Archives For Counseling

The Broken Vase

Tiffany Jones —  2 August, 2014

This is a great reminder for all of us, and an amazing word picture for the counseling process…

This incident happened about 10 years ago. I was teaching a course on severe character pathology to a group of psychiatric residents and clinical psychology interns and usually ended each session by taking questions from the group. One afternoon, after I had spoken enthusiastically about psychoanalytic treatment of such conditions, a young man posed this question: “After the successful completion of a most intensive psychoanalytic treatment conducted by a most skillful psychoanalyst under the best of circumstances, would an individual with severe character pathology become indistinguishable from a person who has always been psychologically well adjusted and health?”

I thought for a moment. Then, prompted by an inner voice, I spontaneously came up with the following answer: “Well, let us suppose that there are two flower vases made of fine china. Both are intricately carved and of comparable value, elegance, and beauty. Then a wind blows and one of them falls from its stand, and is broken into pieces. An expert from a distant land is called. Painstakingly, step by step, the expert glues the pieces back together. Soon the broken vase is intact again, can hold water without leaking, is unblemished to all who see it. Yet this vase is now different from the other one. The lines along which it had broke , a subtle reminder of yesterday, will always remain discernible to an experienced eye. However, it will have a certain wisdom since it knows something that the vase that has never been broken does not: it knows what it is to break and what it is to come together. Does this answer your question?”

~Dr. Salman Akhtar, Broken Structures, pg. 375, copyright 1992