Needles and Pins

Needles and Pins

I had a lovely conversation with a client this week. To be honest, I enjoy all of my conversations with clients. There’s discipline and deliberate effort in the Solution Focused approach that means I always find something to admire, but this session was especially good. There was a lot of laughter.

Mary* had been for her first COVID vaccine a couple of days before our meeting. It’s something we had talked about in the previous session, and it’s fair to say Mary had had some trepidation:

She was happy with her decision to be vaccinated and didn’t have any particular fear of needles, but despite having worked, raised kids and run marathons (literally!) she had lost her confidence and enthusiasm for life. This had felt especially difficult in year trapped inside, with little social contact, and the whole process of going to the vaccination centre felt daunting.

‘Ok” I said “If, for some reason, the very best version of you were to show up on vaccination day… How would you know?” I love this question. I don’t think we very often need to be ‘the best version’ but the implication that it already exists, and just needs to be brought to the fore, is powerful stuff.

Like a lot of clients, Mary skipped straight to the problem itself, the vaccination centre, where she would be calm, composed, friendly, polite etc. I gently invited her back a few hours. “But what about when you first wake up?” I asked “What might you notice then?”

Mary described a morning where she woke up with energy and optimism that affected everything from what she chose to wear to how she made her coffee.

When she’d run out of things she might notice I asked her what her son, who lives with her, might notice. “Probably nothing!” she laughed. “I know what you mean” I said (I also have a teenage son) and we shared a few moments over the remarkable obliviousness young men are capable of at 9am! “But what if this time he did notice?” I asked “what do you think… ?” 

Mary came up with another lovely list of all the tiny differences her son might see, and the differences that might make. We ended the session there, with Mary saying it had been nice to hear herself talking about this version of herself.

So, on this most recent session, when I asked Mary “What’s been better since we last spoke?” I was completely unsurprised (although still delighted) to hear that ‘Vaccination Day’ had been a breeze.

Mary described a morning where she had noticed that she was calm, composed, able to focus, and even enjoyed the walk. Her son had, as is entirely reasonable, stayed in bed and not noticed any of this! Mary had been the first at the vaccination centre and been completely undisturbed by the bloke hanging around outside warning of blood clots, microchips and god-knows-what else. 

“A really funny thing happened though” Mary said. After she’d had the vaccination the Doctor handed Mary some papers that turned out to have a half-attached staple in them. The staple pricked her finger “I said OW, really loudly, and nearly jumped out of the chair. It made the Doctor jump too! Isn’t that weird?” she said “when I barely felt the needle at all” 

Now, I do know from my Occupational Therapy and NHS work, that this isn’t weird at all. The way humans create pain is pretty reliable. We don’t have any such thing as ‘pain nerves’ or ‘pain receptors’ we have nerves that recognise change (temperature change, pressure change, soft tissue stretch change, chemical change etc.) Our brains use this information to decide if pain would be useful to us. So when a Doctor injects us with a vaccine that we are hopeful will keep us well, and return some fun to our lives, it registers the needle and says “No need to panic, we were expecting this… it’s all fine, carry on” When we receive almost identical information, having been unexpectedly speared by a staple, it says “Holy moly… what on earth is that, it might be deadly, better create lots of pain” Essentially to make sure we pay attention and check!

Whilst I was thinking about this Mary carried on “I suppose” she said “you kind of get what you’re looking for. I was expecting to be injected and I’d already practised in my head that it’d be fine… and actually” she continued without me needing to ask anything at all “my whole day was a bit like that. It’s not like I woke up thinking, ‘I must do this and I must do that’ like I’d talked about with you, but it just kept popping into my head. I noticed when the good stuff happened.” She paused for a second “I suppose” she said (and although this was a phone conversation I could definitely hear a wry smile in her voice) “If you’re expecting it to be fine, there’s at least half a chance it might be!”

I’m expecting my clients to have strengths and resiliencies that are useful for them, and if I’m expecting that, there’s at least half a chance we might both notice them. Wise woman that Mary!

(* This story is written with my client’s consent. ‘Mary’ is not her real name)


If you feel like you’ve lost confidence and are struggling with anxiety or low mood, pop me a message, or book a free first appointment for a chat about it. I’d be happy to talk.

Same if you’re struggling with chronic pain. It’s an area I work in often.

If you do have a needle phobia, it can be surprisingly easy to sort out. My lovely colleague Hannah specialises in this.

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