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  • Ariel Sánchez Rojas

Storytelling to heal: integration, chaos and rigidity, the pillars of mental health (Strategy 1)

Updated: Jan 25


  1. How does mental health work?

Schools are where we share the most with thousands of children for hundreds of days in a year. It is the place where we can get to know them best. Know when they are good and when they are not. When they feel good and when they don't. What do they like more and what don't. 


But do we know how their brain works? Do we know their mental health status?


It is clear that as parents, educators or those responsible for young infants or adolescents, our priority in their education will be discipline, decision making, self-awareness, their academic performance and social relationships at school, among others. However, all of this will respond to their experiences and how they relate to them. And this is where the brain determines who we are and how we respond to adversity. 


By mental health we understand that it is living in well-being, having the ability to stay in calm and feel in harmony with our surroundings; It is “sailing in the center of the river.” If we are sailing in calm waters then our boat will float and we will feel in harmony with what surrounds us. If the waters are cloudy we will feel that “something bad could happen to us” and the shores will not be safe because one side will be chaos where we feel out of control; and the other side will be rigidity in that we will impose control around everything. 


For example: at school, do we see that a girl has a hard time socializing and play with others? Rigidity. Do we see a child start to cry, scream and attack his new friends? Chaos. Both scenarios are lack of adaptation, commitment, negotiation, flexibility and adaptation to what we are experiencing. It is not being able to live in harmony. 


Now, to achieve this harmony we need to live in integration; and to understand what we mean by this we first have to explain how the brain works.


  1. How does our brain work?


Let's start from the fact that the brain is “plastic”, it is moldable; Therefore, our brain will physically change depending on each experience we live.


The brain has different functions and parts: some rational, others irrational, some retrospective and other reactive ones (as if they were different personalities, yes). 


We have a left side that helps us think logically and organize our thoughts into sentences . A right part that helps us live our emotions and process non-verbal language. A “reptilian” part that allows us to act instinctively and make decisions in seconds to survive. A mammalian part that allows us to generate relationships and connect with others. A part that focuses on memories; and another part that focuses on making moral and ethical decisions. 


Each of these parts appears at a specific time depending on what we are experiencing, as it represents it to us in our memory, and the key for them all to work together is called integration. If we can understand them then we can make them work together as one and thus strengthen our mental health, and prosper in our emotional, intellectual and social skills.


For a life in harmony and mental health we need horizontal integration (left logic works with right); and a vertical one (that the logic above (think before acting) works with the logic below (instincts, impulses and survival mode)). 


  1. How to integrate the parts of the brain?


There is a story, in the book “ The Child's Brain” (Siegel and Bryson, 2012; 05) , which teaches us how storytelling allows us to heal traumatic experiences. 


This is the story:


A babysitter had a car accident with a 2 - 3 year old child. Fortunately, nothing happened to the little boy, but the babysitter had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital because she had an epileptic seizure. 


When the little boy stopped crying, once his mother arrived, he just said “Eea woo woo.” “Eea” was her way of saying Sophia (the babysitter's name), and “woo woo” was her way of representing the ambulance. So, by constantly saying “Eea woo woo” what the little one was trying to do was tell the story to the mother of what had happened; of that traumatic experience. 


In this situation there are two (2) options:

  1. Assure that the babysitter will be okay, that he will be fine; and then we would distract him with something that entertains him. (The problem with this is that, in the end, the little one would end up very confused. what happened and why it happened; and I would still be scared.)

  2. We could talk to the little one and get him to tell us the story.


The second option is the most important because by allowing the child to repeatedly tell us the story we are helping him understand what happened so that he can begin to emotionally deal with that traumatic moment. 


By letting it tell the story over and over again we are helping the brain to process this experience, because by (re)telling what happened the child will be able to process their fears and thus continue with their daily routines; Well little by little he will tell the story less and less until it becomes another experience in his life.


By telling the story over and over again we manage to deactivate this fearful and traumatic emotion in your right side of the brain so it doesn't take over. If you don't, fear could dominate you and throughout your life it will occur at different times when you will be afraid of getting into cars, of loud sounds or of separating from your parents. 


As you see, using his left logic with his right then he was able to process the information and give it a meaning that brought him peace of mind over time.


This “storytelling” is a way to integrate horizontally and thus educate to our little ones in a more meaningful and understanding way.





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