How to Handle Sexual Assault…

The case study “How to Handle Sexual Assault…” discusses the possibility of protecting oneself against sexual harassment.

A colleague recently called me for some advice. A female friend of hers was being sexually harassed on a regular basis by a neighbour who engaged in exhibitionistic behaviours towards her while he was in his garden, and sometimes also made lewd comments on her figure and her clothes.

We discussed possible solutions together, and decided that the police would probably not be much help in a case like this. In my colleague’s opinion, the next time it happened her friend should look over and comment wearily, “Not exactly well endowed, are you?” I for my part thought that the woman should keep a pile of water bombs made from balloons filled with tomato juice ready in her garden. Alternatively, a blowpipe filled with cherry pits should also do the trick – simply aim at his manhood, and one hard puff! A friend who was listening in on the conversation suggested that the woman should carry a digital camera around with her and take a photo the next time it happened. Even if the photo didn’t show much, the neighbour would be in a very awkward position as soon as the flash had gone off – not only because it might be shown to the police, but also because he would have to live in permanent fear from that moment onwards that the offending image might be posted on the Internet, “liked” by friends and neighbours and go viral. “You’d be better off with a video,” suggested someone else. “Then you’d have sound too!”

My only fear is that these brilliant ideas were never used; once the woman had these tricks up her sleeve, her behaviour would have altered and the neighbour would probably have intuitively stopped the harassment.

Snail Race

The story “Snail Race” can be used with patients suffering from various sexual dysfunctions, although it is recommended that the text be adapted to the relevant situation. The accumulation of suggestions through semantic field associations and ambiguity is unmistakable.

The snails are having a race. A group of birds who are watching are open-mouthed – or rather open-beaked – at the length of time taken by these moist creatures to make progress, and how slowly they expel slime as they moisten the ground over which they glide. They make steady progress, but it takes them a very long time to reach their goal. Yet a snail race is enormous fun for those who know how to take their time. There’s a lot to see; how the snails strain forward to make progress! How they straighten their smooth, solid feelers, and stretch them out towards their goal! How the sides of their body move with a wave-like motion in order to push them onwards! Someone once said that if only we could learn to experience slowness, we would see how snails really lean into the corners. And it’s true; anyone who wants the snails to go faster can simply experience everything more slowly. Then a snail race will be just the right place for him, and he will see how fast they are. When the snails race each other, they are full of movement. From their feelers to their slime glands and from their mouth to their tail, everything moves forward. They are experts at rationing their strength. And when the time comes, they accelerate for one final spurt on the home stretch until they finally cross the finishing line, panting with exertion.


Recently I stayed at a friend’s house. “You snored all night long. It woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep for over an hour,” she told me the following morning. “Wake me up if it happens again tonight,” I said. “Did I snore last night?” I asked the morning after, although I had slept all night without being woken. “No, not at all. I don’t understand why,” she answered. “I told myself not to lie on my back at any point during the night, and instead only to move from my left side to my right side.”

Alarm Clock with a Snooze Button

The story “Alarm Clock with a Snooze Button” represents a basic intervention for handing over control of sleep from the conscious to the unconscious, and for suggesting that it is safe to do so because the unconscious knows that it can easily handle the task. The alarm clock story can be used for patients who find it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep, for patients who repeatedly oversleep and for patients who are worried about waking up too early from an anaesthetic or not waking up at all. It can also be used for all sleep disorders which can be prevented by waking up in time, such as bedwetting, sleep apnoea and snoring, as well as for nightmares. The story embodies the basic suggestion that control is retained even during sleep, and can therefore be used to make it clear to patients with a compulsive and controlling personality that they can stay relaxed while remaining fully in control.

“My body has an internal alarm clock,” one friend said to another. “Before going to sleep, I tell myself; ‘Tomorrow morning I’ll wake up at ten past six.’ And then the next morning I’ll wake up at exactly ten past six. Yet recently I woke up at ten past six and did not get straight out of bed. I went back to sleep again and overslept.” “That could never happen to me,” answered his friend. “My internal alarm clock has a snooze button. Before going to sleep, I tell myself; ‘Tomorrow morning I’ll wake up at ten past six, and then I’ll wake up every five minutes after that.’”

Soiled Underwear Again

The case study “Soiled Underwear Again” demonstrates a symptom prescription in the form of homework to carry out a ritual. This paradoxical intervention follows the Milan tradition of systemic family therapy.

Paul was six years old. Almost every day he waited until he was alone, found a quiet spot in the house where he could hide in peace and take his time, and then soiled his underwear. His excuses were many and varied, and often he had none at all. He only used the toilet reluctantly and under protest. None of the doctors who had examined him had found any problems. His mother had tried both being patient and being strict.

When I met Paul and his mother, I asked him whether he thought he could deliberately soil himself on a particular day. He responded in the affirmative, both to this question and to the question of whether he could deliberately not soil himself on a particular day. So I came to an agreement with Paul and his mother that he should deliberately soil himself, today if possible, and that his mother should allow him to do so. Tomorrow could then be the day when he deliberately did the opposite. Or he could soil himself today and tomorrow, with his mother’s express permission; what mattered was that he had soiled himself at least once before our next meeting. He could tell his mother beforehand or afterwards, or simply let her work it out for herself. And I discussed the details with Paul; on how many days of the following week he would soil himself, and on how many he would not. His mother offered to note down every time when he soiled himself on the calendar so that I could see whether he had done his job properly. The young boy protested that he would never soil himself again. I made a point of telling him that it was much too early to be thinking about that. I implored him to try and soil himself at least one more time

Continent Eyes

The case study “Continent Eyes” highlights the widespread phenomenon of conversion disorders. Simply alerting clients to the possible existence of a conversion disorder may cure it; alternatively, speculation that the incontinence might be a conversion symptom can also cure disorders which can be influenced through suggestion, presumably through a type of placebo effect.

A man once came to see me because he was still suffering from continence problems after undergoing prostate surgery, even though his doctors had told him that there was no longer any organic cause for his incontinence. During his third therapy session, he told me that he had recently cried for the first time in years when a doctor told him that all of his symptoms were perfectly normal, and that he would in all likelihood become continent again.

“Have you ever heard of a conversion symptom?” I asked him. “Maybe your excretion organs are incontinent because your eyes are continent. Your bladder has taken on the role of your eyes or vice versa, depending on your point of view. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you became incontinent in an unexpected way in the near future.”

When I next saw the man, he said: “I don’t know whether it’s because of what we discussed, but now I only need to use one third as many incontinence pads to stay dry.”

Shifting Interests

The story “Shifting Interests” makes it clear that people often have hidden skills which remain unknown to their nearest and dearest, sometimes for decades. It is impossible for us to tell what another person cannot do or does not know, and we are only aware of a small fragment of what he can do and does know. This is particularly true when working with children with behavioural problems or persons with mental health problems or disabilities.

After spending a long time in a coma, Dennis returned to the land of the living with reduced mental functions. He had forgotten many things, and was apathetic about most of the rest. Yet he often pointed to the sky and said, “Look, an F-14 Tomcat plane!” or “Wow, an Apache helicopter!” and described the engine types, performance, carrying capacity, cockpit equipment, crew and weapons of the aircraft he saw flying past. “He fought in the Korean War,” said his wife. “But I had no idea he still remembered all of this. We’ve been married for 30 years, and he’s never shown any interest in aircraft.”


The case study “Memory” illustrates a procedure for learning to remember things again. Single associative connections are useless if they are disrupted; instead, a larger network of links is communicated so that individual functioning associative connections within this network can help to reactivate others or reconstruct the context.

“After my stroke,” he said, “people knew me but I no longer knew them. ‘I’m Peter!’ one of them said. ‘Which Peter?’ I replied. ‘Don’t you remember me? We went to school together, we did our apprenticeships together, we worked side by side…’, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t remember you,’ I said. ‘But we went on holiday together,’ he continued, ‘and you gave my daughter Julia this funny teapot.’ ‘Are you Julia’s father?’ I asked with surprise. ‘He was called Peter and went to school with me. Is that you?’”

After the Storm

The story “After the Storm”, like the following three stories, is an intervention which can help a patient to recover missing words and skills if he or she has the necessary level of understanding. The stories refer implicitly to the fact that the relevant information is not lost in the brain but merely inaccessible, and can therefore be found again.

The storm has wrought havoc. Fallen trees are strewn throughout the forest. Their trunks are blocking the paths and roads. No traveller can pass. Yet the time after the storm is the time when the lumberjacks start work. They use their saws to open up the paths, move the blockages and clear the roads, starting at the outer edge of the forest and moving right to its very interior.