Living the Storyteller’s Life – interview with Charles Bonasera (12 July 2011)

Introduction

I thought I’d interview someone I’ve ‘known’ for years as he’s a columnist for my newsletter. Yet, from his answers below, I realised there’s more to Charles than I thought. So, without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you, Charles Bonasera…


Aneeta: Charles, thanks for agreeing to this interview.

Charles: Aneeta, thanks for having me.

Aneeta: Let’s start with something about you: where were you born, where did you grow up, what do you do for a living and where do you live now?

Charles: Well I was born of Italian immigrant parents in Buffalo, NY in a primarily Italian community. We then moved to the suburbs when I was about 4 years of age during the height of World War II when Italians weren’t regarded with much respect. But my mother was a strong woman and was able to win people over to put that prejudice aside. I credit both of my parents for having shown me what the important priorities in life really are as well as what it means to help others who may have problems or who are less fortunate. We moved to California when I was 10.

I guess those values led me into the helping professions with my decision to become a psychotherapist for which I received professional education and training. I remained at this position for over 40 years while creating thirty-six different audio programs having to do with mental health issues, I wrote a stress management self-help book entitled “Guide to a Life Management Process” and began to deliver numerous programs on Stress and other mental health issues to schools, banks, corporations, agencies and governmental institutions. In 2003, my wife and I decided to move to Florida where we now live in North Port. Our three children and seven grandchildren live in Virginia, Vermont and New Hampshire.

I’m a personal and business consultant, author, ghostwriter and motivational speaker.

Aneeta: I understand from your website that you’re a trained psychotherapist. Please tell me why you chose psychotherapy and what has been your experience in this field, thus far.

Charles: I’ve always enjoyed working with people and, as with my mother, enjoy helping them resolve some of their problem-issues. My primary involvement has been in relationship therapy including marriage and family matters and now consulting but I am also doing some business consulting as well. I got my start in the early 60s and am still enthralled with the challenges and rewards that come from my role. Much of my role has to do with storytelling in order to help motivate people to change the patterns in their lives that may have become problematic.

As a psychotherapist back in the Buffalo area, I began to focus not just on the problems that people brought to me for help in resolving them but also on the life patterns that they developed as a result of those patterns. In fact, I just today finished writing my newest book, “How in the Hell Did This Happen to Me?” which describes many of the patterns that people move into to compensate for their difficulties. Most of the patterns were developed during childhood and learned from parental figures and may have worked well. Some of the patterns are healthy and useful to this day but others have become unhealthy and no longer useful. My job, both in the book and as a Consultant is to help people identify and change those patterns.

I have always enjoyed writing as a young person leading me to write for my high school newspaper and the Features Editor of my College paper. I’m told that I have an easy style that people enjoy reading and they’ve described it as being “homespun”. My speaking takes on much the same style. I love people and helping them to realize their strengths during the times of adversity in their lives. I’m told that I can get large audiences to have a good belly laugh or a good cry during my presentations. My main theme is simply this: “Life Management is Well Within Your Hands”.

I became interested in stress and wrote a self-help book entitle “Guide to a Life Management Process” back in the 80s which has been revised with the new title of “STRESS: Playing the Game of Russian Roulette.” I started the Sports Stress Clinic working with athletes in various venues to help them focus and deal with the stressors of competition. I created 36 audio programs dealing with stress issues including 9 different relaxation exercises. I also became involved in hypnosis and used it to help people resolve their issues.

Aneeta: From our association over the past few years, I’m aware that you’re a consultant, author and motivational speaker. Of these three roles, which one do you enjoy the most and why?

Charles: That’s a difficult choice since I enjoy each of them immensely. I guess, though, that my speaking role is one I enjoy most because I can reach many people with whatever the message is that I’m speaking about. In all of the roles that I play, the consistent theme is “selling mental health” which still has a stigma associated with it. I try to offer practical and sometimes humorous solutions for people to try and improve their lives and the various roles that they play.

Aneeta: You have several published books. Can you please pick three of them and describe them?

Charles: “Stress: Playing the Game of Russian Roulette” is a very comprehensive self-help book that helps readers to identify the primary stress areas in their lives with practical suggestions as to how to better manage/cope with the stressors.

“The Mental Side of Golf” is a practical book on helping golfers deal with a very frustrating game by bringing real life examples to their attention that can help them become more proficient both at their game and in their lives as well. it contains many areas called “crossovers” from life to the game that will help improve their thought and playing practices.

“The Legend of Little League” is a primer for parents and coaches dealing with some of the pitfalls of involving children in little league sports of all kinds.

“How to Stay Well and Live Life to the Fullest” which deals with over 150 sayings and mini-stories aimed at motivating people to make necessary changes in their lives around problematic issues.

The book that is about to be published is entitled “How in the Hell Did This Happen to Me?” this book deals with patterns that we’ve brought from our childhoods that do not serve us well as adults or have become real problems in this phase of life. It contains actual case histories demonstrating the various types of problems that are addressed as well as an synopsis and analysis of the histories along with recommendations for changing those patterns.

Aneeta: On your website, http://www.charlesmbonasera.com, I like this saying very much: If we could become inquisitive like a child and ask lots of questions, answers will come. Although this process requires patience, the time spent doing so is well worth the effort. Can you elaborate on this a little more – tell me how you came to make this statement?

Charles: I came up with it because most children are taught to give up what they’ve learned as children in order to enter into adulthood. Children have an uncanny sense of awareness which they tend to put aside … to distrust … as they grow into adulthood. An adult might extend their hand and say “it’s a pleasure to meet you” while a child might say “I don’t like you”. I facetiously remark that children are taught to forget what they’ve learned and then they spend their time and money going to a therapist to re-learn it. Strong irony to say the least!

Aneeta: Charles, you have written that ‘our prized possessions are our thoughts and feelings …’ I like this statement very much. Can you please give me examples of when a person’s thoughts and feelings have affected him profoundly?

Charles: Most of us, while growing up, were taught a good deal about thinking both in our homes and in school. However, very little emphasis was placed on feelings which are the primary goal of resolving by going to therapy. I analogize that both thoughts and feelings have colanders attached allowing each to be put through the other. In other words, thoughts can be sifted through our feelings and vice-versa in order to gain the benefit of both. A good example of this might be someone’s choosing to “sleep on” a decision before making it so that when they awaken, the decision is very clear and the person feels very confident.

Aneeta: I’m sure you use storytelling techniques in your work. If so, which element of storytelling do you use the most?

Charles: Mostly from my own life experiences as well as a myriad of stories about my mother and her astounding wisdom in dealing with people. I use storytelling to help people identify with the character and issues contained in the story which ultimately are resolved in order to help individuals to come to view their own strengths which they may not trust or realize they have.

Aneeta: As you know, this website caters to storytellers. What advice would you give to those who would like to venture into storytelling?

Charles: Speak and write from the heart would be my first piece of advice. A good story must have an enticing beginning in order to gain the audience’s attention, a well-formed middle that creates as sense of mystery and enlightenment, and an ending that brings everything together in order for the reader/listener to come away with a sense of motivation that they might use in their own life.

Read stories with morals or messages such as children’s books to get a feel for what true storytelling is about and develop one’s own unique style of storytelling.

Aneeta: Charles, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Charles: Just one last thing, Aneeta. When I finished my professional education, my only goal was to make mental health palatable for people so that they would not be threatened by it. I define mental health as the search for alternative ways to happiness and I would invite readers of your column to go to my website and learn more about me, my work and my purpose. Also, going there, they will be able to read my many articles by signing up for my monthly newsletter Climbing the Mountain. I trust that they will enjoy the journey that my having developed my website was to take them on.

Aneeta: Charles, thank you.


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