We’ve got something a bit different this time – a transcript of a client session that we filmed for Uncommon Practitioners TV. Do let me know in comments if this format is useful, or if there’s anything you think would improve it.
This client is a caring and kind woman. But she’s having a really hard time with her stepdaughter. Even though the girl can be quite cruel to her, the client clearly has her stepdaughter’s best interests at heart.
She fears the teenager will do things now that she will someday greatly regret.
But the client also feels somewhat unsupported by the girl’s father in setting boundaries and applying any kind of guidance to the girl.
She tells me that her stepdaughter will ignore her as though she doesn’t exist. This client has had real trouble sleeping because she worries, not so much about the way she, herself, is treated, but about the girl.
She feels she is seen as some evil stepmom and yet she really does care about this girl. In this transcript of the session you’ll see how I gather information, locate resources and help her form a goal for the session. The hypnotic induction I use with her to help her both sleep better and emotionally protect herself more is also included.
Mark starts off by gathering information in a very conversational way
Mark: So, you’re moving soon?
Mark: And that’s a great thing, and you’re moving to a more relaxing place because it’s in the country?
Mark: Away from the center of the city. So, what would you like in help with me for today?
Client: I wonder if it’s a little bit unusual, but in the family I’m a stepmom. And I have a stepdaughter, and I get quite anxious about her and the interactions with her. I’ve got a stepson as well, but he’s kinda easier to deal with. He’s quite straightforward.
Mark: Right, okay.
Client: My stepdaughter feels like life is about a battle with me for her dad’s love. But I would like to worry less about her, and about the decisions her parents make about her, because sometimes I feel like they make decisions that are not that great for her.
Client: So, that’s one thing but, as a stepparent, you can only just watch things going wrong. And then, I sort of say something and then things go wrong.
Client: And I just get a lot of sleepless nights. And I really hate it. And obviously it impacts on my health.
Mark: Okay. So how old is your stepdaughter?
Client: She’s 15 now. Just 15.
Mark: 15. Wonderful age.
Client: Yeah. She knows everything.
Mark: You do. That’s the good thing about being 15. And how long have you been living with her?
Client: About four years.
Mark: About four years.
Mark: Okay, so you’ve seen her grow up a bit.
- Mark: And in that time, has this become more of an issue over the years? Or has it stayed the same, or…?
Client: It’s probably better now than it was a little while ago.
Mark: Oh, really.
Client: But it’s still quite a weekly battleground. We have her for half the week.
Mark: Oh, so you have her half the week and then for the rest of the week, she’s with her mother.
Client: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: Okay. And is her mother local as well?
Client: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: Okay. And do you have any contact with the mother?
Client: No. Not really. To the most extent, no.
Mark: Okay. But you feel there’s some kind of tussling through the mother with your stepdaughter? I mean, does the stepdaughter sort of repeat stuff her mother has said or is there anything-
Client: No, not really. I mean she does … She will say, “Well, mom lets me.” But I think that’s just … You know.
Mark: Okay. So give an example of when it’s been an issue. What’s been a problem or what sort of problems-
Client: Well, she used to think … She sat in a chair and told me and her dad that it’s perfectly normal for 14 year olds to drink every day.
Mark: Right. Okay.
Client: And I’m not like, “It’s not.”
Client: It’s not normal, and it’s not okay. And even if it was normal, it’s not okay.
Client: And things around drinking, drugs, and being out late and …
Mark: Okay, so sort of reining her in really, and-
Mark: And does she go out a lot?
Client: Yeah. Yeah.
Mark: Right. And how does her father see this?
Client: I think both her parents are a bit like, “Hey, what’s wrong, what’s wrong?” And I go, “Well, each individual event isn’t really a problem. It’s the cumulative.” It’s like looking at it as a whole.
Mark: Yeah, the bigger sort of picture. Okay. So, liberal is an interesting word, isn’t it?
Client: Boundary-less I would say.
Mark: And of course, everyone needs boundaries. So, how do you manage that? Do you have to bite your tongue?
Client: I’ve had a lot of rows. ‘Cause I try and say, calmly. And then, of course, if somebody’s got a different perspective, they’re not gonna go, “Oh, yeah. God, that’s an interesting thing for you to say.” They’re gonna go, “What’s your problem now? They’re just asking to do this.” And I go, “But then we’ve had all like …” It’s terrible to school. It’s not looking good at school. It’s not looking good outside school. You know?
Mark: Yeah, yeah. And what’s the biggest thing that you don’t want to see happen in all of this?
“What’s the biggest thing that you don’t want to see happen?” This doesn’t sound like a solution focussed question but it is a way of starting to form a goal.
- Client: I don’t want her to look back and feel sorry about things she’s done. And I know that lots of risk-taking that young people do, afterwards they feel really bad about. And I feel like it’s a good thing for adults to say, “You might feel really bad about that later. That might not be the best idea.”
Mark: Yeah, yeah. So try and instill some kind of long term thinking.
Client: Yeah. Yeah.
Mark: Into the adolescent mind, as it were.
Client: But the realization that things really aren’t okay. That if you’re in a particular group of people, it doesn’t mean they’re right. Even if all of them do certain things. They might all be wrong.
Mark: That’s the thing, isn’t it? Everybody’s doing it. You could have said that in Nazi Germany, couldn’t you?
Client: Yeah, yeah. Exactly.
Mark: Exactly. So, group think isn’t necessarily always the thing. But … As we know. But, have you and your partner come to any agreements?
Client: We do sometimes. Yeah.
Client: But there’s quite a lot of …
Mark: What do you agree about?
Client: There’s no general agreement. Because … Yeah, so. My issue, ’cause we’ve actually done it this morning, is about being consistent.
Client: There’s very little consistency. Every decision is made as an ad hoc decision, rather than looking at, as I said, taking the bigger picture stuff and …
Mark: Okay. And the stepson. How old is he?
Client: He’s 12.
Mark: He’s 12. And there aren’t … Everything’s fine with him?
Client: It’s fine and it’s not fine. But he reflects. He’s crazy and he pushes the boundaries, but if he upsets you and you talk to him, and I sit him down and say … He’s got a much better … He will talk to me. My stepdaughter will not talk to me. She ignores me most of the time. She will not acknowledge my presence, which is a whole other issue. But, it’s about the anxiety, it’s about the sleepless nights. ‘Cause sometimes things that might happen, that I’m lying awake thinking, “Oh, please don’t do this. Don’t think this is okay, don’t …”
Client: And I just worry and worry and worry. ‘Cause I worry. Yeah.
Mark: So she’s giving you something to worry about?
Client: Yeah. And I … And also, it’s not just I’m doing lots of worrying, but sort of I’m the evil stepmom because I’m the one who stops things happening.
Mark: But actually, you really care about her?
Mark: And I’m sure your partner does as well, I’m sure he’s-
Client: Yeah, of course.
Mark: Her mother does, as well.
Client: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: But, you can kinda see with a wide lens, perhaps.
Client: Yes. Right, I worked with teenagers a lot a couple of years back. So, I kind of … I get the fact that actually, if you develop a good relationship and you say, “These are my reasons for not wanting you to do it. You might not like it, but this is my reasons. And you can’t tell me I don’t have the reasons I do.”
Client: Then if you do that enough and you build up a good relationship, then people kind of, when you ask them, say, “I’d rather you didn’t do that.” Actually they don’t need to have a big row. Don’t need to constantly, ’cause they kinda go, “Oh, maybe you’re actually right about that.”
Mark: Yeah. But without the consistency for the both of you, then obviously, she’s got more leverage to do what she wants, isn’t she?
Mark: And then you could be cast as the wicked stepmother. Which is not you at all.
Client: No. I mean, one of the things she does is she won’t let me do things in order to maintain the evil stepmom thing.
Mark: She won’t let you do things?
Client: You know, so sort anything out for her. Do nice things.
Mark: Oh, I see what you mean, because-
Client: She’ll say “No, I’m fine”.
Mark: That would sort of-
Client: She’d ask her dad or her mom, so. And I’ll say, “Oh, look. I’ll get it. I’m just going to the shops anyway.” She’s, “No, I don’t need it.”
Mark: Because if you did something for her, that would recast you?
Mark: That wouldn’t fit in with you’re, oh, this evil stepmother.
Mark: Yeah. And has she always been like that towards you. Is this more sort of teenage kinda …
Client: I think … First year was really, really wonderful. And I kept saying to her dad, “There’s gonna be a backlash. I know there’s no way it could be this …” It was very lovely. But I think children of split up parents always hold the fantasy that they’re gonna get back together, and then when it became more serious, that was a realization that-
Client: I think that, I think that’s in there somewhere. Certainly in the mix.
Mark: Right. That somehow you stopped her initial family being back together.
Client: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: Right. Okay, so this must be really hard for you.
Client: Yes, it is really, really hard.
Mark: And does your partner appreciate how difficult it is for you, or-
Client: I don’t think so, no. He says he does, but I don’t think he does. I don’t think he stops and goes, “Wow. That must be …”
Mark: Right. So do you have anyone you can talk to about this?
Client: Yes, I’ve got really good friends.
The client has been feeling quite alone especially as she doesn’t always feel in alignment with her partner over his daughter, although she does have good supportive friends.
Mark: Good. You can moan to.
Client: I’ve got … Yeah. Who put forward, really sound-
Client: And also, they’ve got children the same age. So they sort of know … You know, I go to them. I go, “Am I being really weird?”
Mark: Yeah, yeah.
Client: ‘Cause you always wanna say, “Actually, am I being too much?” She said the other day, “Everyone’s allowed out later than me. Even my best friend,” who I know the mom. So I thought I’d drop her a text, ’cause it’s like, maybe I am. Maybe I am really babying her. So like, “What time do you let your daughter go out to at night? In the week.” And she said, “I don’t like her to go out at all.”
Client: Well, there you go.
Mark: I fell for that one, yeah.
Client: I didn’t fall for it, I just wanted to measure whether I was being unreasonable. You know?
Mark: Yeah. Yeah. So, sounds like you are really, really fair.
Client: I’m trying to be.
Mark: Trying to be fair.
Client: Well, I try and ask my … Check into stuff, and-
Mark: Yeah. You’re not being so … You’re not being dogmatic or assuming that you’re seeing things the only way. You’re kind of checking.
Client: But I think, you know, 14 year old brain. Drink, drugs, and sex probably are not brilliant at 14.
Client: I think it can wait. ‘Cause you’re only a child. Once you’ve crossed the line between … After being, not being a child anymore, you can’t go back. And you might actually want to.
Mark: That’s right.
Client: Might actually feel the-
Mark: That’s right, and so often you do see … Despite all that, them sometimes almost wanting to be babied again or wanting to be the child again. But then they’re confused, because there’s all this other stuff going on, isn’t there. So when you move to the countryside, she’ll be … At least for the half of the week, moving with you.
Mark: And will that … How is that gonna change things? As far as going out is concerned and …
Client: Well, yeah. That’s why she won’t even see the house at the moment.
Mark: Oh, really?
Client: I’ve got it … Because it’s going to ruin her life.
Mark: Ah, okay. Yeah.
Client: I mean, she’ll be able to go out … There’s loads of things that … Yeah.
Client: We’ll be amenable to lifts and stuff like that. It’s 15 minutes from Brighton, at the most.
Mark: Okay. Okay. So it’s probably not gonna ruin her life, but-
Mark: That’s the sort of teenage black or white.
Client: You can’t storm out when there’s nowhere to storm to.
Mark: Well, yeah, there’s nowhere to storm to. Yeah. Exactly. That feel that the … So, this is a real situation, isn’t it. In a sense. And I can really understand why you get frustrated. So, you’d like to be able to switch off a bit more from it.
The situation itself isn’t completely under the client’s control. What can be influenced is the way she responds to the stress of it.
Client: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: So you kind of reserve some kind of energy and optimism.
Client: Yeah. ‘Cause really, I was thinking this morning, I should feel happier in my life. And it does, it .. You know.
Mark: Kinda wears things down. Okay. So what are you happy about?
Mark is also keen to locate resources in the client’s life.
Client: I have really good friends.
Client: The kids are really nice.
Client: Even if they don’t always behave nicely, they are nice kids.
Client: I have a lovely partner. It would be nice to battle with him about things less.
Client: Pretty much just bought a new house. It’s incredible. Life … I love my work.
Mark: Yeah. So you’ve got all that. So, this is … And this is a passing thing, as well.
Mark: That she won’t be 14 or 15 forever. And although that can seem like a long time when you’re in it. And I guess there’s the atmosphere, as well, in the house sometimes.
Client: Yeah. It’s very unpleasant to be ignored. To be absolutely blanked.
Mark: Okay. And does her father sort of say anything to her about the way she is to you?
Client: Yes, yeah. He does try to, but-
Mark: What does he say?
Client: He’ll say, “I’m not having this. You can’t do this.”
Client: He says it’s unpleasant and everything. But then, I will say to him, “She doesn’t care what you say. She cares what you do.” So if she says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” Like that. And then goes, “Oh, can I have a lift?” And you give her a lift. She thinks you don’t mean what you say.
Mark: Yeah. Okay.
Client: There’s a mixed message there.
Mark: So he doesn’t always follow through on … So he might say, “Alright, you won’t get a lift if you do that.” But then he’ll give her a lift anyway. Right. Okay. Do you see the problem? It’s quite clear to see, isn’t it?
Client: I don’t want you to drink, but I’m gonna drop you off at your friend’s house who I know you drink with all the time.
Client: That’s not quite the message.
Mark: No, that’s not really, really consistent, is it? So in a way, it feels … Felt that your hands are tied a bit.
Mark: And that you don’t have any real kind of power.
Client: No, definitely. I mean, quite rightly. I mean, I do kind of see into it as like, maybe I’m over-worrying. Maybe I overthink things. I am quite a thinker and etc. But, yeah of course her parents need to have the primary say. ‘Cause they are her parents.
Mark: They are her parents, but then, she’s living with you as well. So there needs to be some input, isn’t there?
Client: This is one of my things, is I say, “I can’t …” ‘Cause Pat will say, “Step back and leave things to me.” And I said, “But, I live here, too. I live with this behavior.” And I think it’s quite bullying.
Client: She’s trying to bully me. Luckily I’m not 14 or 15. ‘Cause I’d be really upset.
Mark: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. But it’s still wearing, isn’t it.
Client: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: To say the least. It doesn’t make for a particularly sort of happy kind of environment. Did you ever go away with her? I mean, do you sort of have holidays together?
Client: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: And how’s that?
Client: It depends. Yeah. She doesn’t like to let things go, she maintains this thing. She holds onto it very … You know. So, we have a nice holiday and we’ll take her friends and everything. But, it’s still not good enough. ‘Cause we’re horrible.
Mark: Right. Okay. And does she ever soften towards you?
Client: Every now and again, yeah. She kinda lets it go and it’s really, really nice. And I just think, “Wow. It could just be like this and everybody would be happy.”
Mark: Yeah. And you continually try to be decent towards her, do you?
Mark: You don’t-
Client: Yeah, ’cause people say, “Oh, just stop being so nice.” And I said, “But I’m not gonna model not being nice.” I just kinda … I feel like it’s the right thing to do to keep it-
Mark: Oh obviously, yeah. To be true to yourself, if you’re a nice person. Then that’s you, isn’t it?
Mark: You want to be authentic with her, I suppose. And it wouldn’t be natural if you were totally un-nice to her all the time. It would be understandable from one point of view, but. So how will you know that this session has done any good for you?
Mark asks “how will you know that this session has done any good for you?” – a simple solution focussed question.
Client: There’ll be a difficult situation, and I’ll still sleep and I won’t be lying awake worrying about potential outcomes.
Mark: Okay. And what sort of potential outcomes? Are they sort of catastrophic potential outcomes that you-
Client: Not necessarily just … I speak to a lot of young people, ’cause I work with young people at uni … Of university age, sort of 18 onwards. And they can be very candid with me about feeling very sorry about, say for example, sexual experiences or something.
Client: They’re 18 or 20 or 25, and they’re saying to me, “I really wished that somebody had been more open and honest with me when I was younger and told me kind of the bottom line.”
Client: That kind of thing, yeah.
Mark: And have you told her the bottom line?
Client: Yes. And I did my best. I said, “I think you’ve got a fantastic brain. And wonderful personality. And looks aren’t everything, and don’t … Only do things with people you care about.”
Client: Is what I’ve said. That’s my bottom line. Is if you really, really care about someone, maybe it’s important to do that. But if you don’t, don’t.
Mark: Yeah, yeah.
Client: So it’s kind of … It wasn’t a heavy message.
Mark: No. But at least you tried.
Mark: And you’d like to be able to put it away.
Mark: For the night.
Client: Yeah. ‘Cause I’m not good at that.
Mark: Compartmentalize a bit.
Mark: And sleep and then pick it up the next day if you have to.
Mark uses the metaphor of carrying worries and so being able to put them down sometimes for the sake of rest.
Mark: Or find that it doesn’t need picking up again, sometimes. You know what I mean? Sometimes you think, “Well, this is an ongoing thing.” Then you say, “Actually, doesn’t really need picking up again. So I’ll just leave it there. And live the rest of my life.”
Mark: So when you’re at work, can you compartmentalize? Do you focus on work and you don’t … You’re not thinking about that?
Mark: And when you’re with your friends, can you compartmentalize?
Client: Yes, to an extent. But obviously, they ask-
Mark: You’re talking about-
Client: About my family. You ask about your life, don’t they?
Mark: That becomes the thing to ask about, doesn’t it?
Client: So, yeah. Yeah. Because it is a thing and then it becomes more of a thing, yeah. It’d be nice-
Mark: It’s what you become known for.
Client: Yeah. Yeah.
Mark: Not necessarily what you want to be known for, but yes. There is an ongoing thing that people ask about. Which is nice that they ask about it, but it’d be nice to … So, how often does it affect sleep?
When asking about the problem we need to know how often it actually occurs.
Client: I would’ve thought once a month is a … Probably an accurate-
Mark: Once a month?
Client: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: Okay. So once a month on average, she’ll do something that you worry about. Is it when she’s gone out?
Client: Yes, it’s often about being out, yeah.
Mark: It’s often about being out. You’re imagining.
Client: It’s not just imagining things. It’s knowing what she’s doing, ’cause she-
Mark: Oh, right. Actually.
Client: She does not hide anything.
Client: That’s one thing I find really weird is that she just tells everything. And says, “You have to be cool with this. You should accept everything.” It’s like-
Mark: Right. So she’ll tell you about drinks and drugs and boys and stuff.
Client: Yeah, and it’s really like …
Mark: And that’s an accurate depiction, as well? She doesn’t exaggerate? To wind you up.
Mark: Okay. And you’re left there lying awake thinking, “Oh.” Knowing what she’s doing.
Mark: You’re partner isn’t?
Client: No, he doesn’t … I mean, she’s not … I mean, it’s not like she’s out then. She will have been out and then be obviously drunk when she gets back and then-
Mark: Oh, I see what you mean. Right.
Client: Yeah. It’s not like she’s out late … No, she’s not out really late. If she goes out any time after probably half past nine, we’ll pick her up.
Mark: Okay. Right, so-
Client: Which she thinks is absolutely outrageous. And I’m like, “We have to know you’re safe, my love.”
Mark: Yeah, yeah.
Client: It’s normal.
Mark: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. So, it’s when she’s come back, you’re thinking, “Oh, what has she been doing?” And, well you know what she’s been doing, and you’re thinking about-
Client: Yep, it’s like, “What impact does this have? Is this really good to do this all the time?”
Mark: Is there a … So when you’ve been awake like that, has it been anxiety or anger?
When asking about rumination we need to know the overriding emotional ‘flavour’ of that introspection. Is it anger, anxiety or some other emotion?
Client: Yeah anxiety. It’s really worrying about what’s gonna happen to her. I’m sure if everything was known to other people, what would they think of us?
Client: And it’s not like, “Oh, I don’t want people judging me.” It’s like, quite rightly thinking, “What were you doing? What are you not doing?” Being powerless, I think. Yeah. It’s about feeling like you should do something and not having any power to do something.
Mark: Right. Because you work with young people, you lecture about young people, you know about young people. You feel like somehow you’re letting her down, or?
Client: Yes, yeah. Well, it is if we all, as the adults in her life, don’t do something about it, we are letting her down. Because what she thinks is the right decision at 15 or 14, she’s … It would be very unusual to make wonderful decisions at that age. I know, about the teenage brain, I’m fascinated by the brain and which bits grow first and the decision-making-
Mark: Prefrontal lobes and-
Client: Yeah, prefrontal cortex.
Mark: Not fully connected up and all that kind of stuff.
Client: Yeah, doing the consequence understanding and …
Mark: Yeah. That’s right.
Client: So, I know it’s unlikely that she’s just gonna look back and think, “Oh, that was fun.”
Mark: Yeah, yeah. That’s right.
Client: Or, the whole issue around sort of drinking and drugs and mental health. Later on.
Mark: In the developing … Yeah. Yeah, exactly. It’s not necessarily a good path to go down for mental health. Yeah, absolutely. But your partner doesn’t seem to think about that seriously.
Client: He doesn’t think about it as much … I don’t know, he’s a brilliant compartmentalizer. He’s fantastic. It’s like, he’s really … He’s got this brilliant switch in his head where he’s like, “Hm. I don’t wanna think about that.” I just … And he does that with everything.
Any useful emotional tool such as compartmentalization can be overused or misused.
Client: Which is a great part of him. And he’s somebody who’s happy all the time, doesn’t get anxious.
Client: Almost at all.
Client: And I kinda look at him and think, “I want a bit of that, but not too much of that.”
Mark: Not so much of it. So you’re sort of two extremes.
Client: Yeah, probably why we’re together.
Mark: Yes. Yeah. So, being less global, sort of switching it off a bit more. And I suppose it comes to a certain … She will remember that you tried.
Client: And hate me for it.
Client: And hate … I’m joking. Because some people say, “Oh, she’ll thank you.” So I’ll say, “Well she might not.”
Mark: No, she might not.
Client: That’s not what I’m hanging out for.
Mark: No, no, no. No. No. It’s not about you being thanked.
Client: No. No.
Mark: No. But she will remember that you tried. Whether she resents that memory or likes that memory or not, she’ll remember that you tried. And that might teach her something in the future. You know. You might not be able to teach her anything for years, but she’ll remember that you tried. And that’ll have an affect on her future self.
By talking about the client’s stepdaughter’s future self, Mark begins to widen the context a little. Context widening helps reframe events and is so useful when it comes to problems of all kinds.
Mark: And what about your teenage years? What were they like?
Client: I think I had a good mix. I think I was a … Yeah. I had a lot of fun, but I had to do what … I did do what I was told, to an extent, as well.
Client: So, I was rebellious, but I was behind the scenes rebellious, I think. A bit less like, “You have to accept everything I say and everything I do.”
Client: I wouldn’t have dreamt of saying that. And I had to accept things. Like I went to a lot of gigs. I loved going to gigs. But my mom had to pick me up.
Client: And I could tell you, it was horrifying, it was awful, and it was so shameful. All my friends got a lift with me. Everybody loved it. And I’d just be like, oh, dying. But, if I wanted to go to that gig, I had to do it.
Client: So, I … This is my belief about things. Is you go, “That’s fine. You can do that. But. I need to do this.” And so it’s-
Mark: So you were taught to compromise?
Client: Yeah. Yeah.
Mark: And she’s not really being taught to compromise.
Client: No. She’s taught to argue until she gets what she wants.
Client: Which is generally what happens.
Mark: Yeah. Then because of your stepparent status, you don’t really have that much kinda say in the dynamic of the whole thing. It’s really frustrating. And not your fault, of course.
Mark: And you know that. And so given all those limitations in the situation, then I suppose all you can do is set a good example. Remind her that you don’t want to be abused and bullied and picked on. And that is … It’s like a holding pattern for a while I guess.
Client: Well her answer to it is, “I don’t even wanna be here. I don’t wanna be here. If you two just let me go and live just with my mom all the time, then everything would be fine.” Or she’ll say, “Oh if you just let me out all the time, I’d be fine. If you just did this, I’d be fine.” And it’s like-
Mark: Yeah. Yeah. It’s a bit of this holding pattern. And during this holding pattern, it’ll be good for you, for your benefit and maybe even theirs as well, because you’ll be calmer the rest of the time, to be able to switch off sometimes.
Mark: And when does the … How the episode of her having been out. You are lying in bed. And how do you know when that’s finished? Because it’s the next day and you’ve moved on to something else? When does that particular episode of anxiety run its course?
It’s important to discover when and how a symptomatic episode finishes.
Client: It depends what it is. Some of the time, her dad will say, “Well, I’m wondering about whether she could do this or that or go out to this or that party.” And I’m like, the people are 17. She’s only 15. Those are quite different. There are different limits. I’m not sure that’s a good idea. I’m not sure if that’s really the right decision. You know? And then sometimes I prevail. That’s the way that I can leave it. Because he’ll go, “Okay, no. I think you’re right.”
Client: Phew. And the other thing is, yeah, sometimes it just … It happens and I have to …
Mark: So sometimes it does … You do have some power in the situation as it were.
Client: Yeah, yeah. Oh, no, definitely. Definitely. Definitely.
Mark: Okay. And you said it has got better than it was?
Client: Yeah. She’s less horrible.
Mark: She’s less horrible? Okay.
Mark: So how did that happen?
If a situation has naturally improved it’s so important to discover how that might have happened.
Client: It was little bits of consistency. It was a consistency. This is the thing I say is like … There used to be a thing. First of all, the kids … They have no phone. Only on is a whole computer safety. Ah, there’s everything everywhere. And then you give them a phone and there was no computer safety. Whatsoever, because they have a phone.
Client: And then, of course, they have them in their rooms. Or, that was initially. And then I was noticing, she’s awake at three o’clock in the morning, just like chatting to her friends. So it’s like, charge your phone outside the room. That was a massive battle. For ages. It was screaming every single night.
Client: And then eventually, because she … If you just do it all the time, of course, they stop arguing because that is what that is. So sometimes it stops because of that. Because a certain … You’re not gonna win that way. It’s not the way to do things. You know? If you really think your parents are making a bad decision, talk to them about it. Don’t stand over them screaming, swearing. Throwing things.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah. So a little bit of consistency.
Client: Yeah, well where there is consistency, there always was.
Mark: Yeah. But your partner doesn’t really understand that, or doesn’t see that.
Client: No. He’s got really short memory.
Client: And he generally is very … He’s just. He’s a Pollyanna, everything is fine. Everything is fine. Everything is fine.
Client: So it’s great. But it’s all fine until it’s not fine.
Client: But, you know. My worry is about how catastrophic that not-fineness might be at times.
Mark: Okay. So, of course there’s still hope that she can go through all this, not have boundaries, and still end up okay.
Mark: There is that possibility.
Mark: And that’s what you have to cling onto.
Client: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: At the looks of it. And introduce consistency or … Where you can. Because you are working with limited tools. Being in the role that you are. Don’t need me to tell you that. Have there ever been times were you found that actually you did manage to compartmentalize and switch it off on the whole?
Client: Yeah, sometimes when I take more time for myself.
Mark: So how do you do that?
“How do you do that?” implies that this is something the client can have volition over.
Client: I was going to … I joined an exercise class, and that was quite good.
Client: Yeah. ‘Cause I kinda just witness less of the argument, less of the screaming and shouting.
Mark: So you’re out of the house more?
Mark: So you can escape.
Mark: And escape. And do you still do that?
Client: Yeah, I do. Not as much, because the whole new house thing and the time has gone a bit strange, you know? I’m between two places, it’s really weird.
Mark: And has it ever been the case that you’ve been in the house and still manage to compartmentalize it? She’s been out and you’ve been in bed and maybe started thinking about it, and then it just … You just didn’t and went to sleep?
Client: It’s not about when she’s out. It’s about the decision-making around-
Client: Should she be out, should she … You know?
Mark: So it’s rumination, even if she hasn’t been out for a while. You’re still thinking about it?
Client: Or it’s about the … Sort of, if her dad will say, “I’m thinking of letting her go to X or Y or do X or Y.” And I’m going, “Oh, I think that’s really, really just terrible.”
Mark: Yeah. So, it’s … Something’s come up. Something’s on the horizon or it’s a current issue. And it’s something you don’t agree with. And that’s when you-
Client: Yeah. To the extent that it’s something … These are my core values, you know?
Client: If somebody’s doing something that’s against your absolute core values, it’s … I think it’s quite hard to let it just go.
Client: “Okay, fine, yeah. Let that happen.”
Mark: It is, isn’t it?
Client: I’m not sure about that.
Mark: So, putting it aside isn’t letting it go, because you can pick it up again?
Mark: Core values are still there, but you need to rest.
Client: Yeah, yeah.
Client: No I’m not good at putting it aside at all. No, things are going on that really I think are really like, “Oh my God, that’s a really bad, bad, bad decision.” It’s just … Yeah, I don’t know if I can let it go ’til … You know, that’s what I mean. I can’t put it aside at all I don’t think.
Client: That’s when I get the not sleeping.
Mark: You’re a creative person. If that thing or this stuff going round and round in your head … It’s like an object of some kind. What sort of object would it be?
Client: The bad stuff?
Client: Goodness me….
Mark: Would it be moving, would it be solid, would it be slippery?
Client: Goodness. I find it really hard to visualize something like that.
The client at this point finds it hard to externalize those feelings by giving them symbolic shape.
Mark: Zipping around, is it? Or …
Client: I don’t know. Yeah, I’d find it hard to see it as a thing. I know that … They’re kind of physical feelings that I get. But anything outside …
Mark: What sort of physical feelings do you get?
Client: Oh my goodness, my heart is racing. That’s why I can’t sleep and things. ‘Cause literally my heart is racing. The fight or flight. The whole fight or flight system is going off.
Mark may be setting a task a little early here. The client covers her face and shakes her head for a split second. This may or may not signal resistance to the idea.
Mark: Okay, so it’s basically, body’s geared for exercise and you’re lying in bed, waiting to go to sleep.
Mark: Okay. Which is two ends of the spectrum, isn’t it?
Client: Which is probably when I was exercising more, it was …
Mark: That’s true.
Client: Better because I’m actually using that.
Mark: Actually using the exercise response for exercise.
Mark: Not for going to sleep. And okay. Putting it aside. I mean, one thing I’d like you to do as a task is … If that happens again. To write down the worry on a piece of paper.
Mark: And then have a safe place in your bedroom. Just place that piece of paper in there before you go to sleep. Okay? And then get it in the morning again. Okay? So can you start doing that?
Client: Yep, yep. Something I would recommend to clients. I always say, “Download whatever’s in your head to get it out, put it on paper.”
Mark: So have you recommended that to yourself, or …
Client: No. Oddly enough.
Mark: So you can let me recommend that to you. And … Yeah. So if you start doing that from here on in, okay. But also, we could work on just relaxing things.
Mark: So it becomes more natural for you to have a sort of ritual. Bedtime. Where things naturally calm down. Do you have a sort of sleep hygiene sort of, or regime?
Client: Yeah. I like to read and I read it really does calm me. And it makes me feel tired and …
Mark: Yeah. So, you’re not playing sort of shoot-’em-up computer games just before you go to bed.
Client: No. No. But I do sometimes … One thing I do, if I … I will look at the phone, which is now a computer. And then I’ll look at Facebook or something. And I know that I always sleep less well when I do that than when I read.
Mark: Yeah. Yeah.
Client: And I don’t drink caffeine after 12 and all that.
Mark: During the day?
Mark: 12 mid-day?
Client: Yeah. Yeah. Mid-day, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mark: Yes. And, okay. So when do you feel at your most relaxed?
Client: Digging in the garden.
Mark: Digging in the garden?
Client: Yeah, yeah.
Mark: Okay. And what is it about digging in the garden? Is it the energy that-
Client: It’s just lovely, ’cause all I can hear is bird song and I’m just completely in touch with nature and-
Mark: Okay. And this is in the new place?
Mark: Okay. So you’re already there? You’re already … You’ve got the house?
Client: We work in the garden, yeah. We’ve got the house. But we haven’t moved in yet.
Mark: Oh, I see. Right. Okay, so digging there.
Mark: With the birds singing. And, of course, you can be doing that when you’re not doing that as well. Same way that when people worry, they’re engaging in something that isn’t actually happening right now.
Worry is a type of dissociated consciousness and therefore a form of trance.
Client: Yeah, yeah. It’s future thinking.
Mark: Yes, it’s trance. Okay. Not always a nice trance or a helpful trance.
Mark: But you’re very good at trance. And start to think about that digging. Okay? And connect it to the land and nature is something that you enjoy.
Mark: And love. Feel connected to. And could you use that to help you compartmentalize?
Mark: Put things down and then pick them up later on again. Okay? And you just close your eyes, and I just want you to think about that. And the fact that when you imagine or daydream or you have those fragments of dreams before you sleep deeply at night, that it’s not about thinking, it’s about experiencing inwardly. Especially in thinking and experiencing inwardly.
Mark begins a naturalistic induction based around the client’s love of digging in the garden.
Mark: You know the sensation of the spade … That trowel or the spade that’s making contact with the earth. Going into that earth and the sense of momentum, of progress. And connection to the soil. Even the smell of the soil. The sensation of the countryside ground beneath your feet. And the countryside air on the skin outside. And the sounds of the singing from the birds. That’s it. And all this wonderful togetherness of nature. And activity.
Mark encourages an overlap of sensory experiences to help encourage the client’s trance onset.
Mark: And of course, you can do that any time. Digging in your mind. Gardening or walking. That’s it. The lovely sense of outside-ness. And calm. And rest. That’s it. Really getting a sense of that. You know, sometimes there’s a divide between the sky and the horizon. Sometimes you can barely see that divide. It’s like the sky … That’s it, melds into the horizon. On a seascape, for example.
Some rapid eye movement (REM) can be observed beneath the client’s eyelids.
Mark: And they just merge together. Same way that sometimes when you go to sleep, drift into sleep, that’s it. You’re well into sleep. Sometimes it’s not really a discernible divide. Between being awake and being asleep. That’s it. All gets fuzzy. That’s it. In that way. Two don’t need to be separate compartments. They merge together. That’s it.
Mark: In nature, of course, birds always seem like part of the sky. When you can’t see the birds in the trees singing, it’s almost as if the trees are singing. That’s it. The warmth of the sun. It seems to permeate every part of the day sometimes. On a summer’s day. In July. In the countryside. That’s it. When everything feels so much easier. That’s it.
Mark: You take two things, like something very discreet like a rock. It’s a very separate thing to another rock. Two separate things. That’s it. In some ways, you can have things merging together. In other ways, they’re very, very separate. So you can learn, you have the capacity to learn very well. That’s it. You have billions of neurons. Thousands of trillions of interconnections between them. So you learn very, very fast. And very, very well.
Mark: You could take a wander around your new garden. In your mind. Taking time to observe what’s there. Noticing the feel of the tread beneath your feet in your new garden. That’s it. Or looking at the house from the outside. Also, looking at the countryside. Around the house. The bigger picture. And the wider landscape. And as you do that now, part of you is apart from the path. Goes round and round like a washing machine. Can enjoy the organic, that’s it, holistic natural-ness. That’s it. The nature surrounding you.
Mark here is really talking about detaching from worry and attaching to nature.
Mark: Not feeling separate from it always, but feeling part of it. Feeling it’s intrinsically you and you’re intrinsically it. That’s it. And you can get very, very good at … That’s it. Digging these neuronal pathways in your own mind. So that the pathways become easier to travel down. You could be in bed, having read, that’s it. Close your eyes and, instead you can be in the garden during the day, even at night. You can be digging in your mind. That’s it. Reading or whatever else you do in the garden. Or just being in the garden. And that can be a beautiful gateway to a million gateways to the land of sleep. And that could be one of them. And you can choose that gateway. That’s it. That’s it.
Mark: And right now, you can practice. You can practice all that … That’s it. You know, a dog chases its own tail. That’s it. But really it’s tired. Chases its own tail around and round and round. But, you can observe that dog by a log fire, beginning to slow down that turn. That’s it. And eventually, starting to settle down. That’s it. Forgetting its own tail. Beginning to breathe evenly. Maybe with a little twitching here and there as it goes through a gateway into sleep. That’s it.
Mark: And you can practice in your mind just thinking thoughts, that’s it. This has happened, that it’s not such a good idea. That’s it. It really goes against your core values. You’re just getting a sense of that whipped-ness up. And the heart beats. And the body getting the wrong message from the unconscious mind that exercise is required. That fight or flight. That’s it.
Mark: You’re also getting a sense of that familiar feeling right now. That’s it. You’re thinking about that. It’s not such a good idea. Don’t think that’s gonna be good. It’s gonna be a regret later on. That could end up really bad. It’s those feelings. That’s it. When you get something of that fear, I want you to notice what it’s like to forge another neuronal pathway in the brain. Go from that feeling when you’re in bed.
Mark is talking about the brain and “neuronal pathways” to connect the client’s previously stated interest in the brain and her familiarity with brain related terms.
Mark: And a sense of a wider canvas or a wider lens. Putting that aside, literally in the written paper. But also, figuratively. And entering nature in your mind. That’s it. She’ll pick the new calm up from you. And that will have an effect, on a subliminal level, of course. And help her, and others. And her brother. And your partner, maybe. That’s it.
Mark: And then entering the garden and digging away at something. Can feel therapeutic. Even in your mind. Focusing on the quality of the soil, the movement of the soil. And the smell of the earth and the feel of the soil in the fingertips. That’s it. Finding that you can put that other stuff, tail chasing, to bed for awhile and pick that up if you need to again. And just take time in your mind for yourself. And for nature. And the birds singing. On a spring day. That’s it.
Mark: Beautiful, beautiful cacophony of … Blend of sound and texture. That’s it. And sights. In the countryside. That you can really connect to, in a very magnified way. Over the coming weeks and months, years. That’s it. And really feeling connected to that nature. You can get very, very good at going down a new, more productive, healthier, more relaxing pathway in your mind. That’s it.
Mark: And you can practice this even during the day sometimes. You can start off right now. All of that whipped-up-edness, whipped-up-edness starting off. That’s it. I don’t think that’s a good idea. Shouldn’t be doing that. That’s not gonna be good. That’s not what your values are. And you can see so clearly where that might lead. And all that whipping around. That’s it.
Mark: And then now, in a sense you’re going down another pathway, leaving that. You’re not gonna forget about all that. You don’t have to worry about forgetting about it. You put it to one side. Go down another pathway. Just digging in the garden. And the birds. Always befriending you in a sense. That’s it. And your ears and your sensors in your skin enjoying the healthy outdoors. Making something. That’s it. In the garden or respecting the garden. Respecting the nature around you.
Mark reframes sleep as “connecting to the tempo of nature.”
Mark: And the nature has its own rhythm. Each part of life has its own rhythm and tempo. And when you sleep deeply and reliably or … You’re connecting to the tempo of nature in the countryside. That’s it. The soothing beat and tempo of the soil, on hills or fields. And the air and the light. The countryside light. That’s it. You may find that you can go from one state of mind to the other. Like passing from one room to the next. Or from a field into a forest. That’s it.
Mark: You went out of the forest to get into a field. You can vary that movement in your mind. That’s it. You’re leaving one thing in one place, going into the next. That’s it. You can really enjoy mastering that. You’re going to master that. Practice that. That’s it. You can be a better influence than you can possibly know at the time. But that’s not why you do it. Not for respect or the recognition, but just for her benefit. That’s it.
Mark: But, still, you can be … That’s it … More of an influence for the good than you might know. That’s it. Something you still have to take on trust. That’s it. And sometimes you can feel so good and so still and so relaxed because you have a relationship, a very important relationship, with nature. That’s it.
Mark: And nature’s gonna look after you. You can look after it. That’s it. Tempo of the garden, the completeness of a beautiful tree. All the branches, sub-branches. And intricacy. That’s it. And the depth of that tree. And all the angles. The way that tree feels different in the spring, in the autumn, in the summer blueness. That’s it. And every leaf on a tree or every cell of your body can relax. That’s it.
Mark presents the idea of unconscious practice of the developing skill of compartmentalizing worry.
Mark: You’re very good at going from one room to another or from the forest into the field. Through the gateway from one state of mind to another. You’re gonna get very, very good at that. And even when you don’t think you’re practicing that. Your unconscious mind will be training for that. Even within a deep, deep, restful dream. As you sleep. Deeply. At night and time disappears. And the space around you disappears for the time being. And you go deep inside. That’s it. And wake up later on feeling so refreshed. And calm. Rejuvenated. That’s it.
Mark: Learning to put things down so that you can better pick them up later on. That’s it. This is about sustainability. Psychological sustainability. That’s it. It’s more of a long hike than a sprint. That’s it. But it will get better. Almost as if you could observe yourself now, over there. That’s it. That’s it. Going from that whipped up state. That’s it. Going round and round.
Mark is encouraging the use of the client’s observing self.
Mark: Just observe yourself, observe the difference from the outside. Knowing that the you over there is left behind. Connected to nature in your mind. Going from the forest to the field. Or from one room to another. We’ll put that aside to recuperate your strength. So you can pick it up more efficiently the next day or later on. That’s it.
Mark: Coming out, the heart is with you on this one. Will know when it really needs to beat faster, when it doesn’t. Becoming more discerning as to when the exercise is really needed. That’s it. Lungs are with you. The immune function is with you. That’s it. You’re gonna find that this can happen quite naturally. That’s it. Because you can learn very thoroughly and quickly. Those neuronal pathways are already being formed. It’s as if you could feel them being formed in the mind. That’s it. That’s it.
Mark: We all have to work with the limitations of our situations. We all have to work with that. But within those limitations, so much can be done. When you’re different, the whole situation is, in some way, different. When you sleep more profoundly, that’s it. You can, strangely, look forward to the next opportunity to test this. To notice. That’s it. A whipped up situation, but then, most miraculously, leaving that. The body calming. That’s it.
Mark: You won’t forget about that. Pick it up again. Some future time. And putting that aside and in your mind, entering the garden. That’s it. On a beautiful day. Even if it’s raining outside. Could be a beautiful day in the garden. The songs of the birds, happy with the day. That’s it. Happy with the day. The blueness and the light and the warmth of the day. That’s it. Switching from one to the other, more and more easily. That’s it.
Mark: And effectively and efficiently. That’s it. Having more empathy for that part of you that really needs to take time out. That’s it. So that your bones and muscles and skin and mind, good intentions, can all … That’s it. Be there to relax and rest. Greater sustainable energies. That’s it. ‘Cause your body knows about that feeling after you’ve exercised. Feels really good to have exercised. Move the body in that way. That’s it. To rest. That’s it. Moving the body in nature. That’s it. That’s it.
Mark: And your calm will transmit. That’s it. Calm will transmit. That will affect … That’s it. Like a ripple effect. That’s for the future. That’s it. That’s it. When things are kinda misty, kinda feel that they’ll never be clear again. Course, the mist clears. Things change. The path of life. Things move on and progress. That’s it. That’s it.
“You don’t have to know just how calm you can feel later on” is a suggestion for the client’s unconscious mind only.
Mark: And settle right the way down. You don’t have to know just how calm you can feel later on. And how strangely calm you can shift. That habitual state of mind. Once a month or so. Turn the sense of connectivity with nature. That’s it. All around you. Widening perception. Almost putting your consciousness into the air around you, or the earth in the garden, or the space above the trees. A widening sense of consciousness. That’s it.
Mark: And rest. There’s always a few seconds moment before you drift into sleep. People aren’t generally consciously aware of these few seconds. There’s a few seconds where you go from wakefulness into sleep. 10 seconds before someone drifts into deep sleep. Five seconds. Two seconds.
Mark uses a truism … the fact that there are always a few seconds just before the onset of sleep. He does this to evoke that state of body and mind indirectly in the client.
Mark: Drifting into that sleep. That’s it. Where time disappears. You forget to remember the bed you’re on or your pillow. The room around you. You just drift into deep, deep, calm. That’s it. That’s it.
Mark: Have you hiking on a trail and you had a rucksack. You need that rucksack off and put it aside before you go to bed.
Mark metaphorically refers to laying aside worries as putting down a rucksack after hiking.
Mark: You can still carry it the next day but, you need to put it aside. Somewhere safe, we’ll put it there. And feeling lighter, get into bed. Rest. Deeply. Your unconscious mind can learn so powerfully and effectively. And it can demonstrate to you what it’s learned. Just the right time it needs to enact that learning and strengthen it. That’s it.
Mark: your conscious mind doesn’t have to think too much about that. Your getting very good at taking your grip off things and putting them to one side before you go to bed. And connect with nature and drift through a gateway into sleep. Sleep has a permeable wall. You can find your way in. So many gateways through the wall of sleep. Find the wall. What’s that like? Is it soft? Does the wall have a cellular structure in nature? Permeable. Then once you’re inside for the night, you can drift so deeply into the center of that. That’s it.
Mark: Deep, natural state. And rest. And rejuvenate. Every part of you. Then later on, after many hours of deep rest, you’ll find a gateway back into wakefulness. Taking all the nutriment you’ve received from that sleep. Back into the next day. If you have a rucksack or whatever, you have all the energy to pick that up again.
Mark is now talking in a slightly more “everyday way” as a cue to the client that it will soon be time to awaken from trance.
Mark: Now, when you dream at night, you experience catalepsy in those eyelids, you either become almost locked together with sleepiness and rest and relaxation. You may notice some of that now in those eyelids, almost that locked togetherness. Glued togetherness. That’s it. In those eyelids, yeah. And your own conscious mind can demonstrate to you, very powerfully, some of that locked togetherness in those eyelids. Almost as if the more you try to open them, the heavier they become. That’s it.
Mark uses a classic therapeutic double bind linking to the client opening her eyes after experiencing eyelid catalepsy.
Mark: And they won’t open until your unconscious mind lets you know, it’s taking responsibility for allowing you to make these transitions from one compartment of psychological activity and physiological response to another. Very easily for you. So you’re gonna really start to try to open those eyelids. That’s it. Really try to open them. The more you try, the heavier they can become for awhile. That’s it. Until you find that the prize is pry them open, because your unconscious mind is letting you know that it’s taking responsibility. Allowing that old issue to be so much more easy. Naturally. That’s it. That’s it, and then you can be back here.
Client: It takes a while.
Mark: Take a while to … Yeah. Yeah, takes a while to come back to the here and now. Good.
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About Mark Tyrrell
Psychology is my passion. I've been a psychotherapist trainer since 1998, specializing in brief, solution focused approaches. I now teach practitioners all over the world via our online courses.
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