Here’s the story of the salmon in English (Stefan Hammel, Handbook of Therapeutic Storytelling, p. 193f.)
A salmon was travelling along the annual salmon run,
further and further upstream. He had leapt up rapids and jumped over enormous
boulders – and even used all of his power and skill to ascend waterfalls. “Not
long now,” said the salmon to himself at last. “I remember being here before –
I passed it on my first evening on the journey down. I’m much larger and
stronger now, and I’ll have reached my destination in just a few hours.” The salmon
redoubled his efforts, wanting to make faster progress. But as he did so, the
current also seemed to become stronger. The path down the river had seemed easy,
but the way back seemed pure torture. Sometimes he was too tired to swim, often
he lacked the concentration to jump properly, occasionally he had to swim
around the rods and creels of the salmon fishers and once he even had to avoid
the paw of a hungry bear. Again and again he stopped to regather his strength,
but the river kept on flowing to the sea. By the evening the salmon noticed
that he had not made any progress – if anything, he had gone backwards. Sad and
disappointed, he found a protected spot between two boulders on the bank. He
thought to himself, “It must be possible to reach my destination – others
before me have managed it. But how?” Then the clever fish had an idea. “I’m not
going to try and get there as quickly as possible any more; I just want to make
progress. All I will ask of myself is to get a little bit closer to my goal
every evening than I was in the morning, and if I do that day after day I’ll eventually
reach my destination. As long as I’ve made some progress by every evening, it
won’t matter how short a distance I’ve travelled – even if it’s only half an
inch.” The salmon plucked up his courage and started again. Some days he barely
made any progress at all, but mostly he travelled much further than he expected
– and if he didn’t, he remembered his resolution and was content with what he
had managed. After a few weeks, he reached his destination; a lake near the
source of the river. He looked around, and found that only a few other salmon
had reached the lake before him – most were still trying to reach their destination
in the shortest possible time.
Here is a story about the salmon who went on a travel, translated into Swedish by my colleague Viktoria Carlsén. The original German story “Vorankommen” is found in Stefan Hammel’s “Handbuch des therapeutischen Erzählens”, p.232f.
En lax vandrade längs sin årliga resa, längre och längre uppströms. Han klarade av starka forsar och att komma förbi enorma stenblock – och använde all sin styrka och skicklighet för att bestiga vattenfallet.
”Nu är jag snart framme” sa laxen till sig själv till slut. ”Jag kommer ihåg att jag varit här förut – jag passerade här på min första kväll av resan nedför. Jag är mycket större och starkare nu, så jag kommer att nå min slutdestination om bara några timmar.
Laxen fördubblade sin ansträngning för han ville göra snabbare framsteg. Men när han gjorde det så verkade strömmen bli starkare. Vägen ned längs floden hade verkat enkel, men vägen tillbaka verkade vara ren tortyr. Ibland var han för trött för att simma, ofta saknade han koncentration för att hoppa ordentligt, ibland behövde han simma runt fiskarnas metspön och stativ och en gång hade han tvingats undvika tassen från en hungrig björn.
Om och om igen stannade han för att samla ihop sin styrka men floden fortsatte flyta mot havet. När kvällen kom märkte laxen att han inte gjort något framsteg alls, om nåt hade han åkt baklänges. Ledsen och besviken sökte han skydd mellan två stenblock vid flodens sida. Han tänkte för sig själv ”Det måste vara möjligt att nå min slutstation – andra har ju lyckats klara av det. Men hur?”
Då fick den kloka fisken en idé ”Jag ska sluta försöka nå dit så fort som möjligt, jag ska bara göra framsteg. Allt jag kommer att begära av mig själv är att jag kommer lite närmare mitt mål varje kväll än vad jag var på morgonen, och om jag gör så varje dag kommer jag så småningom att nå min slutdestination. Så länge som jag gör framsteg till vare kväll så spelar det ingen roll hur kort avstånd jag har rest – även om det bara är 1,5 cm”.
Laxen skruvade upp sitt mod och började om igen. Vissa dagar gjorde han knappt några framsteg alls, men oftast färdades han mycket längre än han förväntade sig – och om han inte gjorde det, så kom han ihåg sitt beslut och var nöjd över det han klarat av.
Efter några veckor så nådde han sin slutdestination, en sjö nära flodens källa. Han tittade sig omkring och upptäckte att bara några få andra laxar hade anlänt till sjön före honom – de flesta höll fortfarande på att kämpa för att nå dit på kortast möjliga tid.
The story “Hearing Difficulty” picks up on the fact that tinnitus sufferers often focus their attention on the wrong thing. It can be used not only in connection with tinnitus, but also as a metaphor for many other internal and external conflicts.
I remember a particular teacher who taught me when I
was at school and whose lessons seemed to me both easy to follow and
informative. Then one day another pupil pointed out how often she ummed and
ahhed while she was talking, and that ruined everything. Up until then I had been
able to listen to her words and had not even noticed the hesitations, but from
then on I could only hear, “um…. ah….. um.” The words that she said were
nothing but pauses between the sounds.
Hindenburg Path” describes a dialogue which appears to make no sense because
one of the interlocutors is hard of hearing.
People suffering from a hearing impairment may seem odd (unapproachable, indifferent, arrogant etc.) and be treated accordingly, which may mean that they increasingly grow to resemble the mistaken image which others have of them. The same applies to people who find it difficult to communicate because they grew up speaking a different language. In the situation described in the story, the problem is probably a result of the man’s efforts to avoid loneliness by attempting to communicate in spite of his hearing impairment. The story reflects the general principle that “odd” behaviour often turns into “ordinary” behaviour once we are aware of its context.
Mr Neumann greeted Mr Krauss, an elderly man
who lived nearby. “Hello, Mr Krauss” “Hello… and where have you come
from?” Mr Neumann pointed in the appropriate direction and replied, “From
down there.” “Oh, the Hindenburg path.” “The Hindenburg path? Why’s it called
that?” “It’s so steep you can’t go up it.” “I see. But what does that have to
do with Hindenburg?” “Haven’t you ever heard of the enormous Hindenburg
The story “Blinded by Love” is an example of a minimal conversion disorder, and can be told e.g. to people experiencing a psychological crisis and suffering from symptoms relating to perception or mobility.
As I walked through the pedestrian zone, I wondered why I was finding it
so hard to see things. What could be wrong with me? A delayed effect of the
laser eye surgery I had undergone last autumn? My vision was normally 20/20,
and I couldn’t understand it. When I was driving on the motorway that evening, I
strained my eyes to peer through the windscreen and find the best angle of
vision. Where had all the cars gone? What on earth was going on? The answer was
supplied by my friendly unconscious. I had just spent three days at a
conference on trauma which had involved a lot of biographical work, and I had
also fallen for a woman who was not interested in me. As soon as I asked
myself, “What am I finding so difficult to look at?” the visual impairment
disappeared. Things like this happen, and more often than you might think
The story “Christmas Bell” can be used to illustrate the phenomenon of “institutional blindness” or to highlight the fact that the unconscious mind tends to provide the conscious mind only with new information or information associated with a message of some kind (a warning or the answer to a question).
On one of the last days of April I took down a
Christmas bell which was hanging from a hook on the ceiling. I had got so used
to seeing the bell as part of my surroundings that I had not noticed it at all
during all the months which had passed since Christmas. I had simply no longer
perceived it. It was the last of the Christmas decorations – or was it?
The story “A Walk Along the Beach” illustrates another simple method of hypnotic anaesthesia. The problem is not that it is difficult to induce an anaesthetising trance, but that we often do not believe that everyday trances can fulfil the same role. What is more, we do not generally notice that our pain has disappeared when we are either in a pain-free trance state between painful waking states or at a later stage (because we are absorbed by something else, and because the change from a trance state into a waking state is associated with amnesia).
A doctor had to carry out an operation to remove a patient’s large toenail, but the patient could not tolerate painkillers. “What should I do?” he asked her. “I’d feel like I was torturing you if I operated on you while you were still fully conscious!” The patient shrugged her shoulders. “Where do you most like going on holiday?” he asked. “The Baltic Sea,” she answered. “My husband and I have had some wonderful walks along the beaches there.” “Tell me about them, and immerse yourself in the tale,” said the doctor. “Dive deep down into your memories and describe everything you see, hear, feel, taste and smell on your walks there.” The woman started her story and kept on going. “Now a storm is brewing,” she said as the doctor began the operation. She saw the storm approaching but remained quite calm.
“The Unscrewable Body” can be used in connection with medical interventions or as mental preparation for sport. Sportspeople must however be particularly aware of the risks of anaesthetising oneself while training. Care must be taken to avoid any possibility of injury or the worsening of physical conditions as a result of eliminating pain signals through suggestion.
I once knew a man who had a very strange talent; he could simply unscrew the lower part of his body from the upper part whenever he went for a walk – like unscrewing the lid from a jam jar or vice versa. Then the lower body would walk alongside the man while his upper body supervised from above. Sometimes the legs, stomach and backside would move a couple of hundred metres away from the upper body, but they never ran away and always came back. At the end of the walk, the upper body and lower body would screw themselves tightly back together again. Then the head would say, “What a good job I didn’t have to listen to the legs moaning all the time on our long walk.” And the legs would say, “What a good job that we didn’t have to listen to the head’s unkind warnings and pep talks.” Everyone would be happy and content, and they would sit down together for a cup of tea and a chat about the different things they had seen during their walk
The following stories demonstrate various techniques for hypnotic anaesthesia. The case study “Go Away” involves taking the pain as a starting point and then rapidly minimising it through a plausible chain of associations. It illustrates a typical feature of verbal pacing and leading, namely that the pain (the problem) is referred to directly at the beginning, but only mentioned indirectly as an “inconvenience” by the end.
A woman attending a psychotherapy session suddenly developed a bad headache. She explained that it was linked to a problem with her cervical vertebrae for which she was undergoing medical treatment. Her face was screwed up in pain, and it was clear that she was struggling to focus on anything else. I told her, “That must really hurt. It must hurt a great deal, and you must be wishing that it would go away soon, that it would perhaps go away in three minutes or in two minutes, or that it would go away in one minute or in half a minute, or perhaps even sooner. When do you think this inconvenience will go away?” “It has almost gone already,” she answered very calmly.
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