The Psychology of the Sand-Pit

The Psychology of the Sand-Pit

Clinical Lessons from Winnie-the-Pooh

By Douglas Flemons

January/February 2003

Remember the time Winnie-the-Pooh, Rabbit, and Piglet got lost in the woods? Again and again, they tried to find a way out, a way home, but every time they set off, their efforts to escape kept returning them to their point of departure, to "a small sand pit on the top of the Forest." Pooh Bear became "rather tired of that sand pit, and suspected it of following them about, because whichever direction they started in, they always ended up at it."

How easy it is to find ourselves in a similar predicament with our clients! Despite getting paid to guide them out of their sand pit, we at times succeed only at leading them right back into it. When this happens, it's possible to decide that they somehow "need" their problem, that they're "not ready" to change, or that we lack the skill to help them effectively. Alternatively, we can turn to A. A. Milne for inspiration on how to get unstuck, on how to change the way we're trying to help.

In the story, Pooh finally realized that the attempts to escape from the sand pit were failing precisely because he and his friends were attempting to escape. If setting out in search of his home resulted in their returning to their starting point in the woods, then, he reasoned, going in search of the sand pit should allow them to find their way home. The reversal of intent worked, and soon the trio achieved their freedom.

Pooh's dilemma and subsequent "Aha!" reveal much about the doggedness of problems, as well as…

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