First published in Rapport magazine, Issue 47, Spring 2000



Philip Harland

A three-part deconstructivist approach to understanding and working with addictions

alcohol, anger, approval, caffeine, chocolate, cleaning, control, diets, drugs, food, gambling, helping, indebtedness, internet, power, relationship, religion, romance, self-harming, sex, shopping, smoking, sugar, television, therapy, etc. (1)

'Choosing the temporary discomforts of desire over the permanent discomforts of possession' (2) 

"Possession is one with loss." DANTE, 'The Divine Comedy'

Some NLP theorists believe we should be able to move from present state to desired state without crossing too many borders in-between, but addiction is immense and untamed territory, with no reliable map and no easy passage. This present survey has a neuro-linguistic, Grovian and personal bias. It does not claim to be definitive, though anyone who finds themselves confused by the subject of addiction and seeks a way through will, I trust, find it useful. The paper has been divided into three parts, each arranged with a certain logic, a structure that does not completely honour the systemic inter-relatedness of addiction, but does offer a simple approach to getting familiar with its complexity.

Part I 'Violent Pleasures' (Rapport, Autumn 1999) had two sections: 

UNDERSTANDING ADDICTION. Addiction as an underlying systemic condition to which all of us are predisposed and most are susceptible. It included an exercise to help you own your own dependencies, and affirmed the view that addiction is aimed at resolving, or distracting, or coping with, unresolved need.

"Violent pleasures ... are reliefs of pain." (Plato, 'The Republic')


A MODEL OF ADDICTION. Some addictions may feel physical, said this 6-stage model, but all addictions are mental and can be accessed neuro-linguistically (3).

Part II 'Limit of Desires' (Rapport, Winter 1999) had two sections:

"We would have no reason to find fault with the dissolute if the things that produce its pleasures ... were able to teach the limit of desires." (Epicurus, 'Principle Doctrines')

THERAPIST ISSUES. 'Helping' as addictive behaviour; positioning; labelling; knowing yourself; defining; aligning; intervening or interfering.


CLIENT ISSUES. Identifying with the addiction; presenting; deconstructing first statements; modelling and evolving outcomes; duality thinking in addiction.

The material has been compiled from a variety of sources, including my own experience and imagination. A number of people are acknowledged at the end. Others are credited in the text and the notes. All client notes are part-fictionalised to preserve confidentiality.

Part III

'The Physician's Provider'


"Intemperance is the physician's provider." (Publilius Syrus, 'Moral Sayings')

An addiction may be apparent or not. There may be secondary conditions and afflictions underlying the obvious. How can the therapist and client uncover them? How has the client constructed them? Part III proposes specific ways of eliciting information about any addiction, compulsion or dependency, and specific ways of motivating and inaugurating change.

AUDITING FOR X includes an information-activating and preliminary changework model in four frames: person, possession, pattern and preference.

RESOLVING DUALITY outlines seven ways of resolving addictive logic: admitting; third options; negotiating; double-binding; changing the rules; symbolic modelling; converging; allowing.

At the end is a summary of Parts I, II and III in the form of a checklist/cribsheet.


Audit: (originally) a hearing of accounts.
Auditor: one who learns by aural instruction.

Figure 1: The Weekly Audit

Figure 1: The Weekly Audit

The addictive X may or may not be obvious, but has to come from somewhere. It is the result of the structure of the client's experience. The client's complete account of this is unlikely to be available instantly. Some parts may never have been accessed or expressed before. How as auditor-therapist can you assist your instructor?

Stefan is a 31-year old entrepreneur who has come into therapy saying he feels helpless, he's never been able to concentrate, his marriage has fallen apart, and he hates himself. He's constantly distracted. He has to break off to go outside for a cigarette. When he returns, I ask him what he wants. He doesn't know. It might be to stop smoking. I try to elicit a metaphor for his helplessness so that we can work non-cognitively, but he doesn't understand my questions. I try to shift his attention from his present frame into the past, the future, a higher frame, but he has difficulty focussing on anything but the present. Finally I start to ask him very simple questions about the manifestly obvious - where, when, what and how does he smoke?

As we plod painstakingly through the most basic of basic audits of his 20-a-day habit, Stefan begins to reveal more about himself, and eventually confesses to something that has been troubling him for 17 years. Since the age of 14 Stefan has been consumed by a desire for revenge on an uncle who he believes cheated his father out of a multi-million pound business. But what is the underlying compulsion that has fuelled this desire? Several more sessions pass before Stefan can name it. After all he has had years of practice at denying it, diverting it, and depriving it of its dignity. Even now Stefan has difficulty describing the addiction that underlies his nicotine dependency. His voice drops. "It's anger. It's shameful, it's shocking. It's just not me. I've never lifted a finger against anyone." At the end of a difficult session he is able to say, "I've never acknowledged my anger before, it's never been heard. It's not necessarily bad in itself. I'm not really a bad person." His face is softer, and for the first time since we met the words aren't tumbling out of him like scared rabbits.

After my very basic audit of Stefan's smoking I decided to compile a slightly more sophisticated set of questions that I could use to explore any dependency, and I shall go into these in a moment. In Stefan's case the audit helped him identify smoking as an idiosyncratic distraction to a feeling of severe helplessness. (See figure 2)

Figure 2: No smoke without fire.

Figure 2: No smoke without fire.

The helplessness resulted from the lack of resolution of a barely expressed desire for revenge. The desire concealed a further layer of frustration at the lack of resolution of an out-of-awareness addiction to another deeply disturbing feeling - anger.

Every case will be different. Stefan went on to reveal a deeper account of childhood abandonment that had a direct structural relationship to his addictions. A client who has never sifted through the history of X might uncover many layers. Some addictions are obscured by unwanted behaviours. Some underlie secondary dependencies. Where do you begin?


You can only start with what's there. Outcome forming (see Parts I and II) may be an indispensable induction into changework, but as we saw with Stefan the ability to form an outcome is not dependent on the client's ability to clearly articulate what they want at the start. Nor do they have to be able to name their particular X.

One of my clients almost raced into the room for her first session crying, "I'm running round in circles." Another crept in, sat hunched up, and muttered, "There's like a wall around me." Metaphors of parturient potential such as these invite another kind of induction: the gentle intervention of the Grovian midwife's 'And what would you like to have happen?'; a clean, outcome-eliciting question that almost without exception puts the client in intuitive control of their own process from the start. The exception is the occasional client who will ask, "Do you mean now or generally?" To which I invariably answer "Yes." (4)

However not all clients respond readily to the symbolic modelling of Grovian (or Tompkins and Lawlian) process - or, indeed, to psychoanalysis, hypnosis or crystal-gazing - so at the start it's nice to have choice. If the client is in a generalised stuck state I might use the conversational frames of the 'mirror-model' to help loosen it. (5) If addiction is obvious or indicated I will elicit information using the questionnaire that follows. Often during this process the client will spontaneously generate a metaphor for their problem or its solution, and we will develop that on the spot or return to it later.

In any case, every client has to progress through a certain self-reflective sequence before change can occur.


There are at least twenty separate but intimately related incremental changes for a client's bodymind system to make before true change can take effect:

(1st) naming X (the unwanted addiction, pattern or behaviour)
(2nd) acknowledging it rather than denying its reality
(3rd) accepting rather than hating it
(4th) thanking it for having had an honourable intention for them
(5th) blessing it for its attempts to secure that intention
(6th) loving it for its part in the survival of the whole
(7th) loving the whole for accomodating X
(8th) understanding that X is now out of date
(9th) discovering X's underlying need for the whole.

If the last step reveals a hitherto unacknowledged underlying addiction (another X), the client must return to step 1 . If not, continue to

(10th) desiring to bring the whole up-to-date
(11th) allowing outside support on the road to self-reliance
(12th) being willing to change beliefs and behaviour to that end
(13th) intending to change.

Each of these critical transitions supports the crucial

(14th) deciding to change
(15th) committing to change
(16th) facing reality and pain
(17th) learning new life skills
(18th) monitoring the changes
(19th) testing them
(20th) maintaining them.

Those who work their way through this sequence are not merely ridding themselves of an unwanted addiction, of course, but improving their whole lives.


I remind myself that information is for the client, not the therapist. As a therapist I don't have to 'understand' information to activate it effectively.

"As soon as you start asking questions you start loosening stuckness." (Alistair Rhind)

"If you can reflect a client's problem undistorted, the client is relieved of the responsibility of holding it alone. The problem shifts and the system will spontaneously reorganize." (Charles Faulkner)

Richard Bandler once said that therapy is 95% information gathering and 5% changework. It's as true of NLP as it is of any model of therapy. It takes time for the bodymind to unlearn a learned addiction. There's no rush to technique.

Knowledge itself becomes the catalyst of change. As new information, or the recognition of existing information, feeds back into the client's system, the system will reorganize. (6)

The questionnaire that follows is designed to help addictive, compulsive or dependent clients account for, get to know and trust their own process. It is a participatory audit that takes the client into three frames of their present and past experience (person, possession and pattern) and one future frame (preference). Therapist and client co-model the client's addictive construct in each frame in such a way that deconstruction and change are inevitable.

"Self-reflective questioning can effectively assist someone to completely reorganize their cognitive/conceptual structure, with the ripple effect influencing 'deeper' organizing metaphors, embodied experience and neuro-chemical processes." (James Lawley)

You don't have to plough through every question in all four frames. The moment for a particular process intervention might occur at any time. But each question is a reflective intervention in its own right, and given the politics of self-generated change the distinct reappearance of patterns in response to different kinds of question will have its own re-educative effect on the client. As you work through these frames I recommend you embrace the obvious, welcome repetition, and bear in mind that any question could be the key. (7)

The presupposition of this audit is the client's need to separate internal state (+ve or -ve) from external X, so that one is not in thrall to the other. 'X' stands for the addiction, compulsion or dependency, or for the condition from which the addiction may emerge. 'You' or 'client' stands for the client or, if you care to take the Part I exercise in owning your own dependencies further, yourself.


How much of the client has been involved in the addiction? - 13 questions based on levels of human experience (8)

Client resources are available at each level. An intervention at each will support the client who needs to go one step at a time and experience the effect of small changes before making bigger ones. An intervention at a higher level will normally include and have a consequential effect on those below.

Primary level (self interacting with environment)


What has been the general context of [X] for you? And specifically?

X has not existed in isolation. In what surroundings and with whom did X manifest itself? Home, work, school, alone, social situations, significant relationships, casual relationships?


Were there influences outside yourself?

In the environment, society, family, peer pressure, cultural expectation, advertising, availability of resources (wealth etc), non-availability (poverty etc).


What help is available or possible for you in [Q1 & Q2 contexts]?


What specifically may you change in [Q1 & Q2 contexts] so that they're more helpful?


What specifically have you done in relation to [X]? And specifically how?

Discounting for the moment any interconnection with other levels of experience, what did you actually do that caused the problem? The original error, after all, is to have done X because of feeling bad. (9)


What may you actually do or do differently for change?

Standard NLP 'swish' pattern may be used to change an unwanted behaviour. Requires client to identify the specific 'cue' behaviour. What happened just before [you did X]? Client works on this moment to generate a compelling alternative behaviour to the learned response. (10)


Which of your skills/capabilities/resources/strategies enabled [X]?

The assumption is that application and energy have been required, and in rehearsing these the client will be primed for answering the next question.


Which of your skills/capabilities/resources/strategies will enable [X] to change?

An appeal to client creativity. How can [Q7 answers] crossover into [Q8 territory]? What further skills etc may be helpful? Personal state control can be taught using NLP anchoring, submodality shift, stimulus-response pattern change, and various relaxation, breathing and self-hypnosis techniques.

Secondary level (beliefs about self)


What beliefs or values did you have that supported [X]?

Addictive beliefs may set up the system: 'I'm weak'; 'I thought I didn't need people'; 'I believed I didn't have to face up to anything I didn't want to'. Everday beliefs keep the system going: 'I needed to enjoy life/fit in with other people/be creative/do my own thing', etc. A particularly invidious belief is the one that goes 'I can't stop X because your therapy isn't working'. You may be able to nip that one in the bud at the start by not appealing to the weaker rational aspect of the client that wants to stop, but by siding with the dominant addictive aspect that is probably running the show (and doesn't expect appreciation).


What beliefs/values do you have or may you rediscover to support change?

Beliefs: NLP restructuring/reimprinting processes can help the client update old beliefs or establish a new belief system. (11)

Values: client arrange in a hierarchy, identify if any need to be higher to more effectively support change; sub-modality work to make the value more compelling. (12)


Had you identified yourself with [X]? With being a/n [X]?

In addiction there's usually a struggle between core self and addictive self. See Part II Client Issues for more about identifying with X.


What sense of yourself do you have that is more than your [X behaviour/ feelings]?

"I am the sky and my emotions are the clouds." (TS Eliot). We can observe our shifting behaviour and observe our changing emotions. We can observe ourselves observing them. We can see X as an aspect of ourselves, not the whole. We can step outside ourselves to see what`s going on.

My client Nick is a journalist. He says, "I am a smoker." He has an image of himself with his designer accoutrements (branded pack, lighter, mobile phone) and social habits (calling at the corner shop, meeting friends in the wine bar). Tokens of belonging, he acknowledges. It takes Nick a while to realize that being 'a smoker' isn't his authentic self. And he has to honour, not despise, the old Nick before moving on. First he will get to say, "I am an ex-smoker". And much later, "I am a guy who used to smoke." (13)

Tertiary level (beliefs beyond self)

Jung reckoned that addictive behaviour is a distorted search for a spiritual experience. Others believe a spiritual disease or deficit is responsible for the complete egocentricity displayed by some addicts.


What is important to you beyond yourself?

What is more important to you than that?

A sense of community, spirituality, connectedness? Continue asking the follow-up question until a core value / mission in life / place of belonging in the process of the universe is reached. (14) The bigger picture, higher plane or deeper level is unlikely to include X. The spiritual or communal component of some treatment programmes can be of great benefit to addicts who have never connected to anything greater than themselves.

I've been working with a middle-aged bachelor, Gerald, who was an habitual churchgoer until his mother died. Gerald experiences feelings of cruel desertion by God, has given up the church andbecome addicted to therapy instead. It takes me a while to realize the extent of his dependency. As he talks about his doctor, psychiatrist, social worker, solicitor, physiotherapist, reflexologist, rheumatologist, solicitor, home-help and bereavement counsellor, I begin to realize that he hasn't seen all these people over the past year or two, but in the previous couple of weeks. Gerald eventually generates a healing metaphor for his addiction. He calls it (what else?) 'the love of God'. Not the God, of course - he is well disillusioned with the standard deity - but his personal version. He takes this healing metaphor to his overwhelming need for help and claims to be feeling a bit better, but I'm not sure whether he has simply swapped one set of dependencies for another (again). Anyway, he stops coming to see me.


What has been the nature of the client's attachment to the addiction?
12 questions derived from characteristic sorting principles and 'loss of control' checks


Has [X] helped you to avoid or evade something?

Addiction almost always has its roots in the avoidance of something. It might be the spectre of isolation and alienation that haunts the human condition, it could simply be feelings of loneliness or inadequacy.


How may [Q14 answer] be faced now to your benefit?


Has [X] sustained a special need for you?

What has [X] wanted for you?

Something unique to the client. May have been a means of giving the illusion of stability, support, security, specialness, power etc.


What other kinds of [security/specialness/power etc] are available or may be found that don`t have the disadvantages of [X]?

In what other ways may [X]'s need for you be met?

NLP's 6-step reframe is a powerful technique to help someone who wants to change an old behaviour hold on to its benefits - being able to relax, express themselves, have a sense of belonging, etc - while ridding themselves of its disbenefits. (15)


Has [X] helped your sense of belonging?

Has [X] helped you separate from others?

No assumption here that 'belonging' or 'separate' are desirable or undesirable, or that one state necessarily excludes the other. Depends entirely on the context and circumstance.


What more beneficial ways of belonging/separating are available to you or may you find?

NLP 'perceptual positions' will help a client appreciate a situation from the embodied point of view of associated others ... take the learnings from that into the perception of an objective observer ... and take the learnings from other and observer back into a newly embodied sense of self. (16)


Has [X] been a habit?

How many [X occasions] were actually enjoyable?

Many habitual smokers and drinkers don`t notice how much or when they consume. A habit may feed on itself, and the behaviour become an inadvertent rule rather than the deliberate exception.

In Irena's first session we go through a typical day for her - cigarette #1 on waking, #2 after breakfast, #3 walking to the underground, etc. I ask her which cigarettes are the least enjoyable. It's the first time she has considered it. She realizes that the taste of the first one is pretty awful. By the second session she has cut this one out. She then calculates that only the first quarter of the second cigarette gives her what she wants. But it's not for another three weeks that the real reason Irena has come for counselling reveals itself: she's scared of change. She didn't realize this until she tried to stop smoking She wants to stop only when it feels safe to stop. Safety and security are deeper issues for her than smoking. Well, her outcome will evolve at the pace that feels right for her.


Was there another need we haven't identified that [X] met?

For example, if the pleasure associated with X has begun to fade, the client may be doing more X in an attempt to escape from the problem of diminishing returns. Or the client may deny another need, or not know it consciously. It may become available in a hypnotic state.

And if you suspect loss of control or a very late stage of addiction:


Have you blamed others for your [X]?


Have others withdrawn from you saying they had to protect themselves?


Have you lied about [X] in spite of promises to quit or cut down?


Has [X] been a ritual?

A habit may only be at stage 3 or 4 of the 6-stage model (see Part I). A ritual is likely to be at stage 5, the stage before breakdown, though people may maintain themselves short of breakdown for years. It is at the ritual stage that alcoholics may be hiding bottles, anorexics secretly starving themselves, gamblers operating clandestine accounts, drug addicts stealing. Rituals that weaken their links with others and strengthen their sense of possession by the object of the ritual.



How have client life patterns related to unconscious patterns around the addiction?
5 questions based on the structure and organization of experience

"The addiction is not the addictive substance, it is not even the particular sensations, perceptions,behaviours and beliefs experienced by the addict, it is the organization of the relationships between those experiences which mean the pattern repeats over and over."

(Penny Tompkins and James Lawley) (17)


Has it seemed as if a bad feeling gave rise to your desire [to/for X]?

The emotional --> physical connective pattern. A few clients will have enough insight into themselves and their behaviour to be able to acknowledge these bodymind signals. As they learn to 'listen to their bodies' for information about their minds, they have to learn to interpret what they hear. A once-addictive bodymind in recovery is making constant adjustments to radically different patterns and conditions, and might easily mistake an uncomfortable feeling related to normal stress as a craving for X. The client may need to stop and ask themselves basic questions: Am I hungry? Angry? Frustrated? Tired?


has [doing X] seemed to make you feel better?

The physical --> emotional pattern. See the Part I model. Many substance-dependent clients will perceive their addiction this way. Either they haven't the insight yet to make the emotional --> physical connection, or it could be simple conditioning: physical event associated with pleasurable situation prompts learned response in the brain. It may only be a certain cue in the situation that gives the high. Inhaling cigarette smoke (X) may be the only time the client breathes fully (+ive state). Chocolate (X) often has strong cultural associations with gifts or treats (+ive state). Alcohol or coffee (X) may be associated with socialising (+ve state). The addict learns to identify X with a high for which credit is due elsewhere. Changing the pattern means separating out information going into the brain in such a way that an existing unwanted pattern is not reinforced.


What has been the sequence of events that linked your [+ve or -ve] state of mind to [X]? How specifically were you making the link?

I haven't yet met a client yet who with step-by-step support couldn't 'freeze frame' a typical moment and analyse their strategy - what led up to the moment and what happened after.


How may you make a more beneficial connection?

There are four possible places to work (see figure 3): at the link between brain event and associated feeling; at the link between feeling and judgment-of-feeling; at the link between judgment-of-feeling and desire for X; and at the link between desire for X and doing X.


Figure 3: Bodymind connections with X.

Figure 3: Bodymind connections with X.

The client`s awareness of the key thought/feeling, or their awareness of the resulting state, can be used to trigger a different behaviour. Relaxation, visualisation and breathing techniques can make time and space at the junction between one event and the next, so that habitual connections aren't triggered automatically. NLP sub-modality, reframing and anchoring processes may help the client deconstruct their internal representation of the unwanted connection and reconstruct it more usefully.

Jane is a 28-year old actress possessed by anger. When something doesn't go right for her, she explodes. When she analyses her strategy for anger, it goes something like:

outside event internal bad feeling irritation physical tremors frustration anger verbal or physical explosion

I ask her to access (a mild version of) her anger and to explore the physical tremors. She stands up and walks around. They seem to centre on her right foot. She says, "I feel just like stamping my foot and going 'Poo!`" She laughs. She is embarrassed. Suddenly she has a memory of herself as a 3-year old, being restrained by her mother in a shop when all she wants to do is run off and look at toys. With her little right foot she stamps on her mother`s foot in a moment of pique. Adult Jane is dismayed by the memory, but having deconstructed it she builds a new sequence using the feeling in her foot as a cue to 'step back` from a potentially frustrating situation and re-assess. The direct, unconscious link with anger is broken.

The brain is a selective recognition system. It learns to sensitise itself to particular stimuli from the outside world so that when present events remind us of similar events in the past we have ready-made ways of responding. Unfortunately the brain doesn't readily distinguish whether the responses are appropriate to present needs. The more information we have about our habitual patterns for processing information and acting on it, the better we can design and implement new strategies.


What position in the family were you?

What was your experience of that?

How did that contribute to your strengths?

To your vulnerabilities? What do you learn from that?

A few over-generalisations: first-borns may experience expectations of high achievement and become workaholics; middle children drawn to peer groups may become involved in drug abuse; last children if loners may seek sexual promiscuity as a substitute for love, or if over-protected may be prone to anxiety and phobias. Family patterns of expectation and behaviour will affect adult patterns of addiction and recovery.


Do you want to make your own choices about how you [quit or control X] or do you prefer having rules for yourself to follow?

You want the client to discover if they have followed an habitually conformist pattern without presupposing it would be the best way for them to deal with their addiction in the longer term. Rule-followers may be addicted to outside authority, whereas they almost certainly want to develop a sense of their own internal authority (which may or may not include self-generated rules). There are plenty of addiction programmes - behavioural techniques, 12-step rituals - for rule-followers. Own-choice clients may simply want the therapist to track them. In-betweeners may want support to help them make their choices more readily.

I know that Brian (the client with an alcohol and depression problem in Part II), is getting somewhere when he corrects me for the first time. It is his fifth session and I have fallen into the trap of thinking I know him. I venture a glib interpretation of some behaviour. "No, it`s not like that!" he blurts out. He blushes. He apologises. It is the first time Brian has not been a 'good client'. Years ago he had learnt to be a 'good son' to appease an abusive father, who not surprisingly also had a problem with drink. Brian went on to became a 'good pupil' who didn`t do too well at school. A 'good friend' who couldn't sustain a relationship. And a 'good worker' who eventually got the sack because of his alcoholism. Maybe I should have provoked Brian into disagreeing with me earlier (or is that me trying to be 'good therapist'?). From the moment he stops deferring to me and listens to his own voice, he begins to make progress.



What choices does the client have?
5 questions to monitor change

Addiction is having no choice. Change means knowing there is choice. The questions in this frame try not to presuppose a 'right' choice. This is an activating-for-change, not directionalising-for-change, model. A client still has to do what a client has to do. The questions presuppose only that the client wishes to do something about X. These are not simple choices. Are you ready to change?


Can you choose to [X] or [not-X] each time?

Every day we do something with the potential to provoke our one-time dependencies. Sitting down to eat. Walking past our favourite pub. Renewing our subscription to an organization we relied upon once for status or self-affirmation. Of course if there is an infinite number of choices between X and not-X polarities (see Resolving Duality below), this may explain why so many people find it easy to slip back into addiction. A way out of this paradox - if polarities have an infinite number of midpoint choices between them, how can X or not-X exist at all? - is not to avoid responsibility and allow external events to move us, but to recognize our personal thresholds: our sense of the X or not-X threshold choices that uniquely predispose us towards one hypothetical endpoint or the other.


Do you wish to fully expand your choices to include the possibility of [X behaviour], or to limit your choices only to [not-X behaviour]?

We may need to prove to ourselves that we can resist X before being ready to choose between X and not-X. And these X and not-X choices have to be taken every time. We live in an addictive society. (18)


Can you choose to avoid any desire for [X] and risk it being triggered unexpectedly, or to allow the desire without thinking you have to act on it?

The state of unease associated with choice is known to every human being alive. For some people having choice means having to choose, which they can only do if they know the 'right' choice first. Whereas having choice is simply that. It confers freedom because it doesn't have to be chosen. And if you happen to believe that the act of choosing results in the removal of choice: come off it, there are always more choices!


Will you choose the temporary discomforts of desire over the permanent discomforts of possession?

The question accepts that one state must take precedence over the other in a situation where we cannot exist in both. It also acknowledges the unlikelihood of achieving the resolution of all unresolved need in one's life overnight, and contains the barest of hints that desire might be a preferable discomfort (as a state that waxes and wanes) to possession (which could be permanent disaster). As therapist you could accompany your client on a walk down two different timelines into the future to help them experience both desire and possession now. And it is still their choice.

The final question in this audit may also (in Grovian terms at least) be the first; may be asked at any point of departure in-between; and is totally self-reflective:


And what would you like to have happen?

Asking it in this frame does not imply having to make difficult choices in order to answer it. The answer might simply be to expand choice. And in so doing dispel anxiety and resolve duality - the dichotomous choice between quitting or continuing - the source of addictive paradox.


Figure 4: We shall never understand anything until we have found some contradiction.

Figure 4: "We shall never understand anything until we have found some contradiction." (Niels Bohr)

Towards the end of Part II we attempted to deconstruct the typically addictive bind

I can't give up X and I must give up X.

Each half of this statement is perfectly feasible, yet together they become somehow unsolvable. A client in this state of irresolution is in a self-made prison of paradox. Is our two-handedness part of the problem? "On the one hand this ... on the other hand that ..." Or our mind-body split? "My head tells me this ... my heart ..."

The answer is not to be found within our reductionist tradition of dualism, which would have us believe that categories of mind and body, matter and consciousness, good and evil, can't and must, solution and problem, and all such dualities, are mutually exclusive. To expose this falsity and give ourselves room for manoeuvre we have to open up some of the restrictive, addictive, mind-languaging limitations we impose on ourselves. Here are seven ways of doing this. Some might seem more conceptual than practical, but to my mind once you have accepted the conceptual case each becomes a purely practical choice.

1. Admitting third options

In the quantum domain it is generally accepted nowadays that light behaves as both wave and particle at the same time. We are learning that the universe is more subtle and multiple than conventional 'either-or' limits have allowed. Our imaginations have some catching up to do.

The mind-binds of duality thinking have to admit third options. Not simply, note, a third option. MaoTse-Tung optimistically declared the dialectical contradiction of things 'the law of the unity of opposites' - a revolutionary reframe that turned the dyadic thinking of the day ('opposites') on its head but produced only one alternative ('unity'), and what's more made it an absolute ('the law'). OK as far as it went, but a pretty limited third option.

Examples of more flexible triadic thinking from psychotherapy are the three-legged victim-persecutor-rescuer codependency, the transactional analysis drama triangle of child-parent-adult, and NLP's self-other-observer perceptual positions. (19) (See figure 5)


Figure 5: Triadic thinking in psychotherapy

Figure 5 Triadic thinking in psychotherapy

Useful staging posts on the road to open awareness, but not yet ends in themselves. Victim-persecutor-rescuer need more choices. Child-parent-adult need a few more relations. Self-other-observer benefit from further community, systemic, universal or spiritual (to name but a few) perceptual positions.

Mathematician and phisosopher Bart Kosko, author of Fuzzy Thinking, summed it up as 'Paradox at endpoints, resolution at midpoints'. I shall add four words, 'an infinite number of', to 'midpoints'. This came to me courtesy of a City trader addicted to cocaine, a client who discovered that in his problem pattern (too many decisions, too little time) lay also his salvation (neither to go mad nor to opt out - the duality choice - but to allow and enjoy life's drug-free infinite variety). He recognised he had an infinite number of third options.

2. Negotiating

Encouraging conflicting endpoints to negotiate is just one of those. NLP has powerful techniques for moderating the conspicuously incompatible elements of a bind ('on the one hand this, on the other hand that...'). Bandler and Grinder's version of polarity process exaggerates and fully expresses the two elements, achieves solid contact between them, and from a meta-position encourages them to interact. The polarities can be coached to combine into a third thing, or to negotiate how best to make use of each other's skills.

A similar principle lies behind internal conflict resolution (or 'visual squash'), which John McWhirter favours for resolving the dilemma of a client who can't choose between two more or less static alternatives, though not for resolving the dilemma of a choice between two opposing dynamic movements or directions, for which John has developed a technique he calls 'hemisphere integration'. (20)

3. Double-binding

A simple bind could be characterised as "I can't decide between A and B." The A-B duality may be resolved by reframing the choice, ignoring it or tossing a coin. But the client who says "I can't decide between A and B because I'm stupid" is in a self-induced double-bind. The first bind ('I can't decide') is now held in place by a higher level second bind ('I'm stupid').

The way an addict languages such a dilemma to themselves - "If I continue smoking I'll die young, but if I stop smoking I'll go mad" - means that whichever choice they make, they've had it. You might want to challenge the logic of their complex equivalence ('How does stopping smoking mean going mad?'), but if the belief is strongly held it will resist any effete attempts at linguistic deconstruction. Penny Tompkins notes that a second bind may be out of the client's awareness, an unconscious fear that giving up X could precipitate something worse, and quotes the case of an unhappily married alcoholic who can't give up drinking because of an unconscious belief that if he gets better and is true to himself he will have to leave his wife and separate from his children.

Counter (therapeutic) double-binding is an art form. It depends on the creative intuition of a moment in the context of the therapeutic relationship as a whole. 'As you stop drinking would you like to do it now or over the next two weeks?' is a relatively simple example. But to fully appreciate Milton Erickson's classic attempt at directing a client to become autonomous with the injunction "Disobey me!", we have to imagine the extent of the therapist's rapport with his client and the history of the client's lifetime struggle with self-assertion.

Counter double-binding is about confounding client logic by working within the client's own rules. A subject all of itself (read Bateson, Rossi, Haley, Palazzoli, Laing et al), so I'll confine myself to one aspect here: to have the fullest possible chance of inducing change it needs to contain an incentive for resolving the conflict between the X and and not-X duality.

Putting the client into paradox can provide that incentive. "The nearer you are to paradox the nearer you are to healing," wrote Robert Dilts. A paradox is something seemingly self-contradictory or absurd, yet possibly well-founded or true (OED). Note that 'seemingly', 'or', 'yet' and 'possibly': the parodoxical intent is to confuse the left brain so that the right rewrites the rules - which can only be read by the left! If you find this confusing, you'll have some idea how a client in paradox feels. This healing isn't going to be effortless!

A paradoxical intervention designed by Pamela Gawler-Wright from work by Ian McDermott involves eliciting and listing all the advantages the client gains from their addictive behaviour (X), and all the positive values those advantages represent. When the list is complete, the therapist conscientiously reiterates everything the client has identified - taste, fun, sociability, self-affirmation, etc - and asks two further questions:

"And X gives you all these things?"
says the client.
"And would you like more of all these?"
"Yes!" says the client (they're pretty unlikely to say no).
"Then all you have to do is more X!" exclaims the therapist.

For a brief moment the client's survival is threatened. The system has to make sense of this unexpected absurdity before it can feel OK again. The therapist has sprung a therapeutic trap, designed to create a trance in the client and an internal dissembling of the duality. 'Uh? If I do more X, I benefit. How's that work? I thought I said I wanted to stop X. So if I refuse to do X, I benefit. Do I? How? How can I get the benefits of that list of good things I get from X without doing X?' A question only the client can answer.

4. Changing the rules

Every way of resolving duality is a way of changing the rules of the game. Mao's 'unity of opposites' rewrote a rule of philosophy that said 'opposites are disunified'.

Duality thinking has a simple, all-inclusive rule that says, 'A excludes B'. Thus admitting third options changes a corollary that says 'there is only A and B' to 'there is a lot more than A and B'. And negotiating changes an inference that says 'either A or B must win' to 'A and B can work together so that neither loses'.

Paradoxicalising changes a cultural rule that says 'therapists help their clients' to one that says 'you have to work this out for yourself'. It arouses the system's tendency to homeostasis through a critical change in the client's bodymind comfort level. The system must resolve the reversal before it can experience stability again. (21)

Double-binds and paradox continue to play the duality game by its own rule of two. As does polarity therapy, which restricts the conflict to two extreme parts of ourselves. Yet as anyone who has attended a Virginia Satir-inspired 'parts party' will attest, we can all come up with half a dozen or more aspects of personality that can be coached to have an ameliorating effect on each other or on the self as a whole.

When the rules don't produce a solution, we have to transcend them. The riddle of the Gordian knot inspired a certain creativity in Alexander the Great. It had been prophesied that whoever should loosen this ingenious knot would be the ruler of all Asia. Many people tried to unravel it before Alexander came along, took out his sword and cut the knot in two. He included and transcended a generally accepted rule about how knots should be loosened.

5. Symbolic modelling

In terms of the therapeutic process Lawley and Tompkins call any movement to third options 'transcending the logic of the bind'. Which changes a rule that says 'binds require logic' to 'logic is not all they need', and another implying 'solutions are earthbound' to 'solutions have no limits'.

Symbolic co-modelling of the bind allows the client to develop and transform the bind at the interface between the conscious and non-conscious mind. Which changes a rule that says 'people change cognitively or behaviourally or unconsciously (or miraculously) or with many years of analysis'. For many clients the construction of a metaphor landscape becomes a necessary context for the metamorphosis of binds which cannot be resolved within their own apparent logic. 'Logic', after all, is a cognitive construct - a way of organising perplexing multi-dimensional territory into easy-reference, two-dimensional maps.

Moving out of two-dimensional duality into multi-dimensional metaphor is a way of honouring complexity without sacrificing clarity. The client's meta-phora (Greek 'change' + 'conveyor' = 'transfer') can carry a substantial volume of information, including experience of trauma, aggregated into a more accessible and potentially more transmutable form. (See figure 6)

Figure 6: Honouring complexity without sacrificing clarity.

Figure 6: Honouring complexity without sacrificing clarity.

In Part II we met Simon, a 29-year old computer wizard addicted to overwork. "I can't stop working and I must stop working," he said. A simple but highly effective double-bind. How does he go about resolving it? Over several sessions of metaphor therapy he develops the symbol of a twisted cord, which for Simon represents a way he is both dividing and combining himself. His double-bind could now be defined as a paradox - something seemingly self- contradictory yet possibly true. This paradox confirms Simon's belief in the insolvability of his dilemma - how can he be both dividing and combining himself?

In a further session Simon remembers the extreme difficulty he had as a seven-year-old, desperately trying to sever a gifted self who was intellectually superior to his peers from a social self who ached to associate with them. His rule as child had been 'you can't have the best of both worlds'. Over the years he had codified this into 'doing two contradictory things is impossible'.

After several more sessions Simon comes up with a change to this rule. Instead of trying to both divide and combine himself (impossible), he realizes he can do either (allowing choice). His new rule simply says, 'having to do two contradictory things is no longer the rule'! He has transcended the apparent logic of his presentation of the problem. And that may be enough. However I wonder whether this is only a sideways change - the translation of one duality into another rather than its transformation into a different thing altogether. Meanwhile the shift at least allows him to review the old pattern from a new perspective. As his work continues I have a suspicion there may be more 'twists' in the plot before the drama finds resolution, but symbolic modelling of the conflict has allowed the theme to become clearer.

6. Converging

A principle of convergence changes a rule that says 'different things come from separate places' into 'apparently different things may come from the same place'. I learnt this fascinating way of resolving duality from Sid Jacobson. Say the client`s dilemma is 'I must stop smoking and I can't stop smoking`. (See figure 7) The client is asked 'What led to ...?'
Figure 7: The common imprint of duality.
Figure 7: The common imprint of duality.

What led Nick, my journalist client, to 'Must smoke' was 'Smoking'. Asked what led to 'smoking', he identified 'Wanting to smoke`. Tracking back further took him to 'A combination of taste and opportunity`. Further back still he arrived at 'Kissing a girl in a cowshed in Cumbria`.

Quite separately he tracked the other strand of his duality. What led him to 'Must not smoke` was 'Wanting to feel healthier`. Before that 'Breathing freely`. Which came from 'Walking and climbing`. Which was prompted by (you probably guessed) 'Kissing a girl in a cowshed in Cumbria`.

Nick's first adolescent experience of sex, or more accurately his memory of that experience, had become entangled in his mind with a positive anchor for smoking. The Part I neuro-biological model of addiction will give you an idea of how this can happen. Freudians may offer another interpretation. Make of this exercise in convergence what you will (and it points to the highly idiosyncratic nature of common imprints and the near-impossibility of predicting them), but in half an hour Nick had information about his addiction that might otherwise have been hidden forever. Probably in the cowshed.

7. Allowing

When it comes to resolving duality perhaps the simplest way - and thus, for some, hardest of all - is just to allow it. Allowing changes a rule many people have that says, 'everything worthwhile is a result of struggle'.

Simon has already translated his perception of the combining/dividing bind from the impossible ('I cannot both combine and divide myself at the same time') to the feasible ('I can do either'). My sense of his process is that he hasn't yet transcended the logic. He's still playing the duality game by its own rule of two, believing he has to be one thing or the other. At the end of session 15 he makes what seems to a qualitatively different shift. Cognitively it sounds very obvious when he says it, but in the context of the emotionally charged patterns of Simon's addiction to work, which had made him quite miserable, I recognise its potential for transforming his whole way of being in the world: "I can be happier if I just allow the combining and dividing," he says. "Being a part of ordinary society while enjoying my own special talents. I will be happier as I allow them. Yes, this sits well."

I see him embodying the learning as he settles in his chair. He just looks more comfortable."What kind of allow?" I ask. "Well, to allow dividing and combining is not the same as embracing them - I'm not giving in to either. And I'm not fighting them. I'm just, you know, allowing them." I reckon from his beatific expression that he is probably transcending them.

Simon is happy enough with the new pattern he has created, but in the next session goes further. He decides that 'allowing' is just one option: the third angle of a 'fighting/giving in/allowing' triangle. If you remember Kosko's 'paradox at endpoints, resolution at midpoints', Simon is at a midpoint. Later in the session he goes further still: "Actually I can create a hundred options between the two ends ... and that's easier to do than creating exactly the right third option."

In other words: paradox at endpoints, resolution at an infinite number of midpoints. (See figure 8)


Figure 8: An infinite number of midpoints

Figure 8: An infinite number of midpoints

Don't expect unaddicting to be easy. Its course is elusive and can be difficult to track. Remember that trial and error are prerequisites for progress in any kind of audit. If relapse occurs, the cause will not likely lie in the present, but in the involuntary incompleteness of an earlier stage.

Whatever the difficulties, being witness to the emergence of a client's internal self-reliance is as fulfilling and considerable an experience as bringing new life - a baby, a book, a gourmet sauce - into the world. If addiction is the physician's provider, the provision is not only difficulty but delight.

© 2000 Philip Harland

John R Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind, MIT Press 1994; Mind, Language and Society, Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1999
Gerald Edelman, Bright Air, Brilliant Fire; On the Matter of the Mind, Allen Lane 1992
Anne Wilson Schaef, Beyond Therapy, Beyond Science, HarperSanFrancisco 1992
John Firman and Ann Gila, The Primal Wound, a Transpersonal View of Trauma, Addiction and Growth, State University of New York Press 1997
Craig Nakken, Addictive Personality: Roots, Ritual and Recovery, Hazelden Foundation 1996
Chelly M Sterman, ed. Neuro-Linguistic Programming in Alcoholism Treatment, Haworth Press 1990
Mara Selvini Palazzoli et al, Paradox and Counter-Paradox, Jason Aranson Inc. 1978
Ian McDermott and Joseph O'Connor, NLP and Health, Thorsons 1996
Sid Jacobson, A Summary of Important Considerations in Quitting or Controlling Smoking, South Central Institute of NLP paper 1997
Lorena Chamlee-Cole, personal communication 1999
Tina Stacey
, NLP Addiction and the 12 Steps, ANLP seminar 1998 and personal communication 1999
Pamela Gawler-Wright and Alistair Rhind, Working Successfully with Addictions seminars 1999
David Grove, Metaphor Therapy and Clean Language trainings, research and personal work 1996-9
Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, Symbolic Modelling trainings and supervision 1995-2000

Thanks as ever to Penny and James and to Carol Thompson for their constructive suggestions and attention to detail.

Types of addiction. Many of these encompass a variety of sub-types. Internet addiction is a particular case. Compulsive computer use of any sort can lead to altered states of consciousness which may be psychologically rewarding. Internet addiction would come into that category, and also cover cybersexual addiction (compulsive use of cybersex and cyberporn websites); cyber-relationship addiction (over-involvement in on-line relationships); and compulsions such as web surfing, game-playing, on-line gambling and shopping. Note however that sex addicts, relationship addicts, gamblers, shoppers etc may use the internet as another place to indulge existing addictions.
(2) Possession and desire. Adapted from a client quotation in an article by Gillian Riley, The Therapist Autumn 1997.
(3) Neuro-linguistic psychotherapy: this is not to deny totally the potential value of drugs in helping to break addictive patterns, particularly if a client is severely damaged or has severe symptoms. However I find fault with the systemic addiction of many physicians to drug therapy at the expense of talking and body therapies. Aspirin may dampen your headaches but won't stop you getting headaches. Naltrexone, the supposed new wonder-drug for addictions and compulsions, has been around since the 1970's, and came to prominence recently in alcohol studies (and is now in use in ControlAl clinics) only in conjuction with six months to a year of intensive counselling. I reckon that's long enough to expand someone's internal representations and activate change without drugs, and without side effects.
(4) Outcome forming in experiential-constructivist (NLP) terms is a cognitive, linear process. The outcome is always expressed positively (ie is not something the client doesn't want), is within the client's control, has built-in evidence and monitoring procedures, and a systemic and ecological check which explores the possible costs of achieving the outcome against the possible benefits of not achieving it. Thus NLP psychotherapy is conditional on having a well-formed outcome at the start, and this outcome becomes a later measure of success or failure. In symbolic-constructivist (Grovian) terms, the client's conscious outcome may be expressed or not at the start, but in any case will evolve intuitively and integrally as part of the therapeutic process, which means that the client will only get what they truly want. For articles about how metaphor therapy and symbolic modelling work see back numbers of Rapport or The Developing Company's website at
(5) The 'mirror-model' a guide to reflective questioning, Philip Harland, Rapport Autumn 1998 and the website in note (4). A model of conversational change to help someone stuck in a Present frame of reference shift their attention and learning into Context, Past, Future, Higher and Metaphor frames.
(6) Recognition, or re-cognition, is what happens when a person brings into consciousness what David Grove calls 'tacit knowledge', or 'knowledge you didn't know you knew until you knew it'. The knowing again, or re-cognizing, process is a key factor in self-generated change.
(7) The questionnaire: frames are in generally ascending order, with what should be the least challenging first. Questions acknowledging a negatively connoted present are set in the tense of a convenient past ('were...?' 'what has been...?'), thus the addictive past is presupposed to contain resources for the present and is not assumed to constitute an immutable future. Questions anticipating a positive future are phrased in the accessible present ('what is...?' 'what may...?'), implying that a non-addictive choice is available now. I give examples of particular NLP or Grovian interventions from my own limited experience. Add or substitute your own (and please share them with me). Remember that client answers are open at any time to linguistic deconstruction, or 'meta-modelling', to clarify or reframe potentially limiting cause-effect relations, complex equivalences, mind-readings, presuppositions and the like. For all you need to know about the meta-model read Richard Bandler and John Grinder, The Structure of Magic I, Science and Behaviour Books 1975.
Levels of experience
: based on Dilts' categorization of 'logical levels' (environment, behaviour, skills, beliefs, identity and spirit) and incorporating Hall and Bodenhamer's proposition that environment, behaviour and skills are actually at one inter-dependent 'primary level' that describes the person, whereas the others are at 'meta-levels' of beliefs about beliefs, identity and beyond that describe emergent properties of being a person. Or at least I think that's what they mean. See Michael Hall with Bobby Bodenhamer, Systemic NLP Part III, Rapport 44 Summer 1999. My version conflates environment, behaviour and skills into a 'primary level', ascribes an emergent 'secondary level' to beliefs and identity, and a 'tertiary level' to beyond self. Bearing in mind what we say in this paper about triadic thinking in psychotherapy, this presupposes many more levels!
used here in the Gregory Bateson sense of any learning superior to zero learning proceeding of necessity by trial and error. 'Feedback', in the cybernetic sense.
Swish pattern
for changing unwanted behaviours is outlined on pages 174-6 of Joseph O'Connor and John Seymour, Introducing NLP, Aquarian Books 1993.
Belief change references: McDermott and O'Connor, NLP and Health, Chapter 4. Robert Dilts, Changing Belief Systems with NLP, Meta Publications 1990.
(12) Sub-modality work utilises the smallest elements of our sensory-based experience in a way that particularly affects the importance we attach to it. Pages 41-45 of Introducing NLP for the basics.
(13) Identifying with the addiction: AA gets a great deal of stick for its standard 'I am an alcoholic' introductions at AA meetings, but for anyone struggling with who they are (identity) and what they might belong to (beyond-self or community), the use of the phrase in context is an ingenious means of putting the two together. AA would say you are an alcoholic forever. My sense is that if you can get to say 'I am an ex-X-aholic', you have made a significant shift in your relationship with X, and if you can get to say, 'I am a person who used to X', where X is no longer an issue, you have made a fundamental change.
(14) Core transformation process developed by Connirae Andreas, NLP Comprehensive 1995. Elicits the client's core state(s) of being, which the client then learns to access at will.
(15) Reframing, or what Gawler-Wright calls 'integrating the hidden purpose of the problem'. See Bandler and Grinder, Reframing: NLP and the Transformation of Meaning, Real People Press 1982. O'Connor & Seymour outline the standard 6-step self-generated process in Introducing NLP. I don't personally recommend using Dilts' 'sleight-of-mouth' language patterns for reframing, as O'C and S suggest. Too dialectical and directional for my taste. I believe the pupil, not the teacher, knows best. The 'mirror-model' (note 5) has a simpler non-directionalising alternative.
(16) Perceptual positions: fuller descriptions of the process in NLP and Health (page 141 'a mirror on relationship'), and Introducing NLP (page 76 'triple description'). Addicts are likely to be stuck in 1st (self) position; habitual rescuers or codependents in 2nd (other); and associates who deny any involvement in 3rd (observer). (Gawler-Wright and Rhind, Working Successfully with Addictions). Dilts' 'meta-mirror' introduces a 4th (meta) position, from which client observes the relationship between self and observer as a mirror of the relationship between self and other, leading to a meta-position consideration of 'What can observer do to help self more?'
(17) Patterns of organization: the quote is from Chapter 2 of Tompkins and Lawley's forthcoming book on symbolic modelling, working title Metaphors in Mind, which will surely become required reading for every therapist.
More on the addictive society in Part I, and from Anne Wilson Schaef: "The helping professions are in the same relationship to an addictive society that the enabler is to the addict. We take the pressure off and keep things going just enough to prevent society from 'hitting bottom'." Discuss!
(19) Victim/persecutor/rescuer: more about this codependency in Part I. More about perceptual positions in Part II, and see note (16) above.
(20) Negotiating duality. Bandler and Grinder's powerful version of polarity therapy is in The Structure of Magic II . There's a succint account of internal conflict resolution by O'Connor and Seymour in Introducing NLP. John McWhirter's hemisphere integration process is outlined in Re-modelling NLP part 3, Rapport Autumn 1999.
(21) Homeostasis: a term coined some years before cybernetics by Walter B. Cannon in Wisdom of the Body, New York 1932. He explained how the body maintains equilibrium through 'negative feedback' signals to the brain, stimulating such things as the regulation of temperature through the mechanism of perspiring when the body is too hot or shivering when the body is too cold. Cannon articulated homeostasis as a fundamental physiological principle of survival.

Self-help groups
Look in the phone book under Addictions Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon, Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Co-dependants Anonymous, Council for Involuntary Tranquiliser Addiction, Debtors Anonymous, Depressives Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, Families Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Helpers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Pills Anonymous, Secular Organisation for Sobriety, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, and Workaholics Anonymous.

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Philip Harland is a psychotherapist, writer and trainer.
Philip has an active private practice and limited time, but tries to respond to all feedback on his articles and to genuine requests for information, and if unable to help personally will refer you to colleagues or other agencies.

To contact Philip either write to 40 Palace Road London N8 8QP England or fax (UK) 020 8340 2534 or email

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