A delightful student has been kind enough to allow me to share this case study.
As we were rounding off a lesson one evening, S.... mentioned that she had been invited on a long walk in the Forest of Dean in a few weeks' time which would involve crossing several stiles, and that she very anxious about this. We chatted about it for a while, agreeing to look further into it the following week.
When I asked why she was so anxious about the stiles, she explained that in the past, while going through a stressful and difficult time, she had got stuck on a stile, “going into spasm.” Asked what this might mean, she described becoming immobile with tension at a certain point on the stile, unable either to proceed or retreat. This must have been a very unpleasant experience.
S.... had recently celebrated a milestone birthday. She expressed conflict between this, a determination “not to be old,” and apprehension and worry about the stiles.
As she talked, I could see S.... looking different - better; able to see for herself the reasons behind her anxiety, just by relating her story. This was a gorgeous example of the power of articulating out loud. By the end of the conversation, she looked quite transformed, and she declared that she already felt different about the whole business. However, we still agreed to explore the activity of climbing a stile the following week.
After she'd left, and as I continued to marvel at her great work, I wondered whether I might set up a stile in my teaching room. Now there's a challenge.
I remembered that we have trestle stands and a couple of small stepladders; so, for a bit of fun, I fetched them from the garden shed and set them up.
The trestle was narrow, and rusty iron. I first considered wrapping it in towels; but then Bill chipped in by borrowing some foam tube from scaffolding right outside our house. Voila - a kind of a thing approaching a stile! I couldn’t wait for the following week to come around.
When S.... arrived, she burst out laughing. It looked so silly, and not that much like an actual stile really - but it was lovely giggling about it, and I thought it could be fun figuring out how to go about 'throwing a leg over'!
Once she’d stopped laughing, S.... confessed that she’d already crossed about eight stiles on a walk over the previous weekend! What did she need me for, I wondered?! But I couldn’t have been more delighted for her. We still had fun and did some useful work.
After some important, basic head-body relationship work, I asked S.... whether she might decide – before attempting to do it – what the plan for navigating the 'stile' would be. The simplest ideas - such as which foot to place on the bottom step first, what to hold onto and where, and the fact that if something isn’t working one can always go back and start again - can really help prevent getting into a pickle. Creating a little simple space to work things out in this way can give all kinds of tasks like this a new lease of life and even make them fun instead of frightening.
Excellent work, S.... - I'm so proud of you and I hope you enjoyed your walk!