The World of Train Set

The Rabbit Knows - An Imaginary Session With an Adolescent

Including a Step by Step Overview of the Therapeutic Considerations Behind the Application of the Projective Cards During the Session 

By Gali Salpeter @ Story and Therapy 

….

“I don׳t know” her slouched shoulders answer me. Again.

 “If you knew, what would it be?” I ask as non-judgmentally as I can, I think I read somewhere that it’s a good question to ask someone who just said they do not  know.

“Nothing” comes the answer from my teenager client. 

‘Nothing’ I repeat inside my head, nothing Nothing NOTHING

“I told you I don’t know!” Is she raising her voice?

I feel as if I am shrinking.

She stares at her switched off mobile. 

I try to turn my eyes away from my watch.

“How long is this meeting?” she asks wearily and I hear; ‘How long is this punishment’.

“We have 40 minutes left of this session… 39 actually… ” I say and I feel the insecurity building within, “How would you like to use your time?”

“I don’t care,” she mutters.

“Is there anything on your mind that you would like us to talk about today?” It feels like a robot is talking instead of me.

“No” she answers my robot.

A couple of silent minutes pass. ‘Holding the quiet space for the client’ feels different from what it sounds like. This might last forever, I think. Shall I say something? Maybe only 37 minutes left by now. Don’t look at the watch. Don’t look at the watch. How am I to describe this session in my notes? Don’t look at the watch! Did I remember to put the washing machine on this morning? My supervisor would surely know how to react to this. Is it Me? Is it Her? I don’t know what to say next. I don’t know what to say.

She sighs. Loudly.

I stand up and walk to the open cupboard.

She looks at me from the corner of her eyes.

“It feels as if it is difficult for us to find words today” I say as I take a deck of cards from the shelf and start spreading the cards on the table between us.

Her eyes follow my movements.

“These are cards depicting different paths” I say, putting one card after the other on the table “The images can represent our feelings or thoughts, places or events, relationships or metaphorical roads that we wish to take.” 

When there is no more space for cards on the table, I leave the remaining cards in a pile.

She leans closer towards the table. Her eyes explore the different images.

“This road, for example, can describe how I feel now.” I lift card number 25.

I look at the illustrated image and describe it: “I feel as if I am at a crossroads, waiting for you to take a step towards your goals. Here, in this room, you are free to choose whatever road you would like.”

She sighs as she lifts card no 11 from the table. “This is my road.” She says harshly, waving it at me before almost throwing it back on top of the other cards. 

“Not exactly free…” she adds sarcastically, and I feel that her vulnerability touches me.

My eyes on her card, I ask warmly: “Can you point at your current ‘place’ on this road?” 

“I don’t know, maybe somewhere here?” she says reluctantly and points to the second loop of the rollercoaster. 

“So”,  I repeat as I move my index finger along the road that curves in a loop, “your road is not exactly free, and you feel that you are somewhere in the second loop of this rollercoaster…” 

“Yes” she confirms, “somewhere in this loop…” she whispers.

“Are you moving or are you staying in the same place in the loop?” 

“I guess I’m climbing up… slowly…” she thinks out loud and continues, raising her voice; “I know that I’m about to fall soon.” Her chest deflates “These loops are all the same…”

“Do you remember what happened in the first loop?” I ask and point to the loop illustrated on the left side of the card. 

 “It all happened too fast, you know? I almost fell off the rollercoaster,” she says in alarm, “I was so scared,” she adds.

“It sounds like a scary experience” I say, “I wonder how you managed to keep on going and to hold on to your road?”

“I am not sure,” she says, “I guess that it’s easier to hold on to the road when things are not going too fast or too slow.“   

“And how does it feel now when you are somewhere here and climbing up slowly?” I ask pointing at the card.

“I don’t know.” She becomes quiet for a while “Maybe I´m afraid that I will lose control soon.” Her head falls towards her chest.

“I see. I think I can hear you telling me something about your life journey,” I say as I pick up the cards from the table, leaving only our two cards with a gap in between.“ Also, maybe you are saying something about our journey together, here, in this room,” I suggest cautiously.

She raises her eyes in question

“Here I was - standing at this green crossroad” I point to my card, “I kept asking you to choose roads and to decide and to lead the way towards your therapy goals, 

but – what I think I can hear now is that you are actually here,” I point to her card, “Inside a loop on a rollercoaster. You are scared and you´re searching for the right pace at which to move forward. Not too fast and not too slow…”

She nods silently. 

“I am sorry if I didn´t realize this before,” I say.

She nods again. “It´s ok” she says in a broken voice.

“I want you to feel safe here.” I look at her as I hand her the pile of cards. “Can you show me what you need from me at this point in our journey? How can I be better for you?”

Slowly and quietly, she takes the cards in her hands and looks at them, one after the other. 

‘Take all the time you need’ I say, perhaps to myself. 

 

“I like this card” her face lights up as she holds card number 23 in her hands, “Especially  the drawing of the brown rabbit” she adds.

“What do you feel as you look at the illustration of the brown rabbit?”

“I feel good. It reminds me of Mr. Nice, the rabbit I used to have when I was a child. It also makes me miss him…”

“What did you like about having Mr. Nice as a child?” I smile warmly.

“I don´t know, it’s just that I could play around with him, or watch him eat in his funny way.” She giggles, (did she just giggle?) “You know, I could simply paint quietly in my room, and Mr. Nice was just ‘There’. I never felt alone when he was around…”

“I can see why you like this card” I say “I already like it too…” I add.

She looks at me with the open eyes of a child. 

“Is it ok if we put this card in the middle, next to our two cards?” I ask. “I think it can remind us of the type of path we would like to share in this room.”

She nods and puts the card down, making an effort to connect the three road segments as one long road.

“It is like a long journey,” she says as she moves her finger along the road that stretches over the three cards.

“Yes” I agree. “ It is like a journey with ups and downs, with nice periods and playful paths as well as scary parts and experiences that are hard to put into words…”

“Yes” she says. “Sometimes it is easier with pictures”.

“From now on, we will take this road, here, at your own pace” I say. “And when we can’t find the words we will pave the road in other ways, or just hang around the path for a while,”

“Hang around the path.” She repeats smiling, as her hand rests on the illustration of the rabbit.

“I am here” I feel

“I know” she mumbles

And it feels as Nice as it sounds (:

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Therapeutic Considerations Behind the Application of the Projective Cards During the Session

The given session demonstrates how projective cards can be used by the client and the therapist to explore issues related to their relationship and to the therapeutic process.

 

At the beginning of the session we witness a fragmented verbal communication and it seems like with each question or answer,  the therapist and the client are drifting apart.

The shared space of the session is experienced as frustrating, to say the least.

A couple of silent minutes go by and the therapist finds herself absorbed in a chain of thought and feelings that culminate with: “Is it Me? Is it Her? I don’t know what to say next” – The therapist realizes that the way in which the communication is carried out in the session does not facilitate the therapeutic process, leading her to question her performance as a therapist.

It is then that she decides to open new channels of communication by incorporating the deck of cards into the session. The therapist presents the deck to the client and explains her reason for suggesting this tool: “It is difficult for us to find words today… The images can represent our feelings or thoughts...”

The therapist then chooses a card with an image of a road that represents the way she feels at that point. The metaphor of a crossroads helps her to share these feelings with the client, and to describe the way she thinks of the therapeutic process and place. (“This road, for example, can describe how I feel now… waiting for you to take a step towards your goals. Here, in this room, you are free to choose…”)

By doing this, the therapist actually demonstrates to the client how she, too, can use the cards to express herself. Furthermore, in the act of sharing her own feelings and thoughts the therapist encourages the client to do the same.

It seems like the cards offer the client the channel of expression that she needed. Thus, even without a direct guidance from the therapist, the client naturally follows the therapist’s example and chooses card number 11 to represent the way she is feeling. 

The client describes the image very briefly. However, it seems that the projective card evokes an emotional response.

In order to help the client to express the feelings that came up, the therapist tries to help her to connect with the illustrated road image by asking: “Can you point at your current ‘place’ on this road?” 

This question sets the grounds for the client to use the metaphorical channel of expression (i.e. relating to the image of the road).

Inviting the client to observe the illustration also relates to the visual aspect of the cards thus opening a non-verbal channel of expression. This visual channel can facilitate processes such as observation and identification of meaningful issues in the client’s life, as well as offer possibilities for art based interventions of various sorts.

In this manner, a visual narrative of the therapeutic space gradually begins to take the form of a shared metaphorical road.

From this point onwards, both the client and the therapist can move back and forth between relating to the metaphorical road and - speaking directly about their thoughts and feelings in reality. 

It is of most importance that the therapist stays tuned to the client’s reactions when moving between the reality and the metaphorical layers of work;

When a therapist wants to help the client to share their feelings via the cards they shift the conversation from the illustrated images to issues in the client’s life or to the client’s thoughts or feelings at that moment. An example from the described session is when the client chose card number 23 and said: “I like this card… especially the drawing of the brown rabbit ”, the therapist then asks: “What do you feel as you look at the illustration of the brown rabbit?”

When a therapist feels, on the other hand, that the projective work evokes feelings or issues that the client finds it difficult to deal with at that moment, they help the client to distance themselves from the image. The fact that the cards are concrete objects that the therapist and the client can hold, place, re-place, observe or engage with in various ways, makes them a tangible ‘entity’ in the room, one that both the therapist and the client can use to shift the focus from the client.  

An example from the described session is when the client expressed her fear of losing control in the road’s loop. In response, the therapist holds and rearranges the cards on the table thus containing the client’s feelings. In addition, by suggesting her own view and interpretation of the story, the therapist actually invites the client to observe the narrative from an external stance: “ ‘…I think I can hear you telling me something about your life journey,’ I say as I pick up the cards from the table.”

Observing the image that the client has chosen while listening respectfully and curiously to the meaning that the client attaches to it – enables the therapist to get a better understanding of the client's experience and helps the client feel heard and seen. 

During this process of shifting between the layers - new meanings evoke.

The therapist then, suggests an interpretation that connects the metaphorical narrative with the therapeutic relationships in reality. Once the client accepts this interpretation, she can use the metaphorical card to express her needs from the therapeutic relationship and what can help her feel safe in the process of therapy.  

With the help of the cards, the session that begun with multiple  ‘I don´t knows’ ends with the therapist and the client working towards the therapeutic goals, tuned to the client’s pace, and preferred ways of expressing herself. 

Summary: 

The cards depict visual metaphorical images that the client and the therapist can use to represent and to share feelings and thoughts they had difficulty expressing via direct questions and answers.

Talking about the metaphors of a crossroad and a rollercoaster, was intertwined with talking about past experiences, current expectations or worries and future wishes.

The therapist followed the client sensitively as they shifted back and forth between the metaphorical layer and reality. 

This enabled them to construct a common safe space where the images could be explored and evoke feelings related to the therapeutic relationship.

The visual, metaphorical representation of their therapeutic relationship helped them to work together towards adjusting the therapeutic contract to the client’s needs and to the therapist’s professional considerations and goals. 

At the end of the session the different roads joined as one common therapeutic journey.

If you want to learn how to use these cards and others, you are welcome to attend one of our ONLINE workshops

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