By Kumkum Bhandari October 1997 Nossrat Peseschkian, the Persian-born founder of positive psychotherapy makes good use of Oriental stories, parables and myths as a tool in the therapeutic process Nossrat Peseschkian tells stories. He told me one within five minutes of meeting him. But he is no ordinary storyteller, nor is his audience generally made up of wide-eyed children who inch closer to ask ‘what happened next?’ The stories are no doubt simple enough to be told to kids. They are parables, myths, and pictures in language drawn from folklore or classical Persian literature. Simple stories: but there is a tale behind the telling of each. They are a sad lot, the listeners. Among them are people often in conflict: with themselves, with their bodies, with their innermost needs. Jostle among them and you find people who know anxiety, dejection, despair, rejection, isolation, and alienation. People who can do a quick mop-up job and sweep the mess into the backyards of consciousness. They are people like you and me, living and coping as best we can, in complex modern times. Many of us could do with some new ways of getting by, of self-help, of therapy. But don’t make me lie down on the analyst’s couch and tell me that the conflicts of my personality are a result of the desires of the biological, impulsive id versus the inhibitions of a harsh superego. Or that I’m an intuitive type who needs to work on my inferior sensation function (like Carl Jung prescribed)—jargon that probably tells you more about my problem than I learnt. Tell me something that will help me sort myself out. A story? Will that help? Yes, says the storyteller who is really a physician and a psychotherapist. Persian-born Peseschkian, founder of Positive Psychotherapy, blends the wisdom of the East and the psychotherapeutic methods of the West. In India to test out the possibility of setting up an Indian branch of his Center for Positive Psychotherapy, which has centers in 16 countries, Peseschkian has visited over 65 countries and made a study of 22 different cultures. Trans-cultural differences, he points out, have a bearing on the conflicts that we deal with in and around us. The East and West are no longer separated—look within: we have both aspects within us, though possibly in varying and often conflicting proportions from others. Born of a Muslim and a Christian parent, 60-year-old Peseschkian, who has lived most of his adult life in West Germany, is no stranger to the ‘trans-cultural situation’. He can draw an easy laugh out of you by telling you of the varied ways in which different cultures deal with the same situation: and how an ignorance of another’s cultural viewpoint can cause critical judgments and conflicts. Positive Psychotherapy helps the patient use discriminative analysis to focus not just on the conflict, illness or critical behavior, but also on the actual capabilities present in the individual. This has a rejuvenating effect on his capacity for self-help and his ability to deal with conflict. Our excessive and emotional reactions to a critical situation, our tendency to overemphasize just one or other capability that we value and our tendency, to make generalizations, takes away our ability to deal constructively with a situation. If a mother constantly complains to the child: ‘How many times have I told you to keep your room tidy? You are good-for-nothing’, neither mother nor child will benefit from this interaction. In fact, the small emotional injuries can just reinforce the undesirable pattern of behavior, which is being criticized. Positive Psychotherapy, writes Peseschkian in Psychotherapy of Everyday Life, helps the patient in his ‘attempt to make differentiation, to look into the cause of the anger, to give the problem the weight it deserves, and to find new possibilities’. When we are angry with a person, we often lose the capacity to view him as a unique person with many capabilities. He or she simply becomes the opinionated, egoistic boor we are unable to deal with. Peseschkian’s five-step psychotherapeutic treatment helps individuals deal constructively with such conflicts. All conflicts stem from a certain content area, though we often fail to see the links. Certain capabilities, which have been emphasized by families, culture, and upbringing, are important to us. When our expectations woven around the capacities are not fulfilled, they become the source for conflict. Peseschkian has compiled a Differentiation Analysis Inventory (DAI), which you can use to work through conflicts. He explains that instead of saying: ‘My husband is a monster who doesn’t care for me’, the patient is encouraged to reason: ‘Today I am upset with my husband because, as always, he kept me waiting and didn’t apologize. I was taught the importance of politeness and courtesy; he doesn’t find it important.’ This helps you to view the situation rationally and analytically. Peseschkian uses stories in therapy to draw a parallel between the individual’s experience and that of the protagonist of the story. The stories, adapted from classical eastern literature, present possible solutions as they deal with personal, interpersonal or social conflict. He notes in psychotherapy of everyday Life: ‘They (the stories) are consciously positioned in the framework of the five-phase treatment and require on the part of the therapist sensitivity and insights into the patient’s needs and his own motives. They also need the courage to enter into fantasy and the world of intuition.’ The stories help the patient confront his own experiences in an indirect way, and give him time to assimilate them in his own experience. They generally make him laugh, put him at ease and offer room for expanded thought. ‘Man,’ Peseschkian explains further, ‘does not think only in abstract or theoretical concepts. Rather, an understanding of his problems is determined by vivid and imaginary modes of thought, and by fantasy that is charged with emotion. This realization led me to include imagination and hence mythological stories and fables as aids to comprehension in the therapeutic process.’ By not foisting jargon on the patient and by helping him use both fantasy and analysis (right and left brain) in dealing with conflict areas, Peseschkian has managed to cut down on therapy time. While choosing stories relevant to various situations of psychotherapy, Peseschkian stays with four main areas of conflict: the relationship to one’s body, to achievement and career, to other people and groups, and to intuition, fantasy and future. As I read through the stories in Peseschkian’s Oriental Stories as Tools in Psychotherapy, some of them made me spurt with laughter and then pause to think, Some reminded me of issues that I have to deal with, others offered insights into people around me. There is no saying how and when these stories may touch off a commonality of experience and mirror a reality that is yours-if, of course, you let them. Here is a sampling of some of the stories: NO MASTER FALLS FROM THE SKY A skilled magician had a sultan and an enthusiastic audience agog with a display of his art. The sultan exclaimed; ‘God help me, what a miracle, what a genie!’ But his vizier cautioned him; ‘Your highness, no master falls from the sky. The magician’s art is the result of his industriousness and his practice.’ The vizier’s disagreement spoiled the sultan’s enthusiasm. ‘You ungrateful man! Can such skill come from practice? Either you have talent or you don’t.’ He looked at the vizier contemptuously and shouted: ‘You have no talent. Off to the dungeons with you. Ponder over my words there. Take one of your kind with you; a calf will be your cell-mate.’ From his first day in the cell, the vizier practiced picking up the calf and carrying it up the steps of the dungeon tower. Months went by. The calf grew into a powerful steer; and, with each day of practice, the vizier’s strength grew. One day, the sultan remembered the man in the dungeon and summoned him. On seeing him, he exclaimed: ‘God help me, what a miracle, what a genie!’ The vizier carrying the steer on outstretched arms, answered with the same words as before: ‘Your highness, no master falls from the sky. In your mercy you gave me this animal. My strength is the result of my industriousness and my practice.’ Too many of us live in a black-and-white world of either-or (‘either you have talent of you don’t’), cutting off and limiting endless potential, exploration and growth. We buy other people’s image of us, so we never get down to working through the nitty-gritty of acquiring, developing or sustaining a talent. Peseschkian mentions a 38-year-old patient who felt that he was less creative, and less capable than others of accomplishing anything. Though interested in art, he had never tried his hand at it. During therapy he enrolled himself in an art class, despite his wife’s advice: ‘You should leave painting to the professionals, You aren’t a genius.’ Six months later, during a therapy session, his wife who had replaced copies of Chagall and Picasso with her husband’s original works, remarked: ‘I had no idea of the talents that are in a person.’ A GOOD MODEL A mullah wanted to protect his beautiful, young daughter. ‘My dear daughter’ he said, ‘remember what I tell you. All men want only one thing. Men are cunning. They set traps wherever they can. First the man swoons over your best features. Then he invites you to go out with him. Then as the two of you pass his house, he ‘remembers’ he wa
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