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Anna O’Brien tells stories to build healthier relationships

Anna O’Brien of Face to Face Storytellers is a professional Storyteller and works in educational and community settings delivering dynamic performances and workshops both for adults and children. She is fascinated by the power of stories for transformational change.

Introduce yourself: Who are you and what do you do? 

My name is Anna and I’ve been working as a Storyteller for nearly 20 years now. Yes, it’s a real job! There couldn’t be a better one! I deliver storytelling performances of traditional folk tales in all sorts of educational and community settings. I also deliver workshops to groups of children and adults, helping them to devise stories and work on their delivery skills.

What do you think makes a great story? What makes a great Storyteller?

I recently read a book called The Seven Basic Plots, that suggests there are only 7 story plots that have been told throughout all the world and all through history; and the reason for this is that there is a subconscious truth that we are all linked to, which is telling a universal story. The author of the book (Christopher Booker) had his own explanations for this, based on the theories of Carl Jung, but my interpretation is that our Creator is a Storyteller and has wired us all to communicate in stories. Each of the 7 plots – for example, rags to riches, defeating the monster, the quest, the tragedy – can all be found in the great story of love, rebellion and redemption between God and Man. 

So, all good stories, in my opinion, must have elements of this God–Man story as its underlying truth, so that it resonates with our spirits, and makes us want to pass the story on.

Anna O’Brien performing with Face to Face Storytellers

You recently received a Sputnik grant to train you in something called Theraplay. What is this? How have you used this training so far in your practice and how do you intend to develop this in the future?

I am so excited that I’ve been introduced to Theraplay® and am so grateful that I was able to attend the Group Theraplay training in September. The training course was excellent and it totally clicked and made sense to me.

Theraplay is a theory and practice of relationship-based play. When used one-to-one by a fully trained therapist, it can be such a healing tool in a young person’s life and help deal with very deep-seated, attachment-based issues. When used in a group setting it can increase self-esteem and a sense of well-being; it can help us to create stronger and healthier relationships with others. I have been trained to use Theraplay to inform all my work in group settings.

“I hope to keep bringing Theraplay into all my practices, to create groups that are warm, friendly, and empowering.”

I have begun practising what I have learnt in a surprising number of settings: with parents and pre-schoolers, Stay and Plays and nurseries, and also with primary school children and Play Workers; even with adult groups in workshop settings. There is much to learn, and I have become part of a local Peer Support Group run by a Certified Theraplay Therapist in Birmingham which has already proved really fruitful.

I hope to keep bringing Theraplay into all my practices, to create groups that are warm, friendly, and empowering to be a part of. I would love, in time, to run courses for parents and their children, to help parents to enjoy and have fun with their children, and lead them well. I am learning all of these things too, and finding it so helpful in my own parenting journey.

Storytelling and Theraplay go so well together because they are both about face-to-face interaction with the person or people in front of you; they are both about how to give and how you receive; they are both very live, improvisational and playful!

To find out more about Anna and Face to Face Storytellers, go to