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.
'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;
At the end is a summary of Parts I, II and III in the form of a
AUDITING FOR X
Audit: (originally) a hearing of accounts.
Auditor: one who learns by aural instruction.
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
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: 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
(2nd) acknowledging it rather than denying its reality
(3rd) accepting rather than hating it
(4th) thanking it for having had an honourable intention for
(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
(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."
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
"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
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,
How much of the client has been involved in the
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
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.
Which of your skills/capabilities/resources/strategies
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
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
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
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
12 questions derived from characteristic sorting principles and 'loss
of control' checks
Has [X] helped you to avoid or
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
Has [X] sustained a special need for
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
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
Has [X] helped your sense of belonging?
Has [X] helped you separate from
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
What more beneficial ways of
belonging/separating are available to you or may you
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.
Has [X] been a habit?
How many [X occasions] were actually
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
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
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
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
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
How may you make a more beneficial
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.
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
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
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
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." (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
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.
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
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
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?"
"Yes," says the client.
"And would you like more of all these?"
"Yes!" says the client (they're pretty unlikely to say
"Then all you have to do is more X!" exclaims the
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
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'.