Multi-directional arrows

This is a true account of a case I had nearly 35-years ago. I write it here, that my students may learn a therapeutic technique known as reframing.

I once had a client who had eleven kids. He was depressing* and had talked of suicide many times over the previous decade. His wife was at her wits end and was highly distressed.

Therapist: Aaron, you’ve told me that you want to commit suicide. And, you’ve told your wife and your minister. So far, no one’s been able to get through to you. Even your own kids know of your plan. Do you think there’s anything I can say that will change your mind?

C: No, not really. I’m so depressed about life.

T: Well, then, I understand that you are an accountant and I’ve never met an accountant who wasn’t extremely well organized. I’m sure you’ll agree with that! So, since you don’t believe that I or anyone else can talk you out of this plan, do you mind if I speak bluntly?

C: No, please do.

T: You’ve not only been trained to be a perfectionist in your work, but you’ve also been trained to think things through, until they are almost perfect. With that in mind, I suggest that you go to a local cemetery and pick out the exact spot where you want to be buried for your eternal existence. And, while you are there, be sure to check the quality of the grass and soil. As a perfectionist, you surely would want the very best growing above you.

Next, I suggest that you go to a mortuary and provide your undertaker with a fancy new suit because he’ll have to destroy the one you ruin at your suicide; being covered with vomit, blood and feces. And, while you are there, be efficiently methodical about picking out your coffin. Being as conservative as you are, I know you’ll find one that’s practical and not too extravagant. You do want a good one, though, since you’re going to be lying in it for a long, long time. I think you might want to try it out to be sure its soft and comfy. I know that when my time comes, I plan to do that…and…I’m not even an accountant…but I am accountable.

Next, I suggest that you set up a scholarship fund for all your kids, because I truly believe you would want their lives to end up happier than yours has been. Lastly and finally, you will surely want to pick a day…and a location/ I’m sure you will choose the exact method.

I think that, since you’ve gone more than ten years thinking about suicide, you must have picked a time that’s far enough out in the future when it won’t have a big impact on those who are so dependent on you. Do you think that might be okay? If all of what I’ve just said to you is clear, then I expect to see you back here within a week, at precisely 3:17 in the afternoon….in order for you to update me on your progress.

In the meantime, be sure you take each one of your kids aside and explain your plan to them, so they won’t be surprised when you do it. At your next appointment, I’d like you to tell me how well you’ve done with your assignment. Is that okay with you?

C: Yes. But, do I have to start this week?

T: Yes, I think it would be nice to begin as soon as possible. You really don’t want another ten years to fly by as fast as the last ten, do you? I mean, before you know it, you’ll be an old man and then your plan will have been shot to hell. Right? I mean look at you—you’re already…what…forty-two.

I’m willing to bet that at some time in the next five days, you’re going to have a dream about an event that took place more than 25-years ago. And, when you awaken from that dream, you’ll believe that event took place no more than…what…maybe a month ago. And, at that, you’ll realize that next month you’ll be damn-near—what…70-years-old? Wow! Almost there, dude!

C: Okay, I’ll see you next week.

T: Oh, and Aaron. I’d like to review your suicide note with you at that time. So, be sure you bring it with you.

Aaron was a very religious man. Being suicidal, he was in that trance I’ve stated so many times in my text. He didn’t have to be hypnotized…so there was no reason to induce a trance. His mind was glued on every word I said and that, dear student, was the trance.

Yes, he was depressing and I gave him what he wanted. Someone to choose up sides and then coach his team. In choosing the words I did, I knew he wouldn’t do what I asked. That’s human nature. Nobody wants to be told to do something they never intended to do in the first place. I knew he had no intention of doing himself in or he would have already done it!

This man wanted me to condone his actions and, yet, he was hoping I’d talk him out of it, just as his wife and minister had done so often. I only made it harder for him to bitch about how hard his life was. I progressed him forward in time—something few people want to think about—when his life would be coming to a close anyway.

As my student, make a note of this: If what is being done isn’t working, why keep doing it? As the old maxim goes …how’s not doing anything been working for you?

I do not believe in babying any client. Nearly every client will tell you, “I’ve tried it all, but…” That’s because they’re still trying to cross the same ground everyone else has covered. No matter how many ways my clients tell me they’ve tried, I always find the one way they haven’t. And that usually works.

So, did Aaron come back? Yes. He self-consciously smiled as he sat all the way down in that chair. He said, “You got me, and you knew it, didn’t you?”

T: Yes, Aaron, but let me tell you something I rarely ever say to my clients. You’re a very religious man, so I can say this easily. No therapist wants to know that his client has killed himself. Worse than that, however, God doesn’t like the idea very much. He doesn’t even like hearing about it through the grapevine. Do you know what I’m saying?

He acknowledged that he did. He did have his dream, just as I suspected because I had directed all my words to his subconscious mind. I contacted his minister sometime later and he indicated that he’d never seen Aaron looking better.

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