With degrees in Clinical psychology, arts and education, Dr Toula Gordillo has worked in private practice and schools for almost thirty years. She regularly delivers important social, psychological and historical information using interventions and therapies that are “fantastic”, evidence-based, ancient and narrative.
She particularly loves to use allegory: a story, picture or poem that contains hidden meanings and messages.
Dr Gordillo is published in books, magazines and academic journals including: Youth Voice Journal, Viewpoint, The Artifice, Immanence—Journal of Applied Myth, Story & Folklore and Cambridge Scholars Press.
She is a member of The CG Jung Society of Queensland, The International Depth Psychology Alliance, The International Association of Jungian Studies (IAJS), The Australian Society of Authors, The Queensland Writer’s Centre and The Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network.
Toula is an international guest speaker and has presented on cyber-safety stories and images at Wakatipu State High School, New Zealand; and myth-based stories and images for mental health at Cambridge College, India. Dr Gordillo has additionally presented at numerous University and private conferences and institutions.
Dr Gordillo is the creator and custodian of Story Image Therapy (SIT)® and various Story Image Tools used in teaching and counselling. These modalities contain “fantastic” myth-based STORIES & IMAGES to help improve people’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
When Toula’s children were young, and facing important life issues, the usual parental advice didn’t seem enough. “Young people don’t want lectures,” she observed, “they’re too busy asserting their independence and ability.” The counsellor in Toula sought how she could do things differently with her children. She reflected upon her past and experience.
Toula grew up with a father who was a “master at storytelling with songs and poetry.” She attended Katherine State High School in the Northern Territory and her mother was responsible for introducing traineeships to the Territory’s First Nation’s youth.
Whilst still in high school, Toula also worked as a domestic on Killarney cattle station with staff from different cultures and backgrounds. As an adult, Dr Gordillo has taught and counselled individuals in medical settings and schools, including International schools. It occurred to her that all cultures, in every age, have handed down important life lessons via stories and images.
“This has been a consistent activity since men and women began telling stories by drawing images on cave walls,” she says. “In most cases, they were fantastic allegories about life, the natural world, and our place in it. These stories and images are universal: they cut across age, time, gender and cultural group; in fact all social classes and divisions.”
Little has changed. Contemporary youth continue to love mythic stories, and the accompanying images that depict the classic ‘hero’s journey’. In fact, the more fantastic the stories and images, Toula has observed, the more young people seem to like them.
“To see how much youth still love the mythic/heroic genre,” she says, “one only has to look at the enduring popularity of mythology-based heroic books, video games and movies.” Toula cites examples such as: Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Riordan’s Percy Jackson, Pullman’s His Dark Materials and others.
“Old world charm has provided the inspiration for many of the most popular classic and contemporary tales. It has also, indirectly, helped generations of youth to charter their way through some of life’s challenges,” she explains. “It does this by allowing them to experiment with new ways of living in the real world, by exploring different personas in the world of fantasy. That is, within the relative safety of their own imaginations.”
Approximately ten years ago, Toula’s children (then aged 12, 10 and 9) were struggling with some issues. While on a family camping holiday, she decided to write stories about the problems they were facing, but one step removed. She had a character experience a similar situation as her child, but they were guided by a (Jungian) wise-sage character. As her children read about the characters and discussed them with her, Toula hoped her children would learn the characters’ positive ways of coping.
The protagonists in her stories were animals named after her sons and daughter. As they ventured on their heroic quest, each character learned to resolve their problems by listening to the “wise sage”.
To reinforce the stories’ key messages, Dr Gordillo created accompanying images, scribbled on a piece of paper or drawn with a stick around the campfire.
Future stories and images contained elements from myth and legend her children could relate to: talking animals, dragons, vampires and paladins, the natural world and symbols that surrounded them.
The development of the ‘tools’
Toula’s children said they found the stories and images helpful. To help them learn other important life-skills, Toula continued writing stories. She wrote twelve stories in total, and they were also well received by her children.
Employing what she calls ‘Jungian Action Research’, Dr Gordillo began using these tools with her young students and clients. She again received excellent feedback and results.
Toula also conducted PhD psychology research regarding ways technology can help young people become more resilient. One of the key messages from her qualitative research was that young people use stories and images (online and offline) to cope with their problems. In fact, 79% of the respondents’ described using stories and images to cope (most of the fiction they view/read was either fantasy or science fiction).
Based on her results and with a continued desire to develop methods to improve youth resilience, Toula enrolled in a Doctor of Creative Arts (Creative Writing). Here, she began researching creative ways in which stories could be written to deliver helpful mental health messages to young people.
Along with other synchronistic events, this marked the beginning of Talk to Teens, Universal Psychology and SIT.