Friday 20 November 2015

The Story of the Unfinished Business...

At a supervision meeting of volunteers I work with, the issue of Unfinished Business was raised. One of the least satisfying parts of our work is that we often never hear the end of our clients' stories. When they are no longer in crisis and no longer need support, our involvement can end. That can be very unsatisfying, and sometimes unsettling: we know we left them on an upwards trajectory, but rarely is everything sorted and perfect.

That issue of unfinished business reminded me of a story a friend told me over dinner a week or so previously. He had suffered from adult-onset epilepsy. The medication he was given had an unfortunate side-effect. He started to suffer from troubling flashbacks/daydreams. These were all of a similar nature. He would remember some past encounter, of a trivial nature, with someone whom he had only met once, when the encounter had ended unsatisfactorily from his point of view. Many of these dated back years, and he had not consciously thought about them since.

One example was a time he had been stopped by traffic police and one of them had been unnecessarily sarcastic, some twenty years ago. But what troubled him was that each flashback ended with an imagined scene in which he beat up the other person. Needless to say, he is not given to violence, nor even to violent fantasies. So he found these flashbacks/daydreams very troubling, and at one stage was having several a day.

He went for a couple of counselling sessions, and his counsellor suggested a very simple idea. He should re-visit each of these encounters in his mind, and re-write the story by imagining an ending with which he would have been satisfied. So in the case of the police, for example, he imagined that he had had a word with the non-sarcastic police officer about the other's behaviour. He further imagined that the non-sarcastic officer had returned to the patrol car and given his colleague some uncompromising feedback about his sarcastic behaviour.

As he was telling me this part of the story his wife chipped in, to say that she had been extremely sceptical of this idea when he returned from that counselling session. It sounded too easy, too simple, to be effective. Yet effective it was!

From the moment he imagined a better ending to each of these stories, which I suppose must have been lurking unresolved deep in his unconscious mind for years, the flashbacks stopped. 

Just when I thought I had completed my book on Story, too...

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