Chimpanzee on the couch

3monkeyGlenn

The chimpanzee shot past me straight upstairs to the kitchen. Thudding and banging she emerges hobbling down the stairs laden with fruit clutched in her hands and feet, and tucked under her chin. I follow her into my consulting room. Perched on the edge of the sofa, only the sound of her slurping and sucking breaks the silence. We sit watching each other as a small pile of fruit skins form a pyramid on the wooden floor. I imagine them going into the bin.

‘You looked surprised; am I the first chimpanzee you’ve had? I bet you’ve never heard a chimpanzee speak before?’

I’m the one unable to speak.

‘I’m guessing you don’t speak in my tongue, so let’s stick with English.’

She’s teasing me? ‘Okay,’ I smile and blink.

‘This is talking therapy right? It’ll be odd if we didn’t talk.’

‘So what do you want to talk about?’ I say as though I’m used to conversing with chimpanzees.

‘The zoo psychologist referred me; she says I’m depressed, but that’s not why I’m here.’ She interrupts herself, ‘This is confidential isn’t it?’ Her look is so intense that I freeze for a moment. I’m trying to imagine describing this session to my supervisor. I want to stay with this image.

‘Yes.’

‘Good. Um, I don’t mind if you write about me in your blog.’

‘You’re concerned about confidentiality and yet you’re happy for me to write about our session.’

‘Well no one will believe you’ve worked with a speaking chimpanzee! They’ll assume it’s a metaphor, a literary device or something. So you can if you want to.’

‘Thank you. So you’re depressed and that’s not why you’re here …’

‘Well of course I’m depressed – I live in a zoo. There’d be something seriously wrong with me if I weren’t, right?’ She pauses; I can’t tell if she wants a reply.

‘I’ve heard that psychotherapy is primarily about listening.’

‘And the psychologist doesn’t listen to you?’

‘No, actually I’ve never spoken to her – well, not in English. I’ve nothing to say to her. I’ve never heard her say anything remotely interesting or insightful.’

Again she pauses as though awaiting a response.

‘In my experience people don’t listen. Have you seen the BBC programme Dynasties with David Attenborough?’

‘No.’

‘They followed a group of chimpanzees around for over two years then edited hundreds of hours of footage down into just one hour. David is this old alpha-male who has somehow held off challengers and remained at the top to keep his exclusive mating rights, though they didn’t show any of that. Actually he didn’t really seem to do very much. It does show him enjoying exclusive rights to narration.

‘Anyway humans love drama; with all their resources and all that film of chimpanzees they managed to shape a human drama and then, with no sense of irony or shame, present it as chimpanzee behaviour – it was genius.’

I’m trying not to imagine David Attenborough asserting his exclusive mating rights.

‘So people come to talk to you, you listen for maybe hundreds of hours, and then you make up stories, create drama? Or is that what you cure them from?’

‘There is no cure.’

‘I’ve seen it on your website: you work with addictions – sex, alcohol, drugs, spiritual addiction – but you don’t mention addiction to drama?’

‘Well people don’t see it as an addiction.’

‘So you help them become better addicts?’ For the first time she looks puzzled.

‘Ha! I suppose so. Once their stories have been listened to they can get beyond them.’

‘And then what?’

‘They become chimpanzees.’

‘Whaoo-ooh!’ her laughter reverberates around the room. ‘You know that’s not all there is to being a chimpanzee …’

Our conversation meanders until ‘our time is up’. As we move towards the front door she asks: ‘Will you dramatise this is your blog?’

‘I get the impression you want me to?’

‘Maybe it’s the only way I can tell if you’ve listened to me.’

‘Oh, so you’re testing me.’

I flash her a sad smile, her face is inscrutable; I’ve not seen this expression before. I imagine she’s reflecting back my smile, though less apologetically and perhaps more pitying.

‘How would you write it?’ I ask.

‘I wouldn’t. I’ve better things to do.’

‘And I’ve nothing better to do?’

‘Maybe you have, but then you are only human.’

‘You do know there’s no such thing as a chimpanzee, don’t you?’

‘Yes.’

Standing to her full height she looks intensely into my eyes and says, ‘Thank you for the fruit.’ In the next moment she is across the road, up a tree and swinging over the fence.

Glenn suggests …

… stocking up on fruit if you work with chimpanzees.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

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Easier done than said

Jimblog1Silence is the natural part of speech that never lets you down.

If at your initial meeting the counsellor looks even more miserable than you, don’t go back.

Laughing and weeping and sighing – it’s what humans do best, in no particular order.

I lie in order to bring myself roughly into being and only then can I begin to speak the truth.

To make yourself out to be happier than you are is to be happier than you think.

It goes without saying. Of course I’m happiest when I forget all about being happy.

Common sense would suggest that common sense is a good thing.

Your particular suffering is always somehow perfectly unspeakable.

Who exactly is insisting that you live your life the way you are living it now?

That unusual word you use, that odd turn of phrase, that untamed metaphor – there’s your magic.

When your therapist tells you a slightly different story about you as if you didn’t already secretly know it …

Lighten up and get over yourself – the best advice I’ve ever given to me and ignored.

It can feel great to play it but don’t let your therapy become merely a language game.

My opinions strike me as provisional no matter how long I spend forming them.

A smart thought rarely dispels a bad mood but running on the spot for a minute or two will do the trick.

Know your profound emptiness amidst abundance and nothing is ever lost to you.

Not just clearing my throat. Sometimes in a session my body sings and I can barely utter a word.

If you find some other people wonderful why not let yourself be just as wonderful to others?

Saying nothing much to your therapist is only human after all.

Your first solo act of responsibility as a little child was to talk candidly to yourself.

Soulfulness seems to become deepened by the mundane as much as by specialities.

When you pay your therapist you are instructing them to look after their own mental health.

It helps us to understand each other better by looking like we could.

The power of then. The past isn’t happening now so let’s get going before it restarts.

In another life I’m still dreaming of this one.

It could be scarily liberating to realise that hardly anyone knows anything about your existence.

That subtle and penetrating insight you had yesterday – where is it hiding out now?

Profoundly therapeutic dialogue can’t help but generate moments of divine silliness.

Your life may be no more or less painful than anybody else’s but you’re the only one who can live it.

To heal means to become whole, so get ready for a mighty slow-motion internal explosion.

Reassuring to know your inner child is always listening intently to you talking away like an adult.

Every gleaming sentence is a spell cast in the hope of teasing out the next crappy one.

What’s almost true is more exciting than what’s totally true.

Perhaps nobody ever truly empathises with another person without making bland assumptions.

Partiality. You’re talking to me as if I know you, when all I have is my version of your version of you.

To listen to counsellors and therapists having a discussion you’d think they were in love with suffering.

He could see my puzzlement and smiled at me like I knew what he meant, then suddenly I did know.

In good therapy, when two people talk and one is a therapist, both become therapists.

Jim recommends:

Presley, E. (1960). ‘It’s Now Or Never.’

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Jim Holloway 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.