Monthly Archives: May 2016

Dixit as therapy


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I’m doing therapy right now. I’m not going to tell you why (though I should think it’s obvious by now that I’m in quite regular need of therapy, so this is definitely a good thing) but I do want to tell you how. Specifically, I want to share with you a technique my therapist used today help me talk about a traumatic event, using… you guessed it, Dixit cards.


I am so excited about this.

She handed me two extensions of Dixit cards, there were about 80 cards. She told me to pick a card that represented the situation I was currently in. Once I’d picked one, she asked me a series of questions:

  • Could I describe the card to her as though she couldn’t see it?
  • What did I want to ask the characters? (There was always a character representing me, I don’t know what she’d have asked if there wasn’t)
  • How did I think they would respond?
  • How had they gotten into that situation?
  • What would I say to the characters?
  • Etc.

She also asked a few other questions about what was going on on the card, but she did not ask me to explain the real life context that the card represented. In fact, she insisted that I avoid explaining, and speak only within the metaphor of the card. At first it was a bit difficult, but once I got into it, it was actually quite fun.

Next she asked me to pick a card representing a future I’d like to see come about. Once I’d done that, she asked me the same questions, plus others linking the two cards: how had the character from card 1 end up becoming the character in card 2? What would the character in card 2 say to the one in card 1?

Finally, she asked me to pick a card representing a past event that had marked me, one that had in some way led me to my present situation in card 1. I picked the worst event I could think of, because that was what I’d intended to talk about today anyway.

At this point I understood why she’d insisted in speaking only in metaphor: it meant I could talk about the event without actually saying what it was. I didn’t have to go into detail. I didn’t even have to explain. I just had to talk about it through a shield of story.

She asked me the same questions, and I answered them, one by one. She asked me how the character in the past card had become the character in the present card, and what the future card character might say to the past card character. I answered, thinking carefully about each response, and feeling a little bit like I was cheating my brain. Wasn’t this supposed to be painful? It wasn’t entirely comfortable, but it wasn’t the opening-of-Pandora’s-box-full-of-tears I’d thought it would be, that it had been in the past when I’d talked about this same thing plainly.

It was the first time I’d ever talked about it without crying and feeling shitty for ages afterwards. In fact, it was the most fun I’d ever had during a therapy session. I’m actually looking forward to the next one.

Afterwards, in the car ride home, I felt a bit panicky. Part of my brain was like WHAT DID WE JUST DO AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH and another part was adamantly insisting that this was CHEATING, it couldn’t be this simple. Where were the tears, the pain? Did it work? Was I now the future-card-me?

Of course I’m not, that would be too simple. But I realised that I’ve somehow gotten this weird idea into my head that therapy has to be a form of confession, and in order for it to work, I have to be an emotional wreck by the end of each session – at least at first. Like the therapist is going to give me ten hail mary’s at the end of it and then I’ll be free forever of whatever it was that’s been holding me back all these years. But we said in the beginning that therapy isn’t about getting rid of bad memories, but about learning to deal with them, and to find lessons in them. It’s not about pain and sacrifice giving way to redemption; it’s about finding tools to live a better life with the baggage I’ve got.

And one of those tools can be metaphor. It reminds me of a thing I saw on TV once, where a therapist was asking a young child to show, using dolls, what her abuser had done to her. I always thought that this was just a way to get a mute child to express the unspeakable, but it’s also a shield: in this sort of game, it’s not the child being abused, but the doll. It sounds like not much, but when you’re describing a traumatic event, talking about it in the third person or representing it using things outside of you can help you put a mental distance between yourself and the event. Enough to look at it from the outside, without as much fear and pain as with plain description, complete with accompanying flashback.

The order in which she asked for the cards is important, too. The present card is a kind of warm-up, allowing you to get used to talking entirely in metaphor, without explaining. The future card then establishes where you want to go from there, and introduces the kind of person you ideally want to become as a character in the game. By the time you arrive at the past card, you’re used to talking in metaphor, and you can use the ideal future character to talk to the past character. In my case, this helped me understand my present situation better, because the future character ended up justifying the past character’s transition into the present character. This allowed me to forgive myself for not getting out of my present situation sooner.


I don’t think my therapist will mind me sharing her technique. I doubt it’ll affect her in any way, as you really do need a therapist to guide you through the game (although I suppose you could try on your own or with a trusted partner “for fun”… don’t blame me if it gets heavy and awkward though).

Besides, I’ll also be recommending her to any of my local friends who ask, because after only two sessions I can already state that she’s by far the best therapist I’ve ever had.

I’m still not crying. I don’t think I’m going to. But I feel open, without feeling vulnerable. It’s very… freeing.