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  • Mark Brafield

Les Miserables

I don't know whether, like me, you have been following Les Miserables in the present BBC television adaptation, but the character at the heart of the story, Jean Valjean, undergoes a profound moral change at the beginning of the vast story that follows. Originally sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family, he goes on to serve 19 years in jail before being released, a broken man, full of bitterness and hatred.

Tramping his way across the French countryside, he stays one night with the saintly Bishop Bienvenu who offers him food and a bed for the night, and who challenges him with the idea that love and kindness can soften even the hardest heart.

Valjean is not ready, at that point, to have his heart turned, but the next day, he steals a worthless coin from a passing child and suddenly realises the depths to which he has sunk. In a powerful passage (Book 2, Chapter 13) he stands back from himself and observes, in the balance, his life of bitterness and hatred on the one side, and on the other the saintly figure of the Bishop. He realises he can no longer put off the choice and in a moment of decision, he chooses to turn to the light, which sets off and drives the rest of the novel.

In a way, this is the kind of visualisation or modelling that hypnotherapy can offer. It gives you the chance to step back from yourself and observe how you are at the moment, and what you might be in the future. In the case of drug addiction, for example, the two options can be considered as possible futures at the opposite ends of a balance, then brought closer and closer together until you realise that they are actually all part of one life, and you have no option but to choose one way or the other.

Less dramatically, solution-focused therapy gives you the chance to imagine what your life would be like if you finally make the changes that you may have wanted to for years. Your story may never become the subject of a thousand-page novel, but it's your story and that is all that matters.

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