Updated: Sep 8, 2020
Stan pulled open the door of the counsellor’s office and was immediately greeted by a tiny black dog, barking enthusiastically. Careful to shut the door, Stan sat down. The dog stopped barking and came over to sit down in front of Stan staring fixedly at his face. “What?” Stan asked the dog. “I’ve got nothing for you.” The dog didn’t move or look away.
The counsellor appeared. “Charcoal, you have to show him where the treats are,” she said. “He’s new.”
The dog slowly took his eyes off Stan and turned his head to look at the shelf to his left. Stan noticed a small sign above a glass bowl. ‘Dog Treats’ said a hand lettered square. The dog returned to staring at him unblinkingly. Stan got up and walked over to pick up a treat and turned around to find the tiny dog directly behind him. The promptly dog sat waiting expectantly. Stan looked at the counsellor. “Can I just give it to him?”
“Of course. He’s very polite.”
Stan bent over and held out the treat. The dog didn’t move. He moved closer and offered the treat again. The dog took it gently from his fingers then trotted off down the hallway. “He belongs to the trauma therapist,” the counsellor told him. “On Wednesdays four therapists bring dogs, so clients quickly book up the sessions on that day.” She laughed.
Following her down the same hallway to the therapy room, Stan wondered how today would go. He knew that they were doing something called a ‘genogram,’ but he wasn’t exactly sure what that meant.
When he was settled, the counsellor asked, “How has the past week been for you?”
“I tried all the self-rescue strategies you sent, picked two, and practiced those plus the Box Breathing all week like you suggested.”
“And? How did that work for you?”
“I’m stunned, actually,” Stan admitted. “Toward the end of the week after I had been practicing every day, I managed to get control of a panic attack on Friday at work. I still felt kind of shaky, but I could think, and I didn’t have to leave the room. I was kind of impressed with myself. I practiced and it actually worked. It was a relief.”
“Sounds like a success for you.”
“Totally,” Stan retorted. “I’m going to do a lot more practicing.”
“That can only help.” She picked up a piece of chalk and stood up. “We’re going to use the blackboard today and build a picture of your family for as many generations as you have information about.”
Stan looked surprised. “Blackboard?”
The counsellor gestured at the large, black wall. “This is all blackboard.” She grinned.
“Wow.” Stan looked pained. “Now I feel like I’m in school.” He laughed weakly.
“Nope,” she smiled. “Not school. I promise.”
Over the next hour, Stan worked with the counsellor to draw a ‘map’ of his family on the huge board. The counsellor asked him for three adjectives for every individual he knew well enough to describe, and together they built his family tree and then traced generational patterns of addiction, mental health issues, and trauma. When they were done, the counsellor sat down and looked at him. “What do you see, Stan?”
Stan considered. “I’m astounded to see how much trauma there is in both sides of my family, and I’m looking at all the people who have addiction issues. I’ve never really thought about that, but there’s so many. That’s got to be significant.” He paused. “I’m also surprised to realize how many of us are anxious in one way or another.”
“Your history is vital in understanding how you experience the present and making a pictorial map of that history can be so very helpful. What will you take away from today’s session to think about this week?”
Stan considered. “I think I’m going to talk to my mother about some of this stuff, and I’m going to think about what you told me about trauma and how it impacts the nervous system. There’s a lot there.” He gestured at the blackboard.
“There is a lot here. Why don’t you take a picture so that you’ll have a reference when talk to your mom or when you want to reflect on it yourself? For this week, keep practicing your self-rescue strategies, and I look forward to hearing what comes of your reflection on the genogram.”
As Stan exited through the reception area, he looked around hopefully, but the well-behaved little dog was not to be seen. He laughed quietly to himself, thinking, ‘I must make my next appointment for a Wednesday.’