Panel 4


Mojca Urek: Why do We Tell Stories: Using Stories in Psychosocial Work
Faculty for Social Work, Ljubljana
My expose will be a theoretical one. I will touch upon women’s memories and war in relation to the importance of story telling in counselling. I will also be considering the significance of telling stories within the women’s movement. So, should I start from understanding the significance of stories in our lives?
- To construct a story about yourself does not imply only arranging your experiences into words and sentences and putting them in a certain timeframe. To construct a story implies also giving meaning to experiences. We organize and interpret our experiences through story telling. The story becomes significant in the moment we tell it to someone. In this regard, a story is actually a performance.
- We build an image of ourselves through personal stories; we explain to ourselves and others who we are and how we would like to be seen. In other words, a story is important for identity creation of each person. They say it is the only way to give meaning to one’s experiences, the events one went through… And this has a significant influence to the perception of the future.
- Telling stories about yourself means life in a way. Not only do experiences influence the ending of a story, but the contrary applies too – the story we tell about ourselves has a significant influence on the direction we take in life. The understanding of everything that will be happening to us in the future.
- When constructing a story we do not use all the experiences we lived through. When we give structure to the story we fall into a selective process during which we “remove” the events that do not fit in the dominant story about ourselves. Personal stories are limited – by our understanding, by cultural context, values, oblivion – because of trauma experienced or some other reasons. Sometimes we do not know how to name things that are happening to us (like in Liz Kelly’s book that quotes the words of an abused woman who says she did not know hot to name the things that were happening to her during childhood). The number of experiences left out from the story increase as life goes on, those experiences which have no form and are not organized.
- The experiences that remain left out are an important source of an alternative story about yourself. In terms of counselling it is important to become aware of the experiences which are left out from the story. There is an expression for it – re-authorization of a story. We can say that each of us is a historian for herself, the author of her own story, which gives us legitimacy to re-authorize it.. This implies a new construction of the story; by using other – new interpretative frameworks to comprehend old experiences or use those that were left out previously. 
- The other potential of story telling in counselling is talking in critical situations. Each form of crisis - from the so called “more normal” crisis (breaking up with a partner, birth, falling in love) to more traumatic situations (war, violence, rape, difficult disease, death) essentially means breaking up with continuity of the personal story (breaking up with the old, familiar self; breaking up with the continuity of recognizing the customary experience of self, customary way of thinking and speaking about self). It can be a powerful feeling, related with feelings of fear and danger. In other words – you don’t know who you were before the traumatic experience.
- The issue in counselling as well as everyday life is how to heal this gap, the breach that was created. Speaking about crisis can assist us in overcoming the breach as well as the crisis itself. By telling the story we normalize and include those events into our lives, until finally we find a place for them in our life story, we finally inscribe them into our life story. In terms of counselling such an approach means widening the counselling practice. In doing so, the social worker pays more attention to the extent to which a certain event “destroyed” the life-story that preceded it.   Then she works towards establishing more stable elements within the story and re-establishing continuity, stronger feeling for oneself, one’s past, present, what can be expected… Crises can be very good as they provide an opportunity to develop a stronger story of self, a stronger personal history.
- It is important to talk about all events in counselling – not only the critical, traumatic ones. Talking about trivial, everyday, repetitive events that make up a person’s life is equally important in re-establishing continuity of the personal story. 
- When it comes to the significance of stories within the women’s movement I went in the other direction. Talking and remembering creates a joint collective history, which can be a place of re-evaluating the experiences we lived through. This space is an important source for generating alternative stories about us.
- Personal memory that has its place in the pubic sphere is the allowed memory. Persons who lived through traumas often create barriers toward deeper memories. The so-called everyday memory, consisting of general statements and moral knowledge (for instance, when a person who suffered rape explains it as if there was nothing wrong with it) stands in the place where deeper memory should be. All this creates a distance that blocks memories. But, if we are able to touch the deeper memories it creates an opportunity for a different culture of memory and strengthens the community. 
- Many experiences in women’s lives are forbidden experiences and we are accustomed to talk about ourselves from the imposed frameworks. That means that a large number of our experiences are not documented, so sometimes even to us they do not seem to exist. That is why I think it is important to record women’s memories. Others, men, scientists, have formed the perception of women throughout history. In war, at the end, all we hear and write about are the great achievements of men. Because of that, stories told in first person are “autobiographies” in the widest possible meaning, and are important to the women’s movement (and other marginal groups’ movements). It is a “therapeutic” and political act all in one.
- It seems that women’s stories about rape are predominant in the feminist discourse about women in the war. Talking about this traumatic experience is significant for many (already stated) reasons. However, at the same time we don not seem to hear much about other types of women’s  “war” stories, those that would emphasize the presence of women not only relating to the traditional women’s roles. It seems that those stories are even more “forbidden”. Women as victims of violence or someone who gives assistance/help are an accepted model of women’s behaviour, but what about women in “male spaces”?

Panel 1

  Vesna Kesić: Gender Dimension of Memory – Gender Dimension of Conflict and Reconciliation

Panel 2

  Reana Senjković: Gender Images of War

Panel 3

  Tea Škokić: Remembrance as a Place of Self-Understanding

Panel 4

  Mojca Urek: Why do We Tell Stories: Using Stories in Psychosocial Work

Panel 5

  Mojca Dobnikar: Memories of Women’s Organizing

Panel 6

  Eva Zillen: We Need to Make Sure That Ten Years Work is Not Forgotten

Panel 7

  Slavica Stojanović: Women Between Đinđić and Sugar