Counselling Phobia: Michael's Walls - Part 1
Updated: Jan 15, 2019
A child's room is a special place but there could be monsters under the bed, ghosts in the closet or in this story deadly germs on the walls, especially the red one!
Robert Davies © 2019
“Okay, Michael, I can see from what you checked off on your Brief Mood Survey that you are feeling very anxious as well as very depressed. I am sorry to hear that. It must be very hard on you. So, what’s happening.”
“Well, Mr. Jenkins, I am scared of my walls.”
“Scared of your walls?”
“Yeah, my walls are covered with germs that can kill me.”
“Wow, I can imagine how horrible that would be for you. You must be scared out of your mind.”
“So, which walls are freaking you out? At school?”
“No, at home.”
“So, where at home?”
"In the basement?"
“No, in my bedroom.”
“I see. So what are you thinking about these walls in your bedroom?”
“Well, when I go to bed at night, that is when it starts. During the day, there is no problem, but after after supper after bedtime until six o'clock in the morning, it is deadly to touch the walls.” “So, if you Dad or Mom go into your room to say good night, and they touch the walls, that is the end of them. It’d kill them?”
“No, just me.”
“Let me see?" wondered Mr. Jenkins. "Hmm … if the walls are that dangerous how do you go into your room?” Wouldn’t the walls get you somehow? Like your falling off balance and putting your hand on them?”
“Not exactly. The germs are all over the walls after I go to sleep until I wake up in the morning. The rest of the time there are no germs.” “Well, what happens if you wake up at night?”
“That’s the problem!”
“That’s the problem?”
“Yes, that’s the problem. Sometimes, I wake up. Not often. Just sometimes. When that happens, I can’t get back to sleep thinking about the walls, and how they are so dangerous.”
“Okay. So how long have your walls been that way?"
"Well, I’m 12 years old now and well, ever since I can remember. It is the only bedroom of my own that I can remember.”
"Maybe 10 years."
"Yeah, about that. I remember movies about me in my room when I was really young about 5, so at least 7 years."
"That's a long time to feel scared, Michael."
"I know. I can't take it any longer. I need help."
"I am here for you, Michael. I have tools that can fix that. Do you want help?"
"I sure do!"
"Well, if there were a magic button on that chair and all you had to do was push it to feel happy again would you push it?"
"But the walls would still be the same walls. Maybe you won't want to feel happy about that."
"I don't care about the dumb walls, Mr. Jenkins. I just need to feel happy. If I'm happy that means I am not letting the walls bother me. See?"
“Yeah I see. So let me begin using my tools. Sounds good?
"It sure does."
So the walls don’t hurt anyone else. They haven’t hurt you, but they could if you were to wake up during the night. Right?”
“Okay. Given that you haven’t been hurt by the germs yet, can tell us a lot. For example, how long do you have to touch the wall to get contaminated by the germs? Two Mississipi’s? Like in touch football, right.”
“Yeah, I know. I play touch football. Well, I’m thinking one Mississippi would be enough.”
“Okay, Michael, that’s one second. Now what time do you go to bed?”
“What time do you get up?”
“Okay that is 11 hours in which the walls are contaminated for you, right.”
“It does take time for me to fall asleep.”
“Okay let’s take off an hour and make it 10 hours. Good?”
“Okay, there are 60 Mississippi’s in a minute and there are 60 minutes in an hour. That’s 60 X 60 or 360. Right?”
“Well, you would double the 0’s, Mr. Jenkins. So, 3600 would be right.”
“Okay, show-off. What is ten hours in seconds?”
“Well, it would be 10 times the 3600 or 36000 seconds.”
“You’re getting on my nerves, Michael,” smiled Mr. Jenkins.
“So how many in a week? That would be seven times that,” figured Mr. Jenkins and “Let me see… that’s 25,200 seconds and in 52 weeks or a year, it’d be 52 X 25, 200 or one million, three hundred and ten thousand and four hundred – 1, 310, 400. How many years have you been in that room?”
“Well, at least seven.”
“Let's say 10. It's easier to figure and it's probably true. Okay, what is 10 times 1, 310, 400?”
“Just add a zero,” hinted Michael.
“Okay, I can do that,” said Mr. Jenkins. “That would be 10, 310, 400. Let’s say 10 milliion.”
“Okay, the point is that there were over 10 million times or Mississipi’s that you could have got contaminated, but you weren’t. So what does that tell us?”
“Well, that there are no germs on the walls?”
"With all those times when I could have gotten sick, I never got any 'killer-germ' from any wall in my room."
"That's what I am saying. That's a lot of proof that either the germs are weakling germs or the germs are not the type to bother anyone."
"But remember there are germs everywhere."
“Michael, of course, there are germs everywhere. Good germs that we need like in our gut to help digest that food. Yes, there are bad germs that can make you sick. You’ve been sick, haven’t you?”
“Sure. Everyone has.”
“Well, some of those germs can kill a person, but everybody gets sick for about a week or so with ordinary bad germs. And remember that our good germs fight the bad ones and beat them up. We get better and so the story goes on.”
“Good germs on the walls?”
“Sure and bad ones. The good germs practice beating up the bad ones in our body so we stay healthy. Even bad germs can be good for our good germs.”
“Well, maybe those germs on my wall are all good?”
“Maybe. But we don't know. We know that no one in your family got sick from touching your walls. You haven't got sick! I will tell you what. We will do some Exposure Therapy.”
“Well, the only way to get rid of what might be called a phobia like fear of elevators or fear of germs is to face them.”
“How do I do that?”
Mr. Jenkins reached into his big binder and pulled out two sheets, one for Michael and an identical one for himself.
Together but using Michael’s suggestions about what he could tolerate, they designed a Fear Ladder for exposing Michael to his irrational fears. Michael said the red wall seemed more aggressive than the yellow one’s and was the most contaminated of all 4 walls.
“Mr. Jenkins, one of the walls bothers me more than the others.”
“It is red and aggressive looking.”
“Is it more dangerous?”
“It sure is!”
“Okay, Michael, if the red wall is more aggressive than the yellow ones, we will go slower with that one.”
Go to Part - Counselling Phobia: Michael's Walls - Part 2 to find out how Michael and Mr. Jenkins working as a team and stared down the germs on the walls.
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 .