Galileo School for Gifted Learning
Level 7 Learning
When writing the reflection for the topic of using narrative therapy with gifted students, the question arose that, if creating an narrative that externalizes one’s problems could allow the student/client to rewrite his/her own story to help determine a path to bypass the child’s problems, then perhaps, is it also possible to do the same thing through art using graphic novels or comics, which are highly narrative forms of sequential art? As a result of the question, searches were conducted for academic resources in ERIC and other search engines using the terms narrative therapy, graphic novels, comics, etc. While little exists about the particular topic, one research study was located that set out to determine whether sequential art could be used in a therapeutic setting based on the concepts of projection and narrative therapy. This paper will summarize the researcher’s findings and provide some additional insights from other sources.
Castle (2010) wrote his thesis based on personal and professional interest in therapy and comics. He conducted a literature search that did not yield much about using sequential art as a therapeutic tool. As a result, he put together a convenience sample grouping of therapists, professional artists, and graduate students—all of whom have an understanding about and interest in both therapy and art. He collected demographic data, and a developed a five-question survey designed to yield some qualitative and quantitative data that he could analyze to determine whether his theory—that sequential art could be used in the form of narrative therapy—could be confirmed. Before getting to his results and conclusions, it is constructive to see how visual storytelling through sequential art might be a valuable tool for therapists. Additionally, there should be some discussion about using this form of therapy with gifted students, as this was the point of my research.
For some gifted students, especially those who are twice-exceptional, writing long narratives may be too much of a difficult task to have therapeutic value. Therefore, finding non-verbal means of accomplishing the same task may be preferable to writing stories. Unlike traditional stories, which contain writing with possibly a few illustrations, comics generally require three parts. Potts (2013) defines comics as, “Narrative + Art + Visual Storytelling” (p. 14). Narrative is the story that is being told. Art in comics is usually drawings, paintings, or photos. Visual storytelling encompasses several factors
- • The visuals a comics creator choses to show (and not show)
• The framing, angle, layout, and rendering of the visual elements
• The juxtaposition, order, and sequence of the visual elements
• The emphasis that the visual elements are given relative to one another (Potts, 2013, p. 14)
According to Castle (2010), in this very visual medium, the artist drawing the comic has the ability to not only tell the story s/he is drawing, but also to leave room for interpretation. He writes, “…between the panels in Sequential Art is a kind of creating from imagination that only comics provide” (p.66). In other words, the narrative value of comics, graphic novels, storyboarding, and other sequential art forms is that the drawing can bring attention to specific important events, but the reader is left more room for interpretation between the drawing panels by filling in the missing parts, making for a continuous sequence of events between the artist/storyteller and the consumer/reader. This is an important area for Narrative Therapy in that the narrative is both collaborative between the therapist and client. The therapist asks questions to help the client figure out the story, and having room to interpret between the panels can inspire the questions. Additionally, the client is asked to look for feedback from “other viewers” who have experienced similar problems. These viewers are invited to read the story or to watch the presentation of the narrative that the client has created and to make suggestions based on their own experiences. The space between the panels in sequential art leaves room for the viewers to expand the story to allow for solutions to be found by the client within the feedback. This feedback is important for use in rewriting the story with a more favorable outcome for the client/student (Standish, 2013; Wikipedia, 2016; Good Therapy, 2015).
Another aspect of comics that, according to Castle (2010), make them good tools for therapy is that through the use of archetypical characters, the comic story allows clients/students to project. Projection is when clients unconsciously apply a problem behavior to someone else. Narrative therapy requires the client/student to externalize a problem by naming it in the narrative (Wikipedia, 2016). Castle (2010) writes, “The goal of externalizing conversations is to help assist the client to view the problem as the problem and not as part of their identity” (p. 33). This practice teaches the client that the problem is not part of his/her facticity. Rather, it is a separate entity, so the person is able to transcend the problem. By creating an archetypical character upon which to project the problem, the student or client can clearly externalize it, make it the antagonist of the story, and figure out ways to have a more successful character arc for the hero (the client’s own character in the story). Graphic novels and comics can do this perhaps better than traditional story narratives because seeing the externalized problem in an actual form may reinforce the problem as a separate entity.
As for using sequential art with gifted children and adults, there is already a wide body of studies that show that giftedness is often manifested in creativity and visual-spatial intelligence in addition to the linguistic intelligence required for creating a traditional narrative. Sequential art forms allow for more creative expression of the narrative regardless of whether or not the student has specific art talent. Gifted students who have synesthesia may experience emotions through colors, which may be another benefit of graphic forms over traditional stories. Furthermore, since comic book art can be as simple as line drawings or as complicated as the visual storyteller likes, the gifted child who lacks artistic talent or the twice-exceptional child with dysgraphia may not be challenged by or intimidated by simple sketching in the same way that other forms of art therapy (painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.) may. Castle (2010) writes, “Having clients project issues on the table in front of them using Sequential Art may help them communicate in a simple, direct, but non-threatening way” (p. 40). If a gifted child finds the art or the writing threatening, then s/he may be unwilling to participate in the therapy. Therefore, telling the narrative visually using sequential art may remove that obstacle.
Castle’s (2010) study produced four main themes from the responses and literature studies he included. The first is that many agree that sequential art has the ability to be projective, which is an essential element of narrative therapy. Second, sequential art is almost always narrative. Potts (2013) agrees, explaining that although some kinds of abstract expressionist comics may lack a story element, for the most part comics, graphic novels, storyboards, and other forms of sequential art are heavily narrative oriented. The third theme gleaned from the literature review and the study data is that although many therapists see the potential for using sequential art in therapy, it is not currently used much by professionals. Those who use it at all, “…expressed that what they were doing was novel and not necessarily encouraged or understood by their professional establishment” (p. 63). Finally, the research showed there was 100% agreement among the study group that sequential art is a potential tool for therapy in general, and as an alternative method for conducting narrative therapy.
Castle, suggests doing more specific research to glean more about the potential for using sequential art as an art therapy and narrative therapy form. I, further, recommend that specific, client-based research be conducted comparing the results of using sequential art in narrative therapy to traditional narrative therapy techniques to illuminate its benefits and limitations. I also suggest randomizing the client sample instead of using a convenience group of experts as Castle (2010) did for exploring the subject. Castle’s paper concludes, “Using Sequential Art as both a narrative and projective technique could be an effective way of working with clients in a non-verbal way” (p. 70). I concur, but add that it could also be an effective teaching tool for gifted and talented students.
Castle, R. (2010, May). The use of sequential art in therapy: A thesis. Retrieved from Acedemia:
Good Therapy. (2015). Narrative Therapy. Retrieved from Good Therapy:
Potts, C. (2013). The DC Comics guide to creating comics: Inside the art of visual storytelling.
- New York: Watson-Guptill Publications.
Standish, K. (2013, November 8). Lecture 8: Introduction to narrative therapy. Retrieved from
Wikipedia. (2016). Narrative therapy. Retrieved from Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia: