Reflective Essay by Sally Rogers
Person-centered techniques respect what a child or adult is feeling. The understanding is that each one of us is the best one to ultimately know our true self and what we really want or need. A therapist or teacher can help us to understand ourselves by reflecting back what we really are saying in a way that helps us understand ourselves better.
I enjoy helping people of all ages by co-creating a story, song or poem in a process I call, “Story Creation & Song Creation Therapy.” Although I do this individually, transformations and changes can occur with a group. This paper is about transformation within a group of children.
One of my original children’s songs which evoke discussion is called, “I’m Always Me.” You can hear me sing this fun melodic song on my website www.storycreation.com I invite discussion both before and after singing. The song is about changes we all go through in life. I show some vulnerability both in the song itself and by mentioning changes in my life that were difficult for me such as moving to a new place or going to a new school. Then I invite discussion.
I would like to mention what occurred during a group performance for special needs children in a special education class at an elementary school. All of these children were diagnosed with ADD. Several had Asperger’s.
When performing a story for a group of children, even a small group, I can’t allow the full range of expression from an audience member that I allow anyone when creating a story with them individually. With a group, I am attempting to tell a story, which has been pre-made with a structured beginning, middle and an end, a performance to appeal to many children at the same time. But even then, if a child asks something or interjects a comment I respond as best as I am able. A slight change to mirror their outlook by including their remark or their version of a song or to answer a question is desirable, as long as the relationship and continuity of the story isn’t lost for the other children. Adjusting and changing the story based on an individual child’s needs is fine as long as I know I still have a story that the group will relate to and value. All oral performances I do are meant to vary slightly according to the response to eye contact and the mood of the audience and myself in relation to the audience.
But once while telling a story I changed the entire outcome on a second’s notice. This was an amazing experience for me. Because I have kept the change in this story for all performances hereafter, the biggest advantage may be to me in addition to the carry-over for all children who hear the story.
In the moment when it first occurred, my active listening to what one child valued and wanted gave power to a story by acknowledging the power of one child’s values and fantasies. Initially, I had found a written version of a legend called, The Song of The Baal Shem Tov. I wrote one song for the story and after responding to this child’s needs changed dialogue and created more singing parts. I kept this new version of the story and that is what is on my CD and available to hear on my website.
In the story, the children are frightened by the king of the evil demons and his cohorts. In the original version all the demons, including the king, are totally destroyed when the young boy, Israel, has faith in God and refuses to be cowered by the king of the evil demons.
One of the children in the group had ADHD, serious physical deformities and had been physically and emotionally abused. He often pretended to be a king when we did individual play therapy sessions. As he also pretended many other things, I was not thinking of this when I began to tell the story. As soon as I said, “The king of the evil demons”, this child exclaimed, “That’s me! That’s me!” At first, I was misled by the thought of the storyline and said, “No. No. This is the king of the evil demons”. Again the child said, “That’s me. That’s me.” And his vocal tone was of happiness. If I did not know this child I would have been caught in the word “evil”, but I immediately realized that this child wanted to be a king so badly that if a king were in a story he would identify with him no matter what type of king he was. So I thought what can I do instead of having the king killed off and immediately I thought I would turn him into a little boy and all the evil cohorts into children. Immediately an explanation for their former evil behavior began to be seen by me. They were evil because they could not enjoy life the way little children could but now that they had been transformed into children they could also enjoy life. And then they all sang together.
This story of transformation was so amazing for me that I even created and sing a song as the transformation occurs. I am truly grateful that I responded in the moment to help one little boy enjoy a story.
Sally Rogers is a singer & storyteller of original stories & songs which she writes or creates orally. She has a Master’s in Counseling Psychology and has counseled adolescents and adults with substance abuse, as well as nursing home residents. Her strongest interest is in doing play therapy of a type she created called Story & Song Creation Therapy.