The Pruned Tree

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 Sailor on Shore

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.

The Potential of Weeds

“The 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 any larger.

Heaven on Earth

“Heaven 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 vain…

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.

The Route Through the Mountain

The 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

The Price of Success

The 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 started.”

Exam Revision

The 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 first attempt.

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.”


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.