Five years ago, I was seeing patients in a small hospital in the south of Italy, an area with some degree of social depression, where the father was still the undisputed chief in most families. In the outpatient department, I saw a nice young man, 22 years old, with diarrhoea and rectal bleeding. I thought he might have ulcerative colitis and, as a routine, I asked him to draw his family, which I new was quite numerous. Honestly, the patient looked like a quite relaxed chap, and I did not suspect any clear psychosomatic involvement. However, as the Draw-the-Family-test may help to provide evidence of some occult psychological disorder, I decided to ask the patient to do it. He drew the components of his family and put his father in first place, which, in that area of Italy, as I said, was not surprising at all. Moreover, the father appeared big and tall, with long feet. The patient drew himself just beside the father, on his left, very close to him. Well, nothing remarkable, I must say. Nevertheless, as I used to do when dealing with suspected IBD cases, I showed the drawing to our psychologist when I was back in Rome. She looked at it and, suddenly, her face changed expression, and she said: "Have you seen the father's left foot? It looks like a big penis!" Well, I must say that I was rather skeptical about that, and I thought, once again, that sometimes psychologists and psychiatrists are more crazy than their patients. "Did you ask him if he has been a victim of abuse, maybe when he was a child? Did you ask him deeply about the relationship with his father?" "Not too much", I said. "Well, OK, I will do it, even if I feel that this time you are wrong. It seems to me a rather happy family".
Needless to say, when I saw the patient again after a month, I talked to him for half an hour in the office, keeping his relatives (always numerous when you make consultations in the south) out of the door. Well, the patient, even though reluctant, admitted that he had been physically abused by his father for years and then developed the symptoms of colitis. Now he had left the family to work in another town and was feeling much better. So I had used the drawing to allow him to communicate a nonverbal message. I advised him to look for psychological support, and he markedly improved in a few months.
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