Therapeutic goals: existential questions and meaning of life, life values, creative activity, fulfillment of life, meaning of life
Age group: from 15 years
Form of work: individual and group
Specific target group: clients with psychotic illness, possibly wider use in group therapy (neurotic disorders, personality disorders) with one therapist
Brief content of the masterpiece:
The Man Who Planted Trees is a short novel. The story is told from the point of view of a young man who goes on a pilgrimage to the French Alps. At first, he describes the bleakness and inhospitality of these regions. But then he comes across a shepherd, who radiates calmness and serenity. Although the shepherd spoke little, he learned from him about the condition of the people who lived in the scattered villages here. Also, that the shepherd once lived on a farm before he lost his only son and his wife. Since then, he lives alone in a small stone house and plants trees. He planted them every day, in the wasteland, where there was nothing before. After the end of the First World War, the narrator decides to return to those regions where the shepherd planted trees. Thanks to his hard work, a beautiful forest grew around during that time, thanks to which moisture and life began to return there again. Even though he faced many disappointments and setbacks (a number of trees died), he steadfastly continued his work. Over time, people from the surrounding area got used to the changes and attributed them to nature. The forest gradually grew to an area of several tens of kilometers.
Description of the possibilities of professional pedagogical/therapeutic work:
The work offers a parable about a man who changes the face of the earth and returns life to a wasteland without water and hope. The image of the Provençal shepherd is a celebration of unostentatious persistent activity that does not claim a reward, and yet its result is close to the act of Creation. He only does what seems meaningful and beneficial to him. Such action not only fulfills his life and his personal happiness, it also brings benefit and hope to others. In 1987, a short animated film (Czech version, English) was made based on Gion’s book. Despite its short scope, the text is an easy projection surface for the reader himself, as well as a multitude of thematic areas, contexts and layers. We could consider the text a celebration of a simple human life lived in harmony with nature, which stands in contrast to an overcivilized age that has forgotten its roots, stands above nature itself and only uses it unilaterally. A single person, dependent only on simple physical and mental resources, was able to create the promised land from the wasteland. The text could also be a suitable demonstration of man’s relationship with nature. The ecological message seems to be secondary in the ambiguity of symbolic meanings. For some readers, the story can become an inspiration or an incentive to think about the topics of their own values, attitudes and the meaning of their life’s journey. It addresses the topics of the possibility of taking a creative attitude towards life catastrophes in human life (the death of a shepherd’s son and wife) and the horrors of the world (world wars). Or the message that it is possible to use just such resources that literally every one of us has available and that if we want to change something, we have to start with ourselves and how from small steps something really powerful can arise over time, despite great losses. As part of the next interview, you can ask questions such as:
Why did the shepherd do that? Did it make any sense? Can even one person do something big and significant? What did the change of country cause? What does the story awaken in you? How can the hero of the story be a role model for you? What could be your trees, your orchard? How do you cope with complex life events? What can fill your life so that you are happy? What was the country like in the beginning and how and why did it change? … etc.
Description of the author’s experience, recommendations from his own work with this work:
The tree undoubtedly belongs to the archetypal motifs, and its symbolic aspects are almost inexhaustible. It seems that trees are particularly suitable objects for projecting the process of human individuation. The characteristics and criteria that we find in trees have a lot in common with those of humans. The tree expresses growth into one’s own possibilities. It is at the same time anchored and at the same time expands into space, connects dimensions, verticalizes, is diverse, etc. Movement, as a sign of change and life, is therefore naturally most strongly expressed in trees and humans in the characteristics of growth and maturation, but also in death. The book itself offers a kind of otherness, a way of relating and being related to what goes beyond us. Otherness coming from one’s own imagination or inner reality in the form of a drawing is more acceptable because it comes from one’s own sources.
Therefore, the topic can be processed imaginatively and creatively with the help of a drawing – for example. with the motif “my tree/my orchard…” as a further elaboration of the topic in an imaginative way and as working material for further work and conversation. Or also with the help of a drawing of a Tree and a dream tree (Běťák L., Hršelová L.), in which two trees are drawn. The first drawing indicated by the challenge “Draw a tree, preferably leafy or fruity” is usually a more expensive convention, a generally accepted idea of a “normal” tree, which has a trunk, a crown, or possibly depicted branches, roots, leaves or fruits. The dream tree offers an opportunity to reveal a different, imaginative and subjective image. This can be supported by the formulation “Imagine and draw a tree that is completely different, rather dreamlike and unreal, as if from some other – rather dreamlike – reality that you can see or experience.”
There are many options for creating a tree motif for imagination or drawing, and then how to develop the process. The initial context of the meeting, settings and expectations of the client is very important. The important thing is that the actual therapeutic work is just beginning here. The mere offering of any motifs or drawings is far from solving the matter, it is an opportunity, a medium for further work and conversation. Depending on the circumstances, it is possible to stay on an experiential level (how the client experiences the drawing, what it evokes in him, how he feels), or we can try cognitive processing (what comes to your mind about it, what is not clear to you about the drawing, etc.). The way of work itself is relatively difficult to define formally or systematically, because it grows out of meetings and it is difficult to manualize it. It is actually a creative process where we try to help the client gain knowledge or the experience of meaning through narrative relating to one’s creation.
Therapeutic use is possible in phases when we get stuck at work, as well as at the beginning of cooperation to create an atmosphere of the sphere of possibilities in the sense of “what if”. It can be used with clients with expressed individuation issues, during self-discovery activities, searching for client resources, developing creativity. There is also a certain warning in place. For some, the drawing may have an unexpected projective potential and should be used with moderation and balance, sparingly and ethically. There are not many contraindications to simply entering a drawing of a tree and a dream tree. What is more important is how to proceed over the drawing or with her. In some cases, work with the method does not go well – e.g. in the case of expressed resistance or excessive rational focus. For some individuals with insufficiently developed symbolization, e.g. in the mentally retarded and in some diseases from the range of psychotic disorders, the second instruction in particular can be literally incomprehensible. Otherwise, it depends mainly on the internal constellation of the client (and the therapist), on his imaginative and creative potential, and on the intensity and depth of subsequent processing. General psychotherapeutic principles apply here, such as issues of working community, trust, taking into account the constellation of meetings, issues of adequacy and timeliness of interventions, etc.
For more on the motif of the Tree and the Dream Tree, see: Běťák, L.: Tree and Dream Tree in Bürgi–Kraus, M., Kottje-Birnbacherová, L., Reichmannová, I., Wilke, E. (eds.): Development in imagination – imaginative development. The Czech edition was organized by Michaela Petišková. Grove in Silesia: MAJ. 2008.
The following is a sharing of experience from Michaela’s own therapeutic work with a group of psychotic patients: I read the book with clients who are dealing with a psychotic illness, most often paranoid schizophrenia. We read it during one group therapy session. It is psychotic clients who often have a very rich inner world and present interesting and tight associations. These are also clients with a predominance of negative symptoms. They can often find a connection with their own lives.
At first I encountered shyness, the feeling that they did not have enough vocabulary, they could not read foreign names, it was difficult for them to read aloud in front of others. They gradually relaxed more and adapted to the situation. They noticed the main motifs of the book, pointed out how they can observe in themselves how nature improves their mood and perception of the world. We talked together about human indomitability, about the fact that even if the shepherd’s plan did not always succeed, he was able to move on and overcome obstacles. They referred to many examples from their own lives, when they also succeeded, although it was very difficult for them in view of the serious diagnosis. They were interested in the return to the simplicity of being and shared their own experience with oversaturation of impressions, and the ways in which they fight this problem, which worked for them.
One of the clients noticed that although the shepherd was a little over 50 years old when he met the narrator, he was perceived by him as old. He pointed out how the age of around fifty is perceived now and how it was perceived e.g. in the 19th century. He referred here to Božena Němcová and her work Grandmother, where this woman was already considered very old, although she was also over 50 years old.
Jean Giono – The Man Who Planted Trees. 1st edition. Prague: Vyšehrad, 1997. 56 pages. ISBN: 80-7021-226-8Bibliotherapy literature for adult readers. Database of books. (n.d.). [online] In Knihovna Kroměřížska, contribution organization. Available at (knihkm.cz)https://www.knihkm.cz/sluzby/biblioterapie/databaze-knih/biblioterapeuticka-literatura-pro-dospele-ctenare.html?hledat=Biblioterapeutick%C3%A1%20literatura%20pro%20dosp%C4%9Bl%C3%A9%20%C4%8Dten%C3%A1%C5%99e
It didn’t pass language editing!
The recommendation was created by:
PhDr. Petr Vejrosta, Vejrostovi – psychologie, Ltd. – private clinical psychology and psychotherapy clinic in Rožnov pod Radhoštěm, (Czech republic), Last update: March 24, 2023
Mgr. Michaela Kajfozsova, Center for Mental Health Karviná (Czech republic), psychotherapy station, psychologist in health care, Last update: April 24, 2023
The recommendation from Slovak to English translated by: Mária Trechová, Workplace: PRO SKIZP – Association for support of Slovak Chamber of Physicists, Laboratory Diagnosticians, Language Speech Therapists and Therapeutic Educators, c. a. Bratislava, Slovakia
Recommended citation procedure:
Vejrosta, Petr – Kajfozsová Michaela. 2023. Recommended procedure and sharing of experiences for the literary work The Man Who Planted Trees. 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/recommended-procedure-with-casuistics-the-man-who-planted-trees/
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 neither the European Commission nor the author is responsible for any use of the information contained therein.