Therapeutic goals: providing an insight into the learned helplessness syndrome, processing a burdensome emotional event from the past, retuning, supporting the regaining of personal power, activating the ability to make decisions and act, supporting self-confidence, self-confidence and self-help in case of restlessness, fears, or anxiety
Recommended age group: 10+
Form of work: individual, group
Brief content of the story:
In the story of the chained elephant, we meet an elephant that is chained to a stake driven about 30 cm into the ground. The chain was solid, made of iron, but the pin was made of ordinary wood. At first glance, it was obvious that if the huge creature decided to leave, it would rip out the peg in such a way that it would not even notice. But he did not try to do it even in situations where he could have had a reason to do so. It was incomprehensible. When curious children hurt him, when he was hungry and patiently waited for feeding time, when the sun was beating down on him and he would rather lie down somewhere in the shade. He never, even in these situations, tried to yank the chain and walk away.
When a small sentient boy watched him for a while, he couldn’t help it and began to question why the huge and powerful animal wouldn’t do anything to change his situation. However, no one could give him a satisfactory answer. They guided him and simplified the explanation by saying that the elephant is tame and therefore will not escape. It generally begs the simple and logical question that if he is tame, why is he still tied with that chain? One day the same boy met a man who explained to him why the elephant would not break free and run away.
When this elephant was a baby, they started tying him in exactly the same way. Then he tried to escape on his own, yanking and yanking the chain as hard as he could, but his efforts were in vain. He was small and weak and could not handle this situation by himself with his strength. Until one fine and sad day, the elephant gave up on all his attempts and stopped changing his situation. As time went on, the elephant grew and became powerful. Pin, chain have not changed. Unfortunately, the elephant remembered his negative experience from the past, the feeling of failure and hopelessness. That experience was so etched in his memory that with every movement, when he heard the sound of the chain, he was convinced that this was his final moment and it would not go any further. “He himself is convinced, and it is also probable that one day, when he is dying like an old elephant, he will continue to be deeply convinced that it could not have been otherwise…”.
Description of the possibilities of professional pedagogical/therapeutic work:
The use of a story when working with a client brings enrichment and experientially beneficial therapeutic potential in the process of practice of a therapeutic educator. Part of working with literature is the specific use and use of supporting effects of a literary story. I use bibliotherapy as one of the support methods and psychotherapy in the process of individual psychotherapy, family therapy or work with a professional group of helpers.
Together with supporting material, this method is helpful for clients or groups. It provides an opportunity to organize your already processed and still open – unprocessed and burdensome experiences. It represents an opportunity for a better understanding of oneself, as well as emotional processing and understanding of one’s personal “injuries and losses”.
In general, the story itself in therapy can provide relief in anxiety states, is helpful and also effective in the treatment of some mental disorders and their conditions. In the course of therapy, it represents the cooperation of accompanying a person and in applying his updating tendency and in the search of his inner resources. Through therapeutic support, he also manages his personal situation by strengthening his self-confidence, self-confidence and also self-help. This described and mediated story makes it possible to eliminate the current unfavorable emotional state as a result of the experienced difficult or disturbing emotional event and, above all, with a focus on its emotional adjustment and understanding.
In my practice, I meet with children after a burdensome event that has been experienced but not processed, the severity of which exceeds the usual childhood experience. As a result, a feeling of one’s own helplessness, inability to develop a meaningful personal counter-action can arise. This is how a feeling of loss of personal power arises, the inability to decide for oneself and act. These manifestations are present in children with bullying with physical, social or psychological harm, with loss of self-confidence associated with self-mutilation. Under this burden, the child is blocked in personality development and the growth of personality potential is effectively stopped.
I offer the knowledge of the stories from the mentioned publication, as they also provide a personal statement of the child. The selection of this story in the support process helped to process the personal unrest, fears and difficulties of the child client. In essence, it is only up to the therapist how he purposefully chooses the method of individual therapy, but by retelling the story, as a basic aspect of bibliotherapy, it is to lead the client to think and evaluate it. The conveyed message and plot of the story will also serve for this.
The goal of therapeutic accompaniment of a person in his personal crises and life failures is his understanding and unconditional acceptance. This is followed by the professional support of the therapist at the beginning of the collaboration, he is helpful to the client by quieting his fears and fears and further accompanying him professionally – therapeutically.
The specific therapeutic goal was to help the client reflect on his own difficult life situation by reading the story using a safe distance from the read text of the story. Despite this, the client can fully immerse himself in the story he heard and thus experience his own parable. There is identification with similar difficulties, or even identification with the thoughts of a symbolic character or the narrator of the story. In this process, they experience similar emotions together, which provides the client with significant meaning with his own life situation. The story itself and the subsequent identification with the message of the story in the client can stimulate the process of change and direct him to new thoughts or important decisions, but above all it calms fears and anxieties. The client receives an offer and an opportunity to solve his personal or life situation. In summary of this process, the result is that emotions are also awakened, the client is activated and he himself offers his own analysis of his options and self-help solutions in his current burdensome situation.
Experience from own therapeutic work with a literary work: CASE STUDY – use of the story Chained Elephant – in work with a child
The child came accompanied by the old mother, who also initiated the visit to the ambulance.
- Martin, 10 years old, elementary school student
- a complete family, both parents with university education, the father commutes to a nearby foreign country every day for work, the mother does not work at that time
- two and siblings – brother and sister
- early psychomotor development without remarkable features
- entering kindergarten in the 3rd year, adaptation good
- change of primary school in the 3rd year due to a change of residence in connection with the completion of the family house and at the same time leaving the two-generation household with the grandparents
- difficulties in behavior and learning, according to the information from the grandmother, appeared just after the child moved to another school
Reason for visiting the ambulance and description of the problem:
- the child refuses to go to school so that he can stay at home, pretending to be ill
- the main problem is the aggressive reactions of female classmates who attack boys and “provoke” them verbally or physically
- the teacher ignores and rejects expressions of dissatisfaction with the behavior of her classmates, and this discourages Martin from visiting school, and he has an aversion to the girls in the class and at the same time to the class teacher
- school performance is good – first class
- context of the problem: school environment, teaching, breaks, relaxed relationship with the class teacher and the girls in the class, I have a closer friendly relationship with only two boys from the class and from the neighborhood
- interests: computer games and programming, swimming
Supportive process and work with the child supplemented with story work:
At the beginning of the first meeting, the grandmother, with the consent of the child’s mother, verbalized her vision of the problem (leaving the original home and school, the mother’s overload and her social loneliness in a new environment and without support).
The child (without the presence of the grandmother) did not speak and maintained intense eye contact, responded only when prompted and sparingly, clearly showing personal dissatisfaction with his participation in this meeting. It responded passively to my offers to interact with me. I chose attractive offers for cooperation, the child was present, rather observed my interaction and reacted minimally. In the end, I offered him to choose one loose figure from the diagnostic methodology, and he took the initiative and chose a small orange-white fabric fish. That was his only active and spontaneous expression.
Subsequent meetings had a gradually friendlier working atmosphere, our mutual “working” relationship improved and the interaction was favorable for the support process. Martin complained about the not-so-good social atmosphere at school, especially about the aggressive and unfair behavior of fellow students, and he showed this to me with unconcealed hatred and anger. Together with the other boys, they also dealt with it and the class teacher, but she rejected these expressions as a problem. She sided with the girls and their attacks escalated. He felt rejected and misunderstood by the teacher and perceived it hopelessly and even resignedly. He chose during the session offered a small fish, which he also carried with him to school.
At the follow-up meeting, I decided to use the story as part of the support process with the child. The interaction has already improved and normalized, he just commented that he forgot the fish at home. He expressed satisfaction with the meetings in contrast to the experience of social relations in the classroom and the misunderstanding of his difficulties with pedagogical authority.
He accepted the offer to retell the story about the elephant. He listened intently and soft sighs could be heard. It was obvious that he identified with the oppression of the young elephant, and in the framework of the supportive interview, he himself found a solution for the elephant – to free himself.
During the subsequent analysis of the story, I used guiding questions about the story in the interview, and the child was spontaneous and active. During the evaluation of the meeting with his grandmother, he sat silently, absorbed in himself, suddenly he started to dress with the message that “he already knows what to do with it”. And he did…
Preliminary conclusion – the subsequent date of the therapeutic meeting for the boy’s illness was canceled. However, the old mother, when informing about non-participation, thanked for cooperation and evaluated that the meeting had a significant continuation not only for Martin, but also for the whole class. Martin initiated, and together with his classmates, they visited the educational counselor at the school, who then, together with the class teacher, solved this situation in the relations in the class. After the holidays, a psychologist has been arranged, who, together with the teacher, will be helpful in resolving and consolidating the situation between girls and boys in the class.
The next arranged meeting was proposed after the spring break, where I would like to learn from the boy, above all, his reflection on freeing himself from helplessness.
Bucay, Jorge. 2005. Porozprávam ti… Príbeh ľudského sebaspoznávania. [I’ll tell you… The story of human self-discovery.] (Translated into Slovak by Martina Slezáková, 2005) Bratislava: Noxi, 2005. 216 p. IBAN 80-89179-23-1
Živný, Hroznata. 2011. Životný príbeh ako terapeutický nástroj. [Life story as a therapeutic tool.] pp. 94-100. In Kováčová, B. (Ed.). Výchova verzus terapia – možnosti, hranice a riziká. Zborník z medzinárodnej vedeckej liečebnopedagogickej konferencie. [Education versus therapy – options, limits and risks. Proceedings of the international scientific therapeutic-pedagogical conference.] Bratislava: Comenius University. ISBN 978-80-223-3006-0.
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Professional reference created by:
PaedDr. Jana Špániková, PhD., Workplace: Private therapeutic pedagogy and psychotherapy clinic -TeraViva, Bratislava, Slovakia, Last update: Bratislava, February 10, 2023
Recommended citation procedure:
Špániková Jana. 2023. Professional reference with the case study for the story The chained elephant from the publication Bucay Jorge I will tell you… a story of human self-discovery that taught me to live. In Kotrbová, K. et al: Biblioterapia.sk. Bratislava: PRO SKIZP – Association to support the development of the Slovak Chamber of Clinical Physics, Laboratory Diagnosticians, Language Speech Therapists and Therapeutic Pedagogues, 2023. ISBN 978-80-974667-0-1 Available on: https://www.biblioterapia.sk/en/publikacia/professional-reference-of-a-literary-work-with-case-the-elephant-stripped/
The contribution was created thanks to support from the European Union Erasmus+ program, Key action 2 – Cooperation between organizations and institutions, KA210 – Small partnerships for cooperation in the field of education and training. Project name “Prototype of online teaching aid for bibliotherapy”, project number 2022-1-SK01-KA210-VET-000082483. It represents the opinion of the author and the European Commission and author is not responsible for any use of the information contained therein.
 Author’s note.: Learned helplessness is a state in which a person does not try to influence the situation, even if he can. Behind it is his own feeling of helplessness, when he believed that he could not change anything in the situation he found himself in and saw himself as a victim.