Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

PSYCHOTHERAPY BEYOND THE FRINGE, continued

The visual ‘squash’, described by James and Woodsmall, and already illustrated in Martha’s story, was used to address each of the main conflicted (negative, to be avoided) values listed by Mary in the various areas of living. The images she chose for each one, and the image resulting after the ‘squash’, were all fascinating. However, one of the ‘squashes’ will probably suffice to illustrate the process employed.

Mary had listed ‘innocence’ as a value in the areas of living, relationships, feelings, as well as in family life and values. Its generality across areas of living suggested it was an important value to her. But the only way she was able to ‘notice’ innocence in life was by the ‘absence of’ badness or guilt. That is, rather than ever being able to feel good because she thought of herself as innocent, she was constantly on edge, vigilantly on guard to avoid badness. The only innocence she said she ever felt was a kind of ‘forced’ or ‘assumed’ innocence when she had avoided guilt or badness. This is what is meant by a ‘conflicted value’.

The way in which she represented the pole of ‘badness’ for herself was a picture of a cemetery with a fresh mound of earth, leaves falling all around and a grave marker which kept changing between a cross and a regular tombstone. A real psychologist would have had a field day with all this lovely imagery. Felicity accepted it as a good image for the purpose, and asked her to put it up on a shelf. The way in which Mary represented the pole of ‘innocence’ was described as a grey and white cloud through which a bright white light shone down. She never felt innocent – hence perhaps the dismal image. But Felicity liked it. He asked her to put that up on the shelf too.

Mary elected to hold the image of ‘badness’ on her left hand, and so Felicity asked her to put it there and to put the image of ‘innocence’ on her right hand. He asked her to talk to the part of herself which was the image of the cemetery, and to ask it what its best intentions for her were. She replied: “It wants me dead.” Felicity tried again: “But why does it want you dead?” The reply was: “So I can pay for my sins.” “But why does it want you to pay for your sins?” “So I can be cleansed and clean.” “But why does it want you to be cleansed and clean?” “So I can be a good person.” “But why does it want you to be a good person?” “So I will not be unhappy.” “But why does it want you not to be unhappy?” “So I can get along better with others.” “But why does it want you to get along better with others?” “So I’ll have a good life and be happy.” “So it wants you to have a good life and be happy?” This last question seemed necessary because what Mary had just said did not seem to register on her. She frowned deeply, pulled her left hand closer to her face and said: “You’re kidding me!” The remark was apparently addressed to the hand and not to Felicity.           So Felicity asked: “What did the part say? Is it kidding you?” “No!” she gasped in utter shock.

“What about the light streaming through the clouds on your right hand?” Felicity asked, “Could you ask it what its best intentions for you are?” “So that I will be innocent.” “But why does it want you to be innocent?” “So I will do the right things.” “But why does it want you to do the right things?” “So people will like me.” “But why does it want people to like you?” “You’re right, that’s what it says, so I can have a good life and be happy.” “You mean, it wants you to have a good life and be happy too? That’s nuts, isn’t it? Surely those two different parts can’t want the same thing for you?” Mary turned her closed eyes toward one hand and then the other. “I guess they do,” she said.

Felicity asked Mary to get the two poles on her two hands to talk to each other. After all, if they wanted the same thing for her, they ought to be able to get along together as a single part to help her to ‘have a good life and be happy’ without hurting her or making her feel bad. And perhaps, if they could agree to get along in that way, they could find some way to express to each other their wish and agreement to come together into one part. As he was saying this, Felicity brought his two hands together to clasp one another gently. So did Mary.

Once her hands were clasped together, Felicity asked her to look carefully at this ‘new part of herself’ and to tell him what it looked like. Mary looked surprised. She shook her head in disbelief. The picture she described as being the image which she now saw between her hands was one of a field in which there was a tree with a thick, straight trunk and no leaves on the tree’s massive branching system. The grass in the field was green. The trunk and branches of the tree were not assigned a colour, but they were seen as very ‘bright’. Felicity said he thought that was a beautiful scene and he thought he might adopt it too.

He asked her to imagine an infinite source of love and peace and power and healing flowing down through her head and out through her heart to the wonderful new part of herself. Then he asked her to imagine that same infinite source of love and peace and power and healing flowing down through her head and out through her heart to all the other parts of herself too while she integrated this new part of herself with the other parts of herself. As if to help the process, she drew her clasped hands in toward her chest and she smiled warmly and beautifully.

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