With this short play, I’m spoofing the practice of psychotherapy. This playful piece of writing serves as a holiday respite from my usual serious content. The old version of this post, published in 2017, is here. This revised version has a new character, a sheepdog named Siggy.
The setting is a quiet morning on a grassy hillside in sheep country. Tom, a shepherd in his early twenties, approaches his flock, accompanied by Siggy, to deliver his daily lecture on the secrets of happiness. Tom is taking night classes to become a psychotherapist, and he’s using his flock as an audience to practice his coming oral exams. He’s often challenged by an exotic brown sheep, Bearwolf, the flock’s smartest member. Tom, who can be a bit preachy, begins his talk.
Tom – Good morning, dear sheep. Did you all sleep well?
Bearwolf – (Standing at the head of the flock and speaking over the bleating) I had an awful nightmare. Dreamed I was your dog’s lapdog.
Tom — I hope you sheep have retained all the wisdom I imparted yesterday. I’m going to treat you once again to some lovely insights. Let me start by saying that when we’re too passive, we’re usually making unconscious choices that produce sheepishness.
Bearwolf – When I’m unhappy, it’s never my fault. The only choice I make is who to blame. Siggy here is my favorite target. (Glares at Siggy).
Siggy – (Glares back) Just call me a glutton for mutton.
Bearwolf – (Smirks) Mutton sure beats mutt butt.
Tom – Whoa now, you’re both spiraling into negativity. It’s so easy to replay and recycle unresolved negative emotions. We don’t quite know who or what we are without our inner conflict.
Bearwolf – Your dog’s yaps make more sense than you. I’m quite familiar with what I am, and it’s not where your dog’s teeth keep nipping me.
Tom – I’m sorry, Bearwolf, that this is difficult for you. As I’ve said before, I need to practice this presentation for my oral exams.
Bearwolf – I hope your examiners are a herd of yaks. They’ll know yakking when they hear it.
Siggy – Muffle your yap, Bearwolf! Stop spinning wooly tales.
Bearwolf – It’s your big choppers that need to curtail it, hairy nipper!
Siggy – It’s Siggy, not Harry!
Tom – Now, be nice, both of you. Bearwolf, do you realize how tempted you are to go negative. Negative emotions are unresolved from our past. Unwittingly, we snuggle up to them. You yourself recycle these old painful feelings in your everyday life.
Bearwolf – (Shaking his head) Wrong! That doesn’t ring true for me.
Siggy – The ringing noise is the bell on your neck. Quit shaking your head!
Tom – Of course it doesn’t ring true! That’s what I’m saying. We’re highly resistant to seeing this stuff. Fooling ourselves comes naturally. For instance, you might convince yourself that my words are causing you to get annoyed.
Bearwolf – Yes, your words are having that effect on me. Not so much annoyed, though, as a ringing in my ears.
Tom – That’s your resistance. We’re very much resistant to hearing about how we hold on to painful memories and old hurts.
Bearwolf – What I resist is you trying to strip away my wooly security blanket.
Tom – I’m trying to shear away your defenses and resistance. All of us are very reluctant to take responsibility for how we generate negative emotions. We can learn to respond in a healthy way rather than to react negatively.
Bearwolf – Can you get your dog to react less negatively? He’s been hearing you say this all week, and he’s as snappish as ever.
Siggy – Snappish is good to re-butt your wooly yarns.
Tom – Look, Bearwolf, you aren’t seeing the role you play in your own sheepishness. You’re probably saying to yourself, for instance, “I could be my happy self if only I was better looking and had a great body and personality.” Or you might be thinking, “Work is too hard, and I don’t get paid enough.”
Bearwolf – Yes! That’s exactly what I tell myself. All I ever get is grass and clover, and I have to cut it myself. You’ve been fleecing me far too long!
Tom – In our psyche, the rules of common sense don’t apply. Look, you’re probably saying to yourself, “I’m just a good-for-nothing lazy sheep.” But listen, your laziness is just a surface symptom of deeper issues. You have to get down to the roots.
Bearwolf – Roots taste awful, grass tastes good. My taste buds know what’s good for me. My approach is: Go where the grass is greenest.
Siggy – Your approach is basically super … super … supercil … supercilious!
Bearwolf – Dog! Using big words, for you, is way too ambitious.
Tom – Look, Bearwolf, your life would taste better if only you could get at those roots. When you go deeper, you uncover your attachment to negative emotions. Your problem is not, let’s say, with your alleged lack of physical attractiveness but with your determination to experience yourself as sheepish.
Bearwolf – Okay, once in a while I do feel a little unworthy. Your dog here treats me like a nobody. Get him to show me more respect!
Tom – I’ll talk to him. Meanwhile, try to understand that people, or sheep in your case, who are attached to feeling unworthy can overcome that deep sense of unworthiness with good insight. Unfortunately, through their resistance, people often flee from this knowledge.
Bearwolf – Yes, I do feel an urge to flee to where I can’t hear you—or where I won’t be dehumanized by your dog’s anal-fixation.
Tom – We also want to see through our defenses. Look, you probably feel unloved. Your defenses cover up your willingness to indulge in that feeling.
Bearwolf – I get a little moody now and then, no big deal. I also get cravings, usually for crab grass, and my compulsion to chew acts up, too. Look, I’m just a wooly mammal, a brown sheep, that’s just who I am.
Tom – We’ll all become extinct like woolly mammoths if we’re too resistant to inner growth. We have the power right now to overcome limitations imposed by our unresolved issues. The first step is to acquire deeper insight.
Bearwolf – Insight, insight! Look, see my fluttering eyes. They look outward, not inward. Maybe if I had your dog’s beady eyes, I could swivel them inward.
Siggy – Don’t think you can pull my eyes over your wool.
Tom – Sheep have especially thick skulls that are highly resistant to depth psychology. Feeling unworthy is an emotion you keep replaying and recycling. Your parents might have regarded you that way because that’s how they saw themselves.
Bearwolf – Yes, I remember, my parents did feel inferior to cows. But definitely not to dogs, I can tell you that!
Siggy – I’m proud to feel inferior to humans—and excited to be a big tiny-riny-saurus around sheep.
Tom – Suppressed psychological issues are like hungry tyrannosauruses that sneak up and devour us. It’s ironic, for instance, that we get angry at someone who has been critical of us when we’re the first in line to be critical of ourselves. It’s your inner critic that harasses and demeans you.
Bearwolf – The big critic around here is your loose-nut mutt. His growling doesn’t help my self-esteem. Why don’t you preach to him?
Tom – Look, I’m telling this to all of you, my dear flock, because I want you to overcome your sheepishness. Besides, my communication skills are enhanced when I’m able to get through to dumber animals.
Bearwolf – You’ll get lots of practice with your own kind.
Tom – Seeing our attachment to negative emotions is very humbling to our ego. Seeing our inner sheepishness is also how we tame the superego.
Bearwolf – My ego, as egos go, is surprisingly sheepish. It doesn’t slap me down like this depth psychology tries to do.
Siggy – Ego, we go, I go, you go—sometimes I get them mixed up.
Tom – Our unconscious ego slaps us down by denying us access to inner truth. It enables us to fool ourselves into believing that we’re innocent of psychological mischief.
Bearwolf – If once in a while I fool myself, that seems like a good way to do it.
Tom – It is a good way if you want your resistance, denial, and defenses to triumph. Our suffering can become a distant memory when we get down to the roots of how our psyche works.
Bearwolf – For sheep, it’s either black or white or canine. We live on grass and water, and we let roots dig their own grave.
Tom – Bearwolf, you’re right. I am being hard on you. It’s mostly people I need to reach. They tend to be instinctively defensive and resistant at first. Yet humans, after braving the initial shock of depth psychology’s revelations, are often eager to get down to work on this.
Bearwolf – Yes, this humble sheep would love to see humans get down to work, preferably on their hands and knees, chewing on fresh insight, with a dogged superego nipping at their butts.