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The National Council of Psychotherapists

Est. 1971



A strange thought, maybe, but perhaps people are like cars. Let me explain.


Just last week, I started to have problems with the radio in my car. When switched on, there was so much static noise that it was quite horrible. Very quickly indeed, it became even louder in the static noise department to the point of being unbearable, so the radio became unusable. The same thing happened when I used the CD player too, so I had no entertainment in the car.


When I got home, I complained about this to my husband, who generally is very handy and can fix such things for me. Of course, my complaint used words to the effect of “there’s something wrong with the radio; it’s dreadful; crackly noise whatever I try to listen to”.


And wouldn’t this be the logical complaint to make? After all, the radio was the thing that had gone wrong apparently, because it was the radio making all the nasty racket.


Instead of agreeing with me and taking a look at the radio, he asked me to describe what was happening, how often, how loud, and how quickly it had come about. He then proceeded to tell me that the problem was not with the radio at all, but instead was with the car’s alternator, and more specifically it was the brushes that had worn out and needed replacing for all to be absolutely fine again in the radio department.


On the face of it not logical at all. The radio makes dreadful noises so it’s the alternator that’s worn out. Eh?


However, after changing the alternator for another one we happened to have lying about (my car is a 2CV, so yes, we do have all sorts of spares lying about same as all other 2CV owners) the problem of nasty noise went away immediately. Husband then took the worn-out one apart and showed me the little brushes, all short and obviously worn right away when compared to new brushes, the gap from the wear and tear then allowing for arcing and hence nasty electrical static noise on any nearby receiving equipment.


So, yes, the radio showed the immediately obvious symptom, but the actual problem was something else entirely.


And so back to my starting point – are people like cars? Well, maybe we all are like 2CVs! When a client presents with something that is a problem to them, do they in fact have something else going on, that may be completely different, and possibly not logically linked at all, but which may in fact be the underlying real problem which is causing the presenting problem?


Understanding the interconnectedness of all the systems of a person, all the possible links and underlying ‘rules of life’ they may be running for themselves, could lead you, as therapist, to in fact not directly address the presenting problem at all – because by dealing with the real underlying cause, you could help to resolve a multitude of other difficulties.


Rosalyn Young RMN, MNCP.


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