Stories are another example of the power of speech. Like music they mean much more then the sum total of the parts. Each week I will add another short story about people - you and me. Not every story has meaning for you- - but it may have intense meaning for someone else. The story itself does not have meaning until it finds a place in the heart of the listener. It is something co-created by the two people talking. When no meaning is created four possible explanations can be proposed:

  1. The teller has not really understood the inner essence of the listener and his need for advice;
  2. The listener does not want to hear that particular information;
  3. The message is right, but the timing is wrong.
  4. The ‘gift wrapping’ - the style of presentation was wrong.

Each week I will present another story that was meaningful to me as person or as a helper. All too often I hear or read a story and kick myself because ‘if only I would have known that story when I talked to so-in-so’. I have stopped kicking myself and learned to tell the story in the next session.

That reminds me of a story and stories that actually happened to me. I think it would be helpful to pass it on. You can learn from my mistakes -- - -- - maybe (see the four reasons above):

I have worked for a number of years with hypnosis. Once I constructed a story for a 10 year old boy who refused to learn at school. I worked for a number of hours to tailor a story to the boy and his situation. The story was meant to teach him something about himself and to open up alternative ways of struggling with his dilemmas. All this was to be done in an indirect fashion. Tricky, slick, and powerful. A great story that didn’t work.

The story was about twin boys, one who wanted to study, the other wanted to play. The twins were to represent two opposing dives in this one child. I hypnotized the boy who thoroughly enjoyed it. I told the story, slowly, with dramatic flair, timing, and all the other things I was taught to do. The ‘boys’ went into the forest, one wanted to do dangerous things, the other was interested in his own healthy welfare. The struggle continued until there was a resolution - which was not clearly presented. I wanted the boy to ‘fill in the blanks’. After this wonderful presentation I asked my client what he thought of the story. He responded with great enthusiasm, “It was wonderful. I was the tree....”. So much for great plans...

I have learned to be much more modest about my skills and more appreciative of my clients independence and strengths. Today I am much less serious (see the article on humor), and much more flexible in choosing stories. When they don’t work I just try again.

How do I know if they work? Two very simple criteria: the first is when the client ‘stops to think about what was just said’. The second is when the client ‘spontaneously’ remembers something else important after story.

Probably the greatest inhibition to telling stories is our own fear of failing. Surrendering to this fear does disservice to ourselves, our clients and the stories that are waiting to be told.


Someone wanted to show the rebbe (the communal religious leader) up in public. He asked people what the rebbe prided himself in knowing. He was told the Zohar (the holy book written by HaArizal) was at the heart of the rebbes understanding of Torah. So he studied and studied until he was totally proficient in the subject and had found a hidden and most difficult question. He then, and only then, traveled to see the rebbe. He entered the rebbes' study only to find the him looking at the very page from which his question was taken. Deeply disappointed he wanted to say something but the rebbe told him not to speak. "What makes you madder, the fact that you can not stump me, or that I made you study so much Zohar?"

Please send us your comments to TorahPsychology@shemayisrael.co.il

As a rule I do not interpret stories. I let the client do the real work. I will keep the rule.....