The Other Side of the Story
By Alexandra Helper, M.D.
June 1, 2003
Dr. Helper is a psychiatrist in private practice in Newton, Mass. She has written previously about managed care, the diagnostic assessment of children, the therapeutic space and the developmental aspects of treehouses.
Suzy is a precocious reader, despite her uneven ego development, and so I decided to utilize that strength in her treatment. Suzy has an obsessional interest in the Harry Potter stories and has read all four books several times over. In my office, she often sets up the dollhouse as the magical Hogwart school. We talk at great length about the books' main characters--Harry, Ron and Hermione--and play out the books' scenes in the dollhouse. Suzy is always Harry. Recently I suggested to her that we write our own Harry Potter tale together. She dove energetically into the project. But when I suggested we write the story from Hermione's perspective, she tromped out of my office, fuming. She returned a few minutes later, acting as though nothing had happened. The dollhouse became Hogwarts again, three dolls became the children and play proceeded. Only this time Suzy included a new element: Although still taking the role of Harry, she periodically asked me how I thought Hermione would react and what she would say in a variety of situations.
At this point in her treatment, neither Suzy nor I know where we are headed. If my hypothesis about the therapeutic benefit of alternative-viewpoint stories is correct, Suzy may well be on the road to empathy. At the end of last week's session, she picked up from my desk a magazine whose cover showed a photograph of a newborn baby nestled in a person's hands. "I guess this one was born too early," she said and strode out the door. She had looked sad to me. The stirrings of empathy? I'd like to think so. But that's just my own point of view.
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