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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, people laughing."

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 friends."

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.

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