Dicken’s Therapy

Once in a while it’s worthwhile therapy to ponder your own death, Charles Dickens’ style.

The world ain’t so focused on you that it wouldn’t keep going if you died, so it’s a valuable exercise to try it out your mortality for a while.

When I suggest this to people in counseling I often call it Dicken’s Therapy.

It comes from the Dicken’s story of “A Christmas Carol” where elderly miser Scrooge is made to examine his life.

Scrooge is not swayed by reviewing his past life, nor by seeing the life of those around him in the present, but he is moved to massive change by being taken to his future funeral and finding that it is not at all what he hoped for.

The therapy of imagining your own death.

I also call it Mark Twain therapy, based on the Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer version that has the two boys go off on wild adventures and come back to find everyone in the town’s church giving them a funeral because they have been given up as dead.

At their funeral they listen in and hear people speak about them in ways they’d never known when they were alive.

Therapy by mentally extrapolating on from your own death is a common enough idea.

Visit your own funeral Dicken’s style. Hover over your casket. Write out your own eulogy.

What would you WANT people to be saying about you?

What would they ACTUALLY say about you?

Are these two the same? And if not what can you do to close the gap?

What will you leave behind when you are gone, ie what is your legacy?

I often add in a sense of urgency and comparison by asking, “What if you died tomorrow?”

And yes I ask myself these questions too.

In fact it helped me make a decision just last week.

This online self help work is part of the legacy I want to leave to the world, but much of it is still being developed. I have much more I want to offer here.

However when I asked myself the “What if I died tomorrow?’ question, it cleared up one piece.

Hopefully this piece will be ready this week.

When I announce it, if you agree it’s worthwhile then you can join in. You’ll be able to make a difference to the lives of others and add it as another part your legacy too.

Oh, and if I do die tomorrow, then the few people who I’ve already spoken to about this can take this as part of my last will and testament. Go-ahead to find a way to do it for me. Thanks.

-Dr Martin Russell

8 thoughts on “Dicken’s Therapy”

  1. Thanks for this, it’s a very powerful exercise. Many spiritual traditions have some variation of this, and it’s very underrated.

    Cheers,
    Albert | UrbanMonk.Net
    Modern personal development, entwined with ancient spirituality.

  2. Welcome Albert,

    We’ll see if the decision that came out of this exercise for me this time is worthwhile.

    I still have one woman who shakes her head every time she recalls me putting this exercise to her the first time we met. But she does get it now, more and more.

  3. The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is my favorite story. I think I own nearly every movie version of it ever. I am having trouble, though, imagining what others would say about me. I know I have had kind people around me call me “hero” for what I have been doing to help my mentally ill son, but I am inclined to disbelieve their seriousness about that. I find your Dickens therapy a very difficult exercise.

  4. Hi Hero.

    Maybe it’s a difficult exercise for a few reasons….

    1. Because you wouldn’t change a thing about how you are living your life

    You have absorbed so much of this story that you could well have been doing this exercise so much that it is automatic and unnoticed by you now.

    2. Because you can’t contemplate dying at all when your son needs you.

    3. Because you don’t believe what people say about you.

    Maybe you need people around you that can give you honest feedback rather than kind feedback.

    There are probably other possibilities too.

    Other people might call you “hero”, but you’ve now taken on that name big-time. That’s a very interesting choice.

  5. I have thought all day long about what you just said Dr. Russell, and I am still feeling rather speechless. BTW, I did say on my blog that my choice of the pseudonym “Hero” was sarcasm. I think perhaps that may not have been absolute honesty. I think I will continue to contemplate the Dickens therapy and your response for some time, Dr. Russell. Thank you.

  6. Hero,

    Well done. Keep contemplating. I read the comment on your blog about “Hero”, and you read my response to it.

    If noone else will be honest feedback for you, then my replies will be.

    It’s how I do my therapy. I don’t change online. I just note that I don’t have access to the same feedback when it’s all done by words on a computer screen.

    My patients often end up in one form or another “speechless”. Confusion and frustration are key parts of un-learning old assumptions.

    People are not usually stuck by what they don’t know, but by what they do know that isn’t true. I’m not sure who I’m quoting but that’s true from my experience with helping people.

    Have a great Christmas, ahead of a brand new 2008.

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