The Magic of Therapy

The case load is mounting, and I’m told I’m getting one of those “difficult cases.” It turns out to be a young 15 year old male who is currently on probation for attempted murder.  I remember he was number 37 in my case load list.  I was only a feeble minded bachelor’s level social worker then, working for a non-profit whilst the state’s economy was in such disarray that they had suspended our budget.  As a result they thought it best to not pay the employees of the aforementioned non-profit agency. Regardless, it was determined that we would continue to work with these at risk youths because they had been dropped too many times before, and one more adult failing them might be enough to crack the already fragile shell of what was left of some of these children.

However, you wouldn’t have guessed a fragile shell on this latest addition to my case load (we will call him Jordan).  Jordan, although at the very beginning of his 15th year of life, was taller than most adults, had biceps bigger than most people’s heads, and a look of solid stone.  I always know these interactions are going to go well, especially when I’m introduced to someone by a principal or parole officer for the first time, and the response is “what the F*** does this Cracker want?”  This is not unlike the response that Jordan gave me.  When it was explained that working with me was part of his probation, I learned of Jordan’s ability to not utter a single word.  Cue the awkwardness of mandated therapy via probation.

It would be easy to think, “What am I doing, I’m not even getting paid anymore, and I’m surviving on ramen freakin’ noodles.”  In fact, it was so easy to think that, that I did in fact allow those thoughts to filtrate through my own noodle.  At this time, I was living in Michigan, and I was literally picking up cans and plastic bottles to recycle, because in Michigan those items are ten cents a piece upon return, and ramen noodles were a mere 15 cents per bag.  So if you do the math, and I’m sure you have……n’t, three cans and or bottles equates to a feast for the ages (or two bags of ramen, if you don’t think about tax).  But this was all a fleeting thought, because I loved working with these kids.  I have a knack for working with these exceptionally challenging individuals.

It has become clear to me that this young man is not going to engage in “traditional” tactics.  Imagine the shock of Jordan, as I pulled out of a deck of playing cards, and began shuffling them.  It’s then I start saying, “You know, most people think that this is just a simple deck of cards, but it’s much more complex than that.  I find cards are much like people.  So many hidden secrets that no one could possibly fully understand, which only makes them that much more interesting.”

I then ask Jordan if he knows how many cards are in a deck of cards.  True to form, Jordan remains silent.  I then ask Jordan if he knows how many weeks are in a year.  Here’s something to know about Jordan:  is he scary?  You’re darn right he is.  Is he intimidating?  Without a shadow of any doubt.  Is he stupid?  Not in the least, and Jordan didn’t want to be perceived as so.  In fact he almost killed someone in a fight for essentially calling him stupid.  I knew all of this before we began.  I also knew that Jordan wouldn’t be able to resist the urge to answer “52”.  I get goose bumps even thinking about it, the individual refusing to engage or talk has just done both inadvertently.

I continue, not willing to relinquish momentum.  “How many suits are there in a deck of cards?”  Again, Jordan attempts to hold steadfast and says nothing.  I ask, “How many seasons are there in a year?”  Now, Jordan didn’t exactly answer, but what he did was much better, he genuinely smiled.  With a smile back, I continue on my rampage “You know there are two colors in a deck of cards, red for day and black for night.  Check this out, if you add up all of the cards together, the ace for 1, jack for 11, queen for 12, and king for 13 you get 364…………..if we add one for the joker that’s 365, the same number of days there are in a year.”  Jordan’s response, “Why are there two jokers then?”

I now know that I have reeled him in.  He’s engaging with me, and I now have him asking ME questions.  We are exactly where I want to be.  I don’t give him the answer, very much mirroring therapy, but simply state, “One more joker would all add up to 366, what’s that make you think of?”  The lights in his eyes turned on, a twinge of excitement in his voice, and the proud stature of this child in a man’s body proudly expressed “A leap year.”  From there, our relationship was fantastic.

We continued to utilize playing cards, especially different magic effects, in conjunction with cognitive behavioral therapy to work on different issues.  The amazing power of displacing such personal issues, into these pasteboards, into an artful expression of magic was not truly known to me until three months after working with each other, when he came to our session and had been beaten up.

I asked Jordan what had happened, and he stated a fight broke out at his school.  I asked how he got beat up, he stated that he didn’t fight back, and just focused on getting away from the conflict.  When I asked why he didn’t defend himself, he told me “If I hurt my hands, I couldn’t create magic.” This child who was once on probation for attempted murder, now learned that those same hands that almost killed another human being, were now meant to create magic.

-John B. Midgley, BSW, LMSW, MPA


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