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Compulsion: Week 3
"Juggling oranges ..."

Last week Sam identified the positive intention of his compulsion for chocolate as "Getting my breath back after struggling". The part-self responsible for the compulsion (he called it 'Reward Me') has reluctantly agreed to try other behaviours for getting what it wants - if it can be convinced that they will work at least as well as chocolate. How can Reward Me be convinced?

Third session. I invite Sam to get a sense of his Creative Self and he nods immediately. Some clients spend hours defining and rediscovering their creativity. We are all creative as children (think of all that drawing and playing), but after being put through the mill of conformity at home, school and work we lose a sense of ourselves as imaginative and innovative. Our natural creativity learns to lie low as we discover there is a 'right' and a 'wrong' way of being in the world. This might easily have happened to Sam as he worked his way through a conventional public school system, but it's likely that his experience of dyslexia gave him the idea that he was different, and that in turn gave him a determination to do his own thing. I brief Sam's Creative Self to come up with five ideas. It will have no responsibility for implementing any of them and can be as imaginative and irresponsible as it likes. What ideas does it have for allowing Sam to 'get his breath back after struggling'? Creative Self comes up fairly readily with:

1. Juggling oranges.
2. Standing at an open window.
3. Stretching exercises.

Then Reward Me butts in and denounces these as 'boring'. So already Sam's creativity is ahead of the game - with no prompting from me he has started to negotiate between these key parts of himself. Creative Self is now invited to ignore Reward Me's intervention and continue. It comes up with:

4. Going on a helter-skelter.
5. Going to the Bahamas to eat lobster.
6. Go-Kart racing.
7. Eating ice cream.
8. Watching cartoons.

Creative Self reckons that Reward Me will find it hard to describe these as boring. Creative Self is thanked by Sam, and Reward Me is invited to evaluate the ideas. Reward Me rejects all those that require Sam to go out of the building where he works, on the grounds that there are too many shops nearby where chocolate is available (Sam works in London's West End). Reward Me considers the option of eating ice cream, but rejects it on the grounds that it has the same fattening associations as chocolate. So Reward Me says he might try the exercises, and acknowledges without enthusiasm that looking after the body would also contribute to Sam's professed desire for more fitness. Creative Self is getting fed up of Reward Me's half-hearted responses to his ideas, and comes up with two further options:

9. Doodling. (Reward Me is not impressed.)
10. Moving the office into the country away from the shops. (Reward Me derides this as impractical.)

So Reward Me has eliminated all but the stretching exercises. He agrees to try these in intervals between work. Personally I'm not convinced that a little light aerobics will be enough to meet such a long-held emotional need for reward after hard work, but I don't have to be convinced - my job is to continue drawing Sam's attention to his own process. I elicit from Sam what his first steps will be in taking on the new behaviour. He hesitates. And what he says is very interesting: "I need an internal buzzer that says 'Please relax', and I need a second buzzer that says 'Go back to work'". He wants some kind of symbolic system of control that will help him remember. He can't work out how to get this, so asks long-suffering Creative Self for more ideas. Creative Self is tired, and doesn't want to make 'sense' any more, so is invited to relax and let his mind wander. And what comes up in a trance state is quite strange:

1. A body with strings attached to its parts.
2. A ship leaving port.
3. A cartoon of a Minotaur on the rampage.
4. A maze.

Sam is baffled. "I ask for a system of control," he says, "and I come up with rubbish." I'm puzzled too, but I'm convinced that an important message has arrived via Sam's unconscious. He just needs a way of decoding it. And I find myself saying, "How about asking Reward Me to commission Creative Self to come up with ideas for a control system using unconscious process?" Sam says, "Yes." So I've set us up. How do I get us going?

Reflecting after the session I think my instinct was right. Next week I plan on moving into more intuitive mode using clean language to facilitate Sam to explore and decode this symbolic information that has come directly from his unconscious. Remember the first session where Sam deswcribed his compulsive eating as "like filling a garbage can"? The 'rubbish' he's come up with today must have some connection.

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