Therapeutic Storytelling

Kathleen Mills

Kathleen is a creative and gifted therapist who has extensive experience in helping children, adolescents, and adults with a variety of issues.

SUMMARY: Kathleen Mills and Phillip Crum talk with Amy Cole about challenging your thoughts and looking at things from a different perspective.

Episode #56 | Amy Cole | Therapeutic Storytelling

Kathleen Mills-Proprietor, Counselor at Life Tree Counseling
Phillip Crum-The Content Marketing Coach
Amy Cole-Life Tree Counselor


Phillip Crum: Episode number 56 of Life Tree Counseling’s weekly podcast/foray into the minds and methods of people like Kathleen and Amy Cole here. How are you this morning?

Kathleen Mills: I’m good.

PC: You brought your coffee, I see.

KM: Of course.

PC: The pot is on.

KM: The pot is on.

PC: All right. It’s a good day for coffee, a little cool outside.

KM: Well we got the sweet tea lady, remember?

PC: Really?

KM: Yeah, did your bring your- what do you-

Amy Cole: I have my sweet tea.

PC: A missus is in the house.

KM: She doesn’t want to do the coffee.

AC: I have my sweet tea.

PC: Okay, great.

KM: It’s beautiful.

PC: Good. And we have a duck in a jar, so this will be interesting.

KM: A duck in a jar! You’re getting scared about this.

PC: Give us a quick intro and let’s get into this duck thing.

KM: Amy Cole. This is showcase time actually. Hello, Amy, how are you?

AC: I’m doing well, Kathleen. How are you?

KM: I am good. This duck thing. It’s about the duck today. We’re going to be talking about, you know… we were talking yesterday in the office and it just kind of morphed into what you, why you like what you do.

AC: Yes, it did. And I guess because I’m a storyteller and I like hearing people’s stories. And we kind of started talking about a story. And so I guess I’ll go into the story and then explain the purpose of the story.

KM: There you go.

PC: Well, let’s hear it.

AC: Okay, pardon me for one second … I have to get a drink of sweet tea. You have to have sweet tea to tell the story.

KM: Yes, you do.

AC: There was a young man who wanted to find the secret to peace-

PC: She’s going to read?

AC: -in the fast-paced world that he lived in. He went to see the guru on the mountaintop and the guru said to him – when he asked the magic question, “How can I find peace?” – the guru said, “Well, my son. I have this task for you. You must get this duck out of this bottle without killing the duck or breaking the bottle.”

PC: I like stores with ducks in them.

KM: I know. Ducks are cute.

PC: Duck stories. Two ducks walked into a bar – you heard this one? I’m sorry, go ahead. Guru and a duck.

AC: This is the guru and the duck and the man.

PC: If there’s a rubber chicken in there somewhere, this is going to be great.

AC: Anyway.

PC: You brought it up. Quack.

AC: We’re going to have sound effects before too long.

KM: Yes, we are.

AC: Anyway, the young man was dressed in a three-piece suit, had an expensive Rolex watch on, nice Italian leather loafers – he was looking sharp. He was dressed the part.

PC: This is the guy that climbed the mountain?

AC: This is the guy that climbed the-

PC: Not too bright, though, is he?

AC: No, he’s not bright if he’s climbing in leather loafers, okay?

PC: All right. Continue.

AC: But anyway, he wanted to find the secret to peace in the fast-paced world. So he asked the guru, and the guru said, “You’ve got to get the duck out of the bottle without breaking the bottle or killing the duck.” So he leaves.

PC: The duck?

KM: With the duck in the jar.

AC: With the duck in the jar.

PC: Who left – the duck or the guy, the guru?

AC: The man leaves.

PC: The man leaves. The guy with the loafers.

AC: With the task in hand. The duck in the jar, okay? A couple months later, he comes back. This time there is no coat, vest, tie, sleeves are rolled up, shirt’s dirty, pants are looking pretty ratty, he’s in no-shave November. So very insane-looking, pretty much. Loafers are totally scuffed all to pieces.

PC: He eat the duck?

KM: Just a minute.

AC: You’ve got to wait. And he said, “Guru, please, please, please tell me the secret to get peace.” He said, “My son, how are you doing on your task?”
“Guru, I’ve asked people. I’ve sought help. I don’t know what else to do.”
“Well, my son, you’ve got to complete the task in order to find the secret of peace. You must get the duck out of the bottle without killing the duck or breaking the bottle.”
Dejected, he went back down the mountain. A couple months later, he comes back. Now, do you remember the movie Castaway and how Tom Hanks looked? Very emaciated, loincloth, long beard, hair out to everywhere? That’s how the guy looked.

PC: There wasn’t any duck though, was there?

AC: No, not in the movie. There was Wilson the volleyball. But, anyway.

PC: It could have been a duck.

AC: We could name the duck Wilson, but anyway. We’ll think about it. But anyway, he comes back and he looks like Tom Hanks in the movie. And he’s almost insane. He’s like, “I must have peace. I must have peace. Guru, please, please, please, please tell me the secret of peace.”
And the guru says, “Well, my son, to have peace you must complete the task at hand. You’ve got to get the duck out of the bottle without killing the duck-“

PC: The duck or breaking the bottle. Yeah, we know, we know! What happened here?

KM: (Laughs)

AC: Gosh, you’re very impatient this morning. Anyway, so the guru finds obviously that he has not completed the task so the guy goes back down. A couple weeks later, he comes back up and now he’s looking clean shaven, hair cut, no beard. I mean, he’s looking like he stepped out of GQ magazine.

PC: The damn loafers on again, right?

AC: Armani suit, Italian loafers.

PC: He’s no smarter than he was six months ago.

KM: Just a minute.

AC: You know, looking good. Totally relaxed. Totally at peace. And the guru looks at him and goes, “Ah, my son. You’ve learned the secret of peace.”
And he goes, “Yes, guru, I have. It’s not my duck,” and he hands him back the bottle with the duck in it and turns around and walks away. Now what do you think the morale to this story is?

PC: He needs a new guru.

AC: No. Sometimes we take on a lot of things that aren’t ours to take on. Such as taking on other people’s problems, taking on other people’s guilt, taking on other people’s voices for ourselves. And we have to learn to let all that go. It’s not my duck. Or, we’re carrying around guilt for aggrieving the loss of a loved one and you carry it for months and months and months. You got to let it go. Or, so what if your house isn’t perfectly clean and it’s coming up upon a family gathering? Big deal! You got to let it go. It’s not your duck. So Phillip, there are things that are not your duck. You got to let them go.

PC: How did he get the damn duck in there in the first place?

AC: That’s not part of the story.

KM: Does it matter?

PC: If you’re the duck – yeah!

KM: Well, the story’s about the guy thinking that it was his responsibility to figure it out.

AC: And it’s not.

KM: And he wasn’t able to set the limit of like, why is this mine to own and problem-solve?

AC: Right.

KM: And he agreed to take it on and then he couldn’t take it on, and then it just got-

AC: It overwhelmed him.

KM: It deteriorated him. It overwhelmed him.

AC: And sometimes we carry depression like that. And we carry work like that. And we carry- the biggest thing we carry is perfectionism. Oh, let’s talk about perfectionism. I was reading… I like stories. I was reading a story this morning about a lady who was a people-pleaser. She wanted everybody to like her and so she decided to take on the end-of-the-year lady’s bible study dinner and she was having these visions of her house being perfect and everything being beautiful and she’s not a great cook so she’s in there attempting to cook. And the pressure’s building up because she’s not a great cook and she’s worried about this and she’s worried about that. Her 14-month-old daughter was not taking a nap but was upstairs playing in her room and then all of a sudden this white powder started coming through the vents of the air conditioner. And the lady ran upstairs and was like, “What did you do? What did you do?” And the little girl had gotten into the baby powder and wanted to make it look like Heaven. Wanted to make her mom happy and make it look like Heaven, and instead mom kind of blew a gasket, but again there are things that we have this vision of what we want things to be but sometimes they’re just not meant to be. So we got to-

KM: Reassess. Retool.

AC: And maybe lower our expectations of things.

KM: Or let go of this.

AC: Or let go.

KM: And that’s where counseling is really helpful to kind of sort through those things, isn’t it, Amy?

AC: Yes, it is. And that’s the whole point of I think storytelling in counseling.

KM: “When is enough enough?” is to me that story. It’s not my duck, but if you would have told me that on the front… if the guru would have said, “This isn’t yours to fix,” would he have listened?

AC: No, probably not.

KM: No, probably not.

AC: And so many times we are told things on the front and we don’t listen, and we have to muddle through it and fall flat on our face and then we realize, “Oh, maybe that was a mistake. Maybe we shouldn’t have done that.” Or we become overwhelmed and we snap at somebody. Maybe we should have said no instead of trying to be a people-pleaser. Or maybe the duck story’s not just about learning our boundaries and what our issues are and what other people’s issues are, but also maybe it’s about thinking outside the box a little bit. The duck is in a bottle so let’s think outside the bottle for a minute. How do we do all these things? And that is counseling right there in a nutshell. It’s me, you, us talking and just sharing and then bouncing ideas off one another.

KM: And looking at it differently.

AC: And looking at it differently, from a different perspective.

PC: Learning to think differently.

KM: Which ultimately you feel better.

AC: Yes.

KM: Because you know where you stop and other people start. Or you’re grateful for having had that conversation with the other person. Like, we were talking about a whole bunch of stuff yesterday and it was just really nice to just bounce stuff off, and didn’t really think … you end up thinking differently or you’re learning from another person’s perspective and I think that’s the good thing about counseling.

AC: I think that is the great thing about counseling is being able to see it from someone else’s eyes. I use the saying a lot, “You can’t see the forest for all the trees,” and it’s true. Sometimes we can’t see how big the forest is because all we were looking at in the middle of the forest is all we see is these trees. But if you take a helicopter ride, then you can see how huge the forest is. And you think about all that and sometimes you need a different perspective, and maybe a non-emotional perspective. Whereas if you’re talking to your family member, they may be very emotionally charged about what you’re talking about.

PC: So how do you acquire that different perspective? If you’re the duck in the bottle yourself, and that’s all you’ve ever known, how do you know when a pre-conceived idea is not necessarily the correct notion?

AC: That’s where we kind of start challenging our thoughts. We start asking, “Okay, what is the truth about the situation? What are the facts about the situation?” If I was always told all my life that I would never amount to anything, not even to try to go to college, that I just couldn’t do it, and people laughed at me, but yet I knew there was something I wanted to do and it required going to college – that being told over and over and over again, “You can’t do this. You can’t do this. You can’t do this. You can’t do this.” After awhile, yeah that’s all you realize.

PC: You begin to believe the lie.

AC: You believe the lie. Then somebody else comes along and they say-

PC: Works in politics, too.

AC: And somebody else comes along and says, “Well, why can’t you go to college? You’re a pretty good student. You can study really hard. You can do these things.” And you start thinking, “Wow, maybe I can.” And then you take that first step and maybe succeed at that first step. You fill out the application, send it in, then they send you a letter back saying, “We accept you.” Wow, that’s great! Then you take the next step and you register for classes and you get financial aid and all that stuff. And you get into it and then you realize, “Wow, I can succeed at this.” I did counseling-

KM: It’s a good match.

PC: So if somebody telling you, just having conversation, is a start – it’s a beginning but it’s not enough. You’ve got to take action on that and discover its truth through action.

AC: Yes. You do have to.

PC: I said that well and there was no duck involved. Hmm.

AC: Yes, you do have to want to-

PC: I like duck stories. Did I tell you? Two ducks walked into a bar… did I tell you this one?

AC: Oh, Lord.

PC: All right. I’m sorry. Go ahead. It’s really good.

KM: I’m giving you the look.

AC: Now I’m thinking about the bar and the duck. I’m sorry. But no, thinking about it-

PC: I’ve got duck stories, too.

AC: But you know, thinking about just life and thinking about making a change… the only way you can make a change is to put action behind it. If you don’t put action behind it, there is no change.

KM: Sometimes you have to go through a lot of turbulence to give yourself permission to go ahead and make the paradigm shift. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just-

AC: It just happens.

KM: It just happens.

AC: Maybe that’s the push.

KM: That’s the push. The breaking point. What is the breaking point, I guess. And that’s the point of the story – it’s like, it didn’t have to go that far. But for that person, that man, it had to go that far for him to kind of go, “Wait a minute.”

AC: That’s true. And some people, they don’t have to go that far. I mean, you meet with them. You make a suggestion or two, and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I didn’t think about it that way,” or, “Oh yeah, I didn’t see it that way.” Other people, they have to go through a lot of loss and then they start realizing, “Oh, wait a minute. Something’s got to change because I don’t like how my life’s headed right now.”

PC: Talk to me some more about storytelling.

AC: Okay.

PC: How do you use that? Why do you use it? What’s its impact, etc.?

AC: Sometimes when you are doing counseling and you’re trying to explain a concept, it’s easier to explain it with a story. This story is a fun little story, but the impact of it can go so many different ways. And it gets the other person thinking, “Okay, wait a minute. If I was the guy, what would I do? Would I Google it? Would I say, ‘Screw it all’ and bust the bottle? What would I do?” And let’s say the person is sitting there thinking, they say, “Okay, Amy. I’m the guy but I’m going to say, ‘Screw it all’ and I’m going to bust the bottle.” Well, then, you have the potential of setting the duck free or having a very dead duck – one of the two. But are you going to have peace with it? Are you still going to be able to let it go? The whole point was he was trying to find peace. And sometimes we have to use stories to explain different concepts. I was counseling somebody the other day and the premise was, “Nobody likes me.” And I kind of went with, “Really? You’ve asked everybody in the entire Dallas area and nobody likes you?” And they were like, “Well, no. I didn’t ask everybody in the Dallas area. I can’t ask everybody in the Dallas area.”
“Well then, how can you say no one likes you?” So sometimes we use stories or we use exaggerations in order to show how irrational sometimes our thinking gets. Or how confused our thinking gets. And we just have to throw that in.

PC: In the stories that you use in your counseling, is there any particular barnyard animal that seems to work the best for you?

AC: Well, no. I’m partial to ducks.

PC: So am I. Did I mention?

KM: Yes, you did.

PC: Interesting.

KM: I like that story because you could also pick apart the guru, too.

AC: You can. We could pick apart the guru a lot. We could also pick apart the duck a lot.

KM: How much power was put into one person with him being the guru and then disaster fell to the man who came up with his own ideas contrary- got brave enough to talk back to the guru.

AC: To challenge the system.

KM: I finally am going to challenge the guru!

AC: And I’m taking my power back.

KM: Right. But, on the other hand, maybe the guru was doing this intentionally for him to come to that realization on his own.

AC: It very well could be. We don’t know.

KM: We don’t know.

AC: And we may never know.

KM: Sometimes we put power into- sometimes we trust too much or we don’t give ourselves permission to think differently than what we think we’re supposed to believe maybe.

AC: Well, that’s true. I’m reading a book right now – one of your favorite people – Joel Boggess Finding Your Voice. And that’s part of it. And he tells stories of individuals, a hometown favorite Dolly Parton – I’m from Tennessee. Everybody said when she got up on stage, her graduating class, she said she was going to go to Nashville and sing. They were all laughing at her. They said, “You can’t do that. There’s no way!” And yet she did and she’s been inducted into 17 or 18 halls of fame and the Grand Ol’ Opry Hall of Fame and so many other things. She is the single largest employer in her little area of Tennessee because she built Dollywood and some resorts around Dollywood area and has pumped in so much money in that little county. To the point of where now everybody from, I think, birth through age six, they get a free book each year to enhance reading. So one of the most impoverished counties in Tennessee as far as education goes, she is pumping her good will back into there to help elevate education. But people told her, “You’ll never amount to anything. You’re poor. You’re white trash,” – I can say that because I’m from Tennessee – “You won’t amount to anything.” And yet, she proved them all wrong. So sometimes we have to find our own voice and find our own way and not listen to everybody else’s voice.

PC: So the point of that story is sing your way to the top and get yourself a duck. Here’s a though for you. I learned this a long time ago, but it sums up exactly what you’re talking about. It goes like this: I’m not who I think I am. I’m not who you think I am. But I am who I think you think I am. It took me months to get my head around that. But if you think about it, and once you understand it, the light bulb goes on. I’m not who I think I am. I’m not who you think I am. I am who I think you think I am. And once you… ah, that’s good stuff. So all right, ladies. We’re out of time. We’re out of duck stories.

KM: Amy, thank you.

AC: You’re welcome. I want to hear about the duck and the bar. Can you tell me that?

PC: No, no. That’s for another day. That’s for another day.

AC: Okay. All right.

KM: To be continued. Dun dun dun.

PC: Oh, we’ve got all kinds of barnyard stories.

KM: “We”??

PC: If we need to hear more stories, where do we find you?

AC: You find me at Life Tree Counseling. You can contact That is my email address. Or call me up at 972-234-6634 ext. 306.

PC: And what about you, miss coffee drinker?

KM: 972-234-6634 ext. 104. And And you, sir?

PC: I am still Phillip Crum, the content marketing coach at and part-time duck herder. And you can call me for any reason at 214-264-6297. And I appreciate everybody listening. We’ll see you next week.

KM: Thank you.

PC: And on we go. Two ducks walked in a bar…

KM: Yes, sir.

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