Compulsion: Week 4
"Hanging by a thread ...""
Sam is a 37-year old film producer addicted to chocolate.
His psychotherapy sessions with Philip Harland are written up shortly
after they happen.
In the first session I took Sam through an Addiction Audit (see
week 1 footnote) exploring the attitudes and influences around his
compulsive eating. Over the next two sessions he discovered that the
part responsible for the compulsion ('Reward Me') actually wanted him
'To breathe after struggling'. Sam's Creative Self then came up with
several ways that Reward Me could achieve this intention other than
by eating chocolate. Before agreeing to try one of these alternative
behaviours, Reward Me has commissioned Creative Self to come up with
a reminder and control system.
Fourth session. After recapping the end of the last session
I ask Sam, "And what would you like to have happen?" He
allows his mind to to free-associate. Then he says, "I see a
big Great Gatsby type party ..."
"What kind of party?" I ask, and we move naturally
into clean language. Sam answers "Style, flair, enjoyment,
And what happens next?" "I'm talking to someone unaware that
my trousers are falling down." He laughs. So do I.
I'm tempted to ask about the trousers, but instead go for the
talking. "Oh - social chit-chat, not important."
Perhaps I should have gone for the obvious. I ask what happens
next. "Now we're playing a game with cakes on a string."
The word 'string' stands out. Last week one of the things Sam's
Creative Self came up with when asked for ideas for a control system
for the new behaviours was the image of a body with string connected
to its parts.
"Is that the same or different string to the string
connected to the body parts?" "Different. In the party you eat your
cake and it's pulled out again using the string. It's a joke."
"What kind of joke?" "A joke of familiarity between
I wonder if this visual-linguistic joke contain a resource
metaphor. "What happens just before you eat your cake and it's
pulled out?" "A great thing is made of presenting your piece of cake.
Pomp and ceremony, waiters in white gloves ..."
Piece of cake? I get quite curious about phonetic ambiguity in
client-generated metaphor. "And what happens just before
presenting your piece of cake?" "A cowboy scene. There are people
drawing guns. Like in a Mel Brooks movie. The guns are on strings
connecting them to the holsters, so when you pull them out they pop
back in again."
So the symbolic pattern repeats. Guns on string. Cakes on string.
Putting in, pulling out. "What kind of string is that?"
"Aquamarine blue sewing thread."
Oh. Is he setting a new direction? What do we go for now? That
'aquamarine' could hold a great deal of information. So could the
'blue'. Or the 'sewing'. Or the 'thread'! I can't decide between
them, so I ask a general question: "Is there anything else
about aquamarine blue sewing thread?" "It seems very fragile but has
amazing strength, and it's to sew up clothes."
"What kind of seems is a thread to sew up clothes?" I
don't know where this question comes from. It's logical enough within
the conventions of clean language, but is not wholly grammatical or
sensible. There is a pause. Am I on to something here, or have I
distracted the client with a foolish construction and now he's
struggling to get back on course? The pause lengthens, his eyes glaze
over. Is he getting bored and drifting off? If so, what do I do now?
Or has Sam moved to a deeper level of his own unconscious? This could
be important. I must not break the thread ...!
Sam's eyes open. He asks me to repeat the question. I check the
clock. Our time is up.
Next week I aim to start where we finished. This sewing
metaphor may contain the coded solution to Sam's compulsion.