A man came in and said, “I’ve got a vicious headache. I’ve had that headache since I was seven years old. I’ve managed to get through grade school, high school, and college, and in spite of that headache I built up my own business. I’m doing very well, but I have a headache all day. I’ve gone to hundreds of doctors, had hundreds of X-rays; I’ve spent countless thousands. They tried to tell me that it’s all in my head. And I know it is, but they don’t mean it that way; they mean I’m crazy. I finally decided to come and see you because you’re a family counselor and the family does have a lot of difficulty. I expect you won’t insult me. Another reason I’m here is that I find I’ve developed a drug addiction. I can’t get along without cocaine and Perdokan.
I let him tell me the entire story. Then to his surprise, I summarized this way: “You’ve had this headache since you were seven years old. You’ve had it daily. You’ve gone to bed with it at night. You’ve awakened in the morning with it. You had it the day you were married. You had it the day that each of you six children were born. You had it when each child learned to walk. You had it when each of your six children entered kindergarten. And are you an honest businessman? DO you really think that you’re and ethical and honest businessman?”
He was rather astonished. I said, “There are various kinds of honesty. It isn’t related just to money, to material things. Because you told me the story that you’ve been keeping a seven-year-old kid’s headache for years and years. Why in hell don’t you let that seven-year-old kid have his headache? What’s a grown man like you doing, hanging on to a little kid’s headache for thirty years?”
He tried to explain, but I could only understand that he had kept a seven-year-old kid’s headache, and I really cussed him out for that.
He was honest in business. He had to defend himself on a matter of business. He had to agree with me. It’s awfully hard to agree and disagree at the same time.
He had to agree that he was honest in business, which was important to him. And to place a statement about honesty in business on the same level as accusing him of keeping a little kid’s headache – you can’t put them on the same level. And he had no way of disputing me.
If it hadn’t been framed that way, starting first with the business, it wouldn’t have been an effective thing to say about the headache. You have to start it in such a way that they have no way of countering you.
He left the office very angry with me. he noticed at dinner-time that he didn’t have a headache. But he knew he’d have it when he went to bed. And he knew he’d want his dose of medicine. But he didn’t have the headache, and he didn’t want his Perdokan. But he knew he’d have the headache when he awakened. And he’d hunger for the drug. He was rather surprised when it didn't happen.
He came in to see me on February 26, and on April 17 he cam in and very apologetically, in an embarrassed fashion, said, “I’m afraid you were right. I was hanging on to a little kid’s headache. I’ve waited and waited. I’ve waited daily ever since that first day, and now I’ve finally decided that I haven’t got a drug addiction, I haven’t got a headache.”
Taken from Jay Haley, Uncommon Therapies, page 258-260. W. W. Norton & Company.