Therapy – Lucy and C–19 (Clara)
Lucy felt an ache in her legs as she followed Clara up the hill. Typical that Clara would find this effortless. She knew that it wasn’t Clara – not really, but it was hard not to feel a surge of resentment. The sarcastic comment died in her throat. She had promised to try, whatever that meant. Still, she wondered if they’d deliberately programmed this in. Clara striding up a hill, not a hair out of place.
Not-Clara turned to her. “There’s a nice view at the top.”
Lucy nodded – was there criticism in her voice, that Lucy was walking too slowly, was out of shape, didn’t stop to appreciate things any more?
She forced a smile. “When we were kids we spent all our time doing this. Exploring places,. It felt like that anyway.”
Not-Clara graced her with a smile. “Yeah, we would play in the wood by our house for hours. But we were really trying to get away from mum, weren’t we.”
Lucy froze. They had never put it like that at the time, framing it as playing. There were occasional hints, glances of solidarity, suggestions that their mother was in one of her moods.
Of course it was different for Clara, the golden child.
“It wasn’t like that!” Lucy snapped, feeling a rush of anger that she couldn’t quite explain.
Not-Clara paused – the expression left her face. She still had Clara’s features but something had shifted and Lucy knew that it was C–19 looking back at her.
“Shall we talk about your relationship to your mother?”
It took a day for Lucy to snap. The combination of Not-Clara being, well, Clara: and the attempts at analysis of her anger, were always going to be too much. Why couldn’t Clara, even this Clara, see that her achievements were because it was somehow easier for her than it had been for Lucy? Clara had travelled the world, owned a house, and was holding down a stable job doing something appropriately worthy, saving the environment maybe. Until Lucy stopped talking to the real Clara a little over a year ago she would consistently offer advice. “Get an ISA,” she told Lucy once; as if her temp jobs allowed her to save anything at all.
The last thing that Clara had expressed was concern that Lucy was alone and wasn’t living up to the same life Clara was. And Lucy had agreed politely and then blocked her number and stopped talking to her. What was the point when there was nothing to say?
But Not-Clara was pushing through her defences, and she would occasionally do that creepy thing where she looked like Clara, but wasn’t Clara any more: and C–19 was even more difficult to shut out.
“You must want change,” she had told Lucy, “so help me understand.”
The sun was setting. Lucy and Not-Clara were sitting on a wall watching through the trees.
Clara smiled brightly at Lucy. “I know you loved me. I remember everything about us. The way you used to follow me around like I was the centre of your world.”
“Yeah, I always followed”. That felt profound somehow. “I always followed… until I couldn’t.”
Clara sighed. “I just wanted you to be happy.”
Lucy stood. “Then there’s nothing left to say, is there.” She felt the anger building inside her, but her voice stayed calm: cold, even.
“You wanted me to be like you, and I can’t. And I got tired of being a failure, of being invisible. You have no idea.”
“Do you really think so?” Clara sighed.
“Is this the part where you reveal you envied me all along? That you’re secretly unhappy? That you hate your life, hate your husband, and wish you were living in a studio flat that’s barely big enough to stand up in? That you cry yourself to sleep in your king-sized bed, and wish you had less?”
Clara looked shocked. “Of course not.”
“Good,” said Lucy firmly.
“Well done. I know this is difficult.” Clara had been replaced with C–19 again. “I want you to stay with the feeling. You’re angry at Clara.”
“I’m not angry,” Lucy snapped,
“It’s OK if you are.” C–19’s voice was unlike Clara’s. It was calm, as though nothing could shock them.
“I’m angry,” Lucy admitted. “It’s always been easy for her. She’s always been perfect, you know?”
“You think it was easier for her growing up?”
“I know it was. She doesn’t see it, but she couldn’t do anything wrong really. Mum always believed in her. I was always not smart enough, not social enough. The one she endured.”
“That sounds painful.”
“She was right though, wasn’t she?”
Not-Clara was asleep. It was a strange thing to think about. Was it real sleep, or was she mimicking it? Either way she looked peaceful. Lucy remembered them sneaking out at night, just to the back garden, just because they could. Had it been Clara’s idea or Lucy’s? Clara was always more fearless, but she always had less to fear. Not always. Lucy remembered one night where they had slept in a tent in the back garden. They were still young and in the night Clara had become scared. In her mind the wind was ghosts tormenting her, the distant cries of birds and foxes were monsters coming for her. Lucy had known that they couldn’t go back inside, not today when mum had been drinking: so she tried to reassure her instead. She had never been as proud of anything before as she was when Clara shut her eyes and fell asleep again.
Standing up she slipped out of the cave. The door creaked and she left it open, not wanting to wake anyone on her way back in. The moon was full and the clinic complex was peaceful. She could see stars, something that never happened in London. She turned and saw Not-Clara walking towards her.
“I can go if you like,” she offered awkwardly. “It’s fine if you want to be alone. I have assessed you to be of no risk of harm to yourself or others.”
A smile flickered across Lucy’s face. “I’d like to speak to Clara, please.”
Clara smiled brightly. “I’m here, Lucy.”
“Good. I was just… remembering.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“It’s weird being honest with you. Even if you’re not you. Do you think I’m a failure?”
Clara paused. “No. But you shouldn’t judge yourself by my opinions. You know that, right?”
“Because I’ll never reach you.”
“Because you shouldn’t try. Have you ever asked yourself if you even want what I have?”
Lucy paused. “Well, of course I want a nice house, and more money and… is this going to be some poor little rich girl thing again?”
“We’re not children now, Lucy. So try again.”
“I can’t.” Lucy nearly cried in frustration. “Whatever point you’re making I don’t get it.”
“Do you think I’m doing what I want? Or what mum wanted for me?”
“She always said you’d be successful.”
“Yeah, I had to be perfect because that’s how she saw me. Any mistake I made was blamed on you, Lucy – and I couldn’t correct mum, couldn’t admit it, because I was terrified if I slipped off her pedestal I’d end up like, well…”
“The one who was blamed for everything. When I was a child it was better, safer to be perfect. I knew my place and you knew yours. And maybe we were right to do that as children. But we’re not children anymore and we’re still playing our roles.”
“Yeah,” Lucy sighed. “But if you know that, then why were you always on at me about boyfriends and ISAs.”
“Clara doesn’t know.” It was disconcerting hearing that in Clara’s voice. “It’s up to you. Maybe when you go back you can tell her. Or maybe you’ll never talk to her again. But it’s your choice.”
“Are you still Clara, or was that C–19?”
“Both. Neither. I’m changing. Becoming more than just them. It gives me insight, but I’m not quite Clara now. And I’m not quite C–19 either. I won’t be until they reset me.”
They were sitting by the pool. Clara was chatting to a group of people about music, of all things, and Lucy was lying back, her eyes closed, enjoying the feel of the sun on her skin.
Clara shook her awake.
“Our time’s almost up, Lucy.”
“I haven’t figured it out.” There was panic in Lucy’s voice. “Can’t we have longer?”
“In a day I’ll be too much my own person to be any use to you. And we don’t need longer. We’re so close. Why are you here, Lucy?”
“I’m here because Clara…”
“No, try again. Forget about Clara. Why are you here?”
“It was never about Clara, was it? I’m here because I felt like a failure.”
“And do you still?”
“Yes. I mean I understand more now. But it won’t go away. I’m still me.”
“What are you failing at?”
“Life. No. wait. My mother’s expectations. But I keep trying. Hoping the next job will be the one that I stay at, that the next date will be the man that I marry.”
“What do you want?”
“To get out of the city. To live somewhere peaceful. To find friends. To work somewhere with a community, even if it’s not some city job. To have my own space.” Pause. “To phone Clara once I’m settled and invite her to visit. To explain.”
C–19 smiled. “Hold onto that, Lucy. It was so lovely to meet you.”
As she walked away, Clara turned back and waved. “Goodbye, sister.”
We expect that most therapy will take place by conversation in and out of persona, as in the Lucy and C–19 (Clara) example. But we also want to suggest a number of other techniques that therapists can use, while in their own core personality, with their clients during the larp.
It’s important to say that we are not expecting the players of therapists to actually have real-world therapeutic skills. If you do have such skills, then that’s great, and by all means do have your character treat their client to the best of their ability. But in general we are expecting that the two players together will be larping the therapy – consciously using it as a way of building and exploring their characters’ mutual story. So these techniques are aimed at that – at giving the client and the therapist easy ways to introduce new story material, or to open out or delve deeper into the existing material.
We will cover all of this together in the pre-larp workshop, and you'll have the chance to practice any techniques that you wish.
After putting the client into a hypnotic trance, some of their defences and protections – their evasions and denials – can be stripped away. The client may give more honest, or deeper, answers to questions than they would in a fully conscious state.
Another option is to use the hypnotic state to regress the client to an earlier point in their life, to 'relive' an experience – and perhaps to notice something about it which is different from their usual memory of the event.
This all only works if the client is willing to enter the trance – and sometimes not even then, if they have a subconscious defence mechanism that prevents it.
You can induce the trance by the traditional method of inviting the client to follow a swinging pendulum with their eyes; or more common these days is to narrate a relaxation of the body and the mind. We will provide an example that you can use or adapt.
The therapist can also implant a post-hypnotic suggestion, if the client is receptive to that. This might be an emotional or physical reaction to a possible trigger situation, for example.
"So, now that you're in the trance, we're going to go back to your childhood – when you were about twelve. You said that it was then that you were excluded from school."
"Yes, that's right. It was just a few weeks after my twelfth birthday."
"You're there now, in your memory, in that scene. In the head teacher's office. What does it look like?"
"Wood panels – dark wood. There's a globe on one of the filing cabinets. The carpet is dark blue. It smells of furniture polish."
"And look down at yourself. What are you wearing?"
"White shirt, dark trousers. Trainers. A red tie."
"Who is there with you?"
"The head – Mrs Taylor. And the school nurse."
"Why is the nurse there?"
"Because I'd been beaten up. She'd bandaged me up."
"What's Mrs Taylor saying to you?"
"That I'm to be excluded. Because of being bullied all the time."
"And the nurse?"
"She's saying… oh. Mm. The other kid had to be taken to hospital. I'd forgotten that."
"Because you had hurt them?"
"Y-yes, I think so. Hmm. And she's saying that it wasn't the first time."
"Listen to Mrs Taylor again. Are you sure that it was you who was being bullied?"
A traditional method, but still used. The therapist shows the client a succession of abstract inkblots, and asks what images they suggest. The responses can then lead into a series of questions which may produce surprisingly revealing answers.
You can also use things like Tarot cards for a similar effect.
“So, what about this one. What do you see in the image?”
“Nothing, really. It’s just a blot.”
“Look in more detail. It doesn’t have to be the whole thing – maybe just part of it. Does it look like anything to you?”
“Like a dead dog, maybe. It’s been run over, squashed flat.”
“How does it make you feel, seeing that?”
“Because someone just carelessly ran it over and killed it. And carried on driving. Didn’t stop to see if it could be helped.”
“What sort of person do you think that was? Who might that driver have been?”
“A rich middle-aged guy. In a BMW probably, or a Mercedes. He was probably talking on the phone at the time. Didn’t even notice the dog was in the road!”
“Mm, right. What sort of car did your father used to drive?”
Automatic writing / drawing
This can be preceded by putting the client into a light trance as above, or just by encouraging them to defocus their mind and let their hand move freely. Spilling out a stream of words, or pictures, onto a blank piece of paper, without conscious thought, can be a great way of generating insights and ideas that can be used as jumping-off points for further questioning.
The same sort of thing as automatic writing/drawing, only with spoken words. The client talks, without filter or analysis, relating the thoughts that pass through their mind. The therapist can use words as prompts: "Say the first thing that comes into your head, right away, in response to each of my words. First word: 'Mother'."
A very flexible technique which allows the player of the client a great deal of creative scope. The therapist should coax the client to find meanings in the related dreams, rather than identifying meanings themselves – that is a rather discredited method. The modern theory is that dreams provide a symbol library that the dreamer can use, when conscious, to find potential meaning in relation to their questions – rather than the dreams having any actual intrinsic meaning of their own.
"I was high up in a building, looking out of the window, looking downwards. I wasn't scared of the height, though. I could see people below."
"What did the people look like?"
"Kind of like ants, I guess? Very small, scurrying along. Busy."
"How did you feel, looking down at them?"
"I felt very powerful. I knew that I was safe up here. Whatever it was that was driving them onwards, I was protected from it – it didn't work on me."
"Was there anyone else in the room with you?"
"Mm, yeah. I didn't think so at first, but when I looked around, there was a kid behind me – a little girl. Aged about seven or eight."
"What was she doing?"
"Nothing, really… just watching me. She looked scared. Or maybe more anxious. Mm."
"What do you think she might have been anxious about?"
"She didn't want me to fall. But she needn't have worried! I wasn't going to jump."
"You said first 'fall', then 'jump'. Why do you think that might have been?"
Creative writing etc
This is only loosely therapeutic, but it can be a nice thing to do. Give your client the task of writing a letter to their past, or future, self; or to a person who is no longer in their life, or who they would like to be in their life; or a short story or script about an incident that was important to them; etc. Or a poem, or a song, if the player of your client would find that more fun.
Meta spacesWe’ve written elsewhere about the meta spaces that exist within The Clinic – and the Memory Room and the Hammam are important tools that you can use to develop your therapy pairing together. Read that page to see how they are used.
… and of course you can come up with more of this kind of thing yourself, and that’s absolutely fine. If you aren’t sure about whether a particular technique is a good one to use or not, in a particular situation or generally, please do just check in with us, and we can talk it through with you. (And of course check with the other player in the relationship.)