Therapeutic Characteristics

This story has different characteristics from most of the others and is best considered as a matching metaphor. It is designed to match the child listener in age, gender, and experiences as well as the problem (in this case, insomnia). An outcome is not specifically offered, although it is implied: to sleep restfully again in the child's own room. The resources, or means for getting to the outcome, are not specified, though it is implied the child has knowledge based on his own experiences. I present this story as a way of eliciting the resources and outcome from the child through collaborative storytelling: The therapist sets up the problem and seeks to engage the child in a process that will lead to a successful outcome. This process is discussed further in Chapter 16.

You know, as you were telling me the troubles you have been experiencing with sleeping I was quite amazed because I have been seeing another guy about your age who has very similar problems. Now, my guess is that there are probably a lot of things you have tried already. Some may have helped a little and some haven't been very helpful at all. Much as you might not want to, I guess you have built up a reasonable understanding ofjust how a person feels when they have difficulty getting off to sleep at night, or what happens when they wake up and can't get back to sleep. So I'm wondering whether we can talk about what you have done to see whether those things might help this other boy that I know. You see, the reasons he developed his sleeping problems in the first place may not be exactly the same as for you but, as I tell you about them, you may agree that there are some similarities.

His parents separated a while ago. It wasn't a happy time and hadn't been for a long while. There was the usual arguing and fighting that adults often get into at such times. That was when his sleep problems first started.

He told me how he would lie in bed at night and hear his mom and dad yelling at each other, wondering what he could do to stop it but feeling as useless as a Gameboy without batteries. When they did separate it was sort of a relief in some ways, but he'd lie in bed at night thinking about whether they'd separated because of him and things that he'd done or hadn't done.

He wanted to stay with his dad. His bedroom was at one end of the house and his dad's was at the other. He got pretty scared when his dad turned off the light at night and he was there, in the dark, all by himself. Lots of scary thoughts raced around in his head like an out-of-control merry-go-round. Much as he tried to stay in bed, he couldn't help himself. He had to go down to his dad's bedroom and climb in beside his father.

Now and again, his dad wouldn't have objected, but every night was a different thing. "You are too big now," his dad told him. "You need to sleep by yourself."

Well, he tried, but the scary feelings didn't stop, so he would wait until his dad was asleep, then sneak into his room and sleep on the floor beside his bed. There he drifted off to sleep much easier.

I would like to tell this boy a story that may offer him some hope and show him some things that are useful to do, or not do, so that he can feel comfortable about sleeping in his room by himself. What do you think would be helpful for him to know? What would be a useful story for us to create for this boy on the basis of the things that you know and have learned? What new things might be helpful for him to explore? And what difference do you think it will make for him when he can sleep restfully again in his own room?

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