Framsteg – laxen

Here is a story about the salmon who went on a travel, translated into Swedish by my colleague Viktoria Carlsén.
The original German story “Vorankommen” is found in Stefan Hammel’s “Handbuch des therapeutischen Erzählens”, p.232f.

En lax vandrade längs sin årliga resa, längre och längre uppströms. Han klarade av starka forsar och att komma förbi enorma stenblock – och använde all sin styrka och skicklighet för att bestiga vattenfallet.
”Nu är jag snart framme” sa laxen till sig själv till slut. ”Jag kommer ihåg att jag varit här förut – jag passerade här på min första kväll av resan nedför. Jag är mycket större och starkare nu, så jag kommer att nå min slutdestination om bara några timmar.
Laxen fördubblade sin ansträngning för han ville göra snabbare framsteg. Men när han gjorde det så verkade strömmen bli starkare. Vägen ned längs floden hade verkat enkel, men vägen tillbaka verkade vara ren tortyr. Ibland var han för trött för att simma, ofta saknade han koncentration för att hoppa ordentligt, ibland behövde han simma runt fiskarnas metspön och stativ och en gång hade han tvingats undvika tassen från en hungrig björn.
Om och om igen stannade han för att samla ihop sin styrka men floden fortsatte flyta mot havet. När kvällen kom märkte laxen att han inte gjort något framsteg alls, om nåt hade han åkt baklänges. Ledsen och besviken sökte han skydd mellan två stenblock vid flodens sida. Han tänkte för sig själv ”Det måste vara möjligt att nå min slutstation – andra har ju lyckats klara av det. Men hur?”
Då fick den kloka fisken en idé ”Jag ska sluta försöka nå dit så fort som möjligt, jag ska bara göra framsteg. Allt jag kommer att begära av mig själv är att jag kommer lite närmare mitt mål varje kväll än vad jag var på morgonen, och om jag gör så varje dag kommer jag så småningom att nå min slutdestination. Så länge som jag gör framsteg till vare kväll så spelar det ingen roll hur kort avstånd jag har rest – även om det bara är 1,5 cm”.
Laxen skruvade upp sitt mod och började om igen. Vissa dagar gjorde han knappt några framsteg alls, men oftast färdades han mycket längre än han förväntade sig – och om han inte gjorde det, så kom han ihåg sitt beslut och var nöjd över det han klarat av.
Efter några veckor så nådde han sin slutdestination, en sjö nära flodens källa. Han tittade sig omkring och upptäckte att bara några få andra laxar hade anlänt till sjön före honom – de flesta höll fortfarande på att kämpa för att nå dit på kortast möjliga tid.

(Översättning: Viktoria Carlsén)

Hearing Difficulty

The story “Hearing Difficulty” picks up on the fact that tinnitus sufferers often focus their attention on the wrong thing. It can be used not only in connection with tinnitus, but also as a metaphor for many other internal and external conflicts.

I remember a particular teacher who taught me when I was at school and whose lessons seemed to me both easy to follow and informative. Then one day another pupil pointed out how often she ummed and ahhed while she was talking, and that ruined everything. Up until then I had been able to listen to her words and had not even noticed the hesitations, but from then on I could only hear, “um…. ah….. um.” The words that she said were nothing but pauses between the sounds.

The Hindenburg Path

“The Hindenburg Path” describes a dialogue which appears to make no sense because one of the interlocutors is hard of hearing.

People suffering from a hearing impairment may seem odd (unapproachable, indifferent, arrogant etc.) and be treated accordingly, which may mean that they increasingly grow to resemble the mistaken image which others have of them. The same applies to people who find it difficult to communicate because they grew up speaking a different language. In the situation described in the story, the problem is probably a result of the man’s efforts to avoid loneliness by attempting to communicate in spite of his hearing impairment. The story reflects the general principle that “odd” behaviour often turns into “ordinary” behaviour once we are aware of its context.

Mr Neumann greeted Mr Krauss, an elderly man who lived nearby. “Hello, Mr Krauss” “Hello… and where have you come from?” Mr Neumann pointed in the appropriate direction and replied, “From down there.” “Oh, the Hindenburg path.” “The Hindenburg path? Why’s it called that?” “It’s so steep you can’t go up it.” “I see. But what does that have to do with Hindenburg?” “Haven’t you ever heard of the enormous Hindenburg airship…!”

Blinded by Love

The story “Blinded by Love” is an example of a minimal conversion disorder, and can be told e.g. to people experiencing a psychological crisis and suffering from symptoms relating to perception or mobility.

As I walked through the pedestrian zone, I wondered why I was finding it so hard to see things. What could be wrong with me? A delayed effect of the laser eye surgery I had undergone last autumn? My vision was normally 20/20, and I couldn’t understand it. When I was driving on the motorway that evening, I strained my eyes to peer through the windscreen and find the best angle of vision. Where had all the cars gone? What on earth was going on? The answer was supplied by my friendly unconscious. I had just spent three days at a conference on trauma which had involved a lot of biographical work, and I had also fallen for a woman who was not interested in me. As soon as I asked myself, “What am I finding so difficult to look at?” the visual impairment disappeared. Things like this happen, and more often than you might think

Christmas Bell

The story “Christmas Bell” can be used to illustrate the phenomenon of “institutional blindness” or to highlight the fact that the unconscious mind tends to provide the conscious mind only with new information or information associated with a message of some kind (a warning or the answer to a question).

On one of the last days of April I took down a Christmas bell which was hanging from a hook on the ceiling. I had got so used to seeing the bell as part of my surroundings that I had not noticed it at all during all the months which had passed since Christmas. I had simply no longer perceived it. It was the last of the Christmas decorations – or was it?

A Walk Along the Beach

The story “A Walk Along the Beach” illustrates another simple method of hypnotic anaesthesia. The problem is not that it is difficult to induce an anaesthetising trance, but that we often do not believe that everyday trances can fulfil the same role. What is more, we do not generally notice that our pain has disappeared when we are either in a pain-free trance state between painful waking states or at a later stage (because we are absorbed by something else, and because the change from a trance state into a waking state is associated with amnesia).

A doctor had to carry out an operation to remove a patient’s large toenail, but the patient could not tolerate painkillers. “What should I do?” he asked her. “I’d feel like I was torturing you if I operated on you while you were still fully conscious!” The patient shrugged her shoulders. “Where do you most like going on holiday?” he asked. “The Baltic Sea,” she answered. “My husband and I have had some wonderful walks along the beaches there.” “Tell me about them, and immerse yourself in the tale,” said the doctor. “Dive deep down into your memories and describe everything you see, hear, feel, taste and smell on your walks there.” The woman started her story and kept on going. “Now a storm is brewing,” she said as the doctor began the operation. She saw the storm approaching but remained quite calm.

The Unscrewable Body

“The Unscrewable Body” can be used in connection with medical interventions or as mental preparation for sport. Sportspeople must however be particularly aware of the risks of anaesthetising oneself while training. Care must be taken to avoid any possibility of injury or the worsening of physical conditions as a result of eliminating pain signals through suggestion.

I once knew a man who had a very strange talent; he could simply unscrew the lower part of his body from the upper part whenever he went for a walk – like unscrewing the lid from a jam jar or vice versa. Then the lower body would walk alongside the man while his upper body supervised from above. Sometimes the legs, stomach and backside would move a couple of hundred metres away from the upper body, but they never ran away and always came back. At the end of the walk, the upper body and lower body would screw themselves tightly back together again. Then the head would say, “What a good job I didn’t have to listen to the legs moaning all the time on our long walk.” And the legs would say, “What a good job that we didn’t have to listen to the head’s unkind warnings and pep talks.” Everyone would be happy and content, and they would sit down together for a cup of tea and a chat about the different things they had seen during their walk

Go Away

The following stories demonstrate various techniques for hypnotic anaesthesia. The case study “Go Away” involves taking the pain as a starting point and then rapidly minimising it through a plausible chain of associations. It illustrates a typical feature of verbal pacing and leading, namely that the pain (the problem) is referred to directly at the beginning, but only mentioned indirectly as an “inconvenience” by the end.

A woman attending a psychotherapy session suddenly developed a bad headache. She explained that it was linked to a problem with her cervical vertebrae for which she was undergoing medical treatment. Her face was screwed up in pain, and it was clear that she was struggling to focus on anything else. I told her, “That must really hurt. It must hurt a great deal, and you must be wishing that it would go away soon, that it would perhaps go away in three minutes or in two minutes, or that it would go away in one minute or in half a minute, or perhaps even sooner. When do you think this inconvenience will go away?” “It has almost gone already,” she answered very calmly.

Of Pain and Lice

The story “Of Pain and Lice” illustrates how hypnotic anaesthesia can be prevented. We activate and reinforce anything we address and request, whether pleasant or unpleasant, and the only logical purpose of asking for something we do not want is therefore to pick up on an experience we have already had and turn it into something different and positive. What patients refer to as “distracting themselves” and “thinking about something else” can be a very effective form of anaesthesia, and their efforts can be promoted by the medical and care staff who engage in small talk with them.

I waited in the doctor’s office and wondered how I could distract myself from the treatment I was about to undergo by focusing my attention on something else. The doctor came in, greeted me and started the procedure. “Does that hurt?” he asked. He could have achieved a similar but more pleasant result if he had said, “The patient before you had lice. I hope you’re not feeling itchy?”

The Worry Catapult

“The Worry Catapult” is an intervention which can be used at a somatic level to avoid or reduce stress-related facial wrinkles, at an emotional level for relaxation and at a social level to practice new behavioural patterns for dealing with interpersonal stress.

One of the games we used to play at school was to stretch a rubber band between two fingers of one hand and then shoot folded bits of paper at the other pupils, or even at the teacher when his back was turned at the blackboard. It was against the school rules, of course, but it was still great fun and a good way of keeping boredom at bay. A sawn-off forked branch and a rubber ring from a preserving jar could be used in a similar way to make a stone catapult, and even now I still often think of these different kinds of catapults.

Sometimes wrinkles appear on my face because I am afraid, annoyed, sympathetic or troubled. I know that if they become a fixed part of my repertoire of facial expressions, in a few years’ time these expressions will turn into basic facial characteristics which determine my neutral appearance regardless of my mood – wrinkles and all. This is not what I want, and it is also not what I need.

My face muscles are like a worry catapult which is stretched between my ears. Whenever my skin tenses up in one spot and forms wrinkles in another, and whenever a particular level of tension has been exceeded, the catapult goes “pop” and the muscles relax. All the worries, all the annoyance, all the anger – catapulted away into time and space. Sometimes they are fired into nothingness, and sometimes they are sent to someone who – unlike me – will give them a good home. The only thing left on my face is a smile, as I know that the worry wrinkles have not made a home for themselves this time.