Tuesday Tip: Your Story Starts NOW

Whether we realize it or not, most of us look at life through the lens of story. And deep down, many of us believe our story is pretty much over. We have life-yet-to-live, but we feel the writing is already on the wall.

One of the first goals of psychotherapy is to recover a sense of hope for our lives. If hope can be reclaimed in the early sessions of therapy, the goals of the therapy are more likely to be achieved.

In my psychotherapy practice, I will often ask new clients to engage in an exercise, in which they view their lives through the lens of story:

  1. Imagine your life as a movie.
  2. Imagine the painful experiences in your life as the early scenes of the movie, developing the character for the audience, showing the viewers what must be overcome and how the character must change in order to do so.
  3. Imagine your character’s decision to begin therapy as a pivotal point in the plot, a turning point for your character.
  4. In your favorite kind of movie—the kind that moves you and inspires you—what would your character do next? What must they overcome? How would they do it? How would you want the character to be shaped and formed in the process?
  5. Write out a movie proposal, using your experiences as the plot development and yourself as the main character. Make the script as detailed as you would like, but write a coherent story about how your character overcomes what you have been through.

Sometimes, when we are close to the pain, it’s hard to step outside of it and imagine a different story for ourselves. But by casting ourselves as a character in our own story, we may experience a more objective reaction to our circumstances, and we may be inspired to become the kind of character we would love and cheer for.

The bottom-line of the exercise is this: in a good movie, all the junk that brought you to therapy would happen in the opening scenes. The therapy scene would be the beginning of an inspiring movie, not the end of it.

And you get to decide how the rest of your story is written.

Tuesday Tip Disclaimer: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.

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Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Susan Taylor

    Kelly, I haven’t delved into the archives of your site yet, so I don’t know how long you’ve been blogging, but you’re pretty new to me. I LOVE this idea. I agree that we see our lives through the lens of story, and I’m all about reframing the story to tell the deepest truth. I plan to use this exercise with my 16yo son. He has a passion for movies, I have a passion for telling the story in an empowering way, and I think this exercise would really appeal to him. Thank you!

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      Susan, Thank you, and I’m glad you found UnTangled! I hope the idea opens up a meaningful conversation with your son. I also hope you enjoy the archives, and stay tuned, a post on parenting coming up this Friday.

  • Elaina: PTSD-is-Normal.com

    I love this.

  • Kim

    Wow, Kelly… I love this exercise. And there is so much truth here: “Sometimes when we are close to the pain, it’s hard to step outside of it an imagine a different story for ourselves” Sometimes it’s not even that it’s hard…it’s that we’re so wrapped up in it, we don’t even consider imagining a different story to be a possibility. I so appreciate the hope in this post. Thank you 🙂 Again!

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      That’s a great point, Kim. Before it becomes hard, we first have to become aware of other possible storylines!

  • Hansraj Jain

    An interesting perspective and tool, play writing for a movie with the client as the main character, Dr. Flanagan. The danger and the flaw could be that the idealising and projected outcome may not be as would be envisioned by the writer (character). Would that, then, not evolve more issues and problem and raise doubts in the writer (character)?

    • Dr. Kelly Flanagan

      It’s a thoughtful, good point. I think, ideally, the exercise would occur within the context of a broader discussion of story. Which would include the idea of embracing conflict and the “negative turns” in a story, focusing on character formation more than outcome, etc. I’ve even seen people come into session and say things like, “I had a horrible week, but you’re going to love it; it makes a great story.” And they really mean it. They’re beginning to embrace the thrill of a good story: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Thanks for your question and feel free to push back on my response!