The Power of Stories as Healing Medicine: Part 1

Healing Story Alliance (HSA) is a Special Interest Group (SIG) of the National Storytelling Network, a member-driven organization dedicated to supporting and expanding the art of storytelling and of story appreciation countrywide.

Many of the storytellers who belong to HSA are therapists, medical practitioners, clergy and others who work closely with people in transition or crisis and have witnessed the transformative power of stories for healing.

Diane Rooks, who sits on the HSA Advisory Council, has loved stories since she was a child. Like most children, she put this love on the back shelf of her life when she grew older and “smarter.” It wasn’t until she was 45 years old that she heard stories told for adults, discovered the Southern Order of Storytellers, and found her life’s work. This is her story.

“I started telling stories ‘officially’ in the late 1980s in hospitals, especially in pediatric wards because I saw how much ill children benefited from hearing stories," she said. "But when my son David died suddenly in 1993, my joy in storytelling died with him.

“Then, very gradually over the space of several years, I began to realize that stories were helping me to heal. It was not in the telling, because my voice was still silent, but in the hearing. Many tellers sent me copies of stories that had been healing for them. Friends of David shared special memories, and these personal stories also were deeply healing for me.

“Finally, three years after David’s death I told the story of my journey through the dark night of the soul in front of a group. I thought I was telling the story only to help me with my own healing. To my surprise, I received a great deal of support and within a year found myself telling this story again at a meeting of The Compassionate Friends, a national support group for families who have suffered the death of a child.

“Slowly I began to see how my own experience with the healing power of stories could help others. And I found my voice again.

“I went back to school at East Tennessee State University – the only accredited graduate program in storytelling in the country. While I was working toward my master’s degree, I went to Scotland and studied with tellers in a place where people relate openly to the dead, where stories of life and death are a natural part of the grieving and healing process.

“My thesis was about how and why stories heal. I included interviews with many people of their experiences. And at the urging of my advisor and several friends, I self-published the powerful transformations I was privileged to have heard: Spinning Gold out of Straw – How Stories Heal. The response was totally unexpected.

“More people began to share with me stories of their own loss. Knowing that someone was truly listening and that they weren’t alone was, for many, the beginning of life again. I saw that for others, just as it was for me, shared stories create a bond that heals suffering. Diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, I now work extensively with people dealing with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses to ignite the healing power of the stories that are inside of them.

“For all of his life, I’ve told my grandson, David Michael, stories of his father. His mother was only two months pregnant when her husband, my son, died. Now my grandson is 14 and, while he still wishes he could see his dad in person, he feels very connected to ‘Daddy David.’

“Being able through stories to help my grandson build a strong relationship with the father he will never see led me to bring storytelling into bereavement groups for children who have lost a parent.

“At these sessions I always have with me a candle my son gave me many years ago. And I light it before I open my mouth. In this way, David is always present for me and I know he’ll help me choose the stories for each group that will have the most healing power for them.”

(Learn more about Diane's work at You can purchase the digital version of her best-selling book, "Spinning Gold Out of Straw – How Stories Heal," on Amazon. If you'd like to receive new blog entries as they're posted, please subscribe to my newsletter at

Nancy Binzen
Nancy Binzen