Lisa Mitchell

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a tantrum is an invitation

Lisa Mitchell | Jan 23, 2012 | 3 comments


A tail slap is a declaration.  It is a beaver’s emphatic statement.  It is an impressive cannonball into any pool of water that has been claimed.  And, really it should be respected.

Except, I’m a curious person and, like most therapists, I naturally gravitate toward big splashes.  A beaver tantrum is an invitation to a game of peek-a-boo.

And that’s how it all started.  Yesterday, I went searching in response to that kirplunk-slap.  When I arrived at the small pond, I could only see the concentric circles emanating outward on the surface of the water.  When his huge head emerged, I swear he was thrilled at my arrival.  Quick footed, undulating his tail, he didn’t take his eyes off of me.  And then, another huge slap and he vanished.  I stood my ground (a fleeting concern that he might pop out onto the shore and eat my little dog).  After a minute or so, he did surface–closer—watching.

I did what I usually do.  I narrated his actions.  “Mr. Beaver, I see you in this gorgeous pond with your duck friends.  You swim so fast and your tail can be so loud.  Oooo, I’m so glad I got to see you today.  If you hadn’t announced your presence, I would never have come over, and I would have missed you entirely….”  I think he liked it  ‘cause I got another few tail slaps, stares from the surface, and swim-by laps.  I got to see that he was very large and half his body was head.  His whiskers were darling, and his eyes looked intelligent.  I admired him.  Yup, I did.

Big splashes really are nothing more than invitations.  They are sign markers for soul seeking therapists.  If we retreat every time there is a declaration of territory from a client, we miss out.  We don’t see beyond the surface.  Of course, we have to use our sense of timing, too.  If I hadn’t waited for that beaver to surface the first time, I would never have seen the source of the tail slap.  I would have been left staring at concentric water rings instead.

But, if we respectfully wait, if we understand that it’s an intense (mostly unplanned) game of peek-a-boo we are playing, those big splashes come to mean a lot.

When was the last time that you stood your ground and waited?  What peeked out?  How did staying curious impact your therapeutic relationship?

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3 responses to “a tantrum is an invitation”

  1. Renee Azevedo says:

    This is great and couldn’t be more true. It’s similar to the concept of passion as both love and hate with indifference as the enemy/most difficult of hurdles in a reciprocal interaction. So much is waiting on the other side of grand emotional and/or behavioral “outbursts” as long as we can resist reacting and instead, accept the invitation to interact. The intensity of the inviting tail slap has in my experience been relative to the intensity of relational reward to follow as long as I can hold it together and thoughtfully respond. Thank you for this insightful reminder to start my day!
    -Renee Azevedo, LMFT

    • I love your equation, Renee! And, I have to report, that this morning there was a water ballet. Two beavers put on a show of simultaneous tail slaps and a swirling circle dance. If that was the relational reward to follow I’m sure glad that I did hang in and wait.
      Have a great day.

  2. Sharon Eakes says:

    I loved the video and your animal planet narration! Seems to me your narrative could also illustrate some creative ways to establish rapport in the therapeutic relationship. Peek a boo and wait. I had a good chuckle. Thanks.

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