Years ago, in a dream, I was standing in front of an audience, about to give a lecture, when I realized I had forgotten my notes. In a panic, my mind went blank. I couldn’t speak. Suddenly, I saw my brother and his family in the audience. I felt their faith and confidence in me. The panic faded, I reconnected with my knowledge and made a successful presentation.

In their educational careers, our children are asked to make many oral presentations and to take an increasing number of tests. Anxiety can interfere with their performance and sabotage their efforts by cutting them off from their knowledge and skills.

One approach to dealing with such anxiety comes from the “narrative” therapy perspective: a respectful, creative and often playful approach to dealing with problems.

Narrative therapy is based on several assumptions:

The stories we construct about our experience shape our lives.

People experience problems when the “stories” of their experience as they or others invent them do not do them justice, or are limiting or oppressive.

How we explain or “story” problems to ourselves can limit our choices in dealing with them or open up possible alternatives for taking affirmative action.

By “externalizing” problems, objectifying or even personifying them, we can change our relationship to the problem.

The person is not the problem; the problem is the problem.

By locating the problem externally, we can create distance between the problem and ourselves, and, paradoxically, assume more responsibility and personal agency for investigating and pursuing different choices for intervening.

Creativity and imagination play powerful roles in the practices of externalizing problems. Take the example of test anxiety. Instead of viewing the anxiety as a character flaw or weakness, anxiety can be viewed as an oppressive tyrant, an overly demanding boss, a jealous monster intent on spoiling one’s success, a choking weed gone out of control, a black storm cloud temporarily shadowing whatever lies below, or a trickster. Metaphor provides opportunities for exploration, understanding, distancing and transformation of meaning.

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