Treatment Example 5

This is the case of a young woman with a serious phobia of mice. She was referred by her boyfriend who was worried that her mental problems were becoming so disruptive that they were leading to physical injuries. She was having nightmares in which she dreamt there were mice were crawling all over her, and would wake up screaming. More recently, her night terrors were increasing in vividness and intensity, reaching a point where, in a state of half sleep, she would sometimes jump out of bed, seize any object she could reach, and swat herself all over to get rid of the critters, causing severe bruises.

On first meeting the young woman she expressed that, other than her phobia causing problems at night, she felt very well adjusted and comfortable in her personal and professional life. She mentioned she did not want to embark on in-depth therapy, but specifically asked for treatment using only behavioral methods. I agreed, and we set about building a hierarchy of imaginary situations to systematically desensitize her about her fear of mice. In passing, I inquired about her background, to which she commented that she was very pleased with her decision to come to the big city a year ago, found a wonderful job in high tech and met her boyfriend. She also explained she was from an ethnic background and that her parents, who spoke little English, owned a convenience store in her home town, noting her phobia had started when she once witnessed a nest of mice at the back of the store. At this point her gaze turned downward, and it was obvious she became sad. When asked about it, she related that her father recently became ill and disabled, and her mother was now alone to carry the burden of caring for her two younger brothers, helping her disabled husband and managing the store alone. It was obvious she felt very close to her mother, sympathizing with her plight about having to work so hard, and feeling helpless to support her.

Now suspecting that her mother was her Prime Love Giving parent, I turned our conversation on the mother-daughter relationship. Always watching her reactions and giving her plenty of time to reflect, I expressed my empathy about how badly she must be feeling for having left her mother on her own to cope with her father, as well as her little brothers, whom she described as behaving quite badly sometimes. We spent about half an hour discussing how she herself was such a great source of help, love and support to the family, and how difficult it must be for her mother to manage without her. Now I surmised, though I did not say so directly, that she was the favored child of her mother, the PLG. The crux of the therapy seemed to come in the second session when I explained that she harbors an intense attachment to her mother, and reciprocally, that her mother holds a strong attachment to her. I pointed out the sadness they both shared at their separation, and emphasized how much her mother probably misses her too. This again brought her close to tears and although she became quiet and solemn, she did not cry outrightly.

This client did not return for a third session. I worried about her because she seemed to be holding on to so much sadness, and telephoned her at home, but receiving no answer after several tries, left messages. The following week she called to say she and her boyfriend had participated in a weekend fundraising marathon, after which everyone in the group had camped outside. She said this was something she would never have done previously due to her fear of mice, but felt comfortable to spend the night outdoors, slept through soundly and had not experienced any nightmares since our last meeting.