The case study “The Pruned Tree” investigates how people can come to terms with losing their voice. The story can however also be used in other situations such as amputations and surgical interventions of all kinds, in particular mastectomies, the operative removal of sexual organs and sterilisation. In these cases the metaphor expresses the idea that the removal of the body parts which symbolise fertility (or the loss of their functionality) furthers goals aligned with fertility. Fertility is reframed as innovative energy and creativity, and the parts of the personality associated with the body part are asked to consent to the operation and to reconcile themselves with the consenting personality parts.
I recently met a Russian man in hospital who had
undergone a laryngectomy. His son had painted him a picture of a tree bearing
red apples, with the following caption in big letter; “The tree was pruned, and
now it bears more fruit than ever. Dear father, we loved your voice. But we
love you much more!”
The story “The Sailor on Shore” provides patients with instructions on how to deal with dizziness by optimising their sense of balance, for example if they are suffering from seasickness or travel sickness. A spirit level can be used as a metaphor in place of the nautical instrument referred to in the story.
“I’ve just come off a ship after spending five days
out at sea,” explained the woman. “My head is trying to make me believe that I’m
still out on the waves. Everything is swaying and rocking from side to side.” “I
once visited a naval museum,” answered the man. “I saw a candle holder there which
was specially designed to hold candles upright all the time, even out on the
open sea. It consisted of three interlocking rings which were connected to each
other but which could each rotate independently of the others. The outer ring
hung on a chain and was positioned vertically, and the next ring was also
positioned vertically, but at right angles to the first. The last and innermost
ring was positioned horizontally, and supported the actual candle holder, whose
centre of gravity was below the ring. No matter how much the ship swayed and
rocked, the rings moved in such a way that the candle stayed upright.” “I’m not
dizzy any more,” said the woman.
Potential of Weeds” is a fable about principles. Every principle applies only
in the context from which it originates, and a change in circumstances makes it
necessary to review the principles which previously applied. Principles which
dictate how to think and act in a particular situation may impede development
if they are carried over to different situations.
They were silent for a long time. Then the little
dandelion asked his much larger neighbour, “What are you doing?” “I’m growing
my taproot.” “That’s what I’m doing too. But I’ve made no progress for days. My
root has hit a stone.” “Just do what the couch grass does and grow your root
around the stone. Grow more roots if necessary,” said the big dandelion. “I can’t
do that,” said the small dandelion. “A taproot is a taproot.” And he never grew
on Earth” is a story for idealists, perfectionists and those seeking happiness.
The search for perfection is doomed to failure, but does not need to be in
A man and a woman were once eating breakfast together.
“My dear,” said the man, “I have something important to say to you. Today I’m
going to set out on a journey. I’m going to search for heaven on earth.” The
woman choked on her coffee. “Don’t be ridiculous – you can’t mean that. Have
you lost your mind?”
“Last night I had a dream,” said the man. “I was
somewhere that looked like our village, but it was all quite different.” “How
was it different?” asked the woman. “It was a wonderful place. I found it after
walking for a long way. When I approached, I noticed that there was no sign
with the name of the village, but a radiantly beautiful angel was standing at
the first house. I asked him, ‘What is this village called?’ He answered, ‘I’ll
show you round if you like. This is heaven on earth.’ I was shocked. I’d
imagined heaven on earth to be larger, and quite different – a palace in the
clouds, or a city with towers and golden cupolas. But this village looked
almost exactly like our own, and I was almost a little disappointed by heaven
on earth. The angel looked at me as though he was waiting for an answer, and I
started to find him a bit creepy. ‘Show me around?’ I asked. ‘I think I can
find my own way around.’ ‘I think it’s better if I show you,’ said the angel
mischievously, and so off we went. We came across people who were talking to
each other and laughing. ‘Like in our village,’ I thought, but it seemed to me
that something here was different. And as we walked through the village, I felt
myself becoming ever more favourably inclined towards the angel and the people
who lived there. I asked the angel, ‘What does heaven on earth have which my
village does not?’ He answered, ‘Heaven on earth can never be the place you are
looking towards – it can only be the place you are looking from. Didn’t you
know?’ I was silent, and for an instant I thought I saw a smile on his face. ‘Go
and search for heaven on earth,’ said the angel. He remained for a second
longer, and then he disappeared, together with the people and the village. I
was awake and lying in bed.”
After the man finished recounting his dream, the woman
took a sip of her coffee and was silent. “My dear,” said the man again, “I was
given instructions by an angel. I have to set off and search for heaven on
earth.” Nothing the wife did or said could change his mind, and on that very
same day he said farewell to his wife, his family and his neighbours. Then he
set off to search for the heaven he had seen in his dream.
He travelled through many countries. He went to
Africa, but heaven did not look like Africa. He went to Siberia, but heaven did
not look like Siberia. He went to China, but heaven did not look like China.
And he went to America, but heaven did not look like America either, and he did
not find heaven on earth. He was often welcomed warmly, and occasionally people
asked him to stay – and sometimes he even thought that the angel was close by
again, but it was never quite the same as it had been in the dream. He never
found the heaven he was searching for, and so after a long time he returned
home. “Can you forgive me for staying away for so long?” he asked his wife. “I
didn’t find heaven on earth, but I’ve missed you so much.” She took him in her
arms. “And I missed all of you as well!” he called over to the other members of
his family and the neighbours who were approaching from all directions. “I’ve
learned how much I can miss you.” “So you didn’t find heaven on earth anywhere,”
repeated his wife. “What did heaven look in your dream? Which village did it
look like?” “Oh God,” said the man.
fable “The Route Through the Mountain” can be used to help the listener to
search for or realise his or her vision. It implies the existence of great and
as-yet-untapped opportunities, and encourages the exploration of new avenues of
thought. Although disguised as a fable, in structural terms it is the biography
of an inventor or explorer.
“What’s that?” a young swallow asked her mother. It was the first time she had joined the flock in its annual migration over the Alps. “Those are the rolling boxes which carry people around,” answered her mother. “But why are they coming out of the mountain here? This morning, when we were on the other side, they went into the mountain. Is it the same boxes which go in over there and come out over here?” “I suppose so,” answered her mother absent-mindedly. “Couldn’t we do that too?” continued the young swallow. “It’s cold and windy up here, and the route over the mountain must be much longer than the route which the boxes take.” “No swallow has ever flown through a mountain.” “Really?” asked the young swallow. She was already elsewhere in her thoughts, and these thoughts caused her eyes to light up
story “The Price of Success” illustrates a way of freeing oneself from the
mental blocks which may arise if an inner voice categorically prohibits failure
and thus makes it impossible to take potentially worthwhile risks. The story
asks the listener to come to terms with the idea of failure through the
realisation that it can be regarded as honourable; the price of success is
always the possibility of failure.
When Mr Gundolf was asked for the secret of his
success, he answered, “Before every new venture I weighed up the price of failure.
I agreed with myself that this was the price I would pay if it came to it,
without beating myself up. Then I weighed up the price of success and got
story “Exam Revision” outlines one way in which students can mentally prepare
themselves for the task of revision. In order to learn effectively, it is often
useful to start by asking questions and to provide the unconscious with an
overview of the unknown territory so that it can create an internal map into
which the answers to these questions can later be slotted. It is also useful to
distinguish between central and peripheral content before tackling the main
task of revision.
A man once had only five months’ time to revise for an
important exam, even though he knew that most other students spent twelve or
eighteen months revising for it, and even then many failed and had to
resit. How could he do all the necessary work in such a short time?
He gathered together the books he needed to study, and
started off by reading the indexes at the end of the books again and again over
several days. He wondered to himself what all the technical and foreign terms could
mean, thought up explanations for them and asked himself which chapters would
feature them most frequently. Then he examined the tables of contents, learned
them off by heart and thought about how the books were structured. After that
he read all the sections of the books printed in bold or italics, and the
introductions and summaries for each chapter. He tried to work out where the
key messages, explanations and supplementary information could be found in each
book. Finally he returned to the indexes. After spending a few days like this
he began to revise in the conventional fashion, and passed the exam at his
story “You’ll Manage It” can be used to counteract negative suggestions which
may be self-fulfilling, and to build positive expectations.
On 19 June 1964, Martin’s class teacher was
writing reports. In Martin’s report she wrote, “Martin’s achievements are
entirely satisfactory, but he would achieve much more if he did not suffer from
such severe behavioural problems. He is tense and unfocused, has no
self-confidence and often appears to be terrified. He must find a more orderly
way of working.”
On 16 June 2008, Martin was talking to eight
children in a psychiatric outpatients’ clinic. “When I was your age,” he said, “I
had hardly any friends. The other children teased me and laughed at me. The
teacher wrote in my report, ‘He will fail because of his inability to apply
himself and to behave himself.’ She was wrong – I made a success out of my
life. You’ll manage it too.”
who is “different” to the other people in his or her life will find that there
is always a price to pay as well as rewards to be reaped. A patient suffering
in this respect can be asked whom he or she would rather resemble or be if this
were possible, and what would be gained and lost from such a swap. It often
becomes clear that the individual is different for a good reason, and that
there is a value in remaining so.
“I’m different to all the others.” “Do you want the
others to be different?” “If the others were different, I’d want to be the
same, but as they’re all the same, I’d rather be different.”
isolation of an individual, a couple or a group of people from the rest of
society can lead to serious psychological and social damage, and a certain
degree of openness is required before healing can happen. The symptoms caused
by isolation often isolate the victim yet further, but social and psychological
succour can be provided by considerate friends and helpers who open up the way
to a better life. The story “The Cardboard Box Dressing” contains an implied
request to take the plunge into a new openness which will hopefully bring
The graze on his thigh kept on becoming inflamed. “No
wonder,” he thought to himself, “My trousers are rubbing on it.” He put a
dressing on the wound, but even though the trousers were no longer rubbing on
it, the skin was still inflamed. “It’s because no air can get to it,” explained
a friend. But what was he supposed to do, walk around in his underwear?
He applied another dressing, but this time he placed a
small cardboard box underneath it, with the open side pointing inwards towards
his thigh. Now air could get to the wound, but nothing was rubbing against it.
The inflammation subsided on the very same day.
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