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Topic section: The Story Teller
The Story Teller
Once upon a time, it was believed that stories merely recorded what happened in the world. But some
Picture: 03_10315843.jpg
The psychoanalytical process of ‘free association’ involves forming a narrative derived from ideas and dreams.
Credit: Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
 psychologists have come to regard stories as having a much more magical power. What we used to call ‘human nature’ is now thought by some to be created by language; by conversations, narratives, folk-tales, songs and poetry. We literally talk ourselves into existence.

Story telling has been a feature of human societies since prehistoric times. Rediscovered by nineteenth-century anthropologists, the Story Teller has since enjoyed a long

Lying in a relaxed state on a couch, the patient is invited to ‘free associate’

 if circuitous career within the human sciences. Wilhelm Wundt devoted the last twenty years of his life to ‘Völkerpsychologie’ – the study of religion, myth and folklore – although this aspect of his work was forgotten until the end of the twentieth century. But it was the work of one master teller of tales that has most effectively nurtured the Story Teller: Sigmund Freud. The emergence of psychoanalysis can be conveniently dated to 1900, the year of Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. The chief insight of psychoanalysis is that story telling can have a curative effect on the troubled mind.

All the psychotherapies owe their existence to the master narrative of psychoanalysis. Lying in a relaxed state on a couch, the patient is invited to ‘
Picture: 03_10250803.jpg
Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis, c 1931.
Credit: NMPFT/Daily Herald Archive
free associate’ – to construct a narrative loosely based on any ideas, images and dreams that come to mind. Occasionally the therapist will supplement this technique with more concrete interventions. In the Thematic Apperception Test, for example, patients are asked to create a story about an ambiguous picture. The story thus told may be indicative of the problem and a useful beginning for therapy.

Although the Story Teller has often been denigrated as one of the least important of the three models of human, it has had an enormous influence, especially in fields beyond the human sciences. Psychoanalysis in particular has influenced philosophy, cultural studies and English literature – and is now making a belated return to psychology.

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Topic section: The ‘Puzzle Solver’
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The model of human as Puzzle Solver was promoted late in the nineteenth century by Wilhelm Wundt. His focus on behaviour and its successor, behaviourism, has now been superseded by cognitive neuroscience.  > more

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Topic section: The Tool User
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The Tool User is a pragmatist: what counts is what works. It is hardly surprising, then, that this model is normally applied in administrative and practical contexts. And of all tools the most powerful is language.  > more
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