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  Miracles and Pain

Hidden expectations

Without realizing it, a lot of people who decide to take some form of therapy start with one of two kinds of hidden expectation. The first involves a demand for a miracle - and quick please! The second may seem much more patient and stoical, but does revolve around the notion that therapy must mean pain. 'No pain, no gain,' people have been told - incorrectly as it happens. Neither expectation is useful. Both can subvert and even spoil therapeutic effects.

Very few people would go to a counsellor or psychotherapist and ask for a miracle outright. The request is more subtle. 'Cure my alcoholism/smoking habit/depression/pain etc etc and DO IT NOW!' It isn't stated in so many words, but whilst the average person would go to a doctor for a consultation on some physical ailment and expect to take the medicine, come back for repeat appointments, go to specialists for checks where necessary and of course wait for the cure to work, the same average person consulting a specialist on ailments that are in the psychological sphere may be in far more of a hurry for dramatic proof that 'it's worked'.

In good therapeutic work, this is complicated by the fact that what seem to outsiders to be miracles do happen, regularly. People do suddenly recover their hope and optimism, find ways to leave behind addictions, abandon old habits and become more effective. And this may well happen once they have given up the idea that they'll be given all this in a flash, by some kind of magic. Because good therapy is rooted in realism and on an understanding of human nature in general and a perception of individual need in particular.

The magic wishing trick (story)

A man has to give a speech in front of two hundred people and is dreading it. In fact, he's quaking in his shoes at the mere thought of it. On his way, he makes a detour to help a little old lady across a very busy road. On the other side, she tells him that she is really a fairy and will do just one magic wishing trick for him. Not taking her too seriously, he wishes that he could speak well in front people. 'Wish granted,' she says, grandly and confidently.

This man thinks no more about it until after the speech, which goes extremely well. He is asked to speak elsewhere and does that well too. Things build until he is widely known as a great speaker, able to handle all sorts of audiences and very much in demand - and very much enjoying it too. Then he is invited back to the first venue and, lo and behold, there is the same little old woman nearby, trying to cross a road. He helps her again and then he asks her if she remembers him. 'Oh yes,' she says, 'I remember you. The man who wanted to speak in front of folk.'

'Well, tell me,' he says, 'how it is that you're a fairy and able to change my life and give me a wish so that I could speak so well. But still you can't wish yourself to the other side of the road.'

'Oh,' she says, 'how old are you?'

'Forty two.'

'And at your age, you still believe in fairies and magic?'


At first glance, the assumption that therapy should be long and painful to be effective might seem more realistic. It isn't. Again, people don't actually go to a therapist asking for pain. They may, however, secretly expect to revisit painful experiences and be confronted with uncomfortable facts. Or people who have persuaded them into therapy may have this expectation on their behalf. Yet effective therapy for all sorts of conditions is aimed at relieving pain and discomfort, teaching ways to handle and diminish it, using methods that assist people in leaving the past behind effectively and focusing on present and future solutions.

The assumption of some old fashioned therapies that one necessarily needs to go through pain to heal oneself is at best questionable and at worst damaging - as indeed has now been shown in many studies. Doctors don't jab their fingers into wounds to make them better; they appreciate that some pain may be unavoidable but accept that it should be minimized, not accentuated.

Heracles & Quarrel(fable)

According to legend, Heracles (or Hercules as the Romans called him) was the strongest of heroes. One day when he was walking, he saw an ugly looking growth beside the road. Something about it repelled him so much that he decided to attack it with his mighty club. He dealt it the kind of blow that would have flattened an ox, but strangely the thing got bigger and uglier. The more he hit it, the more it grew and the nastier it became, until it towered over him. Then Heracles heard the voice of Zeus, the greatest of all the Greek gods. 'Heracles, leave it! Fight it no more! This is the spirit of Quarrel and Discontent. The more you hit it, the bigger it gets. Learn to leave it and it will fade away like dew on the morning grass.'

And Heracles did leave it and that hideous spirit wilted and slowly vanished, just as the god had said, like dew on the morning grass.


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