A Forgotten Colour
Dear Dr Wilson,
Re: Lucy Tiller
Thank you for referring this pleasant lady to me. I first saw Ms Tiller last Thursday and, although timid, she seemed in fairly good humour. I have made accommodations to visit her twice-weekly at St Judes. The hospital corroborated your advice that, as a result of her agoraphobia, she is reluctant to visit me at my practice address. She is also refusing visits during normal working hours and is only accepting art therapy at night.
“Okay, Lucy I am going to take you through a wee exercise. I’d like you to draw a house, then I’d like you to draw a tree and finally, I’d like you to draw a person.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t draw.”
“Don’t worry. That’s not important.
“What is the point of this? I don’t understand.”
“Draw whatever comes to mind and then we’ll talk about it.”
“I don’t know…”
“Please don’t worry, Lucy. There is no right or wrong way of doing this.”
“I really don’t know.”
I took Ms Tiller through the House-Tree-Person test. Usually, I do not use this as a first line of therapy; however, I felt that given her difficulty in discussing her issues, I would try to engage her directly. She approached the task cautiously. I had asked her to do this on three separate sheets of A3 paper. I encouraged her to fill out as much on these sheets as possible, elaborating her thoughts as best she could. This initially seemed to make her more tentative.
“That’s a small house, Lucy.”
“It was a small house.”
“Is that your house?”
“Was it a nice house?”
“Not really, but then I don’t have an awful lot to compare it to.”
“Who else lives there?”
Ms Tiller became more withdrawn when I asked her about the house. She appeared to be verging very close to personal experiences which perhaps will help us establish a way of addressing her phobia.
“What goes on inside the house, Lucy?”
“I’m sorry; it’s quite hard for me to concentrate when you are talking to me.”
“Please take your time.”
“We used to talk about going on holiday. Every summer we would talk about this.”
“Only talk about it? Did you ever go anywhere?”
“We did, one summer.”
“Where did you go?”
“Close to the sea. That’s where my auntie lived.”
“Tell me about that. Did you like it there?”
“It was just like anywhere else. This house…it can also be my Aunt’s house.”
“Okay. Well, we’ll come back to this, Lucy. Here. On this new sheet, I’d like you to draw a tree.”
“Isn’t that a waste of paper?”
Ms Tiller was reluctant to use more than one piece of paper. She appeared rather agitated by the presence of the other two sheets of paper on the table. She referred to it as “clutter.” I noted, as well, how she only used black crayon and only seemed prepared to draw the outlines of her subjects.
“Can I colour this in?”
“Of course you can. There are plenty of colours here.”
“Are you sure that’s okay?”
“Absolutely, do this however you want.”
Ms Tiller continued the test on just the one sheet of paper. The house was adorned with only one small window. She then proceeded to draw a person. Even though I had explained the order of the exercise, I felt it prudent not to intervene further and looked instead to engage with her at each incremental point of the exercise.
“Ah, so you’re drawing the person inside the house, looking out of the window.”
“Is that wrong?”
“No, it’s fine. Just draw it as it comes to you.”
“This is me.”
“As a child?”
“At any particular age?”
“What are you looking out at through the window?”
In response to this question, Ms Tiller drew a large tree over the house and the drawing of herself in the window. She coloured it in using brown crayon completely obscuring what she had already done. She drew no branches or leaves; just the body of the tree right to the top of the page until there was no paper left.
“Okay, Lucy. Tell me about this tree.”
“What do you want to know?”
“Have you ever climbed it?
“Have you ever tried climbing it?”
“Can I ask why you drew the tree over the house and yourself?”
“You asked me what I was looking at through the window.”
“What do you feel when you see this tree?”
Ms Tiller wouldn’t discuss the tree with me in any great detail. In order to help her elucidate further, I deviated from the test and looked to take her back to some of the things she had told me.
“You said this house could also be your aunt’s house, was there a tree there also?”
“There was an even taller tree there. It was right outside the window.”
“Your aunt’s house was by the sea, wasn’t it? You went there on holiday?”
“We have lots of space left on this sheet, Lucy. Let’s make this more of a complete picture, okay?
“I’d like you to think of what time of the year this picture is in.”
“It was summer.”
“That’s great. Okay then, summer by the sea. Would you like to draw the sea and the sky?”
“Would that be okay? You only wanted me to draw the house, tree and person before.”
“It’s fine. Finish your drawing. Fill as much of the page as you can and then I will ask you some more questions.”
Ms Tiller, coloured the entire width of the top of the page (except for the tree) using black crayon. This was the sky. Toward one corner of the bottom of the page, she drew numerous wavy lines in drab grey and that was the sea.
“So this is at night time? Could you see the tree in the dark?”
“I could always see the tree, but I never saw it in the dark; I would have to go to bed early every evening.”
“You can use more crayons, Lucy. Here’s a blue one.”
Ms Tiller felt more at ease after she had done this. She wanted to show me what she saw out of the window. I feel this was her way of opening up. She expressed her eagerness at continuing with the sessions and I firmly believe that we will be able to make sound and swift progress in tackling her phobia. I will be sure to keep you up to date with her progress each week.
“Can I ask you, Lucy…why did you use these colours? Remember, there are no wrong answers.”
“This is what I always saw or imagined. I couldn’t see the sky through the tree, and I have never seen the sea.”