Time Adjustment

The case study “Time Adjustment” demonstrates an intervention for adjusting one’s perception of time when interacting with people who live life at a slower pace, in order to respond in a patient and relaxed manner.

Today I was chatting to an old man who spoke very slowly. He kept on pausing while he searched for the right word, and many of his sentences were left unfinished. The man couldn’t help it, but I could feel myself becoming impatient and even angry at the slow pace of the conversation. So I imagined a dial which I could turn to adjust how quickly or slowly I perceived time; within less than a minute, the man seemed to be talking at an entirely normal pace, and since he was no longer too slow, all my impatience vanished.

A Desire for Life

The story “A Desire for Life” highlights the fact that strong family relationships play a vital role in an individual’s health and his or her will to go on living. People tend to want either to live in a tribe or not to live at all, and the majority of suicides and attempted suicides are a result of isolation and loneliness. Similarly, some people only survive an illness because of the presence of loving relatives.

I meet patients at the hospital where I work who want to die even though they are relatively healthy, who hope that they will not wake up after an operation or who ask me to kill them.

I meet other patients who are trying with all their strength to conquer their illness even though the doctors have told them that this is impossible, or patients trying to extend their lives by just a few weeks even though they are in terrible pain and have no hope of recovery.

Again and again I meet desperately unhappy people who are almost healthy, and people who are full of the joys of life and yet are close to death. The difference between them is that those in the first group have no one caring for them, whereas those in the second group have partners, children, grandchildren and friends who care for them with love and affection. A desire for life is a desire to live for someone else.

The Shoelace Debate

The story “The Shoelace Debate” illustrates how unsolicited advice (whether direct or indirect) can provoke resistance, and how other interventions are often more effective.

“Your shoelaces are trailing on the ground,” my father said to me yesterday as we were strolling around the garden. “Yes,” I replied. “You look ridiculous,” he said. “Ah well,” I answered. “You might trip over them,” he said. “I might do many things…” I pondered. He carried on nagging for a long time, before finally concluding, “Giving children advice is a good way of making sure they won’t do what you want them to do – in fact they’ll generally do the opposite. My mother would often remind me that my favourite TV show was on soon. I knew that it would start before long and I wanted to watch it, but my mother’s reminders annoyed me so much that I didn’t watch it at all. My father rarely gave us advice. He was a wise man.” We looked into the pond and thought of my father’s father while gazing at the reflections of the sky and the clouds in the water.

Love of Cats

The aphorism in the story “Love of Cats” reminds the listener that love involves seeing the world from the perspective of whomever you love, and in order to do so it is necessary to spend time carefully and respectfully observing his or her individual thoughts and lifestyle. It is useful to distinguish between what the other party actually wants and what I might want if I were him or her. When direct questioning is impossible (in the case of young children, individuals with a mental disability, coma patients, people suffering from aphasia or people who speak a different language, for example), careful observation of non-verbal reactions is generally helpful.

A friend once asked me, “If cat owners only want the best for their pets, why can you buy venison-flavoured cat food and yet you can’t buy mouse-flavoured cat food?”

The Winter Rose

“The Winter Rose” is a suggestive story aimed in particular at girls growing up in conditions which are challenging in terms of space, social environment or family structure. Alternatively, a child can be asked to name his or her favourite animal, and the story can be turned into one about a zoo owner or breeder who succeeds in finding a way to raise this animal in particularly difficult conditions despite all the doom-mongering of his critics, so that it grows up healthy and happy, is admired by many and later becomes the mother or father of wonderful young animals. The story can also be used to boost the morale of patients during long hospital stays, for example while undergoing chemotherapy.

I have some very large terracotta pots on my balcony, and I decided that I’d like to plant roses in them. “You can’t grow roses in pots – they’ll die,” said my father. “That’s a shame,” I said, but I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, and so I visited a plant nursery. “You can’t grow roses in pots, at any rate not outdoors,” said the sales assistant. “They’ll freeze to death in winter because the whole root ball is surrounded by frost.” “Can’t you bring them inside over the winter?” I asked. “They don’t like being moved around,” said the sales assistant. “Take it from me, you can’t grow roses outdoors in pots.” Then one of the gardeners who worked at the nursery entered the showroom. “Of course you can,” he said. “There’s a special variety of rose which doesn’t mind frost at all. It looks a lot like a beautiful wild rose, and it isn’t damaged by the weather at all. It can also be grown in a small space, even in a large terracotta pot on a balcony. It matures well, and its scent is exquisite. It’s a very resilient plant, and you can take it with you whenever you move house – and if you ever move to a house with a large garden, you can of course replant it in the ground

The Schneiders

The story “The Schneiders” demonstrates a procedure which can be used to build cohesion in families, for example among siblings.

“We are the Schneiders. We stick together.” That was what she said to her children when she was telling them to share their toys. “We are the Schneiders. We stick together.” That was what she said to them when they argued. “We are the Schneiders. We stick together.” That was what she said to them when she helped them out of a tricky situation. “We are the Schneiders. We stick together.” That was what she said to them when she asked them to help her. “We are the Schneiders. We stick together.” The children heard their mother say these words many hundreds of times, and they reflected the truth not only while they were growing up, but also when they were adults – they were the Schneiders. They stuck together.

The Eagle and The Falconer

The description of the relationship between “The Eagle and The Falconer” is one way of examining relationship problems – in particular faithfulness and jealousy, monogamy, potential separation and the ambivalence which exists between the desire for freedom and emotional ties – from the perspective of a curious onlooker.

High up on the Potzberg mountain is a birds of prey centre which puts on daily shows between spring and autumn, featuring eagles, falcons and vultures. Some of the people who watch the shows ask, “Isn’t it cruel to keep these magnificent birds imprisoned here when they would rather be free?” In response, the falconer answers, “No one who hunts with an eagle can keep him captive – if the eagle decides not to come back from a flight, no one can stop him. An eagle only decides to come back if he thinks that he’s better off living with humans than being free. Strictly speaking he’s already free, because he can decide every day whether to stay or go – but the eagle loves his human and regards him as a partner, and not just a hunting partner, but a marriage partner, if we can speak of such things in relation to birds; a partner in everything, from hunting and everyday life through to rearing chicks… Eagles are long-term monogamists, and become very jealous if they see other birds of prey together with their human, to the point that they will drive off their rivals. The eagle and his falconer are therefore married in a sense, but the eagle can get a divorce whenever he wants one. Now and again an eagle does fly away and never returns, but this is a rare occurrence. In some cases a human must also leave an eagle because he is at risk from the magnificent creature, but this too is rare. If neither of these exceptional situations occur, the eagle and the falconer will stick together through good times and bad alike…”

At the First Fart

Falling in love may be a good start to a romantic relationship, but the success and duration of such a relationship does not depend on whether and how long the couple were initially “in love” with each other. The significance for a romantic relationship of falling in love is relativised in the story “At the First Fart”…

My mother, who has been happily married for many years, was talking to me about what makes a happy relationship. “Being head over heels in love is all well and good,” she said, “but all of that goes out the window at the first fart…”

Almost Too Late Is Better Than Too Early

The quote-based story “Almost Too Late Is Better Than Too Early” can be used in the same context as the previous story.

A lifeguard once told me, “If someone who is drowning is still panicking and flailing around, it’s impossible to get them to dry land. You have to wait until they’ve calmed down, and then you can rescue them

Stand Up

The metaphorically framed rhetorical question in the story “Stand Up” suggests that the only way forward for someone who has been shipwrecked is into the future and a new life. The rest of the story plays out in the listener’s head as he or she thinks about what must have happened beforehand and what will happen afterwards. It can also be used with patients who have undergone a serious illness or an operation in order to motivate them to go on living (or to engage with physiotherapy).

What does the victim of a shipwreck do when he reaches dry land?