Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Cheshire Cat: The Epitome of Mental Health Coaching?

The Cheshire Cat is nearly the epitome of what mental health coaching is all about.

Regardless of which adaptation of Alice's adventures you're familiar with, you only meet him after you're getting comfortable in Wonderland, and then he's not at all what you've just learned to expect. His normalcy is unsettling. Okay, so is the manic grin. But that's just for show. Anyway, you aren't sure what to make of him because, by all appearances, he's just another Wonderland inhabitant. But there's something very off about him, compared to the rest.

I could go deep and say the Cheshire Cat is the Jungian archetype of mystery and tricks, but that analysis only loosely fits. (He's clever, but not deceptive, malicious, selfish, or "getting away with" anything.) Cheshire is:
  • straightforward, no sugar-coating
  • rational despite prevailing Wonderland madness
  • unthreatened by other creatures
  • a good advisor
  • capable of intelligent and clear conversation
  • the only character that actually listens to Alice
  • the only character that Alice can like and trust, despite appearances
  • consistent in following standard rules, as opposed to other Wonderland citizens who spontaneously create their own rules
He also doesn't stick around long. Long enough to listen, propose a sensible solution, and make sure Alice is all right. There really isn't that much mysterious about him. He's only there to be sure Alice is still on the track she wants to be on. He allows her to decide what's next. It's her dream, after all, not his.

A little madness is perfectly fine with him, and may, after all, be necessary for survival in Wonderland. Or even here.

The cat is a mental health pro, in any case. He makes perceptive observations:
  • Wonderland is mad. Alice is in Wonderland, therefore, she must be mad as well. He doesn't pull punches but presents a pretty objective diagnosis.
  • Wonderland's madness is greater than the sum of its parts. When surrounded by chaos, no single situation or person has especially strong influence, but the cumulative effect on one is more than the situations and people added together.
  • Alice's "normal" behavior is "mad" in the Wonderland context (for example, her curiosity). What may have been functional behavior once no longer serves one's best interests. But context matters; it determines whether the behavior needs to change or not.
Cheshire Cat is a great coach or counselor, plain and simple.

*  *  *  *  *

It's Adopt-A-Cat Month, folks. And cats can be great listeners, but they can also decide to go to sleep just when you get to the exciting part, or choose that moment to walk off to the food bowl, or clean their nether regions. We aren't in Wonderland, after all. But they are great stress relievers, when the general madness starts to creep in.

And when felines float off to dream about chasing white rabbits, I'm still here for ya! 

(Now the little avatar makes sense, doesn't it?)

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