First published in
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
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
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.
1. THERAPIST ISSUES
"All the worlds ills can be reduced to four things:
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.
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
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).
do X 'good' feeling do more
problem with X
relieve X 'need' Y problem
with Y try Z
figure 2: A society addicted to its own
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:
neural pattern of
association with 'out of control'
'need outside help' neural
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
"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
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
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.
If you don`t form a conscious outcome, you`ll certainly form an
unconscious one, and unconscious outcomes are likely to be laden with
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
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.
2. CLIENT ISSUES
"Within the paradigm of the presentation of the problem
lies also the solution."
"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
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
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?
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 1 BAD FEELING
Stage 2 DOING X, FEELING BETTER
Stage 3 DESIRE FOR X
Stage 4 NEED FOR X
Stage 5 X IN POSSESSION.
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
now I want to go further without making any effort at
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
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."
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)
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
And remember 'meta-outcomes': for what purpose does the client
want their addiction-related outcome? What will getting that gain for
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 -
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
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
You will eventually be able to intervene in this sequence of
body-mind interactions, but meanwhile the client who, step-by-step,
get to know
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.
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
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
"Language is linear, reality is living." (Mara
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,
"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
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
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
© 1999 Philip Harland
, The Rediscovery of the Mind,
1994; Mind, Language and Society,
Weidenfeld and Nicholson
, Bright Air, Brilliant Fire; On the Matter
of the Mind
, Allen Lane 1992
Anne Wilson Schaef
, Beyond Therapy, Beyond Science,
John Firman and Ann Gila
, The Primal Wound, a Transpersonal
View of Trauma, Addiction and Growth
, State University of New
York Press 1997
, Addictive Personality: Roots, Rituals and
, Hazelden Foundation 1996
Chelly M Sterman
, ed. Neuro-Linguistic Programming in
Haworth Press 1990
, A Summary of Important Considerations in
Quitting or Controlling Smoking
, South Central Institute of NLP
Mara Selvini Palazzoli
et al, Paradox and
, Jason Aronson Inc. 1978
, NLP Addiction and the 12 Steps
seminar 1998 and personal communication 1999
, personal communication 1999
Pamela Gawler-Wright and Alistair Rhind
Successfully with Addictions
, 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
(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 www.cleanlanguage.co.uk/.
(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
(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
(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
(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