The Power of Story, as told by a former journalist
Most who know me also know that before I became a counselor, I worked as a journalist for about 4 years.
It was a fun and at times very meaningful job. I covered all sorts of beats, from local news to small businesses and outdoor sports to community events. The job was with an award-winning daily newspaper in Tennessee, but my department focused on human interest stories for the company’s monthly magazines, as well as lots of fluffier pieces for our hyperlocal weekly send-outs. I wasn’t the best in the newsroom, but I was a decent writer and got to work on some seriously cool cover stories and photo shoots.
Though, I now realize that the hyperlocal "fluff" stories are what I miss most about my job as a writer. My sources for these stories were often the people who normally don't show up in your newspaper. They were "normal" people just doing their jobs and living life with their family.
I got into the habit of starting my interviews with the question, “So, what’s the story? How did you get here (to start your small business, implement this program, write this book, etc.)?” And my favorite part was then seeing, more times than not, my interviewee’s eyes light up and their face lift with a smile as they got a rare opportunity to tell their story to an attentive listener.
The best interviews happened when my source learned something about themselves that they hadn’t realized before, just through the simple process of reflecting on their story. And sometimes, after I got the full story, I even thought I sensed some kind of cathartic release on their part from being able to unload the details of important events in their life, events that brought them to where they stood in the present.
I’ve learned multiple theories and interventions in my clinical training, and I apply them often. However, I am still continually humbled by how therapeutic the simple act of listening attentively to another’s story truly is.
Now my “interviews” look a little different. For instance, clients often come to my office to tell me what’s going wrong, rather than to share with me newsworthy events. My role in hearing stories has changed a lot.
I no longer simply go back to my cubicle in a newsroom to objectively type up their story and file it away after it’s published. Now, I get to continue to walk with my "sources" as they continue to write their story, still helping to shape it here and there, and hopefully providing space for them to write their best endings.
Kelsie McGlothin, MAMFT, practices therapy in Knoxville, TN, with individuals and families. In her former (career) lifetime, she worked as a staff writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press before pursuing her passion in clinical mental health. She continues to enjoy creative writing and photography, along with sitting with clients through all parts of their story. Find out more about Kelsie here.