Monday, January 26, 2015

Fairy Tale Therapy

Hopefully you saw Surlalune's post on the Fairy Tale Therapy Seminar being held in Portugal in March! There's no way I could go but just the fact that fairy tale therapy even exists was a happy surprise! And now I have something else to add to my list of dream jobs...

I was curious as to exactly what it was-there are so many ways of interpreting fairy tales, psychologically, what approach would it even use? After some initial internet research, it seems that it boils down to: clients use fairy tales to relate to situations in their own lives; seeing the process that the main characters go through to find solutions to real life problems. In some ways this seems pretty basic, but it could also be really powerful. I remember sitting through literature classes where a certain personal connection to a character in a story deeply convicted or inspired me. It's great that modern psychology recognizes the potential, and current relevance, of fairy tales! As the Conference's Official Site says, "Together we can contribute to the development of using fairy-tales in many fields of life!"

For some more details, here are some excerpts I found interesting  (site links found below material):

"One of the main advantages of this method is the opportunity to understand or change aspects concerning the concept of time, thus gradually transforming the concept of time. Fairytale therapy actually allows the patient, who can be any age, to move him/herself along a time line, making numerous things possible.
Through these ‘mental steps’, a window to the past can be opened, allowing patients to focus on problems and solutions which are very different to current ones, thus creating an instrument for confronting the present and understanding differences between certain habits and modern lifestyles. This comparison is very important since, through awareness and comprehension of methods and timeframes related to past problems, patients learn how to develop patience and deferment, cognitive-emotional skills which are difficult to perfect in real social situations because of the speed of communication and transactions between people.

Fairytale therapy also allows patients to mirror the present time through tales which are very close to someone's or a group’s current reality, and this shows people that some personal problems are also universal problems, relieving the sense of solitude which is felt when going through difficult problems. It also provides different prospectives on the problem, possible thoughts and various, more useful reactions to help find a solution.
The stories told help patients look into the future, with regards to certain behaviour, and learn or predict how things will end if they act in one way or another.

From a strictly therapeutic point of view, and for the support of behavioural and psychological problems, fairytale therapy is a powerful resource for:
• allowing people to talk in an impersonal or gradual way about personal problems, thus slowly letting defences drop;
• allowing people to better recognise and express repressed and unexpressed emotions they have felt;
• providing alternative thoughts, emotions and behaviour in uncomfortable or maladjusted situations.
In more general terms, fairytale therapy allows patients to use their imagination in a positive way, transforming distortions of reality into instruments which are able to generate new experiences, mental images and behaviour and create positive and more appropriate alternatives in relation to reality."


Heroines are never ultimately done in by the abuse. The more Cinderella,
Snow White, and Hansel and Gretel are victimized by powerful cruel others,
the more sympathy they elicit. By encouraging clients who have been abused
to identify with fairy tale heroines, the therapist may help them to attain
empathy and compassion for themselves. 

The symbolic figures and imagery in fairy tales such as the cruel stepmother,
loving fairy godmother, winter darkness, or lost-in-the-forest, mirrors
disturbing inner emotional states. As the protagonist overcomes trials in
differing situations, an individual in psychotherapy is shown the ways to deal
with his or her upsetting affects. For example, Hansel and Gretel leave a trail
of breadcrumbs to mark their way, and trick the witch into not eating them,
offering proof of sorts that strategic action serves to assure that one does not
get overwhelmed by emotional upsets. For many psychotherapy patients, it is
important to learn to comfort and soothe or to discover metaphorically their
own inner “godmother” or “helpful animals” to transform emotional pain into
growth. If a connection to these common symbols that can be perceived as
representing possibilities for self care, then psychological improvement can
follow. The discovery of an “inner prince” or “fairy godmother” that likewise,
can rescue one can empower an individual at the deepest levels. 
Little Mermaid

The cognitive studies of contemporary psychological researchers, such as
Albert Bandura at Stanford University, corroborate that when individuals
approach difficult circumstances as challenges that can be mastered, their
resilience is strengthened. Similarly, classic stories teach one not to shy away
from difficult personal challenges and that it is through meeting them headon
that one grows emotionally and spiritually. A spirit of triumph and
optimism runs through those stories that carry a positive frame of reference.
For clients beset by inner turmoil, the fairy tale heroine or hero model one
who struggles, yet eventually succeeds. As they meet each challenging task,
their resilience grows into a core strength, for which they eventually become
richly rewarded. 

The Snow Queen

It seems that overall, fairy tale therapy stresses the fact that though characters suffer, there is hope and a way to proactively make positive changes in your life. I love that here, at least, there is no distinction made between male and female heroes-they are almost all persecuted, and all find some sort of solution. Many would argue that fairy tales are dangerous for girls because it encourages them to be inactive, but I like the idea of seeing the prince who rescues you as potentially an "inner prince." Although it does make me curious about which versions of the famous tales they use in therapy...

*Illustrations all by Harry Clarke

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