Author: Thomas Stockli, Interview of Henning Kohler
Originally published in Das Goetheanum – Wochenschrift für Anthroposophia
No. 11, March 11 , 2001
Translated from German by J. Collis
Edited by Theresa Muller, for brevity
An Interview with Henning Köhler, therapist, conducted by Thomas Stockli at Wolfschlugen near Stuttgart, Germany, on February 7, 2001.
Opening Up Healing Fields Of Relationship
What does your establishment do and what are its aims?
In addition to the therapeutic and counselling services on offer1 there are also a number of further training possibilities on subjects such as education, curative education, biography, psychology, art and art therapy, partnership and marriage. The main emphasis is on the work with children and young people.2 From the very beginning we have been concerned to formulate and implement an alternative to the main established trends of therapeutic seeing, thinking, and acting. The science of childhood has a key role to play in this. In fact it has a key role to play in all the spiritual battles of the present time.
A great deal is at stake. The minute the subject of “difficult” children enters into the discussion the mechanistic reflex comes to the fore with a vengeance, in some instances even in Steiner/Waldorf circles. The range of possible questions is immediately narrowed down to aspects of function and utility. People want to rid themselves of the problem by restricting the diagnosis to the brain and them trying all kinds of ways of making the children comply with the general norm. They slide down to the level of mechanistic thinking quite unintentionally and have no sense of having been unfaithful to their basic human or spiritual principles when they repeat the latest fashionable hypothesis such as the one in connection with maladjusted children which says that “the dopamine transmission in the synaptic cleft is too reduced.” 3
Do I speak the noble words about a “child in need of special soul care” when, if I am honest with myself, I really mean a child with a “malfunction in need of repair?” The devil often lies in the detail here, and detailed studies of the human being will be needed if we are to identify and spring the intellectual traps set up all over the place by the master of functionalistic sorcery (Ahriman, in insider-speak). This is not easy. We are all too familiar with the danger facing us in a concrete therapeutic situation when we fall short of our own expectations and, for example, act like a “behavioural trainer” instead of taking the more troublesome path also open to us: that of creating a healing field of relationship. It is the relationship that lies at the centre. This is the inner realm. What we should do is find out about the destiny of the other person and keep well away from what are more than arrogant diagnostic schemes or threadbare measures. In order not only to state this ideal but also constantly to improve on ways of putting it into practice we must follow actual paths of schooling in soul development, perception, and thinking. And, we can help one another in doing so.
Above all what blocks our view of essentials is the unfortunate concept of “normality.” Therapy should surely not be seen as a method of making people able to function in an already ailing society. James Hillman once said that every therapy room should be a place of conspiracy, a revolutionary cell, referring to a spiritual revolution, of course. It is not only “dysfunctional” individuals who turn up in psychotherapists’ consulting rooms and psychological counselling offices. Those seeking help frequently possess exceptional spiritual and social skills which, however, are more of a curse than a blessing for them. At the very least they are people with deep and honest concerns for whom life is threatening to destroy everything they hold dear. Exaggerating a little, I could say that as soul therapists we enjoy the privilege of being allowed to serve a hidden elite. This is expressly the case, and to an especially great extent, where children with so-called behavioural difficulties are concerned.
Visitors From Another World – The Future
How does you understanding of what therapy is applied in specific cases?
For example parents arrive with their child who has behavioural problems. He misbehaves in class, constantly plays the fool, will not learn, and so on. We are asked to find out what is wrong and where the cause of the disorder lies. Having done this we are then required to normalize the child, make sure he will fit in, obey, and start achieving in school.
The first thing to make clear is that this is not the way we do things here. We are not a child repair shop and we do not work with standardized tests. We can guarantee that we will find out more about the child than tests can by taking the time to learn about his life story, observe him at play, and if possible speak with the kindergarten or class teacher. Moreover, we do not approach our investigation on the back of ready-made opinions. We say, “If this child has problems fitting in, then all we know initially is that he has problems fitting in.” We have no idea whether these are caused by “behavioural disorders.” Perhaps this naughty little lad has very good reasons for the way he is behaving.
And what does “disorder” mean anyway? In some way or other the child’s needs and gifts are coming up against the situation he find’s himself in and the demands being made on him. Something doesn’t fit, and this “not fitting” is becoming increasingly frequent. Why is this? Instead of immediately reaching conclusions about some inadequacy or other we must take account of the contemporary phenomenon inherent in differences between styles of childhood perception, learning, and communication. There are some aptitude profiles we come across which we simply do not yet understand. So we are suspicious of them and become intolerant. The same reflex is involved in xenophobia.
In order to comprehend what is going on in the realm of childhood these days, psychological diagnosticians would do well to consult with consciousness researchers. More and more of the children living among us are like foreigners, like visitors from another world. After letting the phenomena speak for themselves we gradually realize, that other world is the future.
I have learned that those so-called behavioural disorders always contain a message. More and more frequently that message, loosely translated, is: my “style” of communicating (learning is communicating!) with the world and other people is different from the style you are expecting of me. We speak different languages. You are trying to draw me into things which are intrinsically foreign to me. You cannot see what I have in me and what I could offer you. That frustrates me every single day.
This is what many so-called problem children would say if only they could tell us what is troubling them.
Does this mean that you represent the same concerns as those depicted in the book The Indigo Children?4 It says there that instead of giving hyperactive children Ritalin to calm them down we should be trying to understand their specific messages and treat them accordingly.
Yes, I do agree with the basic ideas expressed in that book, it seems to me, non-phenomenologically. I have been writing and speaking for years and trying to differentiate as much as possible between the different phenomena. Strange to say, in anthroposophical circles I have failed to generate the high degree of interest which this book has now suddenly aroused. Children with new and special capabilities are literally pouring into the world. For many of them it will be disastrous if they are regarded as disturbed and therefore side-lined or subjected to all kinds of therapeutic procedures.
I have been traveling all over the place trying to draw people’s attention to this fact which, for me changed from a supposition to a certainty in 1995/96 on account of a number of experiences I had. The term I usually use to describe this is premature aptitude profiles, “premature” in the sense that the present time is not yet mature enough to recognize what is going on. The children in question definitely come to the earth in a way that makes it possible to speak of abnormal configurations of their various bodily and soul members. These abnormalities are, though, not pathological in any way; they are precursors of a change in consciousness. The future is rushing in only to be brought up short by rigid social and institutional structures that manifest a turn of mind which will be incapable of developing an understanding of what these new children are bringing into the world. The conflicts resulting from this have been hastening towards the crisis point over about the last fifteen years.
Decision When Incarnating: To Work For A Future That Is In Keeping With The Dignity Of Man
Could you be more precise about the “new children” based on your own experiences and perceptions as a therapist? We know you have formulated your own concepts about them.
I am still working on these. Distinguishing between the different phenomena of usual aptitude profiles is complex and is a theme oriented entirely towards the future. I am above all concerned with the phenomenological integrity here. We must take care not to invent supposed qualities for these special children; it is essential to look at them properly and describe only what we actually see. Over and above this, though, it is always important to interpret the phenomena and place them in the context of a “wider story,” i.e. a broader context of ideas.
The main features of the “story” which I believe can help us to proceed further was known to Novalis, as witness his sentence: “We are on a mission: to shape the earth.” Every one of us has mounted the stage of world events in order to make a contribution to a successful “social sculpture” (Beuys), in other words to join in working towards a future befitting the dignity of man. Basically that is a decision we make when we incarnate. And this provides a yardstick with which to measure the tragedy that occurs when an individual becomes such a stranger to himself that his primal creative impulse is reversed and turns into a lust for destruction. In every child there stirs an individual “guiding will” (Goethe), a “primary motivation” (Viktor E. Frankl) which derives solely from that individual’s self. That directional impulse of a biography – which is the guiding thread of a destiny also has, however, supra-individual aspects, and it is very important to take note of these: the impulse is held within the framework of a “generational project.”
In every age the new generation has wanted to bring in specific healing impulses, and the individuals involved have been linked with one another as though by invisible threads while at the same time forces of opposition also enter the fray and try to topple everything into the abyss. This is an absorbing subject for research into the history of youth. Today no one needs to be a cultural pessimist to look towards the future with dismay, so it certainly seems that today’s children have resolved to embark on a particularly extensive project. They want to get going on a quantum leap of consciousness no matter what the risks involved. Unlike the 1960s and 1970s when young people rebelled openly, what we now have is a “grass roots revolution.” The “new children” are everywhere. (Films such as Generation X depict this, though perhaps in a rather superficial and sensational way.)
I maintain that a person’s “life script” as described for example by transactional analysis, that primal choice around which the thoughts of Jean-Paul Sartre revolved, a) is not acquired during childhood, as is usually thought to be the case, but is brought by the individual in the form of a rough draft; b) is not fundamentally egoistic but highly responsible in the way it relates to the contemporary situation; c) linked albeit in an individual way, with generational covenants.
Against this background we may now ask: Which human qualities are particularly under threat today? If our “story” were true, which qualities would the children now amongst us, or expected soon, be especially interested in saving? Do so called deviant children in fact possess special strengths connected with the flaws in our civilization? Or, to put this question in another way: Could it be that we are living at a time when the very qualities we most urgently need appear as weakness and failure?
Souls Who Comfort Or Care
Could you mention a few concrete examples?
Well yes, this brings us to the phenomena themselves. described some aspects recently in my book Was haben wir nur falsch gemacht? (Where on earth did we go wrong?) In every class at school there are a few highly-sensitive, timid, tender, very “thin-skinned” children, usually girls, who are a worry because they appear to be so entirely vulnerable. (I will not go into the medical symptoms here.) Typical behavioural characteristics are: fear of change (any new situation is terrifying), fear of failure, and being afraid to go to sleep. In their excessive need for security these children often tyrannize their family, even to the extent of becoming control freaks. They set great store by rituals that create a good atmosphere, need a harmonious environment, prefer not to go anywhere without their parents, and are permanently apprehensive that something dreadful is about to happen. But when you look more closely you realize that they are not afraid for themselves so much as for other people. All their worry concerns mother and father, brothers and sisters, and all close friends or relatives. Animals and even plants are included in this excessive worrying. It is typical for a child like this to weep bitter tears over a dead mouse or be utterly dejected at the sight of wilting flowers. Very early on, indeed much too early – before the protective envelope has properly formed around the ego – the most marked character trait of these children is a profound sympathy, a decided sense of responsibility for others and for everything alive. Their mood is deeply religious – regardless of the parents’ attitude in this respect – and the games they much prefer all have to do with caring and the welfare of others. Their over perceptive, sensitive nature is most certainly not to their advantage. They “feel their way through” (see through would not be the right expression) every behavioural mask. However friendly or at ease a teacher might appear, if he is actually full of anger or sadness these children know this with their heart . . . and are miserable at being unable to help. These are the souls who comfort or care. This is the formulation we arrive at by distilling the essential quality. Of course there have always been “good Samaritans,” but nowadays there are so many such children who suffer with others to the point of reaching the pain threshold (and their numbers are increasing), that we have to regard them as a remarkable contemporary phenomenon. There is no need for me to waste much breath in painting the picture that this is a quality which is rare in our civilization, while at the same time being needed every bit as urgently as water in a drought. When a quality of soul like this threatens to become pathological, that is, when it looks as if the anxiety states will need therapeutic treatment, this is caused by the agonizing mismatch between the soul warmth of these children and the frosty climate of the times. They feel the cold right down into the depths of their being. Both pedagogically and therapeutically we will make a complete mess of things if the measures we take are not guided by this understanding of the situation.
Scouts – Souls Who Watch Or Seek
What about the hyperactive children on whom the bookThe Indigo Children chiefly focuses?
I am in the process of writing a book about these youngsters. Their negative symptoms are well-known generally, so there is no need for me to dwell on them here. But what about their strengths! It is their tremendous impulse to be up and doing that distinguishes these children. Please note that this is a creative impulse. They are bursting with energy, but not that diffuse-energy surplus usually talked about (we must get away from the image of a steam engine under pressure). The warmth movement impulse at work in the incarnation process comes driving in with an almost palpable impetus. It is as though the very essence of the feeling for life these children bring with them were making them say, “I have sooo little time and sooo much to accomplish!” We have here an over-involvement of the “I”-forces, and I mean the forces of the higher “I.” What has been labeled the “hyperactive syndrome” is in effect simply pure affirmation of life, joy in being creative, a surplus of longing to do the good. Naturally this brings with it a whole series of problems, but the essential thing is to recognize, appreciate, and promote this exceptional capacity rather than nip it in the bud.
The tremendous urge to be active is only one side of the coin. These so-called hyper-kinetic children also have a marked need to communicate. They are “original communicators” – spontaneous, inventive, wanting to let you know everything, generous. A fundamental attitude of theirs is to be everyone’s friend. Their favorite occupation is giving people gifts and doing things for them. This is barely mentioned in the relevant literature. Their interest in the world is limitless. They are life’s adventurers, and anyone else with this attitude will get on fine with them.
Their willingness to take risks, though, can sometimes be breathtaking.
Being contemporaries par excellence they cannot imagine why anyone would object to their getting involved in occupations and events that are a part of the modern world. They are not only drawn to computers but also very skilled with them. Hyperactive children are young anarchists, and people take this amiss. You could say that to a large extent they have the teenager’s claim to freedom as soon as they arrive on the earth, and their readiness to take risks can be quite alarming. Those whose job it is to bring them up have to be basically sympathetic towards their thirst for freedom, otherwise things do not go too well.
Actually these hyperactive children bear all the hallmarks expected of the much acclaimed person of the future: highly flexible, versatile, full of ideas, communicative, technically gifted, enterprising, ready to take risks. Despite all this they are unpopular on account of their unaccommodating “wild” side, an innate anti-authoritarian attitude combined with a well developed sense of justice. This is undesirable in a world that backs the “new, conforming, standard type of person” (Horst-Eberhard Richter), the hip, fashion-conscious yes-men and women and “fellow travelers.” So the young trouble-makers are said to have something the matter with their brain; there’s a screw loose somewhere.
These children are also equipped with some rudimentary clairvoyance. If you observe them closely you will discover their telepathic capacity. They know about conversations at which they were not present, and sometimes they answer a question you were about to ask them. They can probably “read” other people’s body-language, gestures and expressions of face and eyes. Also, if I am not mistaken, they have a subtle ability to perceive “atmosphere,” combined with a heightened sense of thought which does not necessarily depend on communication via language.
I call them scouts, souls who watch or seek, because I think I have realized that being born leaders they are in their element when they can go on ahead to check out unknown territory – for others! This is an image. You see, the age we live in urgently needs new impulses. We live in a culture of fear. The souls who comfort arrive in order to face up to this fear and, so to speak, transform it from within. But we also need individuals who, rather than running with the herd, want to set off for unknown spiritual shores. And in doing this they are guided by a deep need to do this in such a way that they can share with others what they have discovered. The souls who seek have it in them to do this.
Poet Souls Or Travelers In Fairyland,
And Souls Who Preserve Or Protect Reality
Are there any other types of child whom you could characterize in this way from your own experience?
Yes, there are two more kinds of “premature (future oriented) aptitude profile.” Firstly there are the poet souls or travelers in fairyland. They are often seen as being pathologically introverted, extremely dreamy, shy of making contact, lacking concentration, so they get neatly labeled as having ADS (Attention Deficit Syndrome) without hyperactivity. They manifest an unbelievably strong imagination when you get to know them more closely. Once they are encouraged to do so, they draw up wonderfully atmospheric fairy tale images from an inexhaustible reservoir of stories they have within them. Their lively imagination is their capital. Even when quite young they ponder on profound questions, reflecting on death, on failure, on eternity and so on. If you mention elemental beings they immediately get the picture. These travelers in fairyland often have invisible companions with whom they associate quite naturally. And they are experts in matters of the soul – absolutely predestined psychologists. When the genius of poetry is lost in our time, what happens? The poet souls come crowding in.
Then there are the souls who preserve or protect reality, as I call them. These are highly intelligent children who nevertheless fail at school. They can only unfold their intellectual faculties in connection with learning that is based entirely on practical life. A child like this can repair sewing machines, knows all about car engines, learns carpentry in a trice, and has no difficulty in understanding hobby guidelines or instructions for the use of household machines. Yet even the simpler multiplication tables remain a closed book for them!
You see, culture critics rightly lament the “disappearance of reality” today. Paul Virilio says that sensory deprivation has long been a mass phenomenon. Today’s intelligence and its products diminish the primary realities of life, and they have taken control of everything. So here we see the souls who protect reality bringing a concern into the world which we would all do well to take to heart – and not only in school, either.
Creating The Atmosphere Of A Genuine Workshop
The book The Indigo Children describes Steiner/Waldorf schools and also Montessori schools as being the only ones offering appropriate educational support for children with special talents and their accompanying conspicuous behaviors. How would you describe the type of school that could do Justice to these requirements?
Where can I possibly begin? Some core requirements are not new: greater practical orientation, strong emphasis on art, interactive forms of learning. Steiner/Waldorf schools have realized something of these. But there can be no resting on one’s laurels since there is much room for improvement. Take art. Is the teaching in Steiner /Waldorf schools really “immersed in art?” A far stronger workshop or studio atmosphere is needed. It is only a beginning (and not really anything new) when 30 or 40 pupils sit in rows quietly painting. The whole range of artistic (shaping and fashioning) possibilities should be drawn on, including modern art. At least classic modern art has surely become a part of cultural history that can no longer be marginalized, and then we have installation and performance art as well. Media studies is also a subject one has to face up to.
Dorothee Scheck-Köhler interrupts. Aesthetics by itself is old hat now, at least as far as art “lessons” in the upper school are concerned. As Rudolf Steiner said, art is also about coming to grips with ugliness, darkness, and failure. Students should, and indeed can, learn something for life by means of artistic processes, namely that going through failure and experiencing one’s own inadequacies need not involve losing one’s feelings of self-worth. Obsession with the idea that the end product must be “beautiful” – decorative, perhaps? – can often lead to frustration and boredom. The present time challenges us – dare to be inadequate, provisional, defective, and thus free up powers of creativity! Sometimes it is totally unproductive to begin a process by planning what the end result should be.
Henning Köhler continues: Yes, the point is to become totally involved in the process. This is a tremendously important experience In an age that expects us to construct our biography out of pre-fabricated units. To work towards a finished product is an entirely inartistic principle. The great opportunity which art offers us is that it can help relieve children of their fear of coming to grief; it can help them experience that you can only gain something if your efforts include, or even provoke, the possibility of failure. A defeat is no such thing if it provides the starting point for something new. The most important aspect of the artistic process is the experience of actively taking hold of the spaces offered by freedom. Of course the pupils must also learn to handle artistic techniques. But above all else they need the genuine atmosphere of the workshop or studio where some degree of chaos can be tolerated, where it is in order to walk about and talk to other people and try out all kinds of things.
Dorothee Scheck-Köhler: In such an atmosphere pupil and teacher can meet one another in quite a new way. New, more human links can arise, a more trusting relationship that is not founded on success and achievement. The spaces in which free artistic encounters take place are always emotionally loaded, but in a positive sense. There are stages of perplexity and despair which can be followed quite suddenly by a new breakthrough and experiences of joy. The teacher can accompany the young person in these personality-building processes. His role is quite different from that in a traditional teaching situation.
Henning Köhler: For this to happen you have to reduce class sizes or divide the pupils into groups, but this is often thwarted by a lack of personnel.
Dorothee Scheck-Köhler: Look at the potential here in Stuttgart alone. We would have no trouble in finding 200 artists who would be willing to offer block periods in art and try out new ways of working with the pupils. I could imagine doing this myself.
Henning Köhler: Yes, but in addition to people’s lack of mobility we are also up against the structural corset in the schools themselves. Is this easier in Switzerland, perhaps?
In my experience the only, thing to do is begin somewhere in a small way, taking real steps without embarking on large models or long discussions. Surely this is possible in every school.
This also has something to do with the art of social interrelationships. Unless we can break through the principle of frontal teaching applying rigid plans and rules, the queen of the arts will remain out in the cold. Traditional teaching prevents social fellowship. And another thing, why shouldn’t every school be a starting point for social projects and in that sense regard itself as a social workshop? Wherever you look there are people who need help: old people, needy people, sick people in other countries as well as on the next street. These children and young people should not be underestimated! They are very interested in such things! The very ones who appear to show the least interest immediately prick up their ears at suggestions such as, “There’s this terribly poor school in Romania. What can we do for them?”
Has this got something to do with relating to practical life?
This is where a meeting takes place between practical life and art – in the sense of social art. But relating to practical life has many facets. Among these are encounters with nature-finding new links with divine creation which is for children a deeply religious (!) need. We shall have to develop, or return to, new ways of teaching involving real experiences with nature. For example, encounters with trees – for this a sensually satisfying study of trees would have to become a regular item in lessons; lay out and cultivate herb patches along the lines of the old monastic gardens – manufacture teas and ointments; bring back lost arts such as the firing of earthenware in great kilns, and so on. There are no rules as to how art can be related to practical life. Every school has its own conditions and possibilities. But of course you have to have ideas.
Is this something that is helpful for the “souls who protect reality?”
Yes, of course. But with them I would go a step further. They should learn about modern production processes and even be given responsibility in a small way. You can begin when they are quite young, and they love it. They are very keen and eager to learn, whereas ordinary lessons bore them dreadfully.
Precursors Of A Change In Consciousness
Could we return to the new aptitude profiles for a moment, and especially the aspect of those children’s spiritual faculties of which you spoke and which are also mentioned in the book The Indigo Children. How can we approach this against the background of anthroposophy?
The special children are precursors of a change in consciousness. Through them a future culture of spirit-self as the “illumined consciousness soul” is entering into what I would call the intellectual age, where it is bringing about a good deal of bewilderment. All our educational efforts will come to naught if we as adults do not endeavor to grasp this dimension and school ourselves accordingly. I am at present working to create suitable training possibilities. Two in-service schemes are running currently, one in Cologne for kindergarten personnel, and one in Wolfschlugen for personnel already trained in the educational, therapeutic, and social professions who want to train further as educational mentors. Huge numbers of people have shown an interest. Georg Kühlewind with his wide range of experience is going to help me in the realm of schooling awareness and observation.
Above all else we must get out of the habit of making snap judgments. Instead by really entering into the phenomena we must develop a genuinely understanding-feeling or feeling-understanding, a new way of thinking and seeing educationally so that we can mount a spirited opposition to the sorcery of functionalism. We must foment revolution, not least in the realm of concepts! High-sounding but actually empty husks of anthroposophical terminology can also block our view of essentials. In order to enter in a vital and understanding way into what is in each case the unique being of an unusual child we need a clear background for our questions – and also a new style of perceiving and communicating.
The “Star Children,” as Kühlewind calls them (his description especially fits the scouts, the souls who seek) “know” of Christ at work in the etheric realm. They live with the impression of an encounter with Christ in the realm they passed through immediately before birth – in the “sphere of aims” (Steiner) where the life panorama lights up and the primal purpose is chosen. We can imagine that timeless moment of Christ-proximity as a profound and lastingly moving warmth event. Still imbued and immersed in this, souls enter the world where spiritual and social life lies frozen beneath an Ahrimanic crust of ice. This is where a huge and potentially traumatizing field of tension arises, and it is essential that we should understand this. Our understanding alone brings comfort and healing. To allow these new children to be regarded as brain-function-damaged and let them be normalized by the million with medications such as Ritalin spells a creeping catastrophe for our world. On the other hand, if we are prepared to welcome them in the right way, to accompany them and for their sake to change our awareness, then a grass-roots movement can begin of which the movement of 1968 will have been nothing but a stumbling vanguard.
(1) Curative play therapy, art therapy, chirophonetic speech therapy, horse-riding therapy, eurythmy therapy, rhythmical massage, educational advisory service, advisory service for young people, and adults in life crises.
(2) The work of the Institute has led to the “Workshop School” project for children and youngsters who (supposedly) cannot be taught in a school setting. The Workshop School began last year.
(3) The supposed transmitter deficit (catecholamine hypothesis) is firstly, not proven and secondly, as a hypothesis, it is already out of date. The favorite just now is the frontal lobe hypothesis. In my book War Michel aus Lönneberga aufmerksamkeitsgestörtt? (Did Michel from Lönneberga have ADS?), which is to be published soon, I shall be exposing the logical error which (in spite of the apparent findings) lies behind the neobiological interpretation.
(4) Lee Carroll, Jan Tober The Indigo Children. The New Kids Have Arrived, Hay House Inc., Carlsbad (California) and Sydney (Australia), 1999.
A Brief But Typical Case History
Manuel (6) is due to go to school soon, but there are problems at the kindergarten. Not only is he a wild, extremely active little fellow bursting with ideas, but recently he has also begun to be aggressive, throwing building blocks at other children and kicking the teacher when he doesn’t like something.
The teachers interviewing him to assess whether he is ready for school have been informed about his behavioural problems, and he does, indeed, misbehave during the assessment, scribbling all over the piece of paper instead of drawing a nice picture, and saying, “You silly fool!” to one of the female teachers. In the subsequent talk his parents are asked to let him take part in a test, because he probably is hyperactive. The family is sent to us, but instead of conducting a test we work with Manuel for several weeks. Then we suggest that he should spend a further year at kindergarten while also taking therapy sessions with us. Meanwhile, we would also regularly counsel the parents and also occasionally speak with the kindergarten teacher. Fortunately, all those involved agreed. A year later there are no more problems about starting school.
What has happened? In long talks with the parents we succeeded above all in helping them overcome their fear that their child was “disturbed.” It turned out that his mother, especially, had begun to fear this even during the pregnancy. Instead of treating Manuel in an uncomplicated, accepting, and straightforward way, feelings of guilt and anxiety – although they loved him dearly – began to dominate their relationship with him, which soon came to consist of nothing but “tactical manoeuvering.” The parents also quarrelled about him all the time. With our help they learned to help each other in a friendly way in their efforts to reach a better understanding of their child and, especially, to see, once again, all the qualities in him that were admirable. It soon became obvious to us that sensitive children instinctively reflect back the opinion one has of them.
We spoke a great deal about so-called difficult children and what a privilege it was for the parents to be chosen (!) by such a child. We formed an alliance in which we agreed that we would let no one persuade us that Manuel had a “tic.” Fortunately, the kindergarten teacher was also very cooperative and joined our alliance. Gradually our combined efforts led to a clearer, more living image of this child’s being, and all the participants soon agreed that they had become more intuitive in knowing how to treat Manuel. Above all we succeeded in conquering those feelings of anxiety and guilt and in reducing the mutual accusations. This clearing of the air, together with the change in the way Manuel was regarded, constituted half the therapy, if not more than half. The rest of our contribution consisted in an hour’s play therapy (conflict resolution in dramatized play) per week, and another hour’s curative painting. (I must stress again that in a case like this “therapy” does not mean “treating someone who is ill,” but “accompanying someone in a caring way” together will all those involved.)
Manuel loved coming to us, and we gave his parents practical suggestions to help them work at home as our co-therapists (simple applications and exercises for the basal care of the senses; general guidelines on “life hygiene”). He is still a wild little chap, like “Michel from Lönneberga.” But he is no longer aggressive. Things are going quite well at school because, although he often lacks concentration, he is tremendously enthusiastic and imaginative which – another fortunate circumstance – impresses most of his teachers and makes them turn a blind eye to the fact that this small whirlwind often oversteps the mark with a lot of silly nonsense.
When he was introduced to us, Manuel was, according to present diagnostic criteria, a typical ADS child – one of those cases who elsewhere would presumably have been put on Ritalin.
Henning Köhler has written Working with Anxious, Nervous, and Depressed Children – A Spiritual Perspective to Guide Parents, ISBN 1888365-28-5, available from AWSNA Publications, 2001.
Henning Köhler (born on May 21, 1951 in Karlsruhe, Germany). He left school before the final year of Gymnasium. 1973 1-year practical course in curative education at Haus Sonne, Walsheim. 1974-76 work at the International Cultural Centre, Achberg; editor of the journal Jedermann; involvement with the anti-nuclear movement. 1978-79 care assistant at the Öschelbronn Clinic. 1979-82 Camphill Seminar on Curative Education at Brachenreuthe by Lake Constance. 1982-83 Rudolf Steiner Seminar for Curative Education at Bad Boll; involvement in the peace movement, 1983-86 curative teacher on the children’s ward at the Filder Clinic near Stuttgart; intensive research into adolescent anorexia. Founder of the Janusz Korczak Institute at Wolfschlugen near Stuttgart. Married in 1980, 2 children. Numerous books, articles in journals, and extensive lecturing.