Why using STORY when speaking to your mental health reader may be the one way to get through

Sasha was driving home from work, listening to the music on her MP3, when she heard a short, loud blurt of a siren, looked in her rearview mirror and saw flashing lights. She pulled over, and the patrol cop came to her window and told her she’d run a stop sign a block behind her. But then he smelled the alcohol on her breath, and asked her to step out of the car to perform a sobriety test. The next thing Sasha knew, she was in jail…

“How had this happened?” she thought. “I’ve never been a drunk driver, I’m not like that. I’m hardworking and responsible… how did this happen???”

She was shocked, humiliated…and so hoped she could keep this from her family. The thought that everyone she loved would lose respect for her made her feel physically ill.

Sasha was a hard-working lab tech who’d burned the midnight oil to muscle her way through college and earn her degree. With her job at night and school work during the day, there had been no real time left for fun. But she’d pressed on year after year, telling herself she’d be able to have fun when she got a good job after college.

After graduation, Sasha worked at the hospital lab. In her free time, she and her friends hung out together at local hip bars, which grew to be her favorite use of leisure time.

Unfortunately, 8 months of “leisure times” like this led to her entertainment money running out  earlier in the month, and the need to borrow from her grocery money to fund her social life.

Then, a shelf in her fridge filled up with her favorite ale, and a 12-pack in an ice chest in her car at work young woman drinking beer in her carallowed her to down a few each time she had a coffee break. She could do better work when she wasn’t tense. And she honestly didn’t notice she was drinking more beers more often than she ever had in her life. It just seemed to her that it was a reward for all the years of hard work, and she liked it.

Of course, there were times when she drank too much and threw up…or was sick the next morning. Regardless, it was a learned skill to pace herself, so she had determined to keep perfecting that skill.

But now…she was sitting in jail….waiting to be arraigned for a DUI. What would she do? If she was convicted, this would follow her the rest of her life. How on earth had this happened?

For the first time in her life, Sasha felt like she wasn’t in control of her life. And she was sick as she considered her future may have been ruined for good.


For most of us in the mental health treatment space, connecting with our prospects  can be tricky because of the risk of writing in a condescending tone. We don’t mean to be condescending, but when we’re speaking to our reader about her challenges with addiction/recovery, behaviors, or symptoms of a disorder, our “advice” or suggestions can be received as patronizing.

To reach those who need the services provided by the facilities we represent, it’s crucial that our message resonates with the reader, and the reader begins to like our message and feel she can trust it. If she does, she’s likely to come back to read it again, and hopefully feel that all – important connection, then contact us.

One reason 12-step support groups, for instance, are so effective is because those who participate are all in the same boat, to some degree. They can be from different socio-economic backgrounds, education, and life experience, but there are behaviors and pitfalls they all have in common. In that sense, they’re shoulder-to-shoulder peers.

The same is true of organizations like Weight Watchers; members are all in the same gotta-lose-weight boat, and can easily identify with the struggles, work, and successes of other members.

So just what is the foundation where members of these groups connect with each other?  It’s as fundamental as this: Their bonding power lies in sharing their personal stories.

When we hear someone tell their story, there is usually some point in the story that most of us can connect with and understand. We can, as humans, identify on some level. When that happens, we can feel empathy as we relate to the speaker’s experience, and know he has climbed a mountain similar to those we’ve climbed.

Most of us, whether we have an addiction to alcohol or not, can identify with the story of Sasha above, in one way or another. Who among us hasn’t justified some sort of indulgence because we’ve “earned it” after a long period of sacrifice, discipline, and stress?

Our indulgences may or may not be addictive, and even if they are addictive, they may not be illegal. While alcohol- or substance abuse might or might not cause us to be arrested, most of us have indulged in chocolate or garlic mashed potatoes or cheesecake using the same justification stream.

So when we’re honest with ourselves, as humans we’re all fallible. And in that frame of mind, our writing is more likely to be read and received, than when we seem to be passing judgment from an ivory or clinical tower.

If you have a website or blog that speaks to those with addictions or mental health disorders, find ways to walk in your reader’s shoes before you publish your next blog, or write your next website page. Show your reader you really do get what they feel…how they keep falling in the same hole… that you’ve fallen in a hole or two yourself…and you just might find they have more susceptibility to hearing your solutions. Use of stories is a powerful tool to bridge the gap.


…Sasha’s experience was nothing new. This sequence of events plays out way to often in way too many places, with way too many people who have far more education than Sasha has…and possibly with even more to lose.

But in Sasha’s case, it didn’t go the same direction these stories usually do. Stay tuned to hear more about what made the difference for her…


Once your reader resonates with your story, you can show her solutions to the struggles she faces, and the key to applying those solutions through treatment. But for her to hear it, you have to get a grip on her heart first.

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