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Growing up, many people learn about traditional fairy tales, myths, legends, and fables through the people in their lives. Fairy tales are even taught through movies, television, and also through music. Fairy tales usually include fictional characters in made up situations however, they also include underlying messages or lessons.
While many authors have found that fairy tales and storytelling promote the mental healing process in people, Ruini, Masoni, Ottolini, and Ferrari (2014) created a new theoretical approach for the use of fairy tales in psychotherapy. Coming from a Portuguese household, I have been told and taught many fables, myths and folklore stories to learn from their hidden messages.
The realization that these underlying messages can actually help people get through the difficulties they face in their lives is what interested me to select Positive Narrative Group Psychotherapy or PNGP. This exploratory paper discusses my appreciations of PNGP, possible strengths and weakness, multicultural considerations, how PNGP compliments cognitive therapy, and the impact PNGP made on my development as a counselor in training.
PNGP is a narrative approach to therapy with the objective of helping people in distress overcome their troubles and increase their mental well-being through positive intervention in groups (Ruini et al., 2014). Meaning, this approach is based on the use of traditional fairy tales, and the values behind them, to promote the mental healing process in clients using creativity, awareness, and flexibility (Ruini et al., 2014).
As a counselor in training, I appreciate the objective of this theoretical approach as well as what it is based on because they match the goals of a counselor, to promote mental health in clients. While there is a long history of the usage of narrative approaches in psychotherapy, the significance of myths and metaphors in the psychotherapy process is emphasized rather than the content and concepts (Ruini et al., 2014).
The use of fairy tales and myths in counseling to help clients heal is what I appreciate about this theoretical approach because it is a more creative and non-direct way to talk about triggering topics concerning the client. While the first thought a person has about fairy tales is that they are fictional and enjoyable, people often forget how deep and real the underlying meanings and lessons can be. As previously mentioned, learning about fair tales growing up, I appreciate the fact that the same fairy tales that some people learn to gain an understanding of the ways of life can also be used to help people in distress.
Strengths, Limitations, and Multicultural Considerations
A strength of this theory is that the intervention style is very active for clients. PNGP is active for clients because it allows them to find new logical and crucial connections between events while providing more flexible techniques for problem solving (Ruini et al., 2014). This means that the clients learn to find what the connections between occurrences in their lives are while creating problem-solving techniques themselves.
Part of the intervention of this theory also allows clients to project their emotions into a made-up or impossible setting that provides them with some distance from their problems (Ruini et al., 2014). This non-directive feature is also a strength because clients can realize or admit their problems on their own without being called out or feeling attacked because of them. It is also a strength because while in the group setting, group members can relate with one another and can make it so no one in the group feels alone or excluded.
A major strength of this theory is that it can be tested and has shown positive results in participants in a group setting. In fact, upon creating PNGP, Ruini et al. tested the theoretical approach on a group of 21 women. Participants reported improved awareness of personal strengths, improved recognition of difficulties of human life, and new meaning in their day-to-day lives as well as decreased levels of anxiety (Ruini et al., 2014). This study proves the effectiveness of this approach in a group setting however, the authors go on to recommend testing this approach in a clinical setting (Ruini et al., 2014).
This theory gives clients creative freedom and allows them to learn how to interpret and also create metaphors through expressing themselves by creating their own stories. In doing this, the client has autonomy and learns how to create a personalized coping mechanism to use for future problems independently. I believe this is another major strength because as counselors, we want our clients to independently make decisions and have all the tools they need to help themselves.
While it was created with the intention to be used on groups and was proven effective in groups, this approach could also be used in both clinical and school settings with some restrictions. Ruini et al. (2014) believe that PNGP can be used in a clinical setting with most age groups in a one-on-one basis. However, a limitation would be that children who are too young to recognize and learn from the underlying lessons of fairy tales would not benefit from this theory and intervention.
In a school setting, which is my setting of interest, it would be best to use this approach in middle schools and high schools to ensure the students can recognize the underlying lessons in each fairy tale. Adolescents in this age range also begin to feel anxiety and begin to lack self-acceptance, which would make them the ideal clients. However, due to the time restraints of one-on-one sessions in schools, this theoretical approach would only be effective if used during a guidance class.
If a particular school does not allot a class period for guidance, counselors would not be able to utilize PNGP. Another limitation of using PNGP in a school setting would be the students’ willingness to participate in this approach. If students are not willing or interested in taking part of the group exercise, this would not be effective because those students would just be going through the motions instead of actively grasping the intention of the exercise. Other school setting limitations could be due to multicultural issues.
While Ruini et al. touch upon multicultural inclusion by incorporating several versions of several different fairy tales to ensure that themes could vary from culture to culture, they don’t necessarily touch upon multicultural considerations to keep in mind for this theoretical approach (Ruini et al., 2014). Multicultural considerations for this theory would be inclusion and acceptance of all people involved in the processes of this approach.
Being that this theory was created to be used and tested on groups, it is crucial to ensure that there are no biases or judgments between group members, nor between clients and counselors, to prevent further distress. It is also important to implement regulations towards said judgments and biases between group members to promote inclusiveness within groups.
Another consideration to take into account is that some clients may lack knowledge and awareness of the use of fairy tales for their underlying messages. For example, if a client grew up moving from family to family and was never in one place long enough to be exposed to the idea that fairy tales contain hidden lessons, we as counselors cannot judge this client and should try a different approach.
Complimenting Cognitive Counseling
PNGP is a unique theoretical approach to counseling; however, it also possesses certain aspects that could compliment traditional theories. Cognitive counseling would be best complimented by this unique theoretical approach. Cognitive counseling is a problem solving theory used to help individuals engaging in feelings of distress (Fall, Holden, & Marquis, 2017, p. 295).
Similarly, PNGP was created with the intention to provide clients with more flexible problem solving techniques to improve their awareness of particular feelings of distress (Ruini et al., 2014). A similarity between these two theories is that they both include self-reporting techniques. However, while cognitive counseling involves clients logging their thoughts and feelings to certain situations (p. 296), PNGP involves clients collectively creating a fairytale (Ruini et al., 2014). They are also both inherently brief approaches. In fact, the Ruini et al. (2014) study found that participants reported that a negative aspect of intervention was its shortness.
Another similarity between cognitive counseling and PNGP are the client and counselor’s roles. In cognitive counseling, one of the client’s responsibilities is to be active in therapy and to be honest about distressing emotions along with being honest about personal improvement (p. 289). In PNGP, the clients are responsible for engaging in the group and being active in therapy by cohesively interpreting the underlying meanings and lessons of the fairy tales while reporting individual emotions and personal improvements (Ruini et al., 2014).
One of the counselor’s roles in cognitive counseling is to teach their clients how to recognize their cognitions and to equip them with the skills to address possible future problems they may face in life (p. 290). One of the counselor’s roles in PNGP is to teach clients how to recognize the meanings behind the fair tales used and to help them gain the skills to cope with possible future problems in their lives (Ruini et al., 2014).
The aim of cognitive counseling is to help clients correct their distorted perceptions of reality and remove organized predispositions of thinking to change their core beliefs, which expose the client to future distress (p. 290). As previously stated, the objective of PNGP is to help people in distress overcome their troubles and increase their mental well-being through positive intervention using metaphors in fairy tales (Ruini et al., 2014).
These metaphors help people overcome stressful events in their daily lives while also giving clients the tools to help solve their personal problems (Ruini et al., 2014). I believe that PNGP compliments cognitive therapy very well through their similarities of techniques, objectives, and focus on the clients. Being that both cognitive counseling and PNGP incorporate “homework” into their theories and are both inherently brief approaches, I believe that it would be beneficial to use PNGP as a technique or exercise in cognitive counseling as long as the counselor is well-informed of PNGP.
In exploring the value and effectiveness of PNGP, this article by Ruini et al. has impacted my development as a counselor in training in several ways. In regards to the article itself, while I view PNGP as a very unique theoretical approach, I feel that the authors formatted and wrote the article as more of a pilot study that included theory rather than a theory that was tested.
Because of this, I found myself searching for the theory within the article and second-guessing myself on what the actual theory is. Another way that this article on the use of fairy tales through PNGP has impacted my development is that it broadened my knowledge of the ways that theoretical approaches in counseling can be creative and interactive. The use of fairy tales in counseling and proof of their effectiveness has never crossed my mind and makes me excited to possibly use this theoretical approach as a future school counselor regardless of the limitations.
This article has also impacted my view on giving clients “homework.” Growing up, I as a student would have hated being indirectly assigned homework by my school counselor. However, seeing the positive effects and the results of the study in this article, my view on counselors giving clients homework has changed to be accepting of it and to encourage it. In the future, if I as a counselor see and feel that one of my students would benefit from either the homework from this approach or from any approach, I will not hesitate to assign it.
This article by Ruini et al. (2014) has proven to show the effectiveness of the use of fairy tales in Positive Narrative Group Psychotherapy through a group setting. After intervention, groups reported improved awareness of personal strengths, improved recognition of difficulties of human life, and new meaning in their day-to-day lives (Ruini et al., 2014). While there are some limitations to the use of this theoretical approach in other settings, this form of PNGP was interesting to me as a counselor in training.
This article provided me with awareness of a new theoretical approach as well as the broadening of my view on theories and the possible approaches I will use in the future as a high school counselor. I look forward to learning about other unique theoretical approaches along my journey as a counselor in training. This will prepare me to become a better professional counselor.