS, LPC,* specializes in assisting individuals, families, and children in trauma or distress. A nationally recognized Christian counselor and published author, Ken uses Scripture and Biblical truths along with the Post Institute Stress Model to put love into action to heal relationships.
Ken has over 25 years of experience working with people with alcohol and drug addiction; sexual, physical, and emotional abuse; mood disorders; ADHD and other behavioral disorders; and relationship and marital problems.
A parent and grandparent, in his free time, Ken supports faith-based community efforts, youth and men's ministries at his church, and serves on the Board of Directors for the Academy for Christian Education.
As a recovering alcoholic and drug addict himself, Ken's personal experience allows him to better assist his clients in "Healing Relationships through Love in Action."
*Master of Science, Licensed Professional Counselor