Posted: 02 August 2017

The power of the story

In our work we often witness homes in which drugs or alcohol are a destructive presence and childhoods victim to constant suffering.

Repeated exposure to parental substance misuse has been shown to cause a range of emotional reactions - including anger, guilt, shame, hopelessness and isolation.

Coping mechanisms and emotional impact

Children and young people are often forced to take on responsibilities beyond their years to problem solve, keep secrets, learn not to trust and, in many cases, emotionally detach. These responses can become ingrained, creating in the child a permanently heightened, confused or numbed emotional state.

In dealing with trauma or distress, words and stories are important

Living in a home affected by drugs and alcohol can shatter a sense of security, attachment to others and feelings of hope for the future.

The importance of storytelling

So when we meet a lost or angry or lonely or hopeless child, how can we can try and help?

‘A word after a word after a word is power.’ – Margaret Atwood, poet and author

This striking thought on the power of language – what it might mean and how it can be harnessed – may offer some ideas.

In dealing with trauma or distress, words and stories are important. Telling a personal story offers the chance to express what has happened. It gives the teller the opportunity to be heard and to be listened to, as well as the time to explore different perspectives. It can start a path to understanding, recovered self-worth and future resilience.

How we can help

For practitioners working with children and young people, creating a story does not need be done through the physical act of writing.

Finding a way to express experiences when a young person is ready, whether through talking, drawing, writing, music, dance or simply sharing a space with others, can help the healing process.

Structured exercises - like worksheets and resources may help some children and young people, others may benefit from more visual activities such as drawing, painting, collage or physical representations in puppet work or acting. Many children prefer to film or animate their experiences, or to write them down in a diary or blog.

Read, listen and watch young people's stories

Having someone to listen

It may not be easy for a child or young person to revisit the sights, sounds and memories of their experiences. But telling their own story - and having someone willing to listen to it - can help begin the process of healing.


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