By Norbert Ralph, PhD, MPH, Private practice, San Leandro, CA
This is the second part of a three-part blog (link to part 1 here) about the Fable of Scheherazade, the central figure and storyteller in "The Book of the Thousand Nights and a Night" from classic Persian literature (Burton, 1885). This second part explores if the myth gives any clues to how Scheherazade transformed the King and stopped his evil actions that parallel the work of JwSO therapists? Several factors can be hypothesized using the lens of present psychotherapeutic practices.
Knowledge and Skill: Scheherazade's faith that she could transform the King is one of mythology's great fables of selflessness and optimism regarding prosocial possibilities in others. Scheherazade, like the JwSO therapist, however, did not go into such a struggle with faith alone. The fable notes she was a beautiful and learned woman who was highly educated. The JwSO therapist approaches their task likewise, well-prepared with a formidable set of best practices and evidence-based methods.
Holding Environment: Winnicott (1960) used the term "holding environment," which has been used to describe the setting and relationship that permits the patient to experience safety and facilitates psychotherapeutic work. Scheherazade, like the JwSO therapist, created a safe setting which put implicit limits on the King's harmful behavior but without coercion and encouraged prosocial problem-solving in the context of caring conversation. It created an environment where not only the King but Scheherazade and implicitly the Kingdom were safe.
Corrective Interpersonal Relationships: Alexander and French discussed a therapeutic factor, the "corrective emotional experience" (Alexander & French, 1946). This referred to the idea that individuals bring into therapy dysfunctional and self-fulfilling behaviors and narratives regarding relationships. Therapy itself can provide corrective new experiences in relationships that can become a template for the patient for more positive future relationships. The King's narrative that women were unfaithful and selfish and deserve to be killed was contraindicated by Scheherazade's behavior daily for a thousand nights. Each day she survived meant one less woman killed at the risk of her own life and affirmed her belief that the King could be transformed. Like Scheherazade, the JwSO therapist's optimism about a prosocial future for the youth along with relevant knowledge and skills can become self-fulfilling when others doubt such an outcome.
Patient Autonomy and Motivational Interviewing: Scheherazade, like the JwSO therapist, respected the autonomy and dignity of her client, the King, to find his own reasons for change. For a thousand nights, at the end of each story, Scheherazade gave the King a choice of what he wanted to do. The choice to continue a prosocial dialogue was the King's alone. Similarly, the therapist cannot "make" the JwSO youth pursue a prosocial dialogue in therapy but must give the youth the autonomy, with guidance, to find their motivation. Coercive therapy is a contradiction and an impossible idea.
Prosocial Parables: Scheherazade's stories were prosocial parables that provided information and ideas about how people could exemplify virtuous behavior, overcoming challenges, and lead more prosocial lives. Likewise, the JwSO therapist may use stories or parables as a way to teach the youth prosocial models regarding relationships and consider one more prosocial perspective or behavior to better obtain the goods of life and create a prosocial lifestyle. This was exactly the technique that Hamlet used with the play when he said, "The play's the thing Wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King" (Shakespeare, 1603).
The third part of this blog will be published shortly will continue the discussion of look at the therapeutic aspects described in the fable through the lens of present psychotherapeutic practices. It will also discuss the therapist's identification with heroic roles while being a source of possible strength can also create vulnerabilities.