You’ll Manage It

The 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.”

Different

Anyone 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.”

The Cardboard Box Dressing

The 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 healing.

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.

Gregor the Dragon

“Gregor the Dragon” encourages children to be aware of the harm caused by their own violence, to use their power carefully, to accept themselves as lovable, to discover their talents, to win back former friends and to find new ones.

Gregor the dragon huffed and puffed away to himself, feeling sad and angry. He had been looking for someone to play with all day long, but no one wanted to play with him. He had asked the fox whether he would like to play, but the fox had replied, “No way! You’ll only burn our skin and hair again with your fiery breath.” The badger, the hare and the bear had said the same when he had asked them. And yet he had not meant to burn their fur – it had just happened. At least most of the time. As Gregor the dragon sat there and brooded, a tear rolled down his cheek and fell with a small plop to the ground. The owl Laila, who – like all owls – had excellent hearing and was very wise, was sitting high up in the tree. “What kind of a plop was that?” she asked herself. “It sounded like the noise a dragon’s tear would make.” And she peered out to see, since it’s not every day that you see a dragon crying. “Why are you crying, dragon?” she asked. “None of the animals want to play with me. They say it’s because I burned their fur. But I didn’t mean to,” answered Gregor. “What should I do?” Laila scratched her head. “You want to do them good instead of doing them harm, but it will take a long time until they believe that. It will take the whole day and perhaps even the whole night, and maybe even longer until they can trust you again. Why don’t you start with me?” said the owl, flying down and landing on Gregor’s shoulder. “Tell me some stories about dragons!” And so Gregor began to tell the owl stories about dragons, and there were so many exciting stories that it took a very long time for him to tell them all… The forest creatures heard him in the distance, and their curiosity forced them to come a little closer and then yet closer still in order to catch every word of the dragon’s enthralling stories. The dragon’s voice grew quieter and calmer, and the other creatures came even closer. Night fell, and the temperature with it. The owl nuzzled into the dragon’s neck, which was lovely and warm thanks to the dragon fire smouldering within. Many hours went by, and when the sun came up next morning, it bathed in its rays a group of animals huddled closely around the dragon, enjoying the warmth which he radiated. And Gregor was still telling dragon stories

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.