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The Art and Benefits of Storytelling

Early this spring, youth at CHV experienced the art, and therapeutic benefits, of storytelling through The Flame. The workshops were hosted by award-winning actor, playwright, producer, and comedienne, Deb Williams.

The 2-hour workshops were held once a week, for five weeks. Most of the youth who registered didn’t know what storytelling was. The focus of the workshops was not to perform, but for youth to find their stories.

From a mental health perspective, storytelling is very therapeutic. Being able to reclaim your story is incredibly therapeutic — having the opportunity to write your story and frame it in a way that is empowering as opposed to feeling like the victim in your own story has great value. In fact, there’s a whole modality of therapy called narrative therapy.

Many youth who come to CHV have experienced trauma, so there was lot of boundary setting during the workshops to make them safe spaces where youth could allow themselves to be vulnerable. There’s some vulnerability in writing and sharing what you’ve wrote, while still being able to decide what part of yourself you want to share.

Like in other Flame workshops, there are some basic guidelines that youth had to follow when writing their stories — the story had to be true, and it had to be about the person writing it. There was a big conversation about what makes a good story and what’s important in the story. Deb talked about storytelling elements like the hook, the setting, and elements that will bring your audience into the space that you’re creating with your words.

At the beginning of the first workshop, Deb handed out journals to all of the youth who attended. Deb also provided various writing prompts and exercises to get youth to experience various ways that you could use to create a story. Some of the prompts included free flow writing for two minutes about anything that pops into your mind; another one was to write about what you’re good at. One of the exercises was about map drawing. Draw a map about anything — it could be a map of your room, a map of the neighbourhood that you grew up in, or even a map of your pantry. Then youth were asked to see what stories came out of the physical spaces that they drew.

After youth had completed a writing exercise, Deb would prompt youth to think about their writing even more by asking, “Is this something that you want to continue to work on? Is this a piece that you would like to develop further? Are there some ideas here that you would like to move forward with?”

Talking about your life can be really difficult when you have experienced trauma. However, the youth were shown that they got to decide how vulnerable they wanted to be and what they wanted to share. You could literally tell a story about your bus ride to go buy some milk. It doesn’t have to be about the trauma. Deb brought some excellent examples of stories that were told by youth. Most of the youth that attended the workshops were queer youth, so a lot of themes of being queer came up, and Deb brought an amazing story for youth to listen to, so that youth could see how you can share your story in a very unique way.

Often, youth would be asked if they were willing to share what they had written, and it was amazing how willing the youth were to share their stories. Many of them were surprised at what they wrote. They were focused on the exercise, so their expressions and thoughts flowed freely. It was an amazing experience for all involved and Deb would definitely like to come back to CHV and host some more workshops.

Thank you, Deb Williams and The Flame, for enabling youth to reclaim their narrative through the art of storytelling.