My young client enters the therapy room.
In the last couple of sessions, he would almost run in from the waiting room, but today he enters slowly and freezes in his place as I close the door behind him.
“I am happy to see you Jack,” I smile towards him, putting a hand on his shoulder. I really am.
His head bent, he whispers, “Hi.” Or maybe it is a sigh, I am not sure.
“I kept the drawing that you painted last week, as you’ve requested,” I say as I hand him the box of artwork. “Would you like to see it now that it is dry?”
“It’s okay,” he says. Head still down. Hands to either side of his body.
“I will put your box on the table here,” I say.
“In case you will want to take a look later”.
Jack walks slowly and sits down on the carpet.
I sit on the carpet too. Maybe I sigh as I sit down, the week between the two sessions suddenly seems longer...
A couple of quiet minutes go by.
After a while, he stretches his hand out to the box of cards in a cabinet besides him. He opens it slowly, taking out the pile of story cards, and putting them back into the box almost immediately. Then he takes the pile of picture cards and looks at them, one after the other.
“These are all pictures of train carriages,” he says, his eyes fixed on the cards.
“Yes,” I say. “These are all pictures of imaginary carriages.”
“These are not the same carriages,” he says, or asks.
“No, these are not the same carriages,” I repeat. “Each carriage is special - like people and children. In this card-game carriages can think and talk too”.
Jack opens his eyes in interest.
“The same carriage can also have different feelings on different days, just like we do,” I add.
“Yes,” he says as if to himself as he continues to go over the cards.
“Is there a card in the pile that you would like to work with toady?” I ask.
Jack shakes his head “no”, but I notice that he keeps holding the pile in his hands.
“Maybe you can find a carriage that does not feel like talking today,” I suggest.
I think I see a little smile building up on his face as he starts searching for a specific card among the carriages in the pile.
“This one,” he puts a card between us on the carpet.
“Hello carriage,” I greet the card. And then I quickly apologise: “Oops, I heard you do not feel like talking today so you don´t have to answer.”
Jack smiles ear to ear.
“Sometimes I don´t feel like talking too,” I say. Keeping my eyes on the card, as if I am talking with the illustrated carriage the whole time.
Jack touches the card softly.
“How about we put the carriage on a blank paper so that it will have its own special space?” I suggest.
Without saying a word, Jack walks to the art materials cupboard and takes a sheet of white paper and piece of cardboard out. With determined actions and busy movements he puts the cardboard on the carpet and lays the white paper on top of it. He then puts the card on the paper. He seems pleased with his actions, but then he goes back to the shelf and takes a few colouring pencils. He puts them on the carpet next to him and finally sits down.
“Look, carriage,“ I say and then turn to Jack and ask, half whispering : “Does it have a name?”
“…Cardy.” Jack answers confidently after a short pause.
“Look, Cardy,“ I start again, “Now you have your own space, and thanks to Jack we can also see you better with the white paper as a background. Maybe later it will even be possible to draw things that you like around you.”
Jack picks up a pencil and draws an airplane on the paper above the card.
“I see you like airplanes, Cardy,” I say.
“Yes,” Jack answers.
“What else do you like?” I ask the card.
“Spaceships,” Jack answers and draws a spaceship. “Cardy likes airplanes and spaceships.”
“I feel like I am getting to know you better, Cardy,” I talk to the card. “I already know that you don’t feel like talking today, I know that you like airplanes, and spaceships. I see that your floor is khaki and that you have an interesting brown cover - ”
“It’s a blanket!” Jack says harshly. “Not a cover…”
“Oh, now I see,” I say to Cardy. “You have an interesting brown blanket”.
Jack starts acting as if he is cold. Dramatically shivering and chattering his teeth.
“Are you cold, Cardy?” I ask the card.
Jack shivers more intensely, as if answering on Cardy’s behalf.
“I forgot that you prefer not to talk today Cardy,” I say. “However, it seems like you are still cold and I wonder if another blanket could help…” I pretend to think aloud.
“Perhaps we can draw another blanket around Cardy?” I ask Jack. “I want to help it feel warm and nice here with us.”
I hardly finish the sentence and Jack starts drawing a blanket on the paper around the card. Long minutes pass and he is completely absorbed in the work. He keeps adding details and colours to the blanket that he is drawing. Then at one point he starts humming to himself while drawing.
“Look Cardy,” I put a gentle finger on the roof of the illustrated carriage. “We have decided to draw another blanket for you to keep you warm, and Jack is also humming a nice song for you.”
Jack hums a bit louder.
I start moving my shoulders according to the humming. “I hope Cardy feels warm and nice now,” I say, as if to myself.
Still sitting, Jack starts moving his feet with the melody and I begin tapping with my fingers following his rhythm.
We sit like this on the carpet for a while, adding improvised music instruments and dancing side by side.
At one point, Jack turns shining eyes towards me. And I think that I can see Cardy smiling as well under the two blankets.
A usually active and expressive client that I have been seeing for a couple of sessions acted differently today. Jack was quiet and reserved when the session began and showed no interest in talking with me or continuing our work. I felt that something was different and that he was bringing something new to share with me in the room.
I decided that too many direct questions or initiative on my side at that point might threaten him and make him even more quiet and reserved.
Instead, I wanted to join my client, Jack, where he was at that time and place.
As the session developed, my goal was to create a safe arena for Jack to express himself in, helping him feel accepted and heard.
In the gentle dialogue between the layers of metaphorical and reality-oriented work, I collaborated with the expressive and creative parts of Jack as we tried to help Cardy ‘feel warm and nice’. Thus, using the image of a train carriage as a tool, Jack could connect with his own feelings and express his need of warmth and safety in a projective way.
Toward the end of the session, Cardy was no longer under a khaki cover as I initially perceived.
He was under a warm double layered blanket, illustrated by the caring hands of my client, and waiting for future, perhaps warmer, journeys.
I won’t necessarily know what made Jack so quiet today, nor what the blanket was needed to cover or protect him from. Is it just one of those quiet days, or is there a painful experience lying underneath? Feelings of shame or insecurity, or some sort of a secret or story not being told? I do not know now, and I might never find out.
I do know, however, that I will keep encouraging Jack to express himself in any way that he chooses. And I will follow him there - until he feels safe enough to share.
Because each and every one of us - clients, therapists and carriages alike - have our own ways, and days.
------------------------------------------------The End --------------------------------
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Written by Gali Salpeter - Story & Therapy
Expressive Therapist. Spec. Drama and NarrativeTherapy (M.A.)(NFKUT)(I.C.E.T)