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?

When You Meet Your Brother…

The thought experiment “When You Meet Your Brother” is an intervention which can be used for patients with suicidal tendencies. The patient’s family structures and the values of both the patient and any predeceased family members are used as a basis for demonstrating that life is worth living. This prevents “copycat deaths” and utilises the patient’s bond with these individuals by hypothesising what they would think about the planned suicide.

The dialogue can alternatively be used with individuals who are (or feel) responsible for the death of another person.

The living person can ask questions or offer apologies, while the deceased person provides a fictitious (but often realistic) opinion on what is said. In my experience the deceased are kind-hearted, and the outcome of such a dialogue is almost always (with the possible exception of murders) that the deceased denies any guilt on the part of the individual who is still living, or forgives him or her. If an outcome of this kind cannot be achieved, the therapist should mediate between the two sides – one fictitious and one real – in order to ensure that each side has the best possible opinion of the other, for example using methods from systemic counselling, family constellation therapy, Gestalt therapy or ego state therapy. Interventions of this kind can also be used to travel to heaven or another meeting point to say farewell to an individual or a pet in cases where a final farewell was impossible before their death.

When you’re on the other side, and have escaped this world – a world I can see you’re eager to leave – and when, after arriving, you meet your mother and say, “Hello Mum, I’m here already! I decided to catch an earlier train, as you might say,” what will she reply? What questions will she ask? And when you meet your brother, who died before you, how will he greet you? What will you tell him, and how will you answer him?

Anna’s Submarine

The case study “Anna’s Submarine” makes it clear that a therapist can only lead someone out of a dream world if he or she also enters the dream world first. The path out of the dream world must also be attractive, and it must still be possible to return to the old patterns if necessary. The submarine intervention also involves the paradox that Anna is invited to leave her dream world while she is in her dream world, meaning that she can pursue both sides of the ambivalence with different parts of her personality; she can act in accordance with her previous pattern while at the same time trying a new pattern, although the old pattern will then not be quite the same as it was…

Anna dreams. She dreams while she’s at school with the other Year Four pupils, and she continues dreaming when she comes home after school. She lives in her dreams to the extent that no one really knows whether she is talented or stupid, simple-minded or subtle, shy or inhibited, introverted or mentally disturbed. Anna has no friends, and seems content with her own company. Anna appears to be happy when she is dreaming, or perhaps she only dreams because of how unhappy she would be if she were not dreaming? Anna twists and tugs on her hair until it falls out. She chews her fingernails until they bleed. Is Anna ill, or just quirky? Which school should she attend, and what is the best way to help her? Her parents want answers to these questions, and so they bring her to therapy.

“I believe you live in a submarine,” I say to Anna. She looks at me inquiringly.

“You dive down below the waves to a rainbow-like world of fish and coral and many other brightly coloured things which are unknown to the people living on the surface. Do you agree?” “Yes,” says Anna.

“It must be lovely down there. You can investigate the sea floor in peace, and no one can disturb you.” “That’s right,” says Anna.

“You can be a deep-sea researcher – someone who investigates the world of the deep on behalf of the people up on the surface. They find out everything there is to know about the animals and plants which live in the sea.” “That would be fun,” says Anna.

“All submarines need a periscope, of course. That’s a long tube with mirrors so that you can always see what’s happening up top even when you’re down below.” “And so I can watch the other people,” says Anna.

“Exactly. And you’ll also need a sonar system so that you don’t crash into other submarines or ships while you’re under water. The sonar system emits sound waves so that you know when others are coming too close, and when you should dive down deeper into the sea in order to avoid other submarines and ships.” “Do I have to go deeper?” asks Anna.

“Well, I’m sure you know that it’s not a good idea for two submarines or a submarine and a ship to crash into each other. Both vessels can be damaged, even if the collision was a mistake. It’s better to anticipate the accident and change course or dive down into the water in good time. In order to respond promptly, you need a microphone which picks up the signals of the other submarines and ships and a radio system so that you can talk to their crew even when you’re under the water.” “Yes, that’s a good idea. Then I won’t collide with them again.”

“Exactly. And of course every submarine has to come to the surface from time to time.” “Why?” “For oxygen, and for food and drink. You need to come to the surface every now and again to take them on board.” “Yes, you’re right.”

“Research submarines also have to come to the surface regularly so that the researchers can talk to the people up top about what they should be investigating down below.” “Really?”

“Of course. The submarine’s job is to find out what happens under the sea and to tell the people on land about it.” “Can submarines shoot at other people?”

“Yes, submarines have torpedoes, but they must only be used against enemy ships in an emergency. It’s better to talk using the radio, or to come to the surface and use the megaphone; ‘Hello, I heard your signals and came to the surface. What’s up?’ Submarine captains who are really good at their job spend a lot of time below the water and a lot of time above the water. They know the signals of the other ships so well that they always know when it’s better to come to the surface and when it’s better to dive down into the water. They also know when it’s a good idea to be half up and half down, like a crocodile which keeps only its eyes, ears and nostrils above the water so that it can see everything happening above the water, but is still well camouflaged and can dive down quickly if necessary. Sometimes submarines also travel along just below the surface of the sea so that only their conning tower is poking out. This allows them to find out everything which is happening above the water, and to hear all the signals they need to hear and see everything they need to see, but to reach the bottom of the sea quickly if they ever need to dive down.” “Cool,” says Anna. “I like that idea.” Like everyone else, submarine captains sometimes take a holiday and come on shore. They meet their friends, tell them about their voyages and hear about their friends’ experiences. I once knew a submarine captain who liked to fly a hydroplane in his spare time, looking from above at what he normally saw from below – the land and the water, the ships, the submarines and everything else. And when he had seen everything, he landed again, or splashed down as hydroplane pilots say. He knew the world from every perspective, and he was very happy.” “Cool,” said Anna. “I’d like to do that

The Desert

The short story entitled “The Desert” highlights the risk of extreme mood fluctuations and sudden changes of life plans, and of exhausting oneself or overstretching oneself by attempting to handle projects alone (at work or otherwise). The story can also be used to make it clear that the opposite of right is a different right, whereas the opposite of wrong is a different wrong, and that the opposite of a risk can be more hazardous than the risk itself. The story can be modified to describe someone who gets into difficulties in the mountains if the listener prefers Alpine landscapes.

Top of his bucket list of dreams had been to experience the desert – the vast expanse of the Sahara. Now his dream had come true. He had travelled there by plane, coach and jeep, all the way to some tiny speck of a village somewhere on the edge of the Sahara which he had found on the map. And he knew that beyond this village was nothing – no roads, no settlements, no water, only sand, stones and rocks. He did not really know what had prompted him to travel there. Was it simply a longing from the depths of his soul? Or perhaps he had simply been surrounded for too long by too many people, too much commotion, too many voices who all wanted something from him – his colleagues at work, his neighbours, his family at home, all pulling him this way and that; can’t you please… would you please… And now silence, nothing and no one around him.

He had longed for this for so many years, perhaps his whole life long. It is so quiet here than he can hear the sand and stones crunching under his feet with every step. He wants to drink in more of this vast expanse of solitude before night falls. The next rocky hill is not too far away in the distance, but the ascent is tiring – not because of the temperature, since the sun is already low in the sky and it has become remarkably cold, but because the sand slips out from under his feet whenever he takes a step forward, pulling him backwards. He finally reaches the summit of the hill, and looks forward into the desert and back at the village. The sun is starting to set in a red haze behind the village, and through the small windows of the huts he can clearly see the flickering of the fires which are already burning. Now he wants to leave this last piece of civilisation behind him. His heart longs for quiet, preferably away from everybody else. He makes his way down the valley towards the next hill. He wants to watch the red sunset once again from the top of this hill and see nothing but desert around him. The route there is not long, but it is exhausting because of the sand slipping out from under his feet and the boulders which he must climb around. Quickly it gets dark. When he reaches the top of the hill, the sun has disappeared. He stands there for a few minutes until his dream fades and he returns to reality. He is surrounded by pitch blackness – not the darkness he knows from home, to which one’s eyes can get accustomed, but a darkness which makes it impossible to see his hand in front of his face. Returning to the village is now out of the question. His concern now is that it has become bitterly cold, and seems to be getting colder and colder. He would never have believed that it could be so cold in the desert. Standing there in the dark in his summer shirt, shorts, and sandals, he feels completely helpless and is overcome by fear. He is afraid that he will not survive the night, that he will freeze to death, die alone and never be found. He thinks about his family, and his thoughts begin to go around in circles. What will they do when he doesn’t come home? Will they search for him, and will they ever find out where he is? He wants to see them again so much. He sees three lights on the horizon, like stars rising in more or less the same place where the sun set before. He thinks to himself, “Stars don’t rise in the west. Am I seeing things already? And these stars are moving sideways, almost as if they were electric torches…” A few hours later, he is sitting around the fire in a hut with the three African men who were carrying the torches and a number of other villagers. A woman wearing a veil hands him a plate of roasted lamb and a cup of goat’s milk. They communicate using their hands and feet, and he expresses his thanks to the villagers with signs and gestures. “Inshallah,” smiles a man, “…if Allah wills.”