First published in Rapport, journal of The Association for NLP (UK), Issue 45, Autumn 1999POSSESSION AND DESIRE:
A deconstructivist approach to
understanding and working
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,
'Choosing the temporary discomforts of
desire over the permanent discomforts of possession'
Part I aims to dispel some of the mystique around
addiction. There are two sections:
1. UNDERSTANDING ADDICTION - deconstructing
dependency: what it is, how it happens, and how to
understand it if you believe you've never suffered
2. A MODEL OF ADDICTION - breaking down the addictive
process so that you know where you are, and can work out how
you (or anyone else) got there.
Part II 'Limits of
Desires' (Rapport, Winter 99) aims to unscrew
therapist/client codependency; and to sort some ideas about
meaning, language and duality thinking in addiction.
In two sections:
1. THERAPIST OUTCOMES - including how not to get
addicted to helping.
2. CLIENT OUTCOMES - including preliminary approaches
Part III 'The
(Rapport, Spring 2000) suggests a
systematic way of starting to work with addiction in any of
its multifarious forms. It unscrambles client
assessment and offers a simple information-gathering model
applicable to any addictive behaviour under four
1. PERSON - how much of the client is involved,
2. POSSESSION - what is the nature of the client's
attachment and how strong is it?
3. PATTERN - how do the client's life patterns and
internal structural patterns relate?
4. PREFERENCE - what choices does the client have?
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
I used to
feel insecure about working with addiction. Too much had been
written about it (2). There were too many kinds. I knew
something (though not enough) of my own addictive patterns, and
something (often too much) of those of my family, friends, colleagues
and clients, yet little to link them had emerged. I was in a
tangle - exactly the sort of metaphor that my addictive clients came
up with to describe themselves. (Figure 1)
The last couple of years of research has helped me exorcise my
addictive ghosts. This 3-part paper is not about particular
addictions, but about deconstructing the addictive process. By
'deconstructing' I don't mean literary analysis of the meaning of
words (though that will be touched on in Part II), but separating out
mental confusion. My Uncle Albert had a reputation for fixing
things - steam irons, vacuum cleaners, that kind of thing. He
confided in me that it was no great skill. He simply took
things apart and remembered where the screws went. This paper
is more or less about that.
"Where does the ant die except in
sugar?" (Malay proverb)
"Addictions are desperate strategies by which we
attempt to avoid the unimaginable terror of non-existence.
(John Firman, 'The Primal Wound')
"Violent pleasures ... are reliefs of pain."
(Plato, 'The Republic')
Let me come clean. I'll be offering some opinion and
speculation here and there, and it's only fair that you know where it
comes from. My personal therapy was psychodynamic
(Jungian). Early training was analytical and humanistic,
followed by neuro-linguistic (NLP). Influenced by my wife's
transpersonal model. I've specialised in metaphor therapy over
the last 5 years or so, and David Grove's model of clean language
symbolises my beliefs and values about psychotherapy and the politics
of change (3).
1. UNDERSTANDING ADDICTION
First I had to accept that addiction is not just about a substance
or an activity, but about society. We learn addiction.
Any one of our everyday addictions - to drugs, sex, gambling etc - is
to me a metaphor for our primary addiction to the structures of
authority and conformity in our lives which curb self-determination
and foster dependency.
Keeping these patterns in place is what addiction counsellor Tina
Stacey calls 'a network of supplementary dependencies'.
People-pleasing, for example. Our need for approval. It's
easy to get approval: follow precedent. I was brought up to be
sexist, racist, homophobic and hierarchic, in a society which trained
me as a technician to oil its wheels and help it run smoothly.
To fit in, I acquiesced (4)
That is the political context of this paper. When I use the
word 'addiction', I shall be alluding not only to the usual suspects
under the opening title, but also to our systemic dependency on
external authority which keeps our authentic selves under lock and
And when I use the word 'therapy' I intend to discriminate between
traditional psychotherapy, the effect of which has been to control
the codependent relationship with the client through the use of
interpretation, suggestion and the illusion of omnipotence (thereby
reinforcing systemic dependency) (5), and postmodern psychotherapy,
which aims to enable self-generated change and is an instrument for
the transformation of society (6).
And when I use the word 'client' I mean me. You. Any
of us who want to free ourselves and create another reality.
"I ought to have done so much more. And what about those
who didn't even do that? Those who called out the name of
the president with erotic passion, who slobbered over his
photographs as if they were icons, who were obedient and tame
victims, but also brutal hangmen? Right now we need
self-knowledge and Serbian denazification. Otherwise we're
doomed forever." (Biljana Srbljanovic, Serb playwright,
The victim-persecutor codependency is a prime example of systemic
addiction. Each part needs the other for it to persist.
Milosevic plays persecutor to loyal Serbs who become victims, who in
turn become persecutors to dissident Albanians who become victims ...
And so on until a rescuers appears. What happens now?
The codependency extends. Nato plays rescuer to
victim-Albanians, and in so doing becomes persecutor to
persecutor-Serbs, who become victims in turn ... Are we doomed
forever? (Figure 3)
"Addiction is the fibre of our society. It produces the
victim-persecutor-rescuer cycle in which victims are addicted to
having persecutors to blame, and persecutors are addicted to
blaming victims. Victims seek willing rescuers, and each
becomes addicted to the other. Persecutors now have rescuers
to blame, and rescuers become victims in turn. Between
us we produce a vicious circle of codependency that justifies
nothing but itself." (psychotherapist Laurena
Indeed, rescuers blame persecutors while telling victims they need
help, which turns persecutors into victims and keeps victims as they
are ... and so it goes on. It's not only Serbs who need
self-knowledge. A Balkan dictator may have been a convenient
reflector for our worst projections of ourselves, but we cannot
displace our own responsibility for the democratic system which
extends these tragic triangles of codependency (7).
Psychotherapy is not immune from the addictive disease. Just
as spirituality became systemised into religion, the practice of
psychotherapy became systemised into institutions and procedures
perpetuating what Anne Wilson Schaef (a 'recovering psychotherapist')
calls 'the illusion of control and the myth of objectivity'.
The odd thing is that in this era of the search for a postmodern
unity of science and healing, we are seeking to extend and legitimise
these archaic structures of control. I can only see this
serving to codify the imbalance of power in the codependent
relationship that exists between most therapists and their
clients. Institutionalising the human potential movement is an
oxymoron - a contradiction in terms which (literally) points to its
own foolishness. In the context of our addictive society,
however, I suppose it will be well-supported.
You may say that cycles of dependency like this are none of our
fault, that we're only playing the hand with the cards we were
dealt. Well, one way into recovery is to stop playing the game,
or at least change the rules.
To get out from under my own addictions, I needed to denominalize
the word (8). 'Addiction' is an academic subject.
Addictive behaviour is something we do.
If addicting is a behaviour, then it involves choice.
Addiction is not something we catch unwittingly, like flu. And
as choice is centred in the individual, addicting has to be different
for everyone. Every human being is unique in what they do and
feel, its prompts, effects and underlying patterns. Addiction
doesn't in itself define addictive individuals.
It also helped me to correlate addiction with abuse.
Addictive behaviour is abusive behaviour. Abuse may not be the
aim, but therein lies addiction's 'double dysfunction'. The act
does not serve the intent. The intent is to relieve pain, but
the effect is to generate pain. This corrupts not only the
lives of the sufferers, but also the lives of those who suffer with
them. At its mildest it may only mean the addict is a bugger to
live with on occasion. At its worst addicting may gather
despair and degradation around it and end in death.
Finally in my attempts to deconstruct addiction I realised that
those of my clients who were addictive had other problems too.
A compulsive gambler had a low anger threshold. A chocolate
addict suffered from dyslexia. A lifetime smoker defined
himself as a rebel against conformity. If once I had perceived
addictive clients as esoteric, I now saw them as unexceptional.
The fact of their addicting gave them something in common, but
there was more that made each unique. And just as I have learnt
there is no one way of working with those other grand nominalizations
'schizophrenia` and 'depression`, I now know there is no one way of
working with 'addiction'. There is, I believe, an underlying
structure to the addictive process, but approaches to treatment and
recovery emerge naturally from considering the needs and patterns of
Are we addicts seeking God? Or are we all on a search for
serenity? Someone told me that addiction is an attempt to
compensate for inadequate breast-feeding. Someone else told me
it aims to reinstate abundant breast-feeding (9). Others
believe that 'addictive personalities' are on a predestined path to a
predetermined end, and nothing will stop them (10).
The primal wound
Most of the research I have come across agrees that whatever other
factors may be involved, most addiction is associated with early
trauma, so I subscribe to the transpersonal view which says that
addiction is aimed at resolving or distracting unresolved
Crucial to my personal understanding of addiction was my
experience of annihilation. As a child I`d been left by my
mother and felt the terror of 'non-existence' which transpersonal
therapists identify as the state underlying all addiction. Fear
of non-being is not a fear of death. Alcoholics and drug
addicts prove time and again that pain or life-threatening illness is
not enough to deter them. What drives them is something darker
than death - an intimation of the extinction of self while
alive. Overwhelming feelings, consciously recognised or
unconsciously stored, of abandonment, powerlessness, hopelessness,
In this scenario, addicting is a desperate response to the spectre
of isolation and alienation that haunts the human condition. It
begins simply as a means of seeking compensatory positive
experience. The effects manifest in psychopathological patterns
unique to every individual, but we can generalize: early abandonment
may prompt a search for a better sense of belonging through
relationship; powerlessness to the pursuit of power through alcohol
or the control of others; worthlessness to a quest for
self-acceptance through compulsive sex, and so on.
Addictive behaviour, like abusive behaviour, becomes a balm for
the primal wound caused by the neglect or abuse, intentional or
otherwise, of those with dominion over us.
An exercise in understanding
You'll be relieved to know that you don`t need to experience
annihilation directly to understand addiction. We all possess
the prerequisites for understanding: unwanted behaviours. Which
may turn into habits. Which can in turn become addictive.
Schaef says, "A relationship addict can become just as insane
as an alcoholic. It's the same disease." Arguably
'healthier', but Schaef is making a systemic point. Dictators
with an addiction to power can wipe out whole populations, and that
isn't very healthy for anyone.
Think of a personal experience of attachment or compulsion. A time
when you were in thrall to some attitude or activity that you found
difficult to control, even if it was against your will or better
Recall your excessive dependency on Mars bars, Marlboro or the
Lottery. Your continuing deference to parents, teachers,
bosses, gurus. That habit of scratching yourself. The
cherished fantasy about your partner's best friend. Your
lifetime collection of licence plate numbers. Or the lone
little ritual in your everyday life that you've never liked owning
up to - a need to count the spoons while watching the Nine O'Clock
Go on. No-one will know you're doing this. Confront
You may have some intuition about what this idiosyncrasy
relates to in your early life. Perhaps you grew up in a
dysfunctional family, or went to a school where you were taught to
distance yourself from others instead of relating
authentically. If you joined the so-called helping
professions as a result of an early experience of coercion or
isolation you'll probably know a great deal about the roots of
your particular dependency. But for now it's not important
to know how it came about.
Just remember the negative feelings you experienced around your
behaviour. Intimations of shame, perhaps, or anxiety, guilt,
vulnerability, even invisibility.
Sense how any of these feelings taken to extreme might have led
you (perhaps they did) to the pit of despair.
And deeper yet could have led to your self-destruction.
A fun exercise, eh? Well, hardly. But now you may have
a glimmer of understanding of the death of self and extinction of
choice that characterise the later stages of addiction.
And here's a suggestion: having acknowledged your own addictions,
read the first section of this paper again. If you think you're
free of addictions, haul yourself through this exercise in
understanding again. And if after all that you still believe
you're clean, do human evolution a favour: offer yourself for cloning
and let your genes multiply.
2. A MODEL OF ADDICTION
Some addictions feel physical, but all addictions are mental.
My evidence for this model stems from the discoveries of
neuroscience, particularly neural Darwinism, into the evolutionary
structure of the brain. Recent findings in neurobiology and
evolutionary psychology seem to me to be entirely compatible with the
experiential constructivist foundations of NLP. Particular
credit goes to neuroscientist Gerald Edelman for linking the realms
of neurology and psychology in a way that Freud could only dream of
As we go through this mental model, there are three things to bear
1. We will probably never know everything about the
way the mind works. Although I believe that all our mental
awarenesses (thoughts, feelings, memories etc) are the evolutionary
outcome of physical (neurophysiological) processes in the brain, I
don't believe they are open to deconstruction in the sense that 3 may
be reduced to 1 + 1 + 1. The brain is capable of more
combinations of connection than there are particles in the universe
(many millions more when I last counted (12)), and in this context 1
+ 1 is easily transformed into the conceptual equivalent of 3, or 99,
or 1,000, as the flavour of a stew is always more than the sum of its
ingredients. Thoughts, feelings, consciousness, sense of self
etc are complex emergent properties of our extraordinary neural
capacities. Precisely how that happens we may never fully
know. However the fact that our minds already know so much
about our minds is nothing short of miraculous, so who knows what we
may yet come to know?
2. The model is necessarily crude, and you should be
wary of defining anything in terms of it. There are obvious,
subtle, delicate and complex differences between any model of human
experience and the real thing.
3. When I refer to the brain, I don't know (and nor
does anyone else as far as I can ascertain) whether the brain knows
it all, or whether the body knows things that the brain
doesn't. We can characterise the brain as diversity.
There are billions of ego-intellects in the world and each one is
different. The heart represents unity. It allows us
heartfelt connection with every other being. The brain needs
the heart and all the other organs of the body for full
information. We don't use our brains disembodied (yet).
So you could call this system the bodybrain or the mindheart, but
here I call it the brain and credit it with somewhat more than
mind-only awareness (13).
You may find this brain operation easy to follow, in which case
stay with the text. If you want to make your life easier still,
just take in the drawings and skip to the Summary.
Stage 1 Once upon a time
There was an external event. It didn't have to be
sudden or obviously traumatic, like losing a parent or
near-drowning. It may have been a pattern of sub-traumatic
disturbance extending over years - low-level violence, constant
carping, the exercise of arbitrary power, etc. The brain itself
didn't 'see', 'hear' or 'feel' this event. It experienced an
onslaught of stimuli from the senses and constructed a symbolic
representation of the event in the physical space of the brain.
And because every brain is different, with a uniquely evolved
configuration of neuronal groupings and their synaptic and chemical
connections, this particular brain made a subjective interpretation
of the stimuli, prompting:
A bad feeling. An idiosyncratic series of neural
connections resulting in an uncomfortable or unpleasant internal
sensation experienced in the gut, heart, head etc. It may have
been interpreted as anything from mild anxiety to utter
hopelessness. An emotion. Arguably the most complex of
all mental states, commingled as it is with every other mental
process (attention, memory, consciousness, etc), and having
historical, cultural and biographical connections.
It's possible to deconstruct this 'bad feeling' (or
negative-impact emotion) further:
'bad feeling' =
'bodily sensation' + 'judgement'*
* an idiosyncratic neural interaction arising from the
individual's emotional history which gives a weighting or 'value' to
The feeling is likely to be worse if the judgement includes a
belief that the event was unjust, or that there was negative
intentionality behind it.
Sensation + Judgment = Impact
was experienced by the individual as a single event, and
A wound. Not a faithful reflection of the event, but
a subjectively constructed memory circuit, affirmed or repressed at
the time by other parts of the brain. Nerve cell signals may be
excitatory or inhibitory, and it is their complex interactivity -
there can be up to 100,000 individual synaptic connections per cell -
which determines what kind of signal is ultimately received by other
cells. So delicate may this balance be that it sometimes seems
almost arbitrary about whether the wound remains raw or is
partly-healed, whether it is obvious or not at any given time,
whether it may flare easily or be deeply protected.
Stage 2 Another time
There is a new event in the brain. A new thought or
feeling, a remembered thought or feeling, or a response to another
event. Some research suggests that this event is more likely to
occur in adolescence, when there is radical disturbance
generally. The event produces a new neural sequence, which
A bad feeling. Similar to the original one.
Reminding the brain consciously or not of the original, and evoking:
A memory of the wound. A re-construction of the
original memory, identified consciously or not. So far, so
normal. But around this time another significant event occurs:
Doing X - smoking, drinking, sex etc - which has
associations with positive benefit:
reward-for-bad-experience, novel-pleasure, and so on. Many
alcoholics remember their first drinking experience from this time in
great detail. Many addictive gamblers experience a significant
win at an early stage of their lives.
For example, nicotine, heroin or cocaine entering the
bloodstream trigger the release of dopamine, a neuro-transmitter
associated with feelings of pleasure. Chocolate gives
fast-injection energy from sugar and caffeine; and mood
enhancement from phenyl-ethylamine and theo-bromine - a similarly
satisfying mindbody effect. Caffeine stimulates the heart by
suppressing the effects of adenosine, one of the brain's naturally
inhibitory chemicals, and this produces a perking effect.
The effect of doing X is to:
Feel better. Establishing another neural circuit,
which has synaptic connections to the concurrent 'doing X'
circuit (a circuit active at the same time), which itself has
synaptic connections to the contemporaneous 'bad feeling'
circuit (active in the same period of time), which in turn has
synaptic connections to the primary 'bad feeling' circuit (the
Thus a neural pattern of association is formed.
Addiction is not necessarily a one-time learning, but a learning
Stage 3 The next time
There is a similar event in the brain, which triggers a
Bad feeling. Now something new happens. The
ready-formed neural pattern of association, consisting of the old
bad feeling circuit, the doing X circuit and the
feel-better circuit, is triggered at the same
time. And so strong is this association that the brain
finds it very difficult to separate out the constituent parts of the
activity in order to know what's really happening. The result
is an exceptionally intense, self-generated, hallucinatory experience
interpreted by the brain as a 'craving', or:
Desire for X, in order to feel better. Followed by:
Doing X. Which results in a:
Good feeling. Which evolves into a higher-order
feeling of apparent:
Satisfaction. The feeling that comes from having done
something to solve a problem. In this case the problem was
wanting to lose the bad feeling. The satisfaction, however, is
actually self-deception. It's based on the perception that X
actually solved the underlying problem, whereas the reality is that X
was merely associated with relieving an immediate problem. This
self-deception will have to be unpicked before recovery can
start. At this stage it gives the illusion of:
The desire or craving of Stage 3 is a change in chemistry
experienced by the brain (given that the brain has already
registered Stages 1 and 2) as a need. To the addict it
may seem like a simple physical equation.
Do X =
= do X
In fact what has happened is that the brain has coded the seeming
'satisfaction' of the apparent 'craving' and set up a complex pattern
of association which has become a virtual 'memory' of:
Stage 2: 'I remember doing X and feeling better' and
Stage 3: 'I remember feeling the desire, doing X, feeling better and
This virtual memory is experienced by the brain as if it were
real, and is signalled to the body as a physical craving.
Philosopher of consciousness John Searle calls such events 'the
remembered present'. An immediacy which may be triggered by any
number of external physical events or internal mental events.
Stage 4 Subsequently
A brain event triggers:
Bad feeling, which fires:
'Need more X'. Doing X then becomes an activity with
virtually automatic connections to the feeling of 'need'. The
addict does X, not because it 'works' as it did in Stage 2, or
because it became a habit, as it did in Stage 3, but because of a
belief, given the virtual memory control loop, that it ought
to work as it did in Stages 2 and 3, when it was a successful
strategy. At this time the client may be building their life
around X and nurturing it with other activities. There might
even be no recognisable reward from X as there was in Stages 2 and
3. Choice is absent, and:
X is taking over.
In each case the pattern of mindbody activity has been encoded in
the brain in a way that each similar subsequent experience only
serves to reinforce, and a memory trace which once related solely to
the desire for present positive experience as a reward for past
negative experience has developed into an apparent 'craving' for
X. Each revival of the memory (actually a reconstruction, never
the exact original) will be triggered by cues in the present, which
may be anything associated with X in the past.
Thus real sensations turn into virtual obsessions.
The desire for X is a mental cue triggering --> a physical
response which has --> a mental effect.
cue --> response -->
This loop generates an unconscious habit essentially no different
to that of a concert pianist playing a complex arpeggio or an
artillery gunner performing an intricate firing drill prompted by the
word of command.
When the clock strikes four I feel the need for a cup of tea
and a custard cream. Seeing someone take out a cigarette may
prompt another smoker to do the same. Entering a cinema may
trigger a sequence of events in the brain which may be experienced
as a desire for popcorn. The body experiences the sequence
as a craving. And what may have once been a feeling of
isolation or sensory deprivation becomes re-interpreted as a need
to smoke or drink, have sex, eat chocolate.
Internal or environmental triggers don't have to be obvious.
They're certainly not always simple. A withdrawal symptom from
addiction can itself become the bad feeling of Stages 2, 3 or 4,
triggering a craving and setting off a complex recursive sequence
that will be difficult to unpick.
Stage 5 Eventually
The circuits interconnect almost simultaneously:
Brain event --> Bad feeling --> 'Can't do without
X is in possession.
It may be very difficult indeed to separate out this structural
sequence. The client's experience, after all, is of one
event. And it will be very tempting for the client to
assume that somehow X is controlling them, rather than that the
simultaneity of events is being experienced by them as a lack of
control. "It is at this stage", says addiction
specialist Alistair Rhind, "that the spirit begins to
Thereafter illusion itself runs the loop.
Stage 6 Finally
There may be no respite from:
Emotional overload, leading to mental, spiritual and
Breakdown. The mind gives up trying to make
sense. Rage and paranoia may overwhelm the personality, and
suicide or overdose may result. It is a desperate irony that
the addictive process which enabled the personality to survive its
early experience of 'non-being' ends in the parting of body and soul
which the addiction was originally designed to prevent.
Applying the model
As a therapist you could use this structural continuum in various
1. To affirm for yourself and the client that
addictive states of mind don't just come from nowhere, but are
something we construct from our subjective experience.
2. To track where your client is in their present
relationship to X.
3. To track back with them to likely points for
intervention. There are specific examples of
symbolic-constructivist (Grovian) interventions in Part II of this
paper under Client Outcomes (Eleanor and Simon). And an
experiential-constructivist (NLP) intervention in Part III under
Pattern (Jane), where the client's goal was to deconstruct an
unwanted neural sequence and construct a more useful one.
4. Therapists working in metaphor process might like
to map across from the client's symbolic model on occasion.
Sometimes while facilitating a client's metaphoric journey I feel as
if I'm tracking a spaceship from a parallel universe, and it's nice
to get a sense now and again of where everything is in relation to
5. You could also use the model as a frame of
reference for your outcome and the client's. We'll talk more
about outcomes in Part II.
Physical, or neurophysiological, phenomena (the collection,
connection and interaction of neurons, synapses, receptors and
neurotransmitters in the brain) give rise to mental phenomena
(thoughts, feelings, beliefs, consciousness, sense of identity,
spirituality and the like). Mental phenomena are simply
higher-level emergent features of the brain in the same way that heat
is an emergent property of the motion of air molecules experienced by
the senses and informed by subjective experience.
We can conclude that although some addictions have a physiological
component and may be perceived as physical, all addictions are in
fact mental. Therefore the process of taking control of
addiction is primarily a mental one.
Although each stage of this continuum of addiction is at a higher
level of mental complexity than the one before, and may be perceived
by therapist and client as further removed from reality, each stage
can be accessed neuro-linguistically. Ways you might do
that are many and varied. There are hints about starting in
Parts II and III.
I don't mean to dismiss the notion of 'physical' addiction, only
to widen its definition and question an addictive belief system which
states that addiction is a physical process which can only be treated
by physical, ie medical, means (14).
"I am a thinking being, therefore I am a physical
being." (John Searle, revising RenÈ Descartes)
Descartes, of course, said, "Cogito, ergo sum." I
think, therefore I am. Given two hundred years of research into
human consciousness since Descartes, I'd like to suggest a small
variation: 'Sum, ergo cogito'. I am, therefore I
think. I am a physical being, therefore I am a thinking
being. It is the physical fact of the evolution of the human
brain which has produced our higher-order consciousness and our
ability to think. And our ability to process a thought such as
'physical addiction is actually a mental construction' may help
evolve our addictive thinking beyond what were once assumed to be
Before starting treatment I can think of no more important thing
to think about in addiction than deconstructing addictive thinking.
Deconstructing supposes the possibility of reconstructing.
The brain is a living, changing, continually adapting
entity. Brain cells make and remake their connections
constantly, we are told (I have only to think about that to be
convinced). They can alter the strength of their connections
over the short term and the long term, and they can retain and
continue new connections. Given that billions of neurons are
doing this continously, and doing it on many levels, it is not
fanciful to suggest that the landscape of the mind may be accessed
and reconfigured in almost any way we will. We can adapt and
change through thought.
Thought, according to Searle, is dependent on an individual's
symbolic abilities, language, logic and inner dialogue. Any
psychotherapy I can think of makes use of these capacities of the
human mind. Obviously not all psychotherapies work through
thought alone. And clearly not always through conscious
The client in metaphor therapy utilizes symbol, language, logic
and inner dialogue at many levels. The exquisite and particular
logic of the Grovian therapist's clean language prompts an inner
dialogue with the client's unconscious mental processes. This
allows the client access to self-generated symbolic representations
of neural patterns of association at the interface between the
conscious and unconscious mind.
In Grovian process information 'pops up' into consciousness.
The client is often surprised, but rarely rejects the information,
because at some level it is recognised. Literally, through
re-cognition, or knowing again. David Grove calls this new-old
information 'tacit knowledge', or 'knowledge you don't know you know
until you know it'.
As re-cognition feeds back into the client's system and
re-associates, a process of multi-level re-thinking takes place when
new neural patterns of association are formed. It is in these
neural patterns of association where the neurochemical change
necessary for therapeutic change takes place.
You'll find more about change in relation to addiction in Part II.
P.S. You should particularly read Part II if you're a therapist
and want to help people. That's potentially addictive
© 1999 Philip Harland
References - See Part 3
(1) Adapted from a client quotation in an article by Gillian
Riley, The Therapist Autumn 1997.
(2) Key in the word 'addiction'to Whitakers Book
Bank CD-ROM and it comes up with 1,800 titles.
(3) Grovian metaphor therapy, originated by David
Grove and further developed by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley. The
therapist works at a symbolic level with clean language questioning
to help the client (a) define (b) develop and (c) transform their
problem state without interpretation or suggestion from the
therapist. For articles about how it works see back numbers of
Rapport or The Developing Company's website at
http://www.cleanlanguage.co.uk/. See also Tompkins and Lawley's
forthcoming book on Symbolic Modelling, which will surely
become required reading for every therapist.
(4) For more about the addictive society read Anne
Wilson Schaef (References above).
(5) Interpretive therapy: who are we to say that
clients need more 'self-esteem', or 'balance', or 'unblocking', or
have unresolved issues with their parents and pets? Therapists with
an unresolved need to feel wise or wanted, that's who.
(6) My definition of postmodern : an open paradigm
untrammelled by current established (antiquated) scientific,
psychological and socio-economic beliefs and methods.
(7) Victim-Rescuer: even to believe there is some
kind of intentionality to life - a force holding and directing us as
evolution unfolds - seems to me to keep us in victim mode, albeit at
a higher level where there are spirits, gods and mystic philosophers
like Ken Wilber to rescue us.
(8) More on denominalizing in Richard Bandler and
John Grinder, The Structure of Magic Volume I. Unrelieved use
of conceptual nouns or nominalizations ('addiction', 'fear',
'depression') may indicate a stuck state in client or therapist.
Opening up such a noun into a verb or activity can help mobilise
stuckness. How do you do 'addiction', 'psychotherapy' etc?
(9) Breast feeding: the theory goes that if as
babies we learn the world is bountiful, as adults we can wait for
gratification. The alternative theory, of course, is that we
(10) 'Addictive personality'. Some geneticists
believe there is a gene which may predispose some people to
addiction. As our 70,000 + genes all interact, it can't be said that
any one gene causes anything. If there is a predisposition gene it
wouldn't affect an addict's need to work with present effects. A few
people may be genetically predisposed to nicotine addiction through
carrying a gene (CYP2A6) which allows them to clear nicotine quickly
from the system. A chainsmoker with this gene might be left craving
the next fix earlier than other smokers.
(11) If you want to go further into mind as the product of
neural evolution and explore how this affects the nature of
memory, consciousness and language read Edelman and others
(12) Each individual brain has about 100 billion
neurons. Each neuron has up to 100,000 synaptic connections to other
neurons. One neuron may send up to 300 signals a second. The number
of possible combinations of connection (10 followed by millions of
zeros) is astronomically more than the sum of all the fundamental
particles - electrons, protons and neutrons - in the whole of the
known universe (10 followed by only about 80 zeros). Is it any wonder
that the hyperinteractivity of this near-infinite number of
permutations in the brain gives rise to all our mental experience,
including a sense of self and belief in spirit?
(13) Bodybrain: mechanistically it used to be
thought that the body performed functions of which the brain remained
ignorant, and vice versa. Now we're discovering that everything is
interconnected. Even proteins used by the gut have receptors in the
brain. If every system in the body has two-way communication with the
brain at molecular level, it becomes a systemic circuit where every
element interacts with its totality.
(14) Drug therapy: as crude a science in its way
(trial and error) as is psychotherapy (largely guesswork). Many
psychiatrists do good work, and would be delighted not to give out
drugs if they had evidence that psychotherapy 'worked' for addiction.
It's the usual systemic dilemma. The philosophy and belief systems of
existing medical research models are unlikely to produce 'objective'
evidence about subjective experience, and the tenets and limits of
one-to-one therapy don't lend themselves convincingly to large-scale
randomised trials. We're all addicted to our own convictions. However
there has been more receptivity between medical and psychotherapeutic
practice in recent years, and therapists supporting substance
withdrawal do well to work closely with G.P.s, psychiatrists, staff
at specialist clinics and specialist support groups. Alcohol, heroin
and minor tranquiliser addicts receiving drug treatment for
withdrawal may still experience craving and relapse if the
psychological component of the addiction hasn't been dealt with. And
although I've heard the average withdrawal from substance addiction
described as 'about as bad as a bout of flu', drug therapy may well
be indicated if a person is very damaged or has severe symptoms.