Bear Therapy: A Case Study by David Henson

Preword: I knew I had to try something drastic. My hope is that by publishing my experience in this learned journal, Bear Therapy will become more accepted as a mainstream technique.

Note: No responsibility is assumed by the author or publisher for any injury and/or damage to persons or property.

In my 23 years as a licensed marriage counselor, I had never encountered a couple as intransigent as the Spanglers. Neither of them would accept any blame for their issues or make a serious effort to save their marriage. Yet neither was willing to call it quits. It was as if Mr. Spangler preferred to live in hell as long as his wife were there, too. And vice versa.

Mr. and Mrs. Spangler appeared to have no inclination to discontinue our fruitless relationship. I believe they considered our sessions to be a kind of entertainment. I was tempted more than once to terminate my services, but professional pride and concern with getting a reputation as a quitter stopped me. So every Tuesday at six in the evening, the three of us went through the motions.

After nearly a year, I knew it was time to try something radical.

When I introduced the topic of a new therapy that was “a bit extreme, but interesting,” Mr. and Mrs. Spangler looked at each other and shrugged. It was as much commitment as I’d seen from either of them in months. I gave them papers to sign and excused myself.

The Spanglers sat up in their chairs when I returned leading the huge brown bear into the session room. I had their attention. At least Benjamin did. Even more so when he rose up on his hind legs and sniffed the air.

I explained to the Spanglers how bears can pick up the scent of a caribou 10 miles away. Mr. Spangler disagreed, saying 15 miles. Not to be outdone, Mrs. Spangler insisted it was 20.

I informed the querulous couple that Benjamin had been trained to smell the change in a person’s adrenal secretions when they lie or say something disingenuous or hurtful.

Mr. Spangler asked what would happen when his wife was dishonest again. Benjamin growled.

Mrs. Spangler remarked that perhaps this special therapy wasn’t such a good idea after all. Benjamin didn’t react.

I reminded the Spanglers that they had already signed the consent forms and made my exit, locking them in the session room with Benjamin.

From my office next door, I heard the couple bickering, shouting and sobbing. Benjamin growled most of the time. Then his roar rattled the framed diplomas on my office wall. After that … dead silence.

I waited a few minutes then returned to the session room. I opened the door and peeked inside, knowing that, one way or another, I would have the pleasure of working with a new couple next Tuesday at six.

Did Benjamin eat Mr. and Mrs. Spangler? Did the bear fix their marriage?

Neither, of course. To expect those outcomes would be unrealistic, even absurd. But I knew the Spanglers, like any couple, would never want to return to a counselor who had locked them in a room with a grizzly. The desired result had been achieved.

This new approach isn’t for all psychologists. It requires special training, equipment and facilities. But the technique can be useful in the right circumstances, particularly when dealing with intractable patients.

Afterword: I believe the approach can be efficacious in counseling disciplines in addition to marriage therapy, and, in fact, beyond the field of psychology. Think lawyers, financial advisers, extended car warranty sales personnel.

I even can envision a future where variations of Ursidae-based techniques could prove invaluable in dealing with politicians who refuse to bow out gracefully.

The sky is the limit for Bear Therapy.

Respectfully submitted,
Dr. Wedloe Morey — LP, LCSW, LMFT

David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years and now are retired and reside in Illinois. His work has been nominated for a Best of the Net and has appeared in various journals including Moonpark Review, Literally Stories, Bewildering Stories, Flash Fiction Magazine, Fiction on the Web, The Fiction Pool, The Eunoia Review, and Fictive Dream. His website is His Twitter is @annalou8.