Article from

First published in Rapport, journal of The Association for NLP (UK), Issue 45, Autumn 1999
A deconstructivist approach to
understanding and working with addictions
Philip Harland
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.

'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 yourself. 
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 to changework.

Part III
'The Physician's Provider' (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 headings: 

1. PERSON - how much of the client is involved, and where? 
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 confidentiality. 



Figure 1: Cartoon of cross-section through two people's brainsI 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.

Part I

'Violent pleasures'
 "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).


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 key.

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, May 99)

Figures 2 & 3: Victim-Persecutor- Rescuer codenpendency diagram


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 ... (Figure 2)


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 Chamlee-Cole)

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 individual clients.

The quest

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 need.

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, worthlessness, insignificance.

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 judgement.

    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 News, say.

    Go on.  No-one will know you're doing this.  Confront yourself.

    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.


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 (11).

As we go through this mental model, there are three things to bear in mind:

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.

Figure of Stage 1 of addiction process

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 event.

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.

The combination:

  Event  +  Sensation  +  Judgment = Impact

was experienced by the individual as a single event, and left:

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.
Figure of Stage 2 of addiction process

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 triggers:

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: assertion-of-self-against-authority, socialising-with-peers, 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 original).

Thus a neural pattern of association is formed.

Addiction is not necessarily a one-time learning, but a learning over time.
Figure of Stage 3 of addiction process

Stage 3  The next time

There is a similar event in the brain, which triggers a similar:

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  =  experience satisfaction
   Want satisfaction  =  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 getting satisfaction'.

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.
Figure of Stage 4 of addiction process

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 --> effect

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.
Figure of Stage 5 of addiction process

Stage 5  Eventually

The circuits interconnect almost simultaneously:

Brain event --> Bad feeling --> 'Can't do without X'.  Now:

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 diminish."

Thereafter illusion itself runs the loop.
Figure of Stage 6 of addiction process

Stage 6  Finally

There may be no respite from:

Emotional overload, leading to mental, spiritual and eventually physical:

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 ways.

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 earth.

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.

Post-script: thinking

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 physical limits.


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 thought.

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 behaviour.

© 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 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 can't wait.

(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 (References above).

(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.

First published in Rapport magazine, Issue 46, Winter 1999

INTRODUCTION to Part II: Limit of Desires

This paper aims to dispel some of the misunderstandings and mystique around the addictive process and to offer you a systematic approach for working with any of its multifarious forms and at any of its levels, from the apparently harmless to the obviously pernicious.

By 'deconstructivist' I mean separating out a complex aggregate into its constituent parts. My version has an NLP, Grovian and personal bias. It doesn't pretend to be definitive. (2)

Part II
'Limit of Desires'
"We would have no reason to find fault with the dissolute if the things that produce its pleasures were able to drive away from their minds their fears about what is above them and about death and pain, and to teach them the limit of desires."
(Epicurus, 'Principle Doctrines')
To put it another way: the indulgence of unresolved need has its limits; if addiction had the advantages we ask of it, we'd all be happier.


I said this in Part I and I'll say it again: I was raised to be sexist, racist, homophobic and hierarchic in a society which rewarded my conformity to patriarchal structures of power, separated me from my real feelings and kept me in a state of dependency. This is, I believe, the metaphor - the holding pattern - for all addictions, and the way most of us learn the systemic structure of addiction.

I used to excuse myself as a victim. In fact I was an active volunteer. I gave energy to a system that encouraged me to play victim and persecutor in turn. Thus do co-dependencies perpetuate. (3)

When I use the word 'addiction' in this paper, it is in that political context. I shall be alluding not only to the substance and activity addictions under the opening title, but also to the systemic dependencies which underpin them.

When I use the word 'therapy', I mean to differentiate between traditional psychotherapy, which has attempted to control the codependent relationship with the client through the use of mind-reading, interpretation and suggestion (thereby reinforcing systemic dependency), and postmodern psychotherapy, which aims to enable self-generated change and is an instrument for the transformation of society (4).

And when I use the word 'client' I mean me. You. Any of us who want to accept the limits of our desire for simple answers while remaining free of possession by any of the simplistic alternatives.



"All the worlds ills can be reduced to four things: incomplete communications;
thwarted intentions; unfulfilled expectations; and people who try to help."
(Laurena Chamlee-Cole after Pat Grove)

A client has to do what a client has to do (figure 1). Growth for me as a therapist has been about dropping my attachment to the client's recovery, just as for addictive clients it is about dropping their attachment to X. Co-dependents thrive on the dependency of others, and withdrawal from a co-dependency with the client will typically be difficult for therapists habituated to institutional status and institutionalised thinking.

Figure 1: A client has to do what a client has to do
That's because helping itself can be addictive behaviour. Needing to feel indispensable; rescuing clients from our personal hallucinations about them; pointing them in the direction we think they ought to travel ... all the while believing ourselves free of any taint of the condition for which we prescribe treatment ... in fact any activity based on external authority, or what 'recovering psychotherapist' Anne Wilson Schaef calls "the illusion of control", is an addiction no different to alcohol or nicotine dependency, where the substance controls the state and is a means of separating the individual from their unique internal information systems.


The postmodern paradigm of therapy is about detaching from this helping codependency with the client. Be warned: the addict's experience of withdrawal is known to include symptoms of self-doubt and confusion - recovery may be slow. Codependency is a normal relationship for psychiatrists and psychotherapists brought up, as most of us were, in families that found it difficult to distinguish between love and control, or love and rescue. As Schaef says, "Psychotherapists ... tend to migrate to professions where they can exercise the skills they learned at home." A therapist rescuing a client from hurt is merely exercising another kind of authority.

A controlling or rescuing therapist is likely to be stuck in second, or other-position, helping maintain victim client in first, or self-position. A therapist striving dutifully to be dispassionate and non-interventionist might be stuck in third, or observer-position. "All it takes to create any codependent relationship," says addiction counsellor Pamela Gawler-Wright, "is for one of the partners to be rigidly placed in any of first, second or third perceptual positions." A motorist in 2nd gear can shift into 3rd or change down into 1st. A therapist will ideally be in all three gears at the same time. (5)

Here's an on-the-spot codependency check I find useful: having sensed that the client is in difficulty am I trying harder? Am I doing more than half the work in this session? I think I should do about 10% and take the agent's fee.


If we model the addiction rather than the individual, we end up classifying people as 'gamblers' or 'sex addicts' in the same way we label 'schizophrenics' or 'depressives'. Mental patients call this punishment by diagnosis. No one addict is like any other yet they tend to get treated the same, which is both insulting and ineffective.

There is a world in every word. The word 'addict' comes imbued with such massive cultural suppositions that using it indifferently could make us party to a self-fulfilling prophecy. We should save that for buying into the promise of 'Flash', 'Jif' and 'Vanish'.

A client referred by a psychiatrist told me in no uncertain terms, "I have periods of highs and lows, I'm not a manic-depressive." What he sought was escape from judgment. Freed from their wisdom of others, he could begin to know (and treat) himself.

Judgment is the inevitable outcome of a prescriptive society in which illness is thought to be bad for you, whereas illness is of course a great opportunity for self-exploration and growth. This is still a revolutionary notion for most G.P.s, who continue to diagnose people with dependency problems as addicts and hook them into a medical support system which itself is heavily dependent on drugs. Treatment with drugs can relieve some of the symptoms, but inevitably reinforces the systemic structure of addiction by generating further dependency (see figure 2).

'bad' feeling    do X    'good' feeling    do more X    problem with X
    take Y    relieve X    'need' Y    problem with Y    try Z 
figure 2: A society addicted to its own systems

Knowing yourself

Addiction is individual and specific. A therapist classifying a client is quite different to a client naming themselves. Jesus said, "The truth shall set you free." Let's assume he meant a subjective 'your truth' rather than some catholic 'the'. It wasn't until I articulated my own addictions - some twenty years after my psychodynamic 'analysis' had ended - that I could even begin to think of myself in recovery. It's entirely possible for a person to label their X-dependency and take responsibility for their X-behaviours without believing their whole state of being is wrapped up in X. 'To know that you are more than your dependency', as a transpersonal therapist might put it.

If you did the Part I exercise in understanding addiction, you'll know the worst that can happen after confronting yourself is having to give up any notion of knowing what's best for your client. You might then find it easier to work with the individual rather than the addiction. Addiction, after all, is a concept. I`m not sure how you help concepts change. Indeed most of the concepts I know don't want to change, and I wouldn`t know how to help one if it did.

A therapist colleague of mine worked with a woman for over a year before discovering she had an alcohol problem. He realized he had worked conscientiously to help his client develop a strong enough sense of herself so that she was finally able to confront her prolonged denial, but he was personally devastated by the discovery and immediately formed an outcome for her of total abstinence with AA support. In doing so he almost certainly made an involuntary structural connection to his own family history of alcoholism. Stepfather, mother and sister had all been to AA. The neural sequence probably went something like:

'alcoholism' prompt    neural pattern of association with 'out of control'
    'need outside help' neural circuit    'total abstinence/AA' memory circuit

 The therapist's subjective experience may or may not have not included evidence that it's possible for people taught sensible drinking when young, or for those in the early stages of addiction, to learn how to control their drinking. He may simply have formed a reasoned belief from his prior knowledge of the client that her consumption was out of control and amenable only to quitting. I'm not saying he was right or wrong. (6) I am saying that when it comes to addictions therapists should know themselves particularly well. The conditions for dependency are present in all of us, and can evoke any number of counter-transference issues that other client conditions may not.

Working in clean language has built-in safeguards against unconscious projection by client onto therapist or therapist onto client. "There is no transference or counter-transference", says David Grove, "because the locus of attention is in the (metaphoric) space. It is the space that is going to be interrogated by the therapist and the client and there is not much going on conversationally between the two of them ... it is a subtle shift in the relationship but philosophically it makes a lot of difference." (7)


"How do I know they`re an addict if they don`t tell me?" (A therapist's plea)

You may have an internalised definition of addiction which isn't helping, so first check out, not what, but how you define.

Do you go along with this W.H.O. definition of addiction: 'An uncontrollable craving with increasing tolerance (8), physical dependence, and harmful effects on the subject and society'? You may or may not agree with the definition, but how did you characterise your defining? Did you dispute the definition? Go along with it? Accept it? Perhaps you even feel attached to it. Look again at those expressions:

go along with
feel attached to.

What have they in common? They are all metaphors. Our everyday language is riddled with metaphor (there's another just popped up - oops, and another). It`s unlikely you will have generated yours randomly. Your personal metaphor for defining will contain important information about your deep-structural pattern for processing, and that's pretty much guaranteed to be different from your client's.

I hope the implications are obvious. Know your own metaphors. And please don`t intrude them into your clients'!


If you're unfamiliar with clean language your first ethical safeguard might be to align your defining with the client's. Agree at the start what you and they mean, for example, by 'quit' and 'control'. There's more about quitting and controlling under Client Issues.

If your client simply wants to control their X behaviour, but your personal belief about optimal client outcome states that quitting is 'better', is it ethically justifiable to continue working with that client? It might be if your views are held lightly, or if you're prepared to come clean with your client and remind them of their right of referral. Some client-centred therapists expect to share their personal preconceptions with the client as part of their own 'congruence' in the relationship. A classically client-centred therapist who believed in no intervention whatever in client process would, I suppose, find it very difficult indeed to say anything about themselves (indeed, say anything at all, or even blink) without influencing the client.

Intervening and interfering

It seems to me you have to decide how much of an interventionist you are, and to work within your own congruence. Addiction specialist Alistair Rhind sums it up this way: "I say as little as possible until I want to say a lot." Even in minimally interventionist clean language mode there are times when a Grovian therapist may want to try a few 'generic musings', as David calls them - wondering out loud, offering ever-so-slightly-dusty thoughts to the ceiling while pondering the next clean question.

There's a distinction between generic musing and suggestion. Suggestion, whether indirect or benign, is interference. A compensatory belief that your purpose is worthy isn't worth a teaspoon of salt. The moment any of us implies that we know what's right for another person we are on the slippery slope, wittingly or not, to controlling behaviour.

And controlling behaviour is addictive behaviour, as we have seen. It mimics the effects of any drug taken as compensation for unresolved need.

It can be tough sometimes, eh? I have to keep asking myself: do I think this client should quit X? Do I want them to quit X? Do I hope they will quit eventually? Want and hope easily shade into expectation, expectation into desire, and desire into will. I remind myself constantly of the political context of my work. My relationship with this client may be unique, but it's not taking place in a vacuum. Do I see my job as patching people up to send them back into an addictive society? To be free of one addiction only to be hungry for another? Well, yes and no.

It's worth repeating: a client has to do what a client has to do. Write yourself a note and put it under the pillow.

(Un)conscious outcoming

If you don`t form a conscious outcome, you`ll certainly form an unconscious one, and unconscious outcomes are likely to be laden with unwanted baggage.

My belief is that everyone knows what`s best for them at some level, so my conscious outcome is simple: to enable (in the sense of create the conditions for) clients to access that knowledge and move naturally towards well-being with the least possible interference from me. Which means separating my unresolved needs from the client's by wholly participating with the client's outcome and allowing the client political power. The rigour of metaphor therapy or symbolic modelling helps this considerably by requiring - nay, obliging - me to model the individual rather than the addiction. (9)

I wish I could say I always achieve this worthy outcome. It's easier if I restrict myself strictly to clean language. It's enormously difficult if I don't.


"Within the paradigm of the presentation of the problem lies also the solution."
(David Grove)
"When I see a new client I presuppose that change of some sort is already
happening, otherwise unless they've been dragged along by a friend or
relative why are they here?" (Pamela Gawler-Wright)


For an unwanted behaviour to become an addiction it almost certainly has to take hold at an identity level. "I am a guy who smokes, drinks, does wild stuff," a rock band manager client told me, "and my wife wants me to be a guy in a suit." He wanted to give up dope but not the rest of the wild stuff because, as he said, "I'm scared who I might turn out to be if I do some heavy change".

Most addicts identify intimately with their addictive behaviours and organize their lives around them. Have you ever wondered who you would be without your particular X? "I'm a workaholic." "I'm a woman who has to watch her weight." "I'm a man who likes a flutter." Without a secure sense of ourselves, our security often derives from what we do, or from things outside us - a new laptop, a lover, a packet of fags and a Bic lighter. My colleague who discovered after a year that his client was an alcoholic had been supporting her during that time to develop an in-dependent sense of herself (in- = within, internal; thus independent = reliant on internal resources). Only then was she capable of acknowledging and facing her erstwhile dependency on an external 'resource', in this case alcohol.


Every case is different, and we can generalize. Here are four typical addiction-related presentations. They have a certain progression. Which comes nearest to your client's?
Figure 3: Four typical addiction-related presentations

1. "I can take it or leave it."

Don't ignore the obvious. When Sue Barker asked Roger Black, "What does Jamie Baulch have to do to win this 400 metres, Roger?" Roger said, "He has to run very fast."

So why is this take-it-or-leave-it client here? What does your commonsense tell you? That they're probably concerned in case they can't take it or leave it. The compulsion to clean the cutlery every half-hour might be under control, but if there is an underlying structural issue the client hasn't resolved the compulsion may grow.

A reminder of the addiction continuum in the Part I model:

Stage 4 NEED FOR X 

Where would a statement like 'I can take it or leave it' place this client? In Stage 3, perhaps, DESIRE. Not quite shading into Stage 4, NEED. Or is it? In tracking back to a time when the original bad feeling became entangled with X you'll probably come across a belief that X actually fixed the original bad feeling - which it almost certainly didn't. So this is not a simple desire!

As you and the client track back you'll get a sense of likely places for intervention. Meanwhile I'm drawn to deconstruction: What kind of 'it' is 'it'? (We can't make assumptions.) Is the first 'it' the same or different to the second 'it'? (It may not be.) And symbolic modelling: That's a 'take it or leave it' like what? What is a symbol for 'take or leave'? (Aimed at eliciting a metaphoric container for the problem and making the information available at a more accessible level of organization.)

A classic NLP approach would be to explore an aspect of the client which might be objecting to a commitment to dealing with the problem. What is its positive intention and how can that be reframed? (10)

2. "I can stop any time I want."

OK, so why are they still here? Is this an example of addictive logic obscuring reality? Or does the client have an intuitive sense of another issue that the addiction is masking? What kind of change do they want? In what kind of way? My guess is that clients who talk this way have already begun to look into themselves. They may be at Stage 4, NEED FOR X, and getting concerned. 'Mirror-model' questioning would give them more on which to reflect. (11) What else is there about any time you want? How do you know you can stop? What would be the effect of stopping? Conversational questioning may be enough to shift a client's perspective if the questions are genuinely open. Leading naturally into a more structured process if, for example, a client metaphor for the problem comes up unforced. "It's like I'm on a motorway ..."

3. "I`m not hooked, you know."

Is the client in denial? AA calls alcoholism 'cunning, baffling, powerful ... and patient'. Or perhaps the client is right by their own definition. What do they mean by 'hooked' (or an equivalent 'at the mercy of X', 'devoted to' etc)?

On the 5-stage model the client is probably at Stage 4, NEED FOR X, perhaps on the threshold of Stage 5, X IN POSSESSION.

A client can be so deeply immured in the secret world of their addiction that they hide it even from you. Beware the addict who claims to have marriage problems not dependency problems. Do you want to challenge the deflection, or work with the other issues first? Look out for the addict who switches from one addiction to another to prove they're not addicted. Or the bemused client who comes back saying, "I find myself eating for the same reasons I used to smoke." An available aspect of them has come for something, an unfamiliar aspect stops them acknowledging it, and an inaccessible aspect is preventing them from getting it. (12)

I've been working with Ralph for a couple of months now. He's an entrepreneur. Clever, sharp and charming. He has identified "smoking and overwork" as problem behaviours, and claims not to be hooked on either. What smoking and overwork want for Ralph, he discovers, is "self-respect". Yet whenever Ralph gets a fleeting glimpse of himself with self-respect, something else butts in and stops him having it. What is this thing and what does it want? Each time Ralph sees the person he wants to be, he loses concentration and starts to think about work - at which stress kicks in and he "closesdown". Sometimes he can't continue the therapy and has to go outside for a smoke. This 'closing down' seems to be an even stronger habit than smoking and overwork, but refuses to give up its cover.

Gradually, grudgingly, over eight two-hour sessions of therapy, it allows him to name it. And its name is 'negativity'. So secretive and disapproving has 'negativity' been throughout Ralph's life that whenever he has started to open up and feel good about himself, he has found himself involuntarily closing down. And the paradox that has held all this in place emerges: 'negativity' has had a positive historical intention for him - an attempt to protect him from sickening violence and abuse when, as a child, he was naturally open and vulnerable.

We discuss paradox below and also later under Duality Thinking. Meanwhile with 'I'm not hooked' or its equivalent you need more information and a sense of the client`s deep-structure representations of their experience. Meta-model your client`s linguistic constructions (13). Or go a stage further and explore their symbolic sense of the addiction ('hooked', 'at the mercy of', 'devoted to' are quite meaty metaphors).

4. "I can`t give up and I must give up."

The classic Cartesian dilemma at the heart of many, perhaps most, dire dependencies. Here's a client trapped in the narrow strait controlled by those sea-monsters Scylla and Charybdis. Escaping the jaws of one leads only to one thing - being devoured by the other. A perfect paradox. 'Can't give up X' means the client is possessed by the monster. 'Must give up X' means they're still possessed.

Definitions first: does the client's can't mean 'don't want to', 'choose not to', 'unable to', 'don't know how to' ... ? Does must mean 'should', 'have to', 'need to' ... ? It could make all the difference.

And what kind of beliefs are operating here? Addicts and their codependents may be convinced that there is only one way of being in the world. From a biological generality that presumes people to be male or female, and a philosophical fancy that supposes the universe to be mind or matter, we have derived a cultural absolute: a duality value that says we must be one thing or the other. Right-brained or left. Stupid or smart. Well or ill. And creative scientists, transexuals, metaphysical-materialists and occasionally psychotherapists - anyone who's a bit of both, or can't decide, is outside the pale.

Excessive internal conflict can be created by these incessant 'must/can't' dualities. An enormous amount of energy is required to hold them in place. The resulting tension builds to a crisis that is usually resolved by the 'I that must give up' following the path of least resistance and giving up to the 'I that can't give up'. At which point a further paradox rears its ugly head, as addiction evokes the very affect it has been seeking to prevent: isolation, fear and pain.

The solution is now no longer in the presentation of the problem, the solution is the problem! Get out of that! (We shall.)

Deconstructing first statements

First indications of a client's outcome will be contained in their early statements. There is an enormous amount of information to be gleaned from a client's first words. (14)

Therapist: "And what would you like to have happen?"
Client (coughs): "Well I feel I've got to a certain point with my drinking,
now I want to go further without making any effort at all."

 What do we know from this, and where can we go with it?

    (a) The client has a feeling ... or more accurately feels (where? what kind of feel?) ... or even feels well("Well I feel") ...
    (b) There's an 'I' that feels, an 'I' that's got to a point, and an 'I' that wants to go further (are they the same or different I's?) ...
    (c) The point is certain (certain-particular? certain-unequivocal? certain-inevitable?) ...
    (d) The client owns their drinking ... And so on. There's a surfeit of choice in the words themselves. Where would you start? The organisational pattern of the statement is interesting - movement, stop movement, desire for movement ...

Having recently done some personal work with David Grove in which he'd ignored everything I'd said and asked me about an 'um' I'd uttered somewhere along the line, I decided to go for the inconspicuous and asked this client about her little cough. And after a few more clean questions it took her back to a time long before any drinking began, to a time of unresolved need (for being held by her mother), for which many years later the drinking became an imagined solution; and in a time further back still she discovered a remedial resource (the radiance of the sun and the benefice of nature) which she was able to bring forward many years to apply to her need for inner warmth which she had tried to meet through drinking.


There's further information to be gained from exploring the client's own definition of their state and behaviour.

At this point you really need to suspend judgment about meaning and note their actual words. Don't paraphrase. Here are a few examples of addiction-related defining from my own client notes. Literal expressions like these never fail to entice me.

Strongly attached (smoking).
A physical craving (smoking).
An emptiness and a need to fill myself like a garbage can (chocolate).
Finding an escape (alcohol).
Blotting out (alcohol).
Running round in circles (idealism).
There's like a wall around me (anger).

Metaphors again. There`s no escape. Don`t try. Each phrase holds key information that can open huge doors to change. As Grove says, "Metaphor mediates the interface between the conscious and unconscious mind." These symbolic expressions of the clients` structural relationship with their addictions are plump with potential for self-generated change.

Quitting or controlling or ...?

As you explore first statements and definitions with your client, what happens to their outcome? Do you begin to get a sense of what they actually want? To confront X by quitting? Or to sidle up on X through some kind of control? Would that quitting be all at once or gradually? Controlling in small steps or big?

Or does your client just want to sit back and assess - ie think about wanting to do something, or consider whether to do something? Is the real desire for change present yet? If so, is the will? These distinctions may change over time as new information is recognized - you might like to think of that as re-cognized, or known again by the client - and re-enters their bodymind system.

Some alcohol and chemical dependency specialists consider that when consumption is 'out of control' or a person has reached 'rock bottom', the client's only option is total abstinence. Relationship and eating addictions are hardly amenable to total abstinence if you believe we must eat and relate to survive. The question then becomes what kind of control?

The issue of control should be approached with some caution. There are many accounts of recovering alcoholics who attempt a return to controlled drinking and fail, and few accounts of those who succeed. 'Controlled X behaviour' might only be a painful extension of the addiction if it sustains the client's expectation that X will resolve their underlying need.

There are questionnaires to help therapist and client make a subjective assessment of 'out of control', but the only way a client can form a reasoned outcome is to acknowledge the extent of their dependency for themselves. (15) Alistair Rhind quotes one alcoholic: "Am I drinking because of the wife? No, she left me. Am I drinking because of the job? No, I got the sack. Fuck, it must be me."

Modelling outcomes

Outcome setting is unlikely to be the linear exercise taught on NLP trainings. For the metaphor therapist it is less a sequential elicitation procedure than a relativity modelling process. The therapist models the client's subjective self-patterning in relation to their symbolic sense of space, time and perception - as opposed to their 'real' sense of space, time and perception - a qualitively different experience to the logical (and still in many circumstances enormously useful) linear NLP procedure.

Remember: a client has to do what a client has to do. Subjective modelling of what a client wants is really only effective in clean language. The therapist can question any part of a client's presentation in a way that allows the client to explore their ultimate goals intuitively. You may have to monitor the evolution of the client's outcome throughout, but it saves you trying to work out for yourself what it is they want, or feeling the compulsion to interpret what they say they want, or even, God forbid, kidding yourself that you have the slightest inclination of what they or anyone else might want in a month of Sundays. Clean language modelling inevitably increases the likelihood of the client getting what it is they really really want. (16)

Evolving outcomes

In any model of therapy the client's outcome will almost certainly evolve. Particularly if the addiction is related, as it almost certainly is, to other issues.

Brian is a barman who when first asked what he wanted said, "To sort myself out, there are a few things going on for me." "What kind of things?""My girlfriend had an abortion a few months ago, I've had kidney problems for 3 or 4 years, I'm depressed, I have a rashon my leg and back, light-headedness, flu, general ill health, I can't deal with people in crowds, I'm drinking too much, my girlfriend gets jealous when I talk to other women, and I`ve always felt alone." Apart from that no problems, I nearly said.

From this individual mixture of guilt, worry, depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, dependency,frustration and isolation, Brian eventually identified his priority as "To give up drinking." In the second session this evolved to "Controlling the depression." And in the third (by which time we were working in metaphor process): "Clear thinking. A filter for the impurities." He was able to identify that a filter for the impurities would lead to clear thinking, which would help lift his depression, which in turn would give him less cause for drinking. It didn`t matter to him which had come first - all he wanted was a strategy for getting better.

Taking the client through a well-formed outcome process or asking the standard Grovian opening question (And what would you like to have happen?) may lead to the unfolding of any number of issues. After all, the client is likely to be doing X as a substitute for authentic human connection, the lack of which could relate to any aspect of the human condition.

There's some debate about whether addiction is always a mask for other disorders or whether other disorders are a mask for underlying addiction. Academic. There's a simple answer to these chicken-or-egg questions: start somewhere! Finding out more about the chicken is your royal route to the egg, and vice versa. I wouldn`t worry which came first, or you'll be retracing your steps up your own ad infinitum.

And remember 'meta-outcomes': for what purpose does the client want their addiction-related outcome? What will getting that gain for them?

Separating out

Anyone who speaks in terms of must have or always do is probably well into Stage 5, X IN POSSESSION, convinced that their internal state is governed by, or dependent on, the external thing: substance (such as heroin) or activity (such as gambling). Their X-related behaviour is outside their control.

In fact what is happening is that a number of different events in the brain -

    external stimulus/internal state of need/awareness of external X

- is being experienced near-simultaneously, leaving the client no time for consideration and choice. And this produces the illusion of no control.

Every client whose outcome implies more choice will sooner or later have to learn to separate the external stimulus from the internal state from the external X, so that one is not in thrall to the other. Neuro-linguistically we have learnt to disconnect a (neutral) stimulus from a (negative) state in order to anchor a new (more positive) connection. In the addictive equation we need to go further and disconnect the (negative) internal state from the (expectation of positive) external X.

    external stimulus / / internal state / / external X

This separation is not in itself the resolution, but is the key to change in almost all cases.

What is it that actually connects the client's state of mind-body and X when they seem inseparable? In terms of the Part I model you could characterise it as an involuntary interaction of neuronal groupings in the brain acting on the primary motor cortex that sends impulses to certain muscles prompting specific behaviour. Or if you prefer: the client feels bad, does X. Which in the early stages of addiction, at least, leads to feel good.

    'bad' feeling    do  feel 'good'

You will eventually be able to intervene in this sequence of body-mind interactions, but meanwhile the client who, step-by-step, can simply

    name    acknowledge    get to know    own    take responsibility for

their addictive behaviours is already taking significant steps towards sorting them out. In some cases it could be that simple. In many cases we need to go further.

Duality thinking

The jaws of paradox grip many addicts. The dilemma of being caught between the polarities of aversion and attraction is the most typically addictive bind and the one most resistant to deconstruction. (17)

Eleanor is a manager in the middle of a painful divorce. Her first statement to me is, "I can`t give up my anger towards my husband and I have to if I'm to stay sane." An explicit 'can't/ must' polarity. Her aversion to giving up her anger is probably equal and opposite to her attraction to giving up her anger. Clearly Eleanor's addiction to anger is a mask for other issues. It doesn`t come from nowhere. But can I assume even that? Before I can intervene she continues, "I`m running round in circles." A confirmation of the bind. She pauses. I guess she's running in another circle right now. "And you`re running round in circles," I acknowledge. I stop to think. I could ask her what kind of circles, or what kind of running, or even what kind of 'in'. I suspect she's been stuck for some time, and hopes I have the answer. So my first outcome is to help her acknowledge the stuckness as hers, not mine, by reinforcing it. "And you`re running round in circles ... and you`re running round in circles ... and you`re running round in circles ... and when you`re running round in circles, what happens next?" "I don`t know. I can`t get off."

Well, an element of the metaphor has moved minutely and Eleanor has more information. If she can learn something about what she`s on (wheel? racetrack? orbit of the earth?) that she can`t get off, she may find a solution at a symbolic level that her unconscious will process and the dilemma may resolve. Meanwhile I can't even assume that she wants to get off - these circles may take her on a magical journey to riches beyond my imagination. And I suspect there may be a lot more running to do.

Binds like Eleanor's and Ralph's (the closing down client in 'I'm not hooked') have been in place for many years, have been well maintained and are functioning perfectly - as binds. Suddenly they metamorphose into a theoretically more accessible form - and what happens? Can they now resolve freely? If resolution is what they want. Some fear freedom more than the binds that tie them. Others yearn desperately for something to unpick their tangled patterns.

An obstacle many of us have to surmount before the mind-binds of paradox may resolve is our Western tradition of dualism. Two hundred years of faith in the Cartesian creed that said mind was immaterial and absolutely distinguishable from the body have led us to oversimplify our chaotic universe into elementary alternatives of Right or Wrong, True or False, Cause or Effect, etc. We have identified ourselves (thoughts, actions) as one or the other. We may on occasion cross from one side of this philosophical divide to the other - from being one thing to being the other - but this only gave us the illusion of freedom without the reality.

Duality thinking is addictive behaviour. Not surprisingly, given our addictive society. Duality thinking maintains our dependency on the systemic structure of the presentation of the choice. A structure that is both institutional and linguistic. Penny Tompkins says, "People will language choices for themselves until the cows come home."

Languaging duality

"Language is linear, reality is living." (Mara Selvini Palazzoli)

Duality is a linguistic lure. Language evolved to describe the mundane experiences of daily life, not the infinitely subtle and fluid experience of Life itself. Which has gotten us into another fine mess, as Hardy might have said to Laurel, for not only do we use language crudely to express thought - to our occasional benefit - we also allow it crudely to define thought - to our frequent loss. We are caught in a complex of cognition that is language-led.

"The mind is linguistically structured," says philosopher of consciousness John Searle. "For all but the simplest thoughts, one has to have a language to think the thought."

Without words I can be aware of the experience of sitting here at my computer, but I cannot think that I am in Ontario by Lake Kashagawigamog (yes) in a cottage rented by my wife, or that we plan on going canoeing later, or a thousand other connections to being here, without the words to describe these thoughts. To all intents and purposes language is defining my experience.

Take a thought-expressed such as 'I must give up X'. It would seem perfectly lucid to the thinker-speaker. This person probably thought they knew pretty much what they meant when they said it, and there's nothing here to say it's not entirely possible for them to do. Now separately take the thought 'I can't give up X'. Equally lucid. Neither of these thoughts may be simple, but both are fully functional. If independently each is feasible, how is it that together they become somehow insoluble?

Simon is a computer wizard addicted to overwork and unable to enjoy his own talents.

"I can't stop working," he might have said (OK, so what?).
"I must stop working," he might have said another time (OK, go ahead).
What he actually says is "I can't stop working and I must stop working." (insoluble bind).

Simon didn't need words to have a vague experience of exceptional difficulty, but 'thinkwording' it has meant making a huge number of mindlanguage connections in order to say the experience ("I can't stop working and I must stop working - dammit") - and thus to think that he knew that he had it. Result: a self-made prison of paradox.

In a metaphor process Simon identifies a 'twist' in his stomach. Elements of this 'twist' appear in other symbols. It is a recurring pattern. For homework Simon is invited to look up the word 'twist'.

At the start of the next session he reports on a Middle English derivation he has discovered - not of the noun, surprisingly, but of the verb. 'To twist' originally meant both dividing into two' and 'combining into one', which to the Middle English may have seemed perfectly logical, but isn't to Simon. To be both dividing and combining himself at the same time is an impossible bind. And if 'twist' is an activity (a verb) to Simon, how in his metaphor can it also be a thing (a noun)?

In the next session, Simon suddenly remembers the extreme difficulty he has as a seven-year old at junior school holding himself back academically so that he doesn't have to go to classes two years ahead of his friends. And over the next couple of sessions it comes to him: to combine with his peers he has been dividing himself - separating the gifted one who was intellectually superior from the social one who didn't want to be. He identifies this as a pattern in other areas of his adult life. Well, if that's the problem, what's the solution?

What assumptions does this last question, and the question before it, and the question I posed just before the example, make that makes them seem very troublesome, even irresolvable? The answer is the same as our philosophical tradition has long assumed - that categories of body and mind, matter and consciousness, thing and no thing, can't and must, want and not want, solution and problem, and all such apparent dualities, are mutually exclusive.

So what's a better question? Can Simon be freed from the limits of his desire for the obvious answer? And if he is, will he transcend the compelling logic of his bind?

The third and final part of this series is for those who like concrete outcomes. We will consider SEVEN WAYS OF RESOLVING DUALITY -
admitting third options

changing the rules
symbolic modelling
and allowing.

So Simon is going to be OK, I hope. And we shall go through an ADDICTION AUDIT, a simple information-gathering and preliminary changework model for use in early encounters with any dependent client - whatever their dependency - whether to substance, activity, person, institution, or the codependency edifices of society itself.

This assessment model may be all you ever need to treat an addictive client. By the end of it the client should be treating themselves.

© 1999 Philip Harland

John 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, Rituals and Recovery, Hazelden Foundation 1996
Chelly M Sterman, ed. Neuro-Linguistic Programming in Alcoholism Treatment, Haworth Press 1990
Sid Jacobson, A Summary of Important Considerations in Quitting or Controlling Smoking, South Central Institute of NLP paper 1997
Mara Selvini Palazzoli et al, Paradox and Counter-Paradox, Jason Aronson Inc. 1978
Tina Stacey, NLP Addiction and the 12 Steps, ANLP seminar 1998 and personal communication 1999
Laurena Chamlee-Cole, personal communication 1999
Pamela Gawler-Wright and Alistair Rhind, Working Successfully with Addictions seminars 1999
David Grove, Clean Language and Metaphor Therapy trainings and personal work 1996-99
Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, Symbolic Modelling trainings and supervision 1995-99

Thanks to James and Penny and my partner Carol Thompson for their creativity, support and suggestions.


(1) Adapted from a client quotation in an article by Gillian Riley, The Therapist Autumn 1997.

(2) The addictive process: Anne Wilson Schaef, John Firman, Tina Stacey, Pamela Gawler-Wright and Alistair Rhind are among those I have come across who have done interesting original work on addiction. If you want more references still check Whitakers Book Bank CD-ROM, which comes up with 1,800 titles.

(3) More about the victim-persecutor codependency in Part I of this paper, Rapport Autumn 1999.

(4) My definition of postmodern psychotherapy: a new paradigm untrammelled by current established (antiquated) scientific, psychological and socio-political beliefs, assumptions and methods. My example is self-generated change via the clean language questioning of Grovian metaphor therapy, originated by David Grove and further developed as symbolic modelling by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley. The therapist communicates with the deep structure of the client's non-conscious process without contaminating (attributing, characterizing, interpreting or attempting to control) their subjective experience. For a series of articles about how it works see back numbers of Rapport or The Developing Company's website at

(5) NLP Perceptual Positions are well introduced by Joseph O'Connor and John Seymour in Introducing NLP, The Aquarian Press 1990.

(6) Many recovering addicts swear by Alcoholics Anonymous ('the biggest support system in the world'), and some therapists agree to work with alcoholic clients only if they concurrently commit to AA. AA arguably plays the systemic dependency game by encouraging clients to swop one dependency (alcohol) for another (the support programme) - it doesn't teach you how to get out of the game. NLP trainer and addiction counsellor Tina Stacey has designed a 12-step - or '12-state' - substance recovery programme as an alternative to the AA approach. SOS (Secular Organisation for Sobriety) has developed a non-religious programme for people with alcohol, eating and gambling disorders. For recovering alcoholics who wish to avoid or face relapse there's certainly no substitute for AA's ongoing (global) support system, something no other counsellor or organization I know of can offer.

(7) Transference: from David Grove, Problem Domains and Non-Traumatic Resolution through Metaphor Therapy, 1998. You can read the rest of this paper on the Metaphor and Clean Language website (see note 4). Of course whenever two human beings come together there's likely to be some transference or projection of unresolved feelings. What clean language does is minimise its inhibitory, obstructive or intrusive effects. I suggest there's no such thing as counter-transference, by the way. It's not counter to any transference or projection of the client's, and there's nothing special about the way therapists do it. Some psychotherapies attempt to make the best of this by incorporating transference and 'counter-transference' into the work , which must put their practitioners in a dilemma: if they acknowledge that they may project feelings onto the client derived from the past, this surely undermines their raison d'etre as objective interpreters of the past.

(8) Tolerance has been defined as what happens when an addict seeks refuge from the pain of addiction by moving further into the addictive process. In other words, needs more to achieve progressively less.

(9) Clean language modelling. To be more precise, the therapist co-models with the client the unique internal information the client has about themselves and facilitates the client's self-discovery of internal sources and solutions, enabling the client's healing to be purely self-generated.

(10) See Richard Bandler and John Grinder, Reframing: NLP and the Transformation of Meaning, Real People Press 1982. Reframing an addictive so-called 'part' may be difficult if the client manifests what B & G call 'sequential incongruity', where the therapist has access to a sober, non-X 'part' of the client (which wants to change), but no access to the X 'part' (which almost certainly doesn't). B & G take you through a technique for changing 'sequential' into 'simultaneous' by separately anchoring X and non-X states, firing them simultaneously and forcing them to co-exist. Needs care!

(11) Philip Harland, The Mirror-model, a guide to reflective questioning, Rapport Autumn 1998. A model of conversational change which can be used to help clients stuck in a Present frame of reference shift their attention and learning into Context, Past, Future, Higher and Metaphor frames.

(12) New addiction replacing the old: Tompkins and Lawley, after Ken Wilber, would describe this as translation, not transformation. The story remains the same, it just gets told in other words (my metaphor). As Penny says, "A person may have to go through a series of translations before being ready for transformation."

(13) For the original book on the NLP Meta-model of linguistic challenge, see Bandler and Grinder, The Structure of Magic Volume I, Science and Behaviour Books 1975.

(14) More on deconstructing first statements in Tompkins and Lawley, Symbolic Modelling and the Emergence of Background Knowledge, Rapport Spring 1998.

First published in Rapport magazine, Issue 47, Spring 2000

INTRODUCTION to Part III: The Physician's Provider

"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 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'. W

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.

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.

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

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

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.

(8) 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! 

(9) 'Error' 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. 

(10) Swish pattern for changing unwanted behaviours is outlined on pages 174-6 of Joseph O'Connor and John Seymour, Introducing NLP, Aquarian Books 1993. 

(11) 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.

(18) 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.


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

Susan Greenfield, ed. Mind Explained, Cassell 1996

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, Rituals 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

Tina Stacey, NLP Addiction and the 12 Steps, ANLP seminar 1998 and personal communication 1999

Laurena Chamlee-Cole, personal communication 1999

David Grove, Clean Language and Metaphor Therapy trainings and personal work 1996-99

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, Symbolic Modelling training and supervision, 1994-99

Pamela Gawler-Wright and Alistair Rhind Working Succesfully with Addiction seminars. Full of sound sense and good humour informed by experience and supported by principle. BeeLeaf Communication Training - Recommended

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


Photo of Philip Harland Philip Harland is a neurolinguistic psychotherapist with a private practice in London, England. He has written many articles on Clean Language for professional journals and the internet. In 2009 Philip published the first book related to David Grove's last innovations, Emergent Knowledge, 'THE POWER OF SIX: A Six Part Guide to Self Knowledge'. You can order a copy from or


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