Dying at the Age of 26

The case study “Dying at the Age of 26” illustrates how compulsive ideas can be modelled in such a way as to eliminate what previously made them so worrying. This follows a cartoon approach; a problem symbol is visualised and metaphorically transformed without reference to any real-life contexts until it becomes a solution symbol. The result is reinforced by a final suggestive question which implies that the answer will be a solution. This procedure merely defuses the substance of the compulsive idea rather than challenging it or taking it away from the client. If the problem recurs at the age of 92, the patient can turn back the figures to 26 or double a figure so that she imagines dying at the age of 292 or 929… The method is also suitable for words imagined in writing, whose letters can be rotated, replaced and altered (“mad” can be changed to “sad”, for example).

“I have a problem,” a friend once said to me. “I’ve somehow got this idea into my head that I’m going to die at the age of 26. That’s not all that long away. I know it’s stupid, but I can’t get rid of the idea, and it frightens me. What can I do about it?” “Create a mental image of the number 26 and examine it very closely,” I answered. “Now swap the figures around. What do you see?” “The number 62,” said my friend. “Exactly. Now rotate the six by 180º and stand it on its head. What do you see now?” “The number 92.” “So when do you expect to die?” “At the age of 92.” “Is that ok?” “Definitely,” said my friend, who was free of the problem from then on.

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