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The Logic of Therapeutic Change

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In 1993 Giorgio Nardone and Paul Watzlawick published The Art of Change: Strategic Therapy and Hypnotherapy Without Trance, a revolutionary work that introduced a series of effective clinical strategies to create therapeutic change, even in seemingly impossible cases. In his new book, Giorgio Nardone performs another quantum leap, leading his readers to a more operative knowledge of the precise logic of therapeutic change. Most intimidating mental disorders are based on perceptions of reality that when using an ordinary 'common-sense' logic as our reading lens, look as if they are irrational, bizarre, illogical and therefore hard to understand and manage. Yet if we can follow the patient's own logic, which is definitely a non-ordinary logic, we can come to recognise the 'rules of the game', a game that we can actually 'play and win'. In his exciting new approach, Professor Nardone shows that by understanding the non-ordinary logic of a problem (which is often based on the logic of belief, paradox and contradiction), we can come to choose the best strategies to bring about effective change.

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Chapter One: Non-ordinary Logic

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[…] Returning requires leaving. Stopping needs going, releasing follows holding. Since each arises from other, then speak to find silence, change to know unchanging, empty to become full.

From moment to moment, mind tricks mind and thoughts follow thinking in circles. The way out is in. The way in is out. Through is between.

Take hold of both halves and swing the doors of mind wide open or closed shut. Full mind is the same as empty mind.

—Grigg, 1988

We have no other way to grasp the external world than with our senses, from which we could receive constantly deceiving images; and even if we could see the world in a completely correct manner, we would not be able to know it.

—von Glasersfeld, 1974

Logic is nothing but the method by which man always applies his knowledge, solves problems, reaches objectives, and logic is therefore the bridge between theory and practice. Most psychotherapeutic models move from theory to practice, forgetting along the way that between theorems and direct application stands a gap that can only be filled with a logic model. Logic is what allows us to build an applicative model from theory to practice and is therefore not a pure theory above empiric observation, but something that should render to the empiric level what was fathomed at a theoretical level.

 

Chapter Two: Self-deceptions and Interactions

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Reality is not what happens to you; it's what you do with what happens to you.

—Huxley, 1982

A human being is controlled by his environment and in turn controls the environment that influences him and others.

—Elster, 1979

Truth is a liar's invention” (von Foerster, 1981a; von Glasersfeld, 1979); it's something that has no existence except as the result of my interaction with it. It follows that there is no reality that can be clearly and objectively known because in the act of knowing, I contaminate it, I contaminate myself. The outcome of this interaction is something I call reality. In other words, it's again a self-deception or, better, it's my self-deception that makes me say that the true reality is what I feel through my senses, what I grasp through my reason, what I manage through my actions. It's the interaction between the subject and reality that establishes self-deception, a concept on which von Glasersfeld has so much insisted and that was so little understood, especially when he said: “all we can ever know about the real world is what it is not, and not what it is” (von Glasersfeld, 1979). It does not mean that if we know what reality is not, we will know what it is, as if, following an illusory rationalist thought, we could know the ultimate truth, discriminating using negation. We will never know definitively what reality is, but only partially or as an effect of our interaction with it. Moreover, Gorgias already mentioned it in his treatise “On the non-existent, or On Nature”.

 

Chapter Three: Change

ePub

Ideally the effect goes unnoticed. It is the polarity of the situation that determines everything.

—Jullien, 2004

If I want to change the world around me, I must start changing myself.

—Gandhi, in Sahadeo, 2011

In Change (Watzlawick, Weakland, & Fisch, 1974), Watzlawick, using Buddha's words, gives a surprising definition, at least at that time, of change: “The only constant in our lives is change.” This is an inevitable feature of the fact of being, the same way that the logics that go beyond ordinary logic are inevitable. In other words, we are continuously changing; there is nothing that remains the same. He was of course neither the first nor the only one to say it; we can think of Heraclitus, the philosopher of eternal change, or Vico and his historical cycles in which things are turning in on themselves and tend to repeat in cycles. Watzlawick speaks of change in relation to what we observe in our lives; things are changing but inside change there is something that tends to remain the same. This is both a paradox and a contradiction: I change to remain the same; I remain the same while changing.

 

Chapter Four: Change and Performative Language

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The thoughts of an author should enter our soul like the light in our eyes, with pleasure and without effort; and metaphors should be like a glass that covers the objects, but lets us see them.

—Voltaire, 1901

We must put ourselves in the place of those who are to hear us, and make trial on our own heart of the turn which we give to our discourse in order to see whether one is made for the other, and whether we can assure ourselves that the hearer will be, as it were, forced to surrender.

—Pascal, 1995

Since much of our opportunity to exercise a form of influence on our interlocutor is often played in the first minutes of interaction and that, as Oscar Wilde would say, “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances”, (Wilde, 1997) the first elements of communication to consider are not so much about the verbal channel as the static non-verbal communication. By this term I refer to all factors strictly related to our aesthetic appearance; that is to say to hairstyle, the way we dress, and the accessories we carry. These factors represent the image we give of ourselves and that we must continually adapt according to the perception others have of us. It is therefore very important to give the greatest attention to others’ feedback during daily interactions. For example, it is important to avoid too specific a look, since the excess of precision taken to perfection not only does not please everybody but often irritates and creates rigidity in others. If, on the contrary, I incorporated into my style something dissonant, original, this will strike him and will help me to get his attention because it is well known that small contrasts generate fascination and curiosity.

 

Chapter Five: Learning

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Everything must be learned not to be exhibited, but used.

—Lichtenberg, 2000

If young people could only realise that they will become the product of their habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while they are in a plastic state.

—James, 1950

The concept of learning is an aspect often overlooked in the strategic tradition. Indeed, strategists were mainly focused on change, which opposed them to cognitivists and behaviourists, whose treatment approaches constantly refer to learning theories.

From my point of view, change and learning are interchangeable as it is necessary to introduce an alteration of the balance to introduce a change, but learning needs to take place if we want change to persist. To stabilise a functional homeostasis that replaces a dysfunctional homeostasis, in fact, we need both. Contrary to what I wrote in one of my books a decade ago, we should associate Descartes and Pascal: alone, Pascal is not enough, and alone, Descartes does not change anything. Pascal is the master of persuasion and change, and Descartes is the master of training and learning.

 

Chapter Six: The Logics of Ambivalence

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I feel multiple. I am like a room with numerous and fantastic mirrors that twists to false reflections one anterior reality that is in none and in all of them.

—Pessoa, 1991

The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

—Wilde, 2014

Now that we have outlined the basic concepts of non-ordinary logic and therapeutic change, we can analyse in detail the logical criteria that enables the strategic use of ambivalence and self-deceptions.

Non-ordinary logic consists of three main areas that are relative to operating criteria; this allows us to know, as well as to identify, how a given problem is functioning. Regarding applications, the difference between ordinary logic and non-ordinary logic lies mainly in the fact that the first attempts to reveal a determined truth using deductive processes, and then specifies what to do to change. The second uses stratagems and self-deceptions that induce a different perception of things and therefore leads to a different reaction. In other words, during the course of intervention, when we follow the traditional logic, we know in order to change, while when we follow the strategic logic, we change in order to know.

 

Chapter Seven: Operational Concepts, Therapeutic Stratagems

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Original minds are not distinguished by being the first to see a new thing, but instead by seeing the old, familiar thing that is overlooked as something new.

—Nietzsche, 1995

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

—Clarke, 2001

Perceptive–reactive models

The perceptive–reactive system, (Nardone & Watzlawick, 1993) that is to say, the recurrent and redundant pattern that moves a person suffering from a problem to follow certain self-deceptions and not others, is one of the fundamental concepts of the brief therapy model that I evolved from traditional approaches, with the intention to render the strategic model more systematic and rigorous. Twenty years ago, this produced a disagreement with all of my teachers. All but one, Paul Watzlawick, argued that the specific approach to build treatment protocols was a violation of the school of Palo Alto's approach to therapy, which is free of pre-established patterns. The most rigid of them did not take into account the risk that their approach, intentionally devoid of pre-established patterns in order to move away from behaviourism, proves not to be very rigorous. It is in my view the greatest limitation of the Mental Research Institute model. The fundamental concept of the school of Palo Alto brief therapy was: focus on the attempted solutions that maintain the problem and disrupt the vicious cycle of attempted solutions to unlock the pathological situation. In my opinion, this concept represents the most intelligent operating intuition of the twentieth century.

 

Chapter Eight: Therapeutic Stratagems: Clinical Examples

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Our sense of wonder grows exponentially: the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery, and the more we seek knowledge to create new mystery.

—Wilson, 2007

Whatever we believe exists and only that.

—von Hofmannsthal, 2008

Truth cannot be taught…the paradox of paradoxes, [is] that of each truth the opposite is equally true.

—Hesse, 2002

Logic of paradox

“Lying by telling the truth” is an appropriate stratagem for all situations in which I create a problem by telling a disturbing truth, because I build symmetry with my interlocutor or with myself. We can therefore apply it whenever we cannot tell the truth as it is, or we cannot accept a reality for what it is and therefore we must transform a truth into a lie for the truth to become manageable. There is a well known saying, “a good lie is better than a bad truth”. This stratagem works the same way, but a good lie is a truth, truth and falsehood at the same time, and therefore a paradox.

 

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