Reaching Into the Void - The Healing Story Alliance


When I was at the National Storytelling Network’s conference, I also attended the Healing Story Alliance Pre-Conference. I’ve never done any sort of healing story work, but I’ve always watched with fascination those who did work in detention centers, hospitals, homeless shelters and a myriad of other places. I’ve always wanted to try, but never knew how. Did I need a counseling degree? How would I know how to meet another’s needs? There always seems to be a void between my background and skills and the needs I see all around me.

Attending the pre-conference was like taking the first step into that void and what I found was beautiful. Elisa Pearmain is a counselor who presented her work on forgiveness. She uses folk tales to get her clients to accept and overcome their past wounds and find a new way to rewrite their stories. One of my favorite things she said was, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having a better past.” She talked about what forgiveness is, what gets in the way of it, how to grieve, having empathy for ourselves and finally, how to tell a new story. It was very powerful. You can learn more about her work at:

The Garden of Exile at the Jewish Museum Berlin

The Garden of Exile at the Jewish Museum Berlin

We also heard from Pati Hernandez. She’s a fiery Chilean woman who works in the prison system in Vermont. I’ve heard of a lot of people doing story work in prisons, but what I loved about Pati’s Telling My Story program is she trains and brings a group of ivy league students to facilitate the program. These two very different worlds collide and begin to break down barriers. As they share their stories with each other and create a performance piece, both groups are changed. Pati brought along Kim, an alumni of the program who now serves on the board of Telling My Story. Kim’s involvement in the program was a turning point for her life. She now owns her own business and is attending college. You can see an amazing movie about Pati’s work, here:

I learned that I didn’t need a specific degree to do healing story work, although it might not hurt to partner up with someone who does. One good place to start getting experience is to speak with an organization’s program or volunteer coordinator. I think the main thing is to be observant, listen intently, and as Pati’s says, “Be willing to be profoundly uncomfortable and to not know what you’re doing - yet wanting to be there. That’s beautiful; that’s courageous.” As I tentatively step further into the void, I’m going to keep that in mind.

To learn more about healing story work, visit the Healing Story Alliance at