Empathy and Distance Storytelling in Crisis Situations
With Micaela Sauber and Jörg Andrees
The ability to use “Empathy and Distance” as a storytelling tool in specific situations can be trained.
As professional storytellers working with people in crisis or emergency situations, people who have undergone so much, people perhaps suffering trauma, dementia or mental health issues, we must always be equipped to meet the challenges which will confront us. It is self-evident that we should approach people with empathy, though that is an ability which not everyone will start with. At the same time it is important that we are able to maintain an inner distance. In what has been called applied storytelling, we address ourselves specifically to individuals or groups who are in a developmental process. The resources of storytelling are powerful and can enrich and support therapeutic measures.
Unlike performance storytelling, our work is directed at people in critical situations. This influences both our choice of repertoire and in particular the capacity to encounter and to improvise. These are skills which must be developed so we can simultaneously empathise with others whilst adequately protecting ourselves.
This is a matter for all who socially engaged. It is often difficult to establish the appropriate closeness to people who do not actively seek this, or where a relationship is hard to initiate. Stories and storytelling, reaching out through the spoken word, can often build the necessary bridge. Furthermore, in other situations it is difficult to move from too close a proximity to a more manageable distance. Some personal destinies we meet refuse to let us go, the images continue to flash unbidden before our eyes. How can one cope? What are the healing images to counter this?
The imaginative and physical techniques of the Chekhov Method (Michael Chekhov’s drama methods) and the experience and insights of storytelling – with an extensive repertoire of folk and fairy tales – offer storytellers the following practical training:
a) coping with traumatic content in stories and tales, and negotiating difficult situations b) processing the stories of others whilst maintaining “distance”
c) maintaining a deep yet independent relationship to the teller
d) learning methodological criteria of how and which tales can heal
e) learning how words and movements can be utilised
f) learning self-perception and reflection as a precondition for using storytelling in social contexts g) learning to define the role of the storyteller in contrast to therapeutic professionals and measures
Jörg Andrees, director, actor, initiator and head of Michael Chekhov International Academy Berlin
Micaela Sauber,storyteller, initiator and manager Erzähler ohne Grenzen/Tellers without Borders, former social therapy carer.