Therapeutic Storytelling in a Pupil Referral Unit: The story of intersubjectivity

  • Nici Long

Student thesis: Phd


AbstractBackground: This thesis reflects upon a heuristic study of a Storytelling Programme which took place in a KS3 Pupil Referral Unit. Previous experiences in the field, as a community storyteller, revealed the power of stories to calm and engage young people. In my community work I had seen that storytelling particularly engaged those considered 'hard to reach.' This research was designed to explore the storytelling process further with the aim of understanding more about the impact of the process and to understand the key components as identified by the young people themselves.Methodology: A heuristic research methodology was adopted within this study. The Storytelling Programme was delivered to twelve young people at a Pupil Referral Unit in the North West of England. Five of these participants were interviewed along with their teacher, and their reflections were integrated with my own to create a crystallized understanding of the storytelling process, whilst also remaining true to the unique experiences of each participant.Findings: Heuristic analysis of the Storytelling Programme revealed that young participants developed new personal narratives that reflected new ways of being and thinking. Change was demonstrated by the young people expressing a more positive sense of self. A striking finding, echoed by all participants, was the significance of the relationship in facilitating the therapeutic change process.Discussion: Whilst some of the changes could be linked to particular stories, the participants could not articulate whether their increased sense of well-being came from the stories or more generally from the programme or my 'way of being' (Rogers, 1980). It appears that stories and the therapeutic relationship intertwine within the storytelling process to create opportunities for therapeutic change. The findings of this study suggest that story is a particularly useful indirect medium to engage 'hard to reach' young people who have disorganised attachment styles. Storytelling offers the opportunity to place the intersubjective relationship as central, fostering an implicitly nurturing and co-regulating dyad that can offer reparation as well as the opportunities for catharsis and the development of emotional literacy through the processing of the story material. Conclusion: It appears that storytelling intertwines the interpersonal relationship with the stories to create a process which is both interpersonal and intrapersonal. The storytelling process appears to facilitate dyadic co-regulation, which may be an essential first step in the therapeutic change process. Once in a state of calm the young people could connect to the story stimuli and develop new ways of being and thinking. Whilst stories appear to promote changes at both the relational and semantic level, the findings from this study suggest that the implicit relational changes had primacy in facilitating significant therapeutic change.
Date of Award31 Dec 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorTerry Hanley (Supervisor) & William West (Supervisor)


  • Therapeutic Storytelling, Adolescents, ‘Hard to Reach’ Young People, Attunement, Intersubjectivity, Moments of Meeting.

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