Sprouts of hope - a short clinical vignette from the consulting room


Sprouts of hope - a short clinical vignette from the consulting room (with the client's permission)

Written by Orit Badouk Epstein


From ESTD Newsletter Volume 5 Number 4, December 2016 > read the original article in our newsletter

Oliver came to therapy after the couples' counsellor he saw, told him he was cold and suffered from psychological homelessness. Following from this, his partner of three years left him as he felt that he was the only one who was giving and was not receiving anything in return.

Oliver was born to a single mum in Africa. His father didn't want to know him. He spent a lonely childhood in his grandparents' farm and later at the age of 6 was sent to a boarding school where he was sexually abused from ages 8-12.

On our first meeting, I felt an instant maternal warmth towards Oliver. However, he soon told me that he feels no regards to others and if he saw someone get killed in a car crash, he would just continue walking, feeling nothing.

Oliver works hard but tends to change jobs frequently. He really doesn't like it when colleagues try to be friendly and ask him personal questions. "I'm ok as I am, I don't need them and they should not ask me anything. It's none of their business."

Already in our third session, we've established that Oliver's internal system contain three contradictory and to some extent dissociative parts:

- Adult Oliver: the one who sought therapy

- Adolescent Oliver - angry, mistrusting, non-collaborative, resentful and reluctant

- Little Oliver - yearning and searching for connection and love (stopped crying at age 14)

This narrative felt accurate and comfortable to him.

Adult Oliver was reporting how lonely he was but also how rejecting and destructive he can be. When I encouraged him to take a risk and open up a bit to a colleague who sought his friendship, he reported in the following session that not only he didn't do it but worse they have fallen out with each other.

Later he told me about a cutting of a plant his aunt had brought him from Africa.  He likes the plant very much but for some unknown reason he couldn't be bothered to get any soil and plant it in a pot. If he didn't hurry up, the cutting would soon die.

The vision of that little green cutting eagerly waiting for its soil and pot made me see little Oliver yearning to belong and root himself in a secure land. Adult Oliver and possibly little Oliver seemed pleased with this analogy.

Yet the first thing Oliver reported in the following session was that he didn't do anything with the cutting: " I don't know why I can't do it, something so simple, and I can't be bothered".

I said: "Adolescent Oliver is a feisty warrior who is reluctant to trust any change. Thinking he is still in trauma land, he is clearly protecting you from any possible disappointments from humans or plants alike." We spent a good half an hour advocating his motives. Gradually I noticed a gentle shift in Oliver's body posture and demeanour. While his stiff body leaned and finally surrendered, he relaxed on the sofa.

Toward the end of the session he said: "Will you guide me please?" I then said: "Why don't you send me a text when and if you plant the cutting in the pot."

Two hours later I received this picture saying: "I did it, adult Oliver did it" 

I replied with praise, saying I'm sure little Oliver is pleased. He then texted back: "A little :)"