We've talked about looking for the big personal or family theme, a generalization that feeds a person's history and worldview, a belief that might hold the patient, maybe the whole family, back.  A well-placed reframe, usually with a metaphor, teases away the old way of thinking. No turning back. 

Board games are making a comeback, but Monopoly never did go away.

I stopped playing for a third of a century, but on a visit to hang out with my grandkids (their parents trusted us to take care of them while they took a work vacation) revisited the game again.

Is there anything worse than losing at this?  Losing fair and square? To a six-year old? Early in the game there is a sinking feeling that the outcome is obvious, the game is over. For the very first time you learn the true meaning of Connecticut Avenue. You never valued it before. Now, landing on a hotel, you are shelling out six hundred Monopoly dollars. He has shattered your world view about how to win (buy everything). Three out of four railroads is meaningless in the big picture when you keep landing on his stinking hotels.

How do play therapists do it? They must not play Monopoly.

This is a metaphor, you tell yourself, for losing in life. Over half your patients think they are losers. Although you think you are, too, in random moments, now you relate in a different way. Being a loser is a hopeless place to be, a self-loathing, self-blaming place, and when we lose at a game it is so obvious. We have been outplayed. This time.

Losing at a game we have a sinking, negative feeling of inevitability. But the good news is that you have a new metaphor, and the metaphor by its very nature has the power to paradox, to tweak thinking in a direction that is not hopeless. Laughing at ourselves, it turns out, is the best medicine.

You think you're a loser? Have you ever lost at Monopoly, lost to a person who has yet to graduate kindergarten? Huh?

It has to make a person laugh, which is one of the more curative features of good therapy.

Mark Tyrrell would second that opinion. I had the pleasure of meeting him (via Skype, which is aggravating but does the job, unless you keep trying to move the tablet as far away as possible to look better but your arms don't stretch that far).

By Mark Tyrrell, MD
New Ways of Seeing

Mark is shirt-sleeved, and from the accent, British. His publicist sent me the book and it cost ten pounds to mail it from the United Kingdom, so I'm especially flattered. I had automatically assumed him to be older, because his book has so much wisdom packed into these short blurbs of hypnotic suggestion.

That is what a metaphor really is, a hypnotic suggestion. It reaches into our head and we find it either funny, or calming, or more sensible than the negative ideas we've had about things that are sometimes remotely related.

Many of us understand, for example, the idea of learned helplessness. A woman endures various hardships in life, foster homes, abusive relationships, and is wired to be anxious all the time, unhappy. She finally meets a kind, gentle man and knows he will be good to her, but she is terrified that the future will surely end up wrong, as if she doesn't deserve to be happy.

Her therapist has her imagine a young bird, set free for the first few days of life, then captured and locked up in a cage. The bird is beautiful and has a wonderful song but cannot sing or fly free. Then one day, through sheer hard work and some luck, the cage door is open. At last she can fly and sing as much as she wishes. But she won't. She just stays in the cage.

The doctor then asks the patient: If you could speak to the bird, what would you say?"

The patient answers: "Well, I would tell it to fly free, of course. . .because now it can, only it just doesn't know it."

Dozens of gems like this in New Ways of Seeing.

"Must one study hypnosis to do this?" I ask Mark, knowing full well that at the Chicago Family Institute we learned about the metaphor and that have been using it for thirty years, but most of us don't consider ourselves hypnotists.

"No, but it helps.  It is really the relationship that makes the difference, the trust in the doctor is key. We relax automatically when we are in a trusting relationship, and what is hypnosis if not deep relaxation?"

Thanks Mark.

The Amazon link to New Ways of Seeing: The Art of Therapeutic Reframe

To read other things about this prolific therapydoc check out his website.


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