NCP Logo

The National Council of Psychotherapists

Est. 1971

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 different degrees.


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, [1987], 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:


  1. Social Identity: To which systems does the client belong? What ‘roles’ does he take? What is important to him with these relationships/systems? (Focusing on positive intentions).


  1. Intentions: What 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.


  1. 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. 


  1. Problem Complex/Symptom Complex: This is a different model of looking at a problem, derived from Jungian perception of symptoms as an associational network with fixed relationship.   


Roger 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)


The 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.


  1. 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).


  1. Beliefs: Rigid 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.


  1. Skills and Resources: One 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.


  • Keeney, B.P. (1983). Aesthetics of Change. New-York: The Guilford Press, 25.


  • Rolef Ben-Shahar, A. (2001), A Myth of Transition - Modelmaking and transitional stages of reality formation as expressions of spirituality, Anchor-Point, September 2001 Edition: 15-9:3-13


  • Rolef Ben-Shahar, A. (2003), When the Hammock Swings, Anchor-Point, January 2003 Edition: 17-1:3-15.


  • Woolger, R.J. (1988). Other Lives, Other Selves. New York: Bantam Books, 116-139, 352.





Article Menu - Members Directory - Navigation Page - Home