Story-Circles in De-Addiction from India

by Aanand Chabukswar.


The World Centre for Creative Learning Foundation (WCCLF), a group of teachers-artists within India, introduces art forms for healing and growth into various settings.

Before the project “CHI” —energy!— (Creative Healing Interventions) began in 2001, no known programs of creative therapies existed in 365 drug and alcohol abuse prevention and rehabilitation centres supported by the government across India. (1) An informal survey (2) with social workers and counselors revealed that none had even heard of creative art therapy.

Therefore, with no understanding of methods by caregivers or management, no funding support, and suspicious clients (patients) who saw drama and music as quite beside the point, implementing these therapies into centres in Pune, India was quite a challenge.


Why stories and drama? The logic is this: Addiction to a substance occurs because of the resulting experience. Things look brighter, feel lighter and the pains and issues of living seem to disappear. The intention of wanting to feel okay could be valid, but the choice of medium is harmful. (3)

Creative play brings involvement, energy and spontaneity, and gives access to zones within that are unknown. This actually happens; the feelings created are real. Without self abuse or loss of consciousness, rather with higher awareness, the possibility of visiting the desired state is presented.

It is vital that the group shares the common goal of using the stories and drama for healing and change. Otherwise, like any substance, it could be abused. Agreement invests the process with healing power. In this project, the focus has been on:

  • Active release of pain and other disabling emotions/thoughts.
  • Getting in touch with the bright, light side of the self.

Using Stories

Logic, of course, is not enough to run a group! The belief is that therapy means talking and “play” is irrelevant and unmanly. Rational explanations are ineffective without the experience, yet words have to be the bridge. This is when stories come forth. (4) Stories hold attention, melting the listeners’ exterior stiffness into following a footbridge toward wisdom and change.

A group is formed for five to six weeks. We share stories and insights. Sharing leads to making stories, wherein expression, pain or fantasies find outlet. Then the stories become more dynamicthey are enacted. The whole group is involved in improvisations at all levels; body, mind, emotions, energy and interaction. Thesesharing, making, enacting are the essential elements of storycircles.

Many games, songs, poems, reflection exercises, rituals, meditations and methods of making tales are introduced. Examples of some of our experiences and observations follow.

After reflecting on “A Parable of Two Frogs,” we observed several changes of predisposition.

Two frogs fall in a pit and are discouraged by friends’ voices in their effort to jump out. One frog gives up and dies. The other is deaf, perceives the voices as encouragement, and jumps out.

A participant said, “What the world is depends on my perception. There will be voices that will tell me things are hopeless, but I have to decide whether I heed those voices or not”. (5)

Stories like “The Cracked Pot”…

A cracked pot is as good as a perfect one, because the leaking water nourishes flowers.

or “Bundles”…

With a bundle of troubles is a bundle of blessings.

…build esteem. (6) They have been vital in the process of restoring impaired self-image. Participants started looking at their strengths and blessings in detail; driving, cooking, listening, laughing, honesty, and handling babies to name a few.

The Six-piece Story-making (6-PSM) (7) method is a framework based on the essential elements of fairytales and myths. The frames have a hero who has a mission, helpmates, obstacles, encounter and ending. As the self is projected in telling, ways of meeting the real world are revealed. (8) Story creators have identified their mix-ups in perceiving obstacles as helpmates or vice versa. Others have seen their lack of a clear mission as a cause for substance dependency. Vital points from the story-circles are followed up later by resident counselors for resolutions and action plans.

Other tale making methods include retelling as one of the characters, free-form or unstructured telling, and continuing the tale after its end. In “Just Enough, (9)

Joseph, the tailor, always finds “enough” to turn his old coat into a jacket, a cap, then a bow-tie which flies off; but he is left with enough stories!

Following up on this, a participant created the idea of Bulbul birds by using the red threads of the missing bow-tie to make a nest and the newborn was a redneck Bulbul! The spirit of the stories helps people see their reality in a wider context of living. It reconnects them to the joys of being here, now and human.

These stories, when enacted, present the opportunity to playfully experience and rehearse, in safe symbolic journeys, all that is being talked and thought about.

The creative play brings such enthusiasm and fun that, more often than not, men become involved, doing such things as wrapping themselves in women’s clothes to act like the old fat woman in the story “Tell It To the Walls”. (10)

The woman tells her untold stories to walls that crumble under the weight of her pain.

In using voices and sounds representing the misery of the woman, much personal emotion that cannot be verbalized is expressed.

Participants have said they felt very relaxed, energetic and confident due to such story-circles. Unbelieving of the fact that they are creators, that they can dance, sing, improvise, adapt and follow the path of their heart, participants are amazed to find themselves anew. Following the dance from “The Dancing Horse” (11)…

The horse dances to the music of his heart, but won’t dance in the market place because he can’t hear his music there.

…they hum gently then loudly and clearly, sing with full voice free and move most gracefully. New movements and melodies are found thus.

The project completes its two years in Winter, 2003 and the funding ends. The staff now knows “CHI” and “story-circles.” Several people repeatedly ask for more than one session a week. Stories and methods have been shared with in-house counselors, and they plan to continue using them in story-circles. There are 364 more centres yet to be involved, and in stories, there are tenfold of that power to bring healing and change.


1 Regional Resource and Training Centre (RRTC), West Zone, Pune, 2003.

2 Reflection, Seminar I on Creative Methods in De-addiction, RRTC West Zone, WCCL Foundation, 2002. Respondents were from all geographical regions of India.

3 The discussions with my project leader Zubin Balsara have helped me in this.

4 I am deeply indebted to the very inspiring conversations and contributions on the HSA listserve .

5 Reflection, SaM P3K16, WCCLF documentation, July 2002.

6 Versions of these tales were shared by Mary Dessein and Allison Cox respectively on the HSA website .

7 Mooli Lahad, Story-making in Assessment Method for Coping with Stress in Dramatherapy Theory and Practice 2, edited by Sue Jennings, London and New York, Routledge, 1992.

8 ibid. Von Franz (1989).

9 A Russian folktale, version shared by Elisa Pearmain.

10 A. K. Ramanujan, Tell It To the Walls in Folktales from India , New Delhi, Penguin Books, 1993.

11 A version from the HSA listserve. Originally by Terry Jones.

Aanand Chabukswar is a teacher and a healing artist. He uses dramatherapy techniques to facilitate individual, group and organizational healing, change and development. He has been working mainly in India for last 10 years; . [Most of the stories mentioned in this article are found on the HSA website; – Ed.]

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