By Batya Jacobs
When I was studying to become a therapist, I came across a line that was so shocking I still remember it: “A common countertransference (roughly being too influenced by your patient) of inexperienced therapists is the desire to cure the patient.” I thought to myself, “How silly of me, but isn’t that what we’re here for? If curing the patient isn’t our job, them what is?”
There are varying approaches to problems in the world of psychology. Some therapies see their goal as providing a practical solution to the problem; there’s even a therapy called “problem-solving therapy.” Classical therapies see problems as having deeper roots, and warn that a quick fix won’t last and the underlying cause will burst out in some other form. The mindfulness approach comes along to teach how to live with problems, finding the peace and serenity that comes with accepting the problem as part of your life.
And then there’s me.
When I left the airy-fairy university world, certificate in hand, I had to sort through the ever-expanding range of therapies and decide which approach to adopt. Should I mix and match? Should I stick with a single regimented approach? Perhaps a soupcon of art and music and drama? The choices were endless.
But in my trainee experience, something always bothered me about the approaches I was asked to try. Somehow my clients and their lives didn’t fit any generality. “What shall I do?” they would ask me.
What shall you do? Perhaps I missed that lecture. How can I possibly know what you should do? Even if I have the same problem—something that happens all too frequently with us therapists—the two problems really aren’t the same: our lives are different; our way of doing things are different; our happily-ever-after is also likely to be different.
Was there an approach out there that took those differences into account?
That’s when I discovered narrative therapy.
In narrative therapy, we see problems as a means to help our clients find out who they want to be and how to rewrite the stories of their lives.
Let me give you a few examples from my own life.
I have a problem I like to call the Tick-Tock Monster. I think of him as a giant-sized grandfather clock with a very impatient and angry-looking face. The later I am, the louder he ticks, and his chimes make the most deafening din if I’m off-schedule. When my children were little, the pressure of that Tick-Tock Monster would have me transferring the decibels to my own voice. I would often catch myself shouting and hollering as the minute hand came close to school bus time or as winter Friday afternoons ate up their sparse minutes while the house-dwellers hardly lifted a finger to clear away the weekday mess.
The real me wanted peace and harmony. The real me wanted to send the children off to school with love and fun and joy. The real me wanted to have a joint project welcoming the Shabbos bride. But Tick-Tock ruined all that. It took me many years to recognize Mr. Tick-Tock and to build up the real me. Once I knew what I wanted and worked towards my goal, the tick-tocks lost some of their urgency; the chimes were muffled, and my whole household became more peaceful.
Thanks to my training in narrative therapy, I was able to personify the problem, notice its sneaky tricks and understand what it was preventing me from achieving.
Then there is the tale of Mr. Come-Jump, who tried to prevent me from attending my own son’s chuppah. You see, my son and his fiancée had chosen a hall where the reception and chuppah were held on the roof. I have a fear of heights. Tempting Mr. Come-Jump called me to the edge, cramping my stomach as he filled my imagination with sensations of falling. Unfortunately for him, I also have a well-established “Davka” streak. I wanted to be the hostess-with-the-mostest, welcoming my guests and calmly accompanying my future daughter-in-law to the chuppa. “Davka” saved the day! She stayed with me until we all went downstairs to eat and dance the night away. Mr. Come-Jump still troubles me sometimes, but I won that round.
Our lives are made up of the stories we tell ourselves, be they good or be they problematical. Noticing what problem stories prevent us from doing reveals out true values, beliefs and commitments. These are the building blocks of the stories that we want to live with. I work primarily with people living with depression, and we phrase it that way because depression is not who they are, it’s something they live with that sometimes prevents them from living the life they wish. By engaging with with their problems, sometimes even lightheartedly they can diminish the stories depression tells them, and creating a richer, happier story to live by. I have the privilege of joining them on that journey.
Batya Jacobs is a Narrative Therapist with a degree in Psychology from University College Cardiff and a degree in Social Work from the Hebrew University Jerusalem. Her main areas of practice include depression, trauma, abuse, marriage counseling as well as schizophrenia and other issues including SSA. Batya currently works at the Jerusalem Narrative Therapy Institute (JNTI) under the guidance of HaRav Zev Leff . She works in both Hebrew and in English.
Batya can be reached at email@example.com or 054 672 0249