Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Putting yourself in someone else's shoes

Dr. Stern was a tall, elegant woman with upswept blond hair and precise, German-accented English. She appeared to be in her late forties. Because of our particular circumstances, she conducted the Family Constellation with only our family members present. Normally, other participants or "actors" stand in for your relatives and interact in a dramatic interpretation. Instead of "actors" standing in for the family members Dr. Stern improvised by drawing the outlines of shoes on papers to represent the individual family members (a left and right shoe per paper). Chris, Alex, Taylor, Ian and I sat in chairs in a corner of the large office, wondering what would happen next.

We began with Ian’s paternal grandfather’s story. Dr. Stern asked Ian to put the shoes of the grandfather, grandmother, Ian's father, his father's older brother who died before Ian's father was born, and his father's two sisters on the floor.She asked him to do it spontaneously and not to think too much where the shoes should be placed.

Dr. Stern then literally stood in the shoes of each of the individuals and spoke for them, letting her voice rise and fall, speaking angrily or softly, or clenching her hands if she felt so moved. She gave voice to each of them, based on her intuition from reading the paragraphs I had given her. She was Ian’s Scottish grandfather emigrating to a new land, only to be sent back to the old world to fight a trench war, then returning to a strange land as an invalid, a convalescent beginning a family life. His firstborn son, carried away by death. Ian and I wept openly for father and first born son, who we did not know in life but felt a bond to in the present. Taylor and Alex looked bored, occasionally exchanging suppressed smiles.

Every so often, Dr. Stern would glance sideways at Chris, to see how he followed the unfolding drama and to see what his reactions were. Chris was attentive and interested. After three long hours, we were all grateful to leave.

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