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Of Mice and Metaphors

Of Mice and Metaphors
Therapeutic Storytelling with Children

Second Edition

February 2016 | 176 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc
Allegories, fables, myths, legends, and other time-honored forms of storytelling have been used since the beginning of recorded history to convey important values and moral precepts to the young. Storytelling comes naturally to children, and also offers them an unparalleled means through which they may express the fantasies, anxieties, and conflicts of their inner lives.

In Of Mice and Metaphors, Second Edition, psychoanalyst and child treatment specialist Jerrold R. Brandell introduces a variety of dynamic strategies for therapists to understand and incorporate a child’s own creative story-narrative into an organic and reciprocal treatment process leading to therapeutic recovery and healing. Engaging case histories encompassing a wide spectrum of childhood problems and emotional disorders are used to illustrate complex, effective strategies that include actual clients’ stories and the author’s response to their narratives.

A Prefatory Note
Chapter 1: Stories and Reciprocal Storytelling in Dynamic Child Psychotherapy
Children's Stories: An Overview of the Literature

What Is Reciprocal Storytelling?

When Is Reciprocal Storytelling Useful and with Which Patients?

Eliciting the Child's Story

The Lesson or Moral

Poststory Discussion

The Therapist's Role in the Storytelling Process

What Are the Most Important Components of Children's Stories?

Which Theoretical Frameworks Are Compatible with Reciprocal Storytelling?

The Case of Tony


Discussion Questions

Chapter 2: Autogenic Stories, Projective Drawings, and the Clinical Assessment Process
The Case of Sean

The Case of Robert

The Case of David

The Case of Carl

Using Squiggle Drawings in Conjunction with Diagnostic Stories

The Case of Danny

The Case of Annie

The Case of Derek

Stories Used for Evaluative Purposes


Discussion Questions

Chapter 3: Narrative and Historical Meaning in Child Psychotherapy
Historical and Narrative Discourse: Theoretical Perspectives

Clinical Assessment in Child Psychotherapy: The Cultivation and Synthesis of "Data"

The Narrative Discourse in Child Psychotherapy

Autogenic Stories: Royal Road to the Child's Narrative

The Case of Jed


Discussion Questions

Chapter 4: Applications to Special Clinical Issues and Problems of Childhood
The Case of Sean, Revisited: Responding to an Environmental Crisis

The Case of Naima: Severe Separation Anxiety in a 7-Year-Old Transracial Adoptee

The Case of Roberta: Depletion Depression in a Biracial Child

Storytelling with a Borderline Child: Therapeutic Considerations

The Case of Harry


Discussion Questions

Chapter 5: The Unfolding of the Narrative in the Psychotherapy of a Traumatized 10-Year-Old Boy
Treatment Considerations

The Case of Nathan


Discussion Questions

Chapter 6: Transference Dimensions of the Storytelling Process
Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

The Case of Mattie: Illustration of a Selfobject Transference

Countertransference Phenomena


Discussion Questions

Chapter 7: Secrecy and Trauma: An Adopted Child's Psychotherapy
Pertinent History

Bruce’s Treatment Begins

"The Snake That Came Out of the Hole"

"The Ghost with a Conscience"

"The Boy Who Felt Like a Ghost"

"The Bird That Never Laughed"

Countertransference Themes in Bruce's Treatment

Conclusion and Further Reflections

Discussion Questions

Chapter 8: What Else Can Stories Tell Us? Using Children's Metaphorical Communications as a Measure of Therapeutic Progress
The Case of John


Discussion Questions

About the Author

Of Mice and Metaphors: Therapeutic Storytelling with Children by Jerrold R. Brandell is a fascinating presentation on the use of storytelling as a powerful tool in psychodynamic therapy with children. Using an economy of words that are strongly supported by literature and empirical evidence and illustrated with actual case studies and vignettes, Brandell offers not just an explanation but a how-to guide.”

Van Vaughn
Missouri Baptist University

“This is an ambitious clinical and educational text that informs assessment, diagnoses, case conceptualizations and therapeutic approaches with a wide range of children using autogenic storytelling. Brandell reviews the theoretical basis of this technique and provides very clear case examples with detailed discussions to illustrate its uses.”

Gaston Weisz
Adelphi University


“In this clear, well-written book, Dr. Brandell gives us a lucid exposition of the power of storytelling as part of a psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy for children and adolescents. With many vivid clinical illustrations, he demonstrates the utility of storytelling for assessment, creating an alliance, producing change, and, as a research tool, for measuring outcome. Dr. Brandell is an inspiring teacher, and his book has much to teach both beginning and experienced child therapists.”

Jack Novick
University of Michigan

Of Mice and Metaphors offers a gold mine of clinical material. Brandell amply demonstrates the power and effectiveness of his approach. His case illustrations vividly detail how children unveil their psychodynamics through the stories they tell, and his responses give evidence of his empathic attunement and immersion in the children’s psychological lives. Both beginning and seasoned therapists will find much to draw on from the contents of this book.”

Joseph Palombo
The Institute for Clinical Social Work

“A compelling account by a master clinician of the use of reciprocal storytelling technique.”

Charles E. Schaefer
Fairleigh Dickinson University

Provides a nice introduction to the use of story telling. The book is an essential addition for students who have been primarily trained in cognitive and behavioral intervention methods. Of Mice to Men will enrich the therapeutic methods toolbox of my students.

Dr Tulio Otero
School Psychology, The Chicagoschool of Professional Psychology
April 30, 2016
Key features


  • Revised and expanded chapters throughout incorporate significant changes in the field of dynamic child treatment over the last 15 years.
  • New clinical illustrations represent a wide range of presenting problems from venues such as family service, community mental health, and outpatient child psychiatry, and illustrate aspects of therapeutic communication with children through metaphors.


  • Transcriptions of the actual stories told by children and reconstructions of specific therapeutic responses demonstrate how such techniques are actually used, lending additional clarity to clinical material.
  • Specific information on how to use children’s projective stories in dynamic clinical assessment helps readers prepare to use strategies in their own clinical practice.
  • Practical guidelines for identifying clients who are good candidates for storytelling include taking into account such factors as the child’s diagnosis, age, maturity, verbal ability, and resistance to engagement.
  • Variations on the basic storytelling process range from non-reciprocal diagnostic techniques to stories used in conjunction with therapeutic games or other play techniques.
  • Examples from the author’s case files illustrate storytelling with children suffering from attachment disorders, borderline disturbances, self-object disorders, and complex posttraumatic conditions.
  • Chapter-ending discussion questions assist readers in discerning the most essential ideas and concepts. 

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1

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