By Norma Barretta, Ph.D.& Philip Barretta, M.A
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes, 57 seconds
Mildred, a fifty-five-year-old woman, was referred for therapy after the death of her husband of 29 years. She finds herself immobilized, unable to make decisions about the slightest facet of her life. Mildred describes herself as depressed about her inability to solve problems. She is unable to leave a job she didn’t feel was challenging; undecided whether to sell her home or keep it, frustrated because she wants to change banks and doesn’t have the energy; bewildered about what to do with her old, but wonderful dog; and concerned because her children want to borrow money for a down-payment on a new home. In as much as she has always been self-sufficient, she finds the inability to make a decision or take any action debilitating to her self-confidence and lifestyle.
Mildred appears confused, lethargic, mildly depressed, and in need of some motivation to move her forward with her life. She describes herself as “helpless” because of her inability to make decisions.
After listening to her concerns and request for help in acquiring the necessary motivation to move ahead and make the correct decisions, she was offered a metaphor about a time when a little green frog was hopping down the road, minding his own business, and fell into a rut in the road. The rut was so deep that no matter how high the little frog jumped he could not quite reach the edge. Once, he almost made it, but he slipped off and fell back to the bottom.
Try as hard as he might, the frog could not get out. He jumped and jumped until he was exhausted. Finally, exhausted and tired of trying to get out, the little frog sat down to rest. He really needed to think about what to do next.
Just then another frog came hopping down the road.
“Help”, cried the imprisoned frog, “get me out of this hole.”
The second frog heard the cries of the frog in the rut and hopped over to the edge of the hole and looked in. When he saw the other frog, he said, “What are you doing in the hole?”
“I fell in, and now I can’t get out. Can you help me?”
The second frog did her best. First she stuck her front leg into the hole as far as she could, but the imprisoned frog could not quite reach it although he jumped as high as he could.
Next, the helpful frog stuck her longer back leg into the hole.
“Jump”, she told the stuck frog, “grab my leg, and I can pull you out.”
But no matter how hard or how high the frog in the hole jumped, he could not quite reach the outstretched leg of the friendly frog.
Finally, the second frog said, “Well, I can’t seem to help you, so I’d better be hopping on.”
“No!” said the frog in the hole. “Wait, I have a good idea. You hop down into the hole with me and I’ll climb on your back. Then I think I’ll be able to jump out of this hole.”
“Don’t be silly”, said the lady frog. “If I jump into the hole so you can use my back, I’m liable to get stuck down there just as you are. Not a good choice. Besides I have a date on a lily pad. They don’t hold reservations, so I must move on.”
With this, the lady frog said, “Goodbye and good luck”, and proceeded to hop on down the road leaving the frog who was stuck in the rut in the rut!
She had not hopped very far when she heard “Ribbit.” With great surprise, she turned and saw the other frog hopping along the road. “Just a minute now. The last time I saw you, you were stuck in that rut in the road. I tried to help you every way I knew how and nothing I did worked. How did you ever manage to get out of that rut?”
Sheepishly, the frog replied, “There was a big truck coming.”
Mildred was perplexed by the story. She saw no connection between the story and her problem. “Why are you telling me stories when I am here to get your help. Besides, I don’t get what the story means. Explain it.”
“Well, we just tell stories, we don’t explain them.”
At the end of the session, she left somewhat frustrated and a bit angry. Nonetheless, she made an appointment to return to continue our sessions.
Two weeks passed before our next session. Mildred arrived looking much less tense and anxious than she did when we first met. She sat in the chair, leaned back, and began:
“Well, I’ve closed all the old accounts and opened new ones. I’ve fired the old accountant and hired a new one. I’ve changed the title on the house, and I’m going to keep it. The dog can share it with me. The kids can borrow money from the bank – I don’t want them to depend on me so much. I want to travel. So it’s really time for me to ‘retire’ from that awful job and do something else” … her voice trailed off. She leans forward in the chair. “Oh my,” she says. “I guess my truck came along.”
For the immobilized (stuck) patient such as Mildred this rather specific metaphor allowed her to listen to the plight of the frog in the rut. Even though at a conscious level, she did not “get” the story, she began to realize, at an unconscious level, that she and she alone can get herself mobilized to act. She “got” that she could decide what needs to be done and do it. The embedded message in the metaphor told her that when all is said and done, it is her own resources that “move her” to solve the problems to “get out of the rut” she was stuck in.
This excerpt has been extracted from Volume 26, Issue No. 2 of The Milton H. Erickson Foundation Newsletter.
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