The Oozing Cyst BluesMany years ago, there was a disgusting song called "The Oozing Cyst Blues," put out by Timothy Aurthur and Alan Seidler on Blue Goose records. The first stanza went:
Woke up this morning and I'll tell you the news
Looked down at my cyst and it began to ooze
Lord, Lord, talkin' 'bout my oozing cyst
Old Man Devil got me on his list
Perhaps there was some basis for these blues. In Uncommon Therapy, Milton Erickson, the eccentric Phoenix psychiatrist, tells of a boy brought to him to cure just such a sore: smack-dab in the middle of his forehead.
This is how he described the case to fellow-therapist Jay Haley.Part IFor two years a twelve-year old boy had been picking at a sore, a pimple, on his forehead, and it had become a continuous ulcer. His father and mother had resorted to all manner of punishment to keep him from picking at the sore. His school-teachers and his schoolmates had tried to reform him. Medical doctors had explained about cancer, had bandaged and taped the sore, and had done what they could to keep him from touching it. The boy would reach up under the adhesive tape and pick at it. He explained that he just could not control the impulse.The boy's mother and father did what they could to stop the boy from picking at the sore, but they disagreed on the value of punishment. The father had gone to extremes, depriving the boy of any number of toys; he had sold the boy's bicycle and had broken his bow and arrow.Finally the parents brought the boy to me. I had an interview with the mother to learn something about the family situation so I could pick out something to work with. I learned about the values and obligations in the home, including the fact that the boy did chores. They had a large lawn, which he cared for, and a large garden. I also learned that the mother tended to be on the boy's side and that the boy was angry with his father for the various punishments, in particular the breaking of his bow and arrow. I also found out that the boy had a spelling problem; when he wrote he tended to leave out letters in words. I like to check on a child's schoolwork to see what is there.
I had an interview with the boy and his father together, and I focused immediately on how ownership is defined. I picked out the bow and arrow as an issue. Whose was it? The father admitted that the bow and arrow belonged to the boy; they were given to him for his birthday. Then I asked how an ulcer should be treated. We agreed that it should be treated with bandages and medication of various sorts. I asked how would you use a bow and arrow to treat it? How would breaking a bow and arrow be treating an ulcer?
The father was very embarrassed, and the son was eying his father with narrowed eyes. After the father had flushed and squirmed quite a bit in this discussion, I turned to the boy and asked him if he did not think he could at least honestly credit his father with good intentions despite his stupid behavior. Both of them had to accept that statement. In this way the boy could call his father's behavior stupid, but to do so he would also have to credit him with being well-intentioned.
Then I asked how much further we should go in discussing medicines that didn't work. Or could we forget about those? I said, "You've had this for two years. All the medicines from breaking the bow and arrow to selling your bicycle didn't work. What shall we do?" The boy had the idea that I should take charge.
I said to him, "All right, I will. But you won't like the way I take charge. Because I'm going to do something that will clear up the ulcer. You won't like it one bit; all you will like is that the ulcer is healed --- that you'll really like." I said I wanted him to devote every weekend to curing the ulcer on his forehead --- while his father did his weekend chores for him. The boy gave a triumphant glance at me and at his father.
We went over the chores and discussed the mowing and raking of the lawn, cleaning up the dog messes, weeding the garden, and so on. I asked who inspected the lawn when the boy did it. Father inspected his work. I said, "Well, on Saturday, in between working on curing your ulcer, because you can't work on it steadily, you can go out and inspect how your father is doing on your chores."