Reframing Negative Experiences Through Role Play

by Stefanie M Smith

When looking at the transformative uses of language we usually focus on the potential for positive changes rather than the negative for obvious reasons. Recently however, I was in a situation when I was unable to avoid watching the negative aspects of language at work.

What was unfolding before me was narcissistic behaviour at play; one party in a relationship using negative language and actions to systematically demolish the other’s self-belief. It was obviously distressing to observe not only because I care deeply about the person being treated this way, but also because it was very triggering for myself as a survivor of psychological abuse.

I was observing the way in which negative speech flows over a person completely, looking for any little chinks or weaknesses, in the way water flows over stone looking for the weakest point to flow through. In a way it is like watching a mosaic being disassembled as tiny fragments that once made up the whole are broken away. At one point I was physically shaking which surprised me as I felt I had dealt with most of my shadow demons.

So how do I relate this to TLA practice? And how can I use language skills to improve my sense of well-being?

It felt almost as if I was watching my own mistreatment from above, and this distance allowed me to examine it more closely. I realised that the reason I had been unable to completely overturn the effects of my own psychological abuse was because they had bedded deeply within me, and whilst I felt that all the work had been done, in effect there was still a small nugget of damage lying within me; much like the Pea in the Princess’s bed and despite all the layers of work I’d done; much as the many mattresses the Princess slept upon; I was still suffering the discomfort.

Once I understood this, I decided the best way forward was to role play some of my past situations, and as I did so subtly change my responses. It’s really like the way that you only think of the smart retort just after the person you wanted to rebuff has walked away, only by role playing and rewinding the situation you can rewrite the experience that is left in your brain. Rather than just thinking ‘what if I’d said/done this’ by role playing you are actually saying/doing that in a way that your brain accepts as a new reality and makes you more able to react positively in similar situations in the future. It is a very similar process to cognitive reframing.

So that is exactly what I did. I first reviewed my past experiences and picked out the ones that still gave me a pang of regret or a bit of a jolt when I thought of them. I then found myself some quiet space and replayed them in my head, watching them unfold like a movie, when the triggering section appeared I watched it in my head, then rewound it to insert a more appropriate and assertive response. For example, when my ex would choose to belittle me just before guests were due to arrive, my usual response was just to hang my head and accept what he was saying rather than to challenge him and disagree; this was because I thought I could just ignore his words and in doing so not cause an atmosphere when our friends were there. In reality though the words had got inside me and begun to chip away at my self confidence. In my replay, rather than just back away from the situation, I chose instead to stand up for myself, look him in the eye and challenge his opinion of me.

It felt so empowering to take this stance as I went through each incidence of damage that had been done and systematically drawing it out and repairing each piece in turn, it was like finally becoming a Master Mason of my own self!

I would really recommend that you take the time to review some of your past interactions that may have left a negative impact on your self belief, and role-play them out to a more positive finale.

(Editor’s Note: This is Stefanie’s fourth blog post in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Arts Certificate.)

stefanieStefanie M Smith, is a 47 year old former nurse and qualified hypnotherapist who has lived in Lincolnshire, UK, since childhood. Unfortunately in 2009 her health took a nosedive, and she now deals with fibromyalgia, depression and other chronic health conditions on a daily basis. During this enforced rest period, Stefanie has been able to re-ignite her love of the written word, especially poetry and will shortly having a selection of her poems published in an anthology. Having noticed a marked benefit to her health through her own writing practice, Stefanie is now re-training in the therapeutic and transformational uses of language with the aim of sharing this phenomenal tool with others.

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Building Strong Foundations: TLAN Graduates Share Their Experiences

Curated by Joanna Tebbs Young

The very first TLA Foundations Certification applicant was accepted into the program in September 2014. To date, fulfilling the requirements through a combination of classes, Power of Words conference attendance, One City One Prompt facilitation, and publishing or assisting with the editing of Chrysalis, the TLA journal, or writing a series of blog posts, eighteen students have earned their certificate. Here, six graduates, share their experience with the certification process and TLAN in general, and how they have taken TLA into the world.

The next TLA Foundations class, Changing the World with Words, a requisite for certification, begins next week on Wednesday, June 27. There is still time to register (and can be counted towards certification retroactively within one year of taking it). Register here: https://www.tlanetwork.org/event-2758556.

An interview with instructor, Joanna Tebbs Young, about the course can be found here: https://tlablog.org/2018/05/31/changing-the-world-with-words-with-joanna-tebbs-young/

For information on the TLA Foundations Certification, please visit here: https://www.tlanetwork.org/certification

Wendy Thompson (graduated April 2016)

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1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was a creative writing teacher in the public schools for 10 years, a published poet, and was training to become a spiritual director when I discovered TLA.  l sought professional development that combined writing, healing, and spiritual transformation and found Sharon Bray’s class Writing as a Healing Ministry. She told me about Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and the Goddard TLA program. Transformative Language Arts called to me. I applied and was accepted at Goddard, quit my day job teaching, sold my house, and ventured out into new terrain. One term at Goddard was enough to realize that I did not want to pursue yet another degree; so I worked independently through Kathleen Adams’ Center for Journal Therapy and shadowed Poetry Therapists in the northwest. Finally, when I learned of the TLAF Certification program, I jumped at the chance, almost 10 years later, to fulfill a goal.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I began my term at Goddard with the Power of Words text and ten years later read it again, as if for the first time, in the TLA Foundations class.  As a poet who knows the positive impact of repetition and a dancer who values daily plies, I appreciated the recap. It was like getting a double rainbow of light on this journey – an arching timeline, one decade atop the other, illuminating a future rich with possibility. The last ten years of exploration, introspection, teaching, and facilitation all wove together in the Foundations class. The tapestry that is my TLA work in the world is, of course, unfinished, but the Foundations class strung the warp and weft for me.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

My greatest learning in this process is that the learning is never complete. A poem I wrote many years ago, “Jump,” reflects in the third stanza this cyclical nature of learning for me where endings are actually right-of-ways into another beginning:

…I dream of dreaming a dream of falling

lingering in the time between

the between spaces where thoughts turn inside out where behind my eyes is emptiness – clean and pure

where all my endings become an entrance

into another beginning – a deeper recess

leagues beyond knowing…

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

I think it was the 2007 POW Conference that held the “Poetic Justice” workshop; that workshop title has become a through-line for my TLA facilitation.  I designed a course called Civil Writes that was originally focused on LGBTQ concerns, but has expanded to address social justice issues in other communities.

I also recall a workshop on nature writing, Eco Expressions, that was a surprising inclusion for me. I hadn’t thought of nature writing as transformative or healing, which was a bit dense on my part. Most of my poetry is nature-based infused with metaphorical messages from the flora and fauna around me. I am grateful to Jan Daniels for correcting my myopic vision and providing tools for future facilitation.

I distinctly remember the presentation in 2007 by Nehassaiu deGannes, poet, playwright and actress, of her one-woman show, “Door of No Return.” Coming from a performing arts background, I was quite taken by her integrated approach and she inspired me to begin developing my own poetic voice through movement and vocal music.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

While completing my TLA Certification, I was working as a director of a community arts center that had a focus on arts for healing. I conducted several workshops including: Watercolor, Words & Release: Poems of Surrender, yOUTh ARTS (for LGBTQ youth), Mandala Poetry, and Labyrinth Peace Arts. Last year I wrote an English Language Arts curriculum called the Gay Gothic, which included TLA-style exploration of gothic literature by LGBTQ authors and poets.

Currently, I’m back teaching full time in an elementary school. I am not teaching writing, but I coordinated two Family Write Nights where adults and children had an opportunity to animate family stories with a simple stop-motion animation app. Storytelling has lost its place in families so frequently plugged in to separate devices. This workshop allowed grandparents to co-create a narrative with their grandchild using technology that might have previously alienated them from each other.

Next year I hope to conduct family write nights in conjunction with our school’s new outdoor learning center.  I also volunteer for Write Around Portland, which brings writing workshops to people in homeless shelters, AA groups, Boys & Girls Clubs, treatment centers, and low-income senior centers. I anticipate that I will also continue my work with LGBTQ youth.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

Absolutely, I would recommend this certification program (and have) as a quality, affordable alternative to higher education.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit? 

I would recommend the Network – it has been helpful for me to meet like-minded folks doing much needed work in this world.

My first facilitation was with children of undocumented workers. Given today’s climate with regard to immigration, I feel this is a population that could use our services. I’ve also been surprised at each conference at how few people seemed to be working with LGBTQ communities. I met Jimmy Rose and his Queering Curriculum work at Pendle Hill, and maybe there are more I haven’t met since I haven’t been to a conference in several years.

Masha Harris (graduated October 2016)

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1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was considering a career change and was interested in teaching writing workshops. I decided to investigate degree programs, and saw Goddard College’s program in TLA. From there I learned about the Foundation’s certificate and thought that would be a good place to start.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I took a course on the business of creativity – it covered funding, promoting yourself, things like that. That was definitely the most useful, and it made me see that I could promote myself and do something with my art. The course I enjoyed most, however, was Memoir as Monologue with Kelly DuMar. We had an incredible group of people taking the course, and it was wonderful to see their growth throughout the six weeks. It also helped me in my own career: I created a memoir writing course to offer at my library.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I’m a librarian, and the biggest lesson I’ll take away from the TLA Foundations certification is that I can pursue TLA within my current profession, rather than making a career change. I was able to draw connections between my current work and the concepts I was learning in the TLA courses. I’ve thought about pursuing this further, maybe getting to the point where I could present at a conference about the connection between the two fields.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?

At the end of “Memoir as Monologue,” we had a professional actor read our monologues while we listened over the phone. Hearing my own writing performed was incredible.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

As I said before, I’m interested in investigating ways to draw connections between TLA and librarianship. I would like to see people in both professions made aware of each other and the common goals and skills required. The major question now is, how do I get started?

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

I would. It’s a good way to get a feel for TLA and make connections.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit?

Again, I think librarians, especially those in adult services, could benefit a lot from learning about TLA.

Susan Shepler (graduated May 2017)

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

The kind of work I do involves language and art, and it is also associated with transformation and healing.  “Transformative Language Arts” perfectly describes my area of interest and my offering.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

The courses that I find most useful are ones designed to produce specific outcomes, such as outlining and creating courses and offerings, including the technology associated with such courses.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I’m always interested in the “how-to” part of course offerings.  Anything that helps structure and demystify the path forward.

4. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

It’s a helpful certification for me because, in itself, it offers an explanation of the [TLA] path.

Eila Algood (graduated June 2017)

eila2

1.Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I was taking classes anyway and liked the structure of certification

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful? 

I don’t remember them all, but the Memoir as Monologue class was a stretch for me and I learned a lot.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

That classes help me to write more and write in new ways.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you? 

I really liked the Amplify workshop I facilitated in my community; attendees loved it.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

I organize regular public readings at my local library where 6-8 local writers read their work. Certification was helpful because it encouraged that type of community work. The events are well attended and I believe gave me added confidence to continue with them.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others? 

I would.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit? 

Yes, to my writers’ groups and the Hawaii Writers Guild, which I am a board member of.

Tiffany Vakilian (graduated October 2017)

Tiffany Vakilian

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

I believe in TLA. It has so many amazing facets, while still honoring the individual experience and expression of the world’s need for growth and change. TLA is more than just an intellectual experience. It’s dynamic in the ability to change both the mind and the marketplace of the individual’s world. Artistic output that can provoke a response in the local community, city, state, and even national level. Who says writing a song won’t change the world. Let us consider Francis Scott Key. He wrote a poem, set it to a bar song melody, and created our  national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Key’s experience of watching the flag from a boat, the morning after battle, caused art. That art unified our country. Even though the flag has changed since 1814, the TLA-ness of Key’s experience  is timeless.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful?

Each course brought its magic to the process. But I have to say, it’s a tie between Saturated Selfies and Leverage Your TLA Expertise: Selfies for the hands-on TLA way Angie River taught it; and Leverage for the pragmatism of walking-out Transformative Language Arts as an individual. And, for the record, I didn’t find either course to be lacking in art or pragmatism.

3. What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I learned that TLA is a way of being in the world, almost more than a way to do things in the world. By pushing myself to find TLA in everything I do for my living, I’ve found my tribe in so many facets of life: grant writing, IT, marketing, collaborative art, etc. The best part is when it shows up from behind a corner I didn’t expect.

4. Is there a particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc. that stands out for you?

Having multiple courses with Eila Algood gave rise to some awesome online conversations about her life, Hawaii, and the complications of breaking off the chains in the journey toward “freedom to be.”

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

I am a freelance editor and publishing analyst in San Diego. I walk-out my TLA whenever I get the opportunity, including writing articles about it as a guest blogger. But more than anything, I create my livelihood in a way that honors my nature. That is HUGE to me.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Yes. And have, on several occasions.

7. Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people have you worked with you believe would benefit?

Because I work with authors and publishers, I feel I’m where I need to be to spread the word about TLA. Indie publishers is a great group of people to work with. I wish the Power of Words Conference would be held in San Diego one year. I think getting it over to the West Coast would grow the buzz.

Diane Glass (graduated January 2018)

dianeg

1. Why did you originally apply for the TLA Foundations certification?

One of TLA’s excellent online courses introduced me to this organization. Once I experienced the interchange between the teacher and participants, I knew I had found my mentors, collaborators, and friends. It felt like coming home.

2. What TLA courses did you find most useful?

The Foundations course enlarged my perspective about the diverse ways TLA practitioners use the written word, images, storytelling and other dramatic forms to create community, address social justice issues, facilitate spiritual growth and bring about healing. It also challenged me to think about the ethical dimensions of my work.

The class “Memoir as Monologue” opened my eyes to the potential of the spoken word to inspire audiences. That was a totally new venue for me to consider.

3.  What was your greatest learning(s) from the process?

I learned to place my own work as a spiritual director and teacher in a larger context. That work was no longer defined by a title or role. Yes, I served as a spiritual director and, yes, I offered workshops on storytelling as a transformational experience. But after studying TLA, I saw myself as mission driven—bringing about compassion and peace on an individual and societal level. Spiritual direction and storytelling became two of my tools, among others, for doing that. That was an important shift in perspective.

4. Is there are particular experience at a conference or in a class, etc., that stands out for you?

In “Memoir as Monologue,” Kelly DuMar arranged for an actress to perform our finished monologues. The power and insight that actress brought to the words I wrote amazed and intrigued me. “I want to do that,” I said to myself. “Write for performance by others and potentially myself.” I had a pretty fixed way of defining my skills up until then. This experience caused me to question that definition and to open up to new ways of expressing myself.

5. What are you doing now (or hoping to do) in TLA and in what way was the certification helpful?

Currently, I am capturing the stories of adults with spina bifida, publishing them as part of an ongoing series on my website, and facilitating performances of those stories for the benefit of others. When an adult with spina bifida recently told her story of believing she would never marry and have children, and then marrying and having children, a mother in the audience with a young girl with spina bifida spoke up. “Would you talk with my daughter? She believes no one will ever want her.” It was then that I knew I was a TLA practitioner. Through this performance, I saw the power of using words and images to connect people in ways that energize, educate, and create hope.

6. Would you recommend the certification course to others?

Yes, pursue this TLA certification! You will meet people who share your passion for bringing about peace, community, social justice, and healing using words and images. You will be amazed by the diverse, creative ways they do that. Hopefully, you will feel like you’ve come home to the friends, collaborators, mentors, and teachers you’ve been looking for. I do. I love this sense of belonging.

7.  Have you recommended the TLA Network to others? Are there particular populations or groups of people you believe would benefit?

I have recommended the TLA Network to my colleagues and friends in the field of spiritual direction and social ministry. For those spiritual directors called to group work, the TLA tools and practices can be useful ways to engage people in reflecting on their lives and finding commonalities with others.

I wonder too about nurses and other healthcare professionals open to storytelling as a way to understand their patients more deeply. Narrative medicine is gaining acceptance. Our organization could play a significant role in that field.

Submissions

TLAfoundations

The TLA Blog is seeking new submissions!

Whether you are a TLA practitioner or someone who uses TLA in your personal self care practice, we are interested in getting a “window” into your experience. This will assist all of us in the TLA network and give new insight to the possibilities of TLA in our communities and our own paths of transformation.

If you are a TLA practitioner who can offer some perspective to how you have used TLA in your work with others, we want to hear about it!

If you have your own personal TLA practice and have used spoken, sung or written word to transform yourself and your experiences, we are interested in hearing your story.

If you have taken, attended or facilitated a TLA class or workshop and can tell us how that has inspired you, or a give others an insight to how that class or workshop has benefited or ignited your own TLA practice, we are excited to hear about your experience.

No matter the circumstance, we are very interested in what you are doing with your TLA practice. How your work has affected you and/or your community and how it has empowered you to transform your life.

Please send us your submissions here  or email tlablog (dot) submissions (at) gmail (dot) com

TLA Professional Training Opportunity

As part of the launch of the Right Livelihood Professional Training, Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg and Laura Packer are offering two separate 90-minute small group coaching sessions at a highly discounted rate. Normally, their rate for such a session is $40 a person, but they are offering these special sessions for just $9.99!

Here’s an opportunity to discuss what you’re looking for in your vocation and avocation and hear about other’s passions. Each participant will have time to ask a question and listen to Laura and Caryn’s suggestions on:

  • Making a living,
  • Balancing work and life,
  • Connecting with community,
  • and other aspects of doing our life’s work for each member of the group.

Click to register for the first session on Sunday, December 10th. The second session will be offered on Thursday, January 11th.  Enrollment is limited to 10 people, so reserve your spot today!

When: 10 Dec 2017, 7:00 PM CST    Where: Online video conference (Zoom)

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Discount On Classes This Weekend!

Sign up for Cait Meissner’s class, “The Poetics of Witness: Writing Beyond The Self “ or Angie River’s class, “The Five Sense and The Four Elements: Connecting with The Body and Nature Through Poetry” this weekend and receive 20% off the enrollment price!

Both classes run from June 14-July 25th, can be accessed online at your own pace, and are guaranteed to inspire you on your TLA journey. Don’t miss this opportunity!

Read our recent interviews with Cait and Angie and learn more about them and their classes!

The Telling Room: Proving the Power of Words

TellingRoom

Tonight, a story about Maine on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” began by claiming that Maine is the oldest and whitest state in the nation. But what may be true for the state as a whole is not true for its biggest city, Portland, home to recent immigrants and refugees from impoverished and war-torn places around the world. The children among them come with amazing stories.

Since 2005, as many as 3,500 students a year have had the opportunity to use poetry and prose to build their writing and storytelling skills at a special place called The Telling Room. Founded by three writers who believed that the power of story could change a community for the better, The Telling Room today reaches students and teachers in more than 30 Maine towns. Their paid staff of eleven, Teaching Artist in Residence, nine interns, and more than 200 volunteers provide individualized support to the young writers, some of whom are English language learners.

“The Telling Room is a nonprofit writing center in Portland, Maine, dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers. Focused on young writers ages 6 to 18, we seek to build confidence, strengthen literacy skills, and provide real audiences for our students. We believe that the power of creative expression can change our communities and prepare our youth for future success.”

Both a physical place and a wide-ranging program, The Telling Room has been recognized with grants and awards, including a prestigious National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award as one of the top twelve youth arts and humanities programs in the nation.

Every year since the beginning, The Telling Room has published an anthology of writings from that year’s group of students. Titles such as “Swimming to Safety,” “A Day in Three Worlds,” and “The Faithful Doves of My Father” illustrate the variety of experiences and perspectives found in these poems, plays, essays, and stories. As shown in the image above, this year’s anthology is entitled A Season for Building Houses.

Joyful Inquiry: Broadening Perspectives on TLA Theory and Practices with Ruth Farmer

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Ruth Farmer will be teaching an online class for the TLA Network called Joyful Inquiry: Broadening Perspectives on TLA Theory and Practices starting April 19th. Here’s a short interview with Ruth about her class:

Q: Who would benefit most from taking this class?

RF: Teachers, consultants, coaches, community organizers, managers, and more. People who see themselves as passionate about helping others will not only get a lot out of the course, but will contribute as well. I hope a group of like-hearted people convene in this course, to expand upon the ways that we approach transformation and social change. I am hoping to build a community of people who can acknowledge that there are strengths, positive attributes upon which to build, as we move toward transforming those issues, attitudes, etc., that we are interested in shifting.

Q: What is unique about this class?

RF: I start with what is working. As someone who has been a community organizer, teacher, director, workshop facilitator, conference coordinator, … I have immersed myself into anticipating what can go wrong, what is not working, and how something (or someone) can change. In the past several years, I have begun to take a different view when I lead workshops or teach courses: I try to help folks see their strengths, what is working, what is right. Doing this has helped me to become a better teacher, since I know what it is I want to see more of. By starting with strengths, what is going well, and focusing on what we want more of, we (and the people with whom we work) can gain confidence and insight that will help us to approach problems with greater creativity.

Q: What is your favorite part about Transformational Language Arts?

RF: If you mean the field, then its breadth: songs, prose, plays, conversations, etc. can all fall within this category. And the philosophical center of TLA helps to make these creative expressions more meaningful.


“I am hoping to build a community of people who can acknowledge that there are strengths, positive attributes upon which to build, as we move toward transforming those issues, attitudes, etc., that we are interested in shifting.”


Q: What can students in this class expect?

RF: Students can expect to engage in dialogue with each other, apply their learning to their work in the world, and encounter a variety of source materials. Our discussions will emerge primarily from the anthology Transformative Language Arts in Action. We will also gain perspectives on strengths-based approaches through watching videos, reading short articles, and engaging with each other on the discussion forum about our insights. We will try, as we are able, to apply some of what we have learned to our current or proposed work.

Q: Why might this class be important at this time in the world?

RF: There are so many reasons to examine what is wrong with the world today. Focusing on this can be exhausting. More importantly, it keeps us stuck in the problems. This course asks participants to shift their gaze. That doesn’t mean to turn away, but to view things from different perspectives so that the problem (issue, however you want to describe it) is seen with fresh eyes.

Recently, I have seen people move from anger to frustration to hopelessness back to anger and even to despair. It’s difficult to hold that narrow range of perspective without at some point sinking into apathy. Let’s try looking at the shifts in people’s thinking – and that is definitely happening. I don’t know about you, but I have talked with so many people who were oblivious before and who are now realizing that they/we have the power and the energy to do something about issues and problems. They know this because they are focusing on what they can offer, rather than what is wrong.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

RF: I am looking forward to facilitating dynamic dialogues among people who have lots of ideas and energy.

Influencing Values Through TLA, by Doug Lipman

In our society, “influencing values” brings up images of someone lecturing children on abstract concepts (e.g., “honesty,” “perseverance,” etc.).

values-of-futureIt turns out, though, that we learn values from our own experience. In workshops I do with organizations, I often ask, “Choose a value that is important to your work. How did you learn the importance of that value?”

In response, people almost always have at least one story of something that happened to them. Having told it, they continue, “After that happened, I realized that…” Rough examples of their stories might be:

  • The time my family cooperated to get something done, taught me the value of cooperation;
  • The time I lied taught me the value of honesty;
  • The time someone else was disrespectful to me, I learned the value of treating people with respect.

Prompting Value Changes

As we’ve seen, values grow out of specific experiences. We don’t learn them by prescription, but by construction: we build our values over time. If you want someone to change their values, then, you probably shouldn’t begin by arguing with them about why their values are wrong. Instead, you need to make sure that they have experiences – first-hand or vicarious – in which they are practicing those values and then, as a consequence, experiencing success.

Having had those experiences, they can realize at some point, “Yes, when I acted that way, things went better than when I didn’t. And, yes, that was an example of this value.” Initially, they may not realize it consciously, but in time they will begin to regard acting in accordance with that value as good, right, or worth the cost.

Imagined Experiences

Storytelling gives people imagined experiences. When I listen to your story of how treating someone disrespectfully caused painful results, I imagine a version of your experience. I see and hear things similar to what you saw and heard. I feel emotions similar to those that you felt.

If I tell a story that is about living out a value (or failing to live that value) then people imagine my experience, thus replicating that experience in their minds.

Embedded Values

Of course, the idea of telling stories about values is not, by any means, a new idea. Anyone who has thought seriously about language arts has probably realized that stories, songs, poems and more can reinforce certain values.

But have you considered this idea: The very process of telling stories reinforces certain values! In fact, the very process of participating in many language arts can do the same.

In a society where we see political debates in which people call each other names and shout each other down (only listening long enough to form a rejoinder) the value of open, delighted listening seems foreign and impractical, like some ideal from the distant past or from an impossible future.

But storytelling, for example, already gives people the experience of open, delighted listening! In every culture, people learn unconsciously to listen to stories differently from how they listen to explanations or exhortations. You might readily interrupt someone, for example, who is telling you their opinion about a political race. But if they are telling a story about their own experience, the unconscious rules of conversation change: you are expected to wait for the story to be over. Further, you listen, not so much to comprehend, but to imagine and feel.

Eight Values Embedded in the Processvalues-of-the-future

As it turns out, even the process of preparing a story to tell (discovering, developing, shaping, and practicing stories) can give people practice in certain values, as well.

I’ve made a list of eight values that, I believe, are potentially embedded in the process of learning and telling stories:

Group A: The Primacy of Connection

  • Value #1: The Power of Listening
  • Value #2: A Predisposition Toward Compassion
  • Value #3: The Importance of Relationships
  • Value #4: The Efficacy of Openness

Group B: Respect for Our Amazing Minds

  • Value #5: The Preciousness of Every Human Point of View
  • Value #6: The Universality of Human Potential
  • Value #7: The Whole Mind: Conceptual Thinking Plus Image Thinking
  • Value #8: Emotion’s Role in Thinking

Further, I suspect that most, if not all, of these values can be reinforced by numerous arts.

Process Shapes Values

As we have seen, conventionally we tend to think that values are taught by talking about them. Many of us have come to the deeper realization that we learn values primarily from experience, including the imagined experiences provided by the arts. I invite you to explore yet another layer, as well: experiencing the processes involved in an art form can also reinforce values.

And, as it turns out, the values embedded in certain artforms are values that can guide the transformation of our society—to one that is more just, less wasteful of our abilities,  and more supportive of the flourishing of every human.

Learn More!

If you’d like to learn more about how the very processes of storytelling reinforce these values—and might like to participate in describing how the process of other arts can do the same—there are two upcoming opportunities:


In 1970, Doug Lipman was a struggling teacher of troubled adolescents. He had given up connecting with them when one day, by accident, he found himelf telling them a story. They responded! Ever since, he has pursued the transformative power of storytelling.

Over the decades, Doug has coached hundreds of people on their storytelling, writing, and recordings. He is the author of three books on storytelling (Improving Your Storytelling, The Storytelling Coach, and Storytelling Games), scores of published articles, and over 150 issues of his own email newsletters, including “eTips from the Storytelling Coach (http://StorytellingNewsletters.com).

A professional storyteller since 1976, Doug has performed and led workshops on three continents and led many online courses and webinars. His ongoing search for effective ways to teach the transformative power of storytelling has led to projects such as a new paradigm for coaching storytellers, an exploration of the seldom-noticed Hidden Storytelling Skills, and the pursuit of ways that storytelling and related arts can allow our true humanity to blossom.

Teaching as TLA

Hello TLA friends,

It’s been too long since we’ve had a post, so I thought I’d share a bit more about my own TLA experience. Enjoy!

~Caleb Winebrenner
2016 TLA Blog Editor


“People are fulfilled to the extent that they create their world (which is a human world), and create it with their transforming labor.” — Paulo Freire

I am a teacher. That is a simple sentence, but it is not a simple job. As the school year winds down, I see the energy of my students increase (summer is coming!) while my colleagues and I grow more tired, doing everything we can to prepare our students for the next grade, and the next year. Some days, like today, I ask myself, “Am I really doing the best I can? Couldn’t I do better?”

There are plenty of blog posts extolling the virtues of teachers or decrying the challenges of the American education system (Google my name, and you’ll find I’ve written my share of both) — but this post is not either of those. Instead, I would like to offer to the TLA community the insight which has kept me steady on my feet this week.

Teaching is a form of TLATeaching uses the art of language to transform lives.

Each day, teachers around the world use their words, passionately, to share about a subject. We take the best that language has to offer — its vivid descriptions, its rich tones, its catchy rhymes, and its best stories — and make a subject real for students. I know a teacher who talks about physics equations like they’re poetry. He’s a master of clear, concise, and memorable explanations, and has a sharp wit. (“Now, it’s only physics. It’s not quite rocket science.”) His students engage with him, because he has gotten them engaged with a subject they didn’t engage with before.

Freire says in Pedagogy of the Oppressed that we create our own worlds. Having the power to create a world, we can find fulfillment in it. That labor of creation is transformative. But beyond that, teachers guide their students to those realms of new discovery and new creation. Each subject is like a new world, there for exploring. Do you remember the first time you discovered a song or poem you loved? Or how about a lecture or discussion that you still recall years later? For me at least, those feelings are very close together. It’s a feeling of elation — of possibility.

In closing, friends, remember that the Latin educare means “to draw out.” The best teachers — some of whom I am blessed to work with — artfully draw out what is already in their students. They take a spark of curiosity and fan it into a flame of knowledge. They make distant times, places, particles, and planets part of the here-and-now of students. With a few words, they usher in transformation. With a little cultivation, all kinds of new growth take root.

Dramatherapy as a Lifeline in Transforming Trauma by Amy Oestreicher

Trauma affects every individual differently.   In the face of adversity, drama therapy makes healing possible for all, re-anchoring us in our soul’s dream.

For me, that dream was musical theatre.

Let me rephrase that. I grew up assuming my life was a musical. Call it the “theatre bug”, call me a “drama queen” or a great big ham – I lived for the world of the stage. For me, singing and acting were ways I could connect with the world around me. When I took a deep, grounded breath from my gut, I sang what my heart longed to express. I found comfort in the words of my favorite composers. I read scripts like they were novels. I would play with my playbills from various shows I had seen like they were my Barbie dolls. Through theatre, I had a place in this world. I could make believe by inserting myself into characters from every era, situation and mindset, while still expressing my own individuality.

I was the kid who got sent to the principal’s office because when the teacher left the room, I would jump on her desk and start tap-dancing. I was the girl who forced every unwilling classmate to join me in a Les Miserables medley, assigning them their designated parts to pass the 30-minute school bus ride.

Even all the way up to high school, I was the theatre-girl. It was my identity, my passion, my livelihood. I sacrificed my social life and gave up many opportunities to immerse myself in what I loved.

I’ve always been warned not to put all of my eggs in one basket, but theatre ran through my veins – it was all I thought about, lived and dreamed. I’d write songs in my assignment notebook as I waited for the school bell to ring, then hop on the train to the next open call I’d read about in Backstage. When I fought with my brothers, I could only debate with them if we could do in the spirit of a musical theatre duet. They weren’t so keen on that.

So what do you do when you’ve invested everything into your passion and you can’t follow it anymore? I’ve always thought about what would a world-concert pianist would do if he injured his hand, or a dancer breaking a leg…

…but sprains heal and wounds can eventually mend. Dire circumstances felt much more long lasting; when at 18 I awoke from a coma. Although the medical staff—that suddenly became everyday faces—was more concerned about keeping my organs and me alive, I was still trying to grapple with one frightening new concern:

Would I ever be able to sing and dance on stage again?

With a ventilator and a tracheotomy, I couldn’t even talk. From months of bed-rest, the first time I was able to stand up, I was alarmed at how they trembled, as if my legs were Jell-O. I lost the energy to even think about what I loved, and being unable to eat or drink in these new medical circumstances turned my once-steady focus to mush and irritability.

I remember asking every person I could find in the hospital if they thought I would ever be able to sing and dance again. I was faced with many apologetic “I don’t knows”, sighs, shrugs, and awkward changing of the topic. However, I remember one occupational therapist gave me words that to her, felt like words of encouragement. She looked at me compassionately, and said, “You never know – the human body is amazing. I had one patient who showed no signs of hope, and a year later, when he was discharged, he only needed a wheelchair!” (These were not exactly the words of encouragement I was looking for.)

With time, patience, and dogged determination, I was eventually discharged from the hospital. What I’m glossing over are the multitudes of surgeries, setbacks and frustrations, because what was the most important was my passion – I never forgot how I missed the stage. Even not being able to talk or stand up on my own, I still visualized me singing and dancing. Without theatre, I felt disconnected, purposeless, a has-been. I missed the vibrant girl I remembered being the first to sign up for auditions, now condemned to a realm of medical isolation.

I had always had a dream of combining song and dialogue in a show of my own design. I love the idea of storytelling through theatre, but as a teen, I didn’t really have much of a story to tell. But sometimes, a setback is an opportunity in disguise. Suddenly, I had a tale of hurdles, triumph, and heart.

Eight years after my coma, I was finally headed towards a life of medical stability. I learned through experience that things can heal with time, and that’s not always the prettiest or easiest way. It was an extremely difficult journey, yet when I started to put together a musical of my life, things felt like they had happened for a reason. Now I had a story to tell, a message to share.

Amy Oestreicher, Gutless & GratefulMy one-woman musical autobiography, Gutless & Grateful, started out as stapled pages of my journal – a few pages from the thousands of journal entries I had completed when unable to eat or drink for years. I selected 16 songs—some of which I had written – that had always resonated with my journey and me, and loosely strung them together to sing for my own therapy. I’d perform Gutless & Grateful for my parents, my dogs, but mostly for myself. Through the songs, I could allow myself a safe place to feel the charged emotions I was still trying to process from years of medical trauma.
With no formal diagnosis, roadmap, or reason to have hope at all, creativity became my lifeline and what allowed me to thrive. Devising theatre from within helped me find words for the loss, grief, and frustration I felt, and words led to gratitude.  To cope with not being able to eat or drink for years, I typed thousands of journal entries to to prove that I was still alive, kicking, and breathing – isolated from the entire world and from my entire former life, but still here, and still desperate to live some kind of substantial, meaningful life.

I called it my “world in a binder”.   My parents called it “Amy’s little play.” It was no surprise when I had many looks of concern and gentle warnings when I decided to book a theatre in New York for my world premiere!

I performed Gutless & Grateful for the first time in NYC in October 2012. It was a frightening, bold, vulnerable, and breathtaking experience. In it, I told everything – the pain, the medical, the joy, the infuriating – with music, drama, and humor, most importantly. I had played “roles” before, but for the first time, I was honestly revealing my own medical and emotional struggles for hundreds of strangers every night. It was a risk to lay my soul bare, but the reward was in how my own vulnerability caused others to become vulnerable and moved by my own struggles.

My show dared to explore a very personal topic – what could have been a tragedy – in a comedic, yet poignant musical –  the culmination of years of struggling in the dark, and the spark in me that refused to die.  Although my circumstances were unexpected, a nuisance, difficult, hard to grapple with, and frustrating, by reenacting my story for others, I rewrote my own narrative.

We are instinctively creative beings.  Through the transformative power of dramatherapy, we gain adaptability and create a positive, empowered attitude toward obstacles, physical or mental struggles, hardships, and trauma.  Our vision is a world where “detours” in life are everyday blessings.

As we enter the new millennium, the world is faced with massive challenges as well as opportunities to solve them.  Communication is a very powerful tool. Words have the power to engage, to move ideas from the fuzzy margins to the focused center of our attention, and to inspire us to think in new ways. Theatre, arts, expressive communication, language, and learning can move us to the center of life’s stage.  Gutless & Grateful empowered me to move forward and spark a sense of rejuvenation, renewal, and hope from within.

When I started sharing my own story, I realized that I wasn’t alone.  Other people were struggling with what I had faced in isolation for years – shame, fear, PTSD, anxiety, depression, loneliness- I wanted to encourage people to start speaking up, and bring marginalized voices into the spotlight. I traveled to theatres, hospitals, classrooms, old friends and leaped at any opportunity to speak my truth and feel it resonate within my body, reintegrating the pre-coma and post-coma halves of myself, and reuniting them with aliveness. When I realized how combining theatre with powerful firsthand experience could transform lives, I developed my little-show-that-could into a mental health advocacy and sexual assault prevention program for students. Nearly losing my life at 18 years old, I’m now reaching out to students at that same pivotal point in their own lives.

Medically, my life is far from perfect, but now when a surgery goes wrong, I use it as more material for my show – if we can’t learn to laugh from hardship, we can’t learn anything. And for me, when I learn, I feel alive – that just as trees grow, change and evolve with every season, I can too. Through Gutless & Grateful, I’m sharing my story and helping others find the gifts and the gratitude in the hardships. And in healing other people, I heal my own self a bit more every day.  I’m not there yet, but just like my show – I’m on the road.

As a performer, all I want to do is give back to the world. Being up on stage and singing is one part of the joy, but what brings the process full circle is knowing that somewhere in the audience, I am affecting someone and making them think in a different way. That is the power of theatre – stirring you to see things differently. Doing what I love, my passion once again can freely flow through my veins, and I’m a person now, not just a patient or a medical miracle.

Passion may not heal 27 surgeries, but passion has healed my heart. Theatre has re-anchored me in that passion. And for that, I am Gutlessly Grateful.


If you want to see Gutless & Grateful, there are upcoming shows!
Boston, February 29
New York, March 11


Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, speaker for RAINN, writer for The Huffington Post, award-winning health advocate, actress and playwright, eagerly sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, performance, art and speaking.  As the writer, director and star of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she’s toured theatres across the country, earning rave reviews and accolades since it’s BroadwayWorld Award-nominated NYC debut.

As a visual artist, her works have been featured in esteemed galleries and solo exhibitions, and her mixed media  workshops emphasize creativity as an essential mindset.

Amy’s “beautiful detour” inspired her to create the #LoveMyDetour movement, a campaign inspiring people to flourish because of, rather than in spite of challenges.  As the Eastern Regional Recipient of the Great Comebacks Award, Amy has spoken to hundreds of WOCN nurses on behalf of ostomates nationwide.  She is a regular lifestyle, wellness, and arts contributor for several notable online and print publications, and has written for over 50 online magazines and blogs.  on Her story has appeared on the TODAY Show, CBS, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen Magazine, among others. 

Amy’s passion for the arts as a means of healing and expression led her to devise storytelling workshops for the Transformative Language Arts Network National Conference, the Eating Recovery Center Foundation, and The League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling. 

Determined to bridge the gap of communication between wellness resources on college campuses and students, Amy is currently touring college campuses with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre.

More info at amyoes.com