Storyteller With A Fish Tale – interview with Peter Adamson (21 November 2007)

Introduction

Some months ago, Jack Stewart suggested I contact Peter to ask if he would like to be interviewed. I looked at Peter’s website  http://www.psychotherapy4all.com and duly contacted him with my request. He agreed but asked that the interview be delayed until now. I waited and it has been worth the wait. So, without  further ado, here’s Peter Adamson.


Aneeta: Peter, thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Peter: My pleasure – thank you for interviewing me.

Aneeta: Please give me a little information about your background. Where did you grow up, what do you do for a living and where do you live now?

Peter: I grew up in Wigan, in the Northwest of England, the area and its people were shaped by coalmining and cotton-mills. I trained originally as a high school mathematics teacher but I’ve re-trained to become a psychotherapist.

I now live about a dozen miles from Wigan in North Cheshire, it’s a complete contrast in that it is far more green and agricultural – there is a flock of forty sheep less than a hundred yards from the house, there is a fabulous garden-centre on our door-step and a fledging forest a short walk away.

Aneeta: I understand that you’re a psychotherapist. Forgive me if my next question is very basic but I’ve always wondered about this: what is the difference between a psychotherapist and a psychologist?

Peter:  There are no basic questions and this one is very relevant to the work I do. A psychologist looks at a person or an animal or a group and seeks to establish what drives them to do display a particular behaviour and also perhaps measure a particular response to a particular stimulus.

I’m more interested in a person’s emotions. Is there a root cause as to why someone is frightened or angry and helping the person become calmer as a result? I’m interested in helping the person achieve some balance by looking at the whole of a person’s life (holistic approach) rather than some aspect of it. Eg someone experiencing panic-attacks may be simply dehydrated and swapping diuretics for water may actually reduce or resolve the symptoms The problem then becomes how can I encourage the client to value themselves sufficiently to start to make beneficial changes in their life. In a nutshell – psychology seeks to be a quantifiable science and psychotherapy is more an art form to encourage people to change.

Aneeta: I understand from Jack Stewart that you’ve written your first novel. What is this novel all about?

Peter: Jack is a little premature, I’m in the process of writing my first novel – I’ve written eighty thousand words so far with about another twenty or thirty thousand words to go. I’ve just rewritten half of that because I wanted it to be in a different style to how it was originally written.

It’s about a maverick psychotherapist, Phil Szatire and his family and the people he meets. Phil has a severe phobia about soccer and although his work with clients is of the highest standard, his personal life is starting to unravel rather dramatically, especially when he is forced to attend the last game of the season.

Although it is written in a satirical format, it is also useful as a self-help book because the techniques really do work. Stories linger longer than facts and are much more interesting, so my hope is that the book is greater than the sum of its parts.

Aneeta: Do you use storytelling much in your work? If you do, what benefits do you see in so doing?

Peter: We are back to the art form again –the answer is yes, a lot!. Storytelling affects the imagination; that for most people is in their right hemisphere. Logic, language and learning take place in the left hemisphere for most people. If you want someone to remember something important it is necessary to evoke the imagination, have some passion or emotion attached to it. Also the story helps to drive the teaching point deeper into the subconscious and it meets with much less resistance than a plain factual message.

A typical example might be a client who helps everyone but is taken advantage of; simply telling them in a logical way to not let it happen isn’t going to resonate with the emotional centre where love, anger and fear reside. Telling them a story about rabbits might help encourage them to set higher boundaries in the future because it is a story that engages with the imagination or emotional centre. There is always a moral to the tale, often the client’s subconscious has grasped it whilst the conscious mind is trying to fully appreciate what it has learned.

Your question is ironic as there is a part of the novel that reflects this. Phil is the psychotherapist and Tara is his client:

The tradition of storytelling in therapy was almost genetic, each subsequent generation of therapists learning and inheriting skills from their predecessors. In their daily lives parents wove magic stories to lull their children to enter a magical world and wake up refreshed. So too, therapists and their clients were engaged in the same process. Perhaps the greatest exponent of this style of therapy was Milton Erickson. He was an American psychiatrist famed for being able to work with impossible clients. Often, he would encourage them to go into an everyday state of relaxation and tell them a story or make some salient point that was absorbed by the person’s subconscious mind in many profound ways at the same time.

He would engage their interest with a stock phrase, That reminds me of a story…. Then he would proceed to say something eloquent on one level whilst saying something different and much more eloquent on another more sublime level. The message would be encouraged to grow in their subconscious mind, a mind that would be always ravenous for new information-based nutrients. New behaviours and habits could be generated from even a single phrase just as a garden may be cultivated from a single herbaceous cutting.

“Tara, did I ever tell you about The Rabbits?” Phil adjusted the position of his arm slightly and Tara’s arm followed the same pattern without her noticing. This simple tell-tale sign showed that they were still in rapport, the wonderful magic that made therapy and real communication possible.

 

“Many years ago I lived in a different house. We had new neighbours move in, a young couple with a little girl and a couple of the most adorable floppy-eared rabbits imaginable. They let the rabbits play in the garden and all was well in the world. The seasons moved round from Summer to Autumn and we stocked the garden with Winter flowering pansies. One day I noticed the rabbits in our garden so I tried to lure them back into their own garden with carrots. They weren’t very impressed with common fare having sampled the delicacy of the pansies. After a week of this, I complained to the neighbour who put up some wire mesh about knee height. Still the rabbits came over the fence to sample the gastronomic delights of the rockery. I complained again, this time the neighbour put the mesh up to waist height. Still the rabbits thought they had a season ticket to dine. Eventually I stopped them by blocking the slats in the fence with timber. It’s amazing how high a rabbit can climb if it wants to trample your garden!”

 

Tara looked thoughtful as he continued, “It’s just the same with people, if your boundaries are too low to start with, then you have a difficult job keeping them from invading your space. Often you might hear someone say that Fred is very cold and then someone else will leap to Fred’s defence and declare him to be a sound bloke once you get to know him. Fred has learned from bitter experience to set his boundaries high and lowers them only when he is sure that you are not going to trash his garden, rob his wallet or stab him in the back.”

 

“Yes, I can see that. I need to raise my boundaries with some people but it is very hard sometimes.” Tara looked at Phil for more support; she had the concept in mind but she still needed more encouragement and insight.

{Having read this story it should now resonate with those readers who have a problem with boundaries!}

Aneeta: As you know, this website caters for storytellers. Can you please tell me do you have any advice for those who would like to venture into storytelling?

Peter: Yes, for the longest time I can remember I had always been telling myself, one day I will write a book. Now I can change gear a little bit and say that I am writing a book. At some future point I will be able to say that I wrote a book. Changing the tense, changes the tension!

It’s a lot more fun and tremendously satisfying actually writing a book rather than declaring I will write a book. One day I hope that the level of fun and satisfaction will increase dramatically as I will have written the book.

Aneeta: Having written some books, I can say that yes, the level of fun and satisfaction does increase! Peter, this is all I have to ask. Is there anything you’d like to add?

Peter: The book is called Slapped With a Wet Fish! But that’s a whole new story.

In addition I would like to quote another passage from the novel to inspire anyone who may want to start writing but is still being hesitant:

{ This passage is about Phil’s wife Dana, a very stressed English teacher desperately wanting to change her job}

 

She remembered the amazement she had experienced when she had first seen the advertisement. She had constructed countless reasons and arguments why she shouldn’t apply for it. She was too old, not experienced enough, had a family, too desperate, they would pick someone else, the post had already gone to someone better qualified or an insider. She had acknowledged them all as valid, they could say ‘No’ but they had to say ‘Yes’ to someone; it was just like playing the lottery, someone had to win occasionally.

 

Then it hit her like the proverbial ton of bricks, she had remembered the feeling that she had felt when Phil had asked her out. She had been working as a temporary administrator at the hospital to finance her studentship and her dark tresses, green eyes and slim figure had attracted plenty of lecherous advances from the testosterone twits working there. She had declined them all, she was hell-bent on studying and getting her degree and her career started; she was going to be Head of English and rescue the world from its ignorance and illiteracy.

 

One bright Summer’s day, a new assistant psychotherapist walked in, fresh-faced, happy and carefree. He had a different aura about him; he always treated her pleasantly and respectfully, asked her about her life and her ambitions. By the end of the first week, he had asked her to go out with him but he had cheated a little. Sometimes men are shy when asking a girl for a date and they will bring a mate with them; a stooge who will quickly disappear once the aspirant Romeo has asked his Juliette to go to the pictures or the pub with him. Only Phil could turn up with a dead German poet. Phil had prefaced his date suggestion with a couplet attributed to Goethe:

 

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

 

“I thought I would be bold and ask you out for a drink?” He had smiled and waited as her barricades crashed around her and she fell hopelessly in love with the quirky suitor who had answered the request of her heart’s desire so easily. On that first occasion and every time since then, whenever she had heard or even thought about Goethe she had felt that deep magic stir within her.

Aneeta: Peter, thank you

Peter: Thank you, Aneeta.


This piece may NOT be freely reprinted. Please contact editor @ howtotellagreatstory.com for reprint rights.

Click here to return to the index of interviews on ‘Blow Your Own Trumpet!’


Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Help