Exploring the client’s universe
Asaf Rolef Ben-Shahar
Deletions, distortions and generalisations govern the interface between
the so-called ‘reality’ and our perception of the reality. Each one of
us constructs a unique world-map, representing – in our eyes – what the
world is like. This map is based on our beliefs and values, our
self-perception and capabilities and could be flexible or rigid to
Clients are constantly
conveying their reality through their behaviour and communication,
verbal and nonverbal. As I have discussed before (For example see Rolef
Ben-Shahar 2001; 2003), clients communicate their reality through
various patterns, which could be used to learn about their reality and
utilize it accordingly (Gilligan, , for instance, discussed
minimal cues – kinesic, para-linguistic and linguistic cues).
Following is an example for a classic deletion, clearly illuminating my
client’s way of constructing his reality: During a session with Bill
(48-year-old), we went for a walking-session by the lake and park near
the clinic. At some point I stopped and said to Bill ‘look’, pointing my
finger at a beautiful blue-tit that was hiding in the bushes. ‘Very
interesting’, he said, ‘a dead rabbit’. Only then I shifted and saw,
under the bird, the dead rabbit. Bill suffers from clinical depression.
By asking the client diagnostic questions, the therapist can learn about
the ‘how’ of their reality-making. At the beginning, me make a
distinction and, as Keeney (1983) writes: ‘Language is a tool for
imposing distinctions upon the world.’ Part of the therapist’s role is
to learn about these distinctions.
Gilligan (1987) presents seven areas of reality-construction, which he
considers particularly important to learn. These include:
which systems does the client belong? What ‘roles’ does he take? What
is important to him with these relationships/systems? (Focusing on
is important and meaningful for the client? (Looking for both positive
intentions and strong motivational forces). How does the client
relate/connect intentions to specific behaviours (and are these
congruent)? For instance, when Brian felt excited and sociable he
would become loud, tactile and expressive. His partner, Sara,
perceived it as intrusive and violent outbursts and became aggressive
and withdrawing, which in turn Brian perceived as rejection.
Problem Induction Sequence:
Problems could be thought of in terms of rigid procedures
(induction-loops). For example here’s an ‘argument’ sequence: whenever
my wife waves a finger at me, I become angry and impatient; she then
tries to lighten it up with humour, and I get further agitated, she
then placates, I feel guilty and she gets angry. Modelling can help
retrieve the sequence of the induction loop - in terms of focus,
sensory procedures and behavioural variables. By modelling problem
sequences, the therapist can also evaluate at which point in the
sequence would intervention be most likely to succeed.
Problem Complex/Symptom Complex:
is a different model of looking at a problem, derived from Jungian
perception of symptoms as an associational network with fixed
Woolger (1988) quotes Jung saying, “Complexes are psychic fragments
which have split off owing to traumatic influences or certain
incompatible tendencies”. In practice, a complex is the multifold
manifestation of any psychic disturbance (in the form of neurotic
complaint, symptom of pattern). An initial trauma creates a nucleus,
which tends to gather and accumulate various aspects – making each
complex a unique system (hence, it can also take the form of a dream,
secondary / sub personality or a ‘part’). According to Woolger, any
complex includes various aspects (including existential, biographical,
somatic, perinatal, past-life and archetypal aspects)
complex/symptom model is a less lineal (more dynamic as well) model of
problem, and is often more efficient when the problem has been
‘gathering’ various elements / aspects to it.
Invariant Role Players:
Checking for environmental invariants – who/what is always present
when the problems occur? (My wife would get a migraine whenever a
certain couple would come to visit us).
attachments to beliefs frequently serve as powerful induction loops.
For example: a client explained his reluctance to change the
destructive patterns with his wife – “if our communication would
change for the better, I’ll have to be with her forever. I’m not sure
about wanting to – hence I shouldn’t make an effort”. Beliefs,
particularly self-beliefs are of crucial importance when considering
client’s symptomatology as well as changework.
Skills and Resources:
of the most important skills of a therapist is facilitating and
mobilizing client’s resources and skills. By finding what it is that
the client does really well (including the problem state which is
often developed into a state-of-the-art mastery). The therapist can
gather information as to motivate, direct and facilitate change. For
example – I have used ‘psychotic’ hallucinations and future
hallucinations to create a desired state of a schizoid client, who
could hallucinate easily.
Gilligan, S.G. (1987), Therapeutic Trances, The Cooperation Principle
in Ericksonian Hypnotherapy. PA: Brunner/Mazel.
Ben-Shahar, A. (2001), A Myth of Transition -
Modelmaking and transitional stages of reality formation as expressions
Anchor-Point, September 2001 Edition: 15-9:3-13
Ben-Shahar, A. (2003), When the Hammock Swings, Anchor-Point,
January 2003 Edition: 17-1:3-15.
R.J. (1988). Other Lives, Other Selves. New York: Bantam Books,