Fear of Dying: Part 1
Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Jonah has a problem. He likes horror movies and can't stop watching them. Suddenly, he doesn't want to watch them and he starts to worry
N.B. All the characters in this blog are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
© Robert Davies (2018)
Bob the counsellor was standing in the middle of the corridor. He had just finished chatting with a teacher when he found himself in the thick of a bunch of grade 5 students coming in from recess. Hearing a voice behind him, he turned.
“Hello, Jonah. What’s up?”
“Mister Jenkins, can I see you?” Jonah’ s eyes were big and round, a little bigger than usual.
“Okay. Let's talk to your teacher."
Minutes later, Bob the counsellor, Mr. Jenkins, was sitting with Jonah in his office.
“Okay, Jonah, let’s measure your mood.”
Mr. Jenkins took a sheet of paper and placed it in front of Jonah. “ Let's measure your negative feelings. You check off one of five choices:
1-Not at all, 2-Somewhat, 3-Moderately, 4- A lot, or 5-Extremely.”
Jonah nodded yes.
“First we’ll measure sadness, then anxiety and then anger.”
Jonah quickly finished checking off all the boxes. Mr. Jenkins took up the sheet and totaled the answers. Jonah's anxiety was going through the roof.
“Jonah, visualize a magic button on your chair.” Mr. Jenkins touched a spot on the left armrest.
Mr. Jenkins was testing if Jonah was motivated to change.
“Jonah, if you could push this magic button on your chair, and you would be happy but everyone around you would remain the same and you would still have the problem of horror movies, would you push the magic button?”
“Yes, I would. I just want to be happy again.”
“Okay, then let’s start on helping you change your thoughts and get control of them. Remember you are the boss of your own mind. Jonah, you are telling me here that you are not sad or mad or even suicidal, but you are anxious –100% - right at the extreme level. That must be hard?”
Jonah nodded assent. Mr. Jenkins left a little silence with a slight pause.
“So, Jonah, what is happening that you are feeling so anxious?”
“I’m having bad dreams.”
“That is no fun.” Mr. Jenkins paused again. He lifted his eyes to the ceiling visualizing a bad nights sleep.
“Bad dreams … yes, I’ve been there, waking up in terror, sweating maybe, afraid to go back to sleep, tossing and turning, a bad night all around.”
Bob-the-counsellor stopped his thinking out loud, sat back and looked kindly at Jonah waiting.
“I can’t sleep too well. It’s hard to stay awake at school.:
"It must be so difficult trying to pay attention when you just want to sleep. What’s going on?”
“I am watching horror movies and can’t stop.”
“Tell me if I am wrong here. You really want to watch, but it is not working out for you.”
“Yes, Mr. Jenkins.”
“Well, do you want to stop watching horror movies?”
“Yes, it is a bad habit.”
We can work on the habit of watching horror movies. What do you want to work on specifically? What is it about the horror movies that you don’t like?”
“Well, the worst is the Chuckie movies.”
“The Chuckie movies?”
“Yeah, there are three Chuckie movies: Child’s Play One, Child’s Play Two and Child’s Play Three.”
“So what is it about these movies that you don’t like?”
(Cognitive therapy requires a specific problem with a specific time, place and witnesses, if any)
“Well, Chuckie is this little doll. At first, he is nice, but then he turns evil and kills people by stabbing them to death.”
"Well, Jonah, I am thinking that a lot of horror movies are made each year. People love it. They love the feeling of feeling excited, scared as if maybe they are going to die. Maybe, I shouldn't help you. I wouldn't want to take away your fun, Jonah. It seems that horror movies are important to you. Maybe, I should just send you back to class?" (Bob-the-counsellor is dealing with any resistance that Jonah may have in order to have him totally committed to the therapy.)
"Oh no, Mr. Jenkins. I really, really don't want to watch them anymore. I need help!"
"Okay, Jonah. You win. But remember that I can stop giving you help anytime you wish. I am here for you."
Okay, we have to be detectives here and first check out the facts. Just the facts. Who is this Chuckie?”
“Well, he is a live doll. He started off being good and then he turned bad.”
“What do you mean “bad”?”
“He stabs people to death.”
"You mean a knife?"
"Yes, a huge, big kitchen knife!“
"Gotcha. And do, what people?”
"Yeah, who does he stab? “Anyone. He attacks random individuals.”
“Where does he live anyway?”
Jonah thought about it.
“Hollywood, somewhere I guess.”
“Let’s say California in the United States. That’s where Hollywood is. So why would he come all the way to Prince Edward Island to kill you?”
“Well, he just kills anyone, so he could kill me, too.”
“I am trying to understand what you are telling me, Jonah. You said he just kills anyone randomly. Now, that doesn’t seem random to me. That sounds planned. Out of the millions of people in Canada and the thousands here in PEI, he has decided on you? Chuckie's got your name and address, and is going to kill you tonight. What do you think? Doesn’t sound random to me.”
Jonah was listening intently. He was nodding his head in agreement.
“Anyway, wouldn’t Chuckie just go somewhere close by in the United States?”
“Like Ohio?” Jonah suggested. He seemed somewhat relieved by the idea.
“Yes, like Ohio. It’s closer to California so I would expect lot’s of random killing could happen right there.”
Anyway, Jonah. What would the chances of that be if it were truly random?”
“Mr. Jenkins, you mean like one-in-ten, like that?
“Yeah, exactly. I would think it would be maybe as if I asked you - what are your chances of being struck by lightning? What would you say?”
“Well, not very much.”
“Exactly, it would be like … one in a gazillion? “
“ Jonah, what would your chances be of winning a ton of money with a lotto ticket?”
“ Well, it is even harder than being struck by lightning.”
“Well, now, all that is random. The computer just picks any number.”
Jonah was listening and nodding, thinking about this very seriously.
“So you go for a walk and you get hit by lightning. Fried Jonah! That’s random. Do you think you are going to be hit by lightning the next time you go for a walk?”
Jonah remained silent. His wheels were turning over and over in his head.
“Okay, Jonah, enough about Chuckie being here. How about getting here? How would Chuckie get to PEI, walk?”
“I think he would fly or drive.”
“I have seen photographs of Chuckie. He is pretty short. I don’ t think he could reach the gas or brake pedals, do you?”
“Well, then I guess he could fly or take a taxi.”
“Where would he get the money to take a taxi all that way? If it cost $10.00 or so to go to downtown Charlottetown, it would cost a mint to drive all the way from California.”
“I guess he would take a plane or a bus or a train.”
“A plane or bus or train sounds about right. Now I am thinking about problems that Chuckie would have. First of all, I think the whole world almost knows what and who Chuckie is. I don’t watch horror movies, and even I know what he looks like. Wouldn’t he be easy to recognize Chuckie on a bus, plane or train traveling to Prince Edward Island?”
“He could wear a disguise.”
“Yes, he could wear a disguise.”
“There are people who check for disguises at all border crossings. There is even an air marshal on each plane in the US to check for suspicious people, especially wearing disguises. That’s like a sheriff or a policeman.”
“Really? I didn’t know that.”
“Well, ever since they blew up the twin towers. You know the attack on New York City don’t you?”
Jonah nodded yes.
“Now, I am thinking of the border between Canada and United States. Since the terrorists attacked New York City, there is really tight control of the border between Canada and the United States and any planes flying over those borders, as well as buses on the roads and trains on the railroads. In the States, there are special agents at the border and in Canada we have our own special agents at the same borders and at our airports we have Border Security. They check the suitcases. They look for disguises. Now Chuckie is a doll. What kind of a disguise would he wear to fool everyone? Do you think he could get through all the checkpoints?”
Jonah’s eyes were drawn together in deep thought. He had visualized everything and was shaking his head in agreement.
“Jonah, here are some mind traps (cognitive distortions) that people usually have in their thinking when they are upset. You are upset, extremely anxious. Maybe, you have some of these mind traps.”
Number one mind trap is All-or-nothing thinking. You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories. Everything and everyone is measured in degrees or percentages.
"For instance, Chuckie might only wound you and not completely kill you. Would that maybe happen? Maybe?"
"Yes, it could happen."
Overgeneralization. You take one single event and you generalize it to your entire life.
"You like watching horror movies; suddenly, you start worrying about Chuckie. Now your entire life is unsafe. That doesn't make sense.
"Do you think that you have made your entire life unsafe?"
"Maybe," said Jonah. "Yeah, I guess so?"
Mental filter. You dwell on the negatives, the shortcomings, the errors and ignore the positive qualities. Or vice versa.
"Remember right now you only thinking of the negatives of horror movies. What about the positive side. People love horror movies, not all , but lots do. Remember that you used to like them."
"Okay, that is really true."
Discounting reality. You ignore positive or negative facts.
"You suddenly ignore how much fun you used to have with the scary movies. Now they are all bad. Well, for you, the Chuckie ones are!"
"Yep, that is definitely true. It was good; now it's bad."
Jumping to conclusions. You jump to conclusions not warranted by the facts.
a) Mind-reading. You assume that people are reacting negatively to you.
"You think Chuckie is thinking about you! You don't know that! Anyway, he surprises people, so you would never know. Bang! Big, bad knife in your back. At least, that's what I am understanding from you."
Jonah nodded his head in agreement.
b) Fortune-telling. You predict that things will turn out badly or even perfectly. No one can tell the future.
"Chuckie could be so busy killing people in Ohio that he might never make it to Canada. No one knows because you can't tell the future What do you think?"
"That' s right. I was predicting the future. I can't. No one can."
Magnification or minimization. You blow things way out of proportion or shrink them. It is called the binocular trick because it’s like looking through the two ends of a binocular, so things either look much bigger, or much smaller than they really are.
"You are blowing this out of proportion, maybe. How many kids at this school are worried about Chuckie? Not many I would think. So, did we make it bigger than it really is."
"Yeah, I think so."
Emotional reasoning. You reason from your feelings, thinking that your feelings mirror reality. In point of fact, your feelings are created from your thoughts, which are not necessarily true: “You feel threatened , so you think then you must be threatened or in danger.” Feelings do not have brains!
"You feel as if you might die because you are so scared. Now you believe it is true. Where are the facts? Zippo!"
Jonah was thinking heavily, staring straight ahead and seemingly weighing the input.
Outside Bob-the-counsellor’s office, the bell sounded. It was recess.
“Okay, Jonah. We have a bit more work to do. Would you like to come back after recess and get it over with or maybe see me next week?”
“Mr. Jenkins, I gotta finish today. Remember – Chuckie might kill me tonight!”
“That’s right. I am sorry. My fault. I apologize.”
“That’s okay, Mr. Jenkins. I know you see a lot of kids.”
“Thanks, Jonah, for the okay. See you right after recess.”
“Here is your pass. Show it to your teacher but hold on to it and then come straight here.
Jonah tore off into the corridor on his way outside.
Therapy session to be finished in next blog.
Counselling for Anxiety - A Child's Fear of Dying (PartTwo)
Most people like stories, and therapy is all about stories. Telling stories about powerful techniques used in TEAM CBT therapy demystify this therapy one story at a time.
Yet, confidentiality is a cornerstone of all counselling. Without confidentiality, clients wouldn’t feel safe going to therapy to divulge the most painful areas of their lives. To safeguard clients while illustrating TEAM CBT techniques, confidentiality is kept by either having the client’s consent or by distorting the facts, making the client unrecognizable .