Case study 2: Nathaniel’s story

Case example to illustrate identification of a significant sub personality within a child’s story: The Parrot by Nathaniel

Q/I’m also curious about why [the parrot] set fire to the bed

A/Because he wanted to be naughty because he was angry at being locked up in a smelly bedroom

Conversation between 8 year old Nathaniel and a Therapeutic Storywriting Groups Leader

As an example of identifying a significant subpersonality, here is a short story written in a group by 8 year old Nathaniel.

Nathaniel had been taken into care at an early age before reaching his current stable foster home.   He had a history of playing with matches in his room and stealing food.  He was also very small for his age.

The Parrot

There was a secret garden and in it everything was secret.  On a Summer’s day there was a message.  It said,

To Luke,

I hope the U.F.O. has gone

See you soon, Daniel

Then Luke’s Mum called him in because his Granny and Granddad were coming and they were having roast dinner.  That moment, the door rang.  Mum told Lucky not to bark as she went to open the door.  It was Granny and Grandad – and a parrot who ate all the roast!

Nathaniel’s picture of The Parrot

So Mum had to do the roast again. This time the parrot was upstairs and they had a good meal.  That night they were watching a James Bond video when the siren on the smoke alarm went off.  Mum shouted,

“Get out of the house!

The firefighters came quickly and put out the fire.

Later the parrot found a lighter and set the bed on fire.  Mum ran up the stairs and opened the door. All the smoke came out and Mum shouted,

“Call the firefighters again.  The bed is on fire!”

That second they all dived for the phone but Luke got it and dialled 999 and asked the police and firefighters if they could come round again…

There are a range of characters in this story but knowing something of his history it is clear that Nathaniel has projected a significant subpersonality onto the parrot who stole the food and lit fires just as Nathaniel had done himself.

As we continued to work on this story my focus therefore was on the parrot rather than Daniel, the grandparents, Lucky the dog, the firefighters, Mum or even Luke.

I also wondered whether the message received at the beginning, which mentions an Unidentified Flying Object, might also refer to the parrot –the unidentified part of himself that could cause trouble. Although the story had veered away from the The Secret Message indicated by the title my concern was not to focus on this initial theme but to stay with Nathaniel’s interest which was clearly the parrot.

My questions were designed to help Nathaniel become more familiar and to begin to identify with the parrot. Here are some of the questions and Nathaniel’s replies:-

Q/I wonder why the parrot ate the dinner

A/Because he had never been fed

Q/Why was he so hungry?

A/Because he had just been made

Q/I’m also curious about why he set fire to the bed

A/Because he wanted to be naughty because he was angry at being locked up in a smelly bedroom

Q/I wonder how he could get out of the bedroom

A/ There was a secret password: chocolate.  That would open the door but he didn’t know that.

Nathaniel asked for help from the group, as he didn’t know what to write next. Several children and myself made suggestions.  He wrote these all down and chose the one I had made which was that the parrot needed to be free.  His story continued,

‘The fire fighter said,

“Let the parrot go.  Let it have its freedom and grow bigger”

So they did. The parrot had all it wanted.  He felt very happy with the firefighter. But when it was free the parrot met a horrible parrot.  They had a battle.  The parrot threw a TV at the other horrible parrot and it died.  Everyone cheered and they had fun”.

Having escaped the parrot was able to defeat the other horrible parrot just as Nathaniel now living in a supportive family was more able to contain the tendencies he still had in himself at times to take things and cause mischief.  He was also able to start having fun!