Article Categories
[ Show ] All [ Hide ]
Clean Language
Article Selections
[ Show ] All [ Hide ]
Symbolic co-modelling of the bind allows the client to develop and transform the bind at the interface between the conscious and non-conscious mind. Which changes a rule that says 'people change cognitively or behaviourally or unconsciously (or miraculously) or with many years of analysis'. For many clients the construction of a metaphor landscape becomes a necessary context for the metamorphosis of binds which cannot be resolved within their own apparent logic. 'Logic', after all, is a cognitive construct - a way of organising perplexing multi-dimensional territory into easy-reference, two-dimensional maps.

Moving out of two-dimensional duality into multi-dimensional metaphor is a way of honouring complexity without sacrificing clarity. The client's meta-phora (Greek 'change' + 'conveyor' = 'transfer') can carry a substantial volume of information, including experience of trauma, aggregated into a more accessible and potentially more transmutable form. (See figure 6)

Figure 6: Honouring complexity without sacrificing clarity.

In Part II we met Simon, a 29-year old computer wizard addicted to overwork. "I can't stop working and I must stop working," he said. A simple but highly effective double-bind. How does he go about resolving it? Over several sessions of metaphor therapy he develops the symbol of a twisted cord, which for Simon represents a way he is both dividing and combining himself. His double-bind could now be defined as a paradox - something seemingly self- contradictory yet possibly true. This paradox confirms Simon's belief in the insolvability of his dilemma - how can he be both dividing and combining himself?

In a further session Simon remembers the extreme difficulty he had as a seven-year-old, desperately trying to sever a gifted self who was intellectually superior to his peers from a social self who ached to associate with them. His rule as child had been 'you can't have the best of both worlds'. Over the years he had codified this into 'doing two contradictory things is impossible'.

After several more sessions Simon comes up with a change to this rule. Instead of trying to both divide and combine himself (impossible), he realizes he can do either (allowing choice). His new rule simply says, 'having to do two contradictory things is no longer the rule'! He has transcended the apparent logic of his presentation of the problem. And that may be enough. However I wonder whether this is only a sideways change - the translation of one duality into another rather than its transformation into a different thing altogether. Meanwhile the shift at least allows him to review the old pattern from a new perspective. As his work continues I have a suspicion there may be more 'twists' in the plot before the drama finds resolution, but symbolic modelling of the conflict has allowed the theme to become clearer.

6. Converging

A principle of convergence changes a rule that says 'different things come from separate places' into 'apparently different things may come from the same place'. I learnt this fascinating way of resolving duality from Sid Jacobson. Say the client`s dilemma is 'I must stop smoking and I can't stop smoking`. (See figure 7) The client is asked 'What led to ...?'

Figure 7: The common imprint of duality.

What led Nick, my journalist client, to 'Must smoke' was 'Smoking'. Asked what led to 'smoking', he identified 'Wanting to smoke`. Tracking back further took him to 'A combination of taste and opportunity`. Further back still he arrived at 'Kissing a girl in a cowshed in Cumbria`.

Quite separately he tracked the other strand of his duality. What led him to 'Must not smoke` was 'Wanting to feel healthier`. Before that 'Breathing freely`. Which came from 'Walking and climbing`. Which was prompted by (you probably guessed) 'Kissing a girl in a cowshed in Cumbria`.

Nick's first adolescent experience of sex, or more accurately his memory of that experience, had become entangled in his mind with a positive anchor for smoking. The Part I neuro-biological model of addiction will give you an idea of how this can happen. Freudians may offer another interpretation. Make of this exercise in convergence what you will (and it points to the highly idiosyncratic nature of common imprints and the near-impossibility of predicting them), but in half an hour Nick had information about his addiction that might otherwise have been hidden forever. Probably in the cowshed.

7. Allowing

When it comes to resolving duality perhaps the simplest way - and thus, for some, hardest of all - is just to allow it. Allowing changes a rule many people have that says, 'everything worthwhile is a result of struggle'.

Simon has already translated his perception of the combining/dividing bind from the impossible ('I cannot both combine and divide myself at the same time') to the feasible ('I can do either'). My sense of his process is that he hasn't yet transcended the logic. He's still playing the duality game by its own rule of two, believing he has to be one thing or the other. At the end of session 15 he makes what seems to a qualitatively different shift. Cognitively it sounds very obvious when he says it, but in the context of the emotionally charged patterns of Simon's addiction to work, which had made him quite miserable, I recognise its potential for transforming his whole way of being in the world: "I can be happier if I just allow the combining and dividing," he says. "Being a part of ordinary society while enjoying my own special talents. I will be happier as I allow them. Yes, this sits well."

I see him embodying the learning as he settles in his chair. He just looks more comfortable."What kind of allow?" I ask. "Well, to allow dividing and combining is not the same as embracing them - I'm not giving in to either. And I'm not fighting them. I'm just, you know, allowing them." I reckon from his beatific expression that he is probably transcending them.

Simon is happy enough with the new pattern he has created, but in the next session goes further. He decides that 'allowing' is just one option: the third angle of a 'fighting/giving in/allowing' triangle. If you remember Kosko's 'paradox at endpoints, resolution at midpoints', Simon is at a midpoint. Later in the session he goes further still: "Actually I can create a hundred options between the two ends ... and that's easier to do than creating exactly the right third option."

In other words: paradox at endpoints, resolution at an infinite number of midpoints. (See figure 8)


Figure 8: An infinite number of midpoints

Don't expect unaddicting to be easy. Its course is elusive and can be difficult to track. Remember that trial and error are prerequisites for progress in any kind of audit. If relapse occurs, the cause will not likely lie in the present, but in the involuntary incompleteness of an earlier stage.

Whatever the difficulties, being witness to the emergence of a client's internal self-reliance is as fulfilling and considerable an experience as bringing new life - a baby, a book, a gourmet sauce - into the world. If addiction is the physician's provider, the provision is not only difficulty but delight.

© 2000 Philip Harland

Types of addiction. Many of these encompass a variety of sub-types. Internet addiction is a particular case. Compulsive computer use of any sort can lead to altered states of consciousness which may be psychologically rewarding. Internet addiction would come into that category, and also cover cybersexual addiction (compulsive use of cybersex and cyberporn websites); cyber-relationship addiction (over-involvement in on-line relationships); and compulsions such as web surfing, game-playing, on-line gambling and shopping. Note however that sex addicts, relationship addicts, gamblers, shoppers etc may use the internet as another place to indulge existing addictions.

(2) Possession and desire. Adapted from a client quotation in an article by Gillian Riley, The Therapist Autumn 1997.

(3) Neuro-linguistic psychotherapy: this is not to deny totally the potential value of drugs in helping to break addictive patterns, particularly if a client is severely damaged or has severe symptoms. However I find fault with the systemic addiction of many physicians to drug therapy at the expense of talking and body therapies. Aspirin may dampen your headaches but won't stop you getting headaches. Naltrexone, the supposed new wonder-drug for addictions and compulsions, has been around since the 1970's, and came to prominence recently in alcohol studies (and is now in use in ControlAl clinics) only in conjuction with six months to a year of intensive counselling. I reckon that's long enough to expand someone's internal representations and activate change without drugs, and without side effects.

(4) Outcome forming in experiential-constructivist (NLP) terms is a cognitive, linear process. The outcome is always expressed positively (ie is not something the client doesn't want), is within the client's control, has built-in evidence and monitoring procedures, and a systemic and ecological check which explores the possible costs of achieving the outcome against the possible benefits of not achieving it. Thus NLP psychotherapy is conditional on having a well-formed outcome at the start, and this outcome becomes a later measure of success or failure. In symbolic-constructivist (Grovian) terms, the client's conscious outcome may be expressed or not at the start, but in any case will evolve intuitively and integrally as part of the therapeutic process, which means that the client will only get what they truly want. For articles about how metaphor therapy and symbolic modelling work see back numbers of Rapport or The Developing Company's website at

(5) The 'mirror-model' a guide to reflective questioning, Philip Harland, Rapport Autumn 1998 and the website in note (4). A model of conversational change to help someone stuck in a Present frame of reference shift their attention and learning into Context, Past, Future, Higher and Metaphor frames.

(6) Recognition, or re-cognition, is what happens when a person brings into consciousness what David Grove calls 'tacit knowledge', or 'knowledge you didn't know you knew until you knew it'. The knowing again, or re-cognizing, process is a key factor in self-generated change.

(7) The questionnaire: frames are in generally ascending order, with what should be the least challenging first. Questions acknowledging a negatively connoted present are set in the tense of a convenient past ('were...?' 'what has been...?'), thus the addictive past is presupposed to contain resources for the present and is not assumed to constitute an immutable future. Questions anticipating a positive future are phrased in the accessible present ('what is...?' 'what may...?'), implying that a non-addictive choice is available now. I give examples of particular NLP or Grovian interventions from my own limited experience. Add or substitute your own (and please share them with me). Remember that client answers are open at any time to linguistic deconstruction, or 'meta-modelling', to clarify or reframe potentially limiting cause-effect relations, complex equivalences, mind-readings, presuppositions and the like. For all you need to know about the meta-model read Richard Bandler and John Grinder, The Structure of Magic I, Science and Behaviour Books 1975.

(8) Levels of experience: based on Dilts' categorization of 'logical levels' (environment, behaviour, skills, beliefs, identity and spirit) and incorporating Hall and Bodenhamer's proposition that environment, behaviour and skills are actually at one inter-dependent 'primary level' that describes the person, whereas the others are at 'meta-levels' of beliefs about beliefs, identity and beyond that describe emergent properties of being a person. Or at least I think that's what they mean. See Michael Hall with Bobby Bodenhamer, Systemic NLP Part III, Rapport 44 Summer 1999. My version conflates environment, behaviour and skills into a 'primary level', ascribes an emergent 'secondary level' to beliefs and identity, and a 'tertiary level' to beyond self. Bearing in mind what we say in this paper about triadic thinking in psychotherapy, this presupposes many more levels! 

(9) 'Error' used here in the Gregory Bateson sense of any learning superior to zero learning proceeding of necessity by trial and error. 'Feedback', in the cybernetic sense. 

(10) Swish pattern for changing unwanted behaviours is outlined on pages 174-6 of Joseph O'Connor and John Seymour, Introducing NLP, Aquarian Books 1993. 

(11) Belief change references: McDermott and O'Connor, NLP and Health, Chapter 4. Robert Dilts, Changing Belief Systems with NLP, Meta Publications 1990.

(12) Sub-modality work utilises the smallest elements of our sensory-based experience in a way that particularly affects the importance we attach to it. Pages 41-45 of Introducing NLP for the basics.

(13) Identifying with the addiction: AA gets a great deal of stick for its standard 'I am an alcoholic' introductions at AA meetings, but for anyone struggling with who they are (identity) and what they might belong to (beyond-self or community), the use of the phrase in context is an ingenious means of putting the two together. AA would say you are an alcoholic forever. My sense is that if you can get to say 'I am an ex-X-aholic', you have made a significant shift in your relationship with X, and if you can get to say, 'I am a person who used to X', where X is no longer an issue, you have made a fundamental change.

(14) Core transformation process developed by Connirae Andreas, NLP Comprehensive 1995. Elicits the client's core state(s) of being, which the client then learns to access at will.

(15) Reframing, or what Gawler-Wright calls 'integrating the hidden purpose of the problem'. See Bandler and Grinder, Reframing: NLP and the Transformation of Meaning, Real People Press 1982. O'Connor & Seymour outline the standard 6-step self-generated process in Introducing NLP. I don't personally recommend using Dilts' 'sleight-of-mouth' language patterns for reframing, as O'C and S suggest. Too dialectical and directional for my taste. I believe the pupil, not the teacher, knows best. The 'mirror-model' (note 5) has a simpler non-directionalising alternative.

(16) Perceptual positions: fuller descriptions of the process in NLP and Health (page 141 'a mirror on relationship'), and Introducing NLP (page 76 'triple description'). Addicts are likely to be stuck in 1st (self) position; habitual rescuers or codependents in 2nd (other); and associates who deny any involvement in 3rd (observer). (Gawler-Wright and Rhind, Working Successfully with Addictions). Dilts' 'meta-mirror' introduces a 4th (meta) position, from which client observes the relationship between self and observer as a mirror of the relationship between self and other, leading to a meta-position consideration of 'What can observer do to help self more?'

(17) Patterns of organization: the quote is from Chapter 2 of Tompkins and Lawley's forthcoming book on symbolic modelling, working title Metaphors in Mind, which will surely become required reading for every therapist.

(18) More on the addictive society in Part I, and from Anne Wilson Schaef: "The helping professions are in the same relationship to an addictive society that the enabler is to the addict. We take the pressure off and keep things going just enough to prevent society from 'hitting bottom'." Discuss!

(19) Victim/persecutor/rescuer: more about this codependency in Part I. More about perceptual positions in Part II, and see note (16) above.

(20) Negotiating duality. Bandler and Grinder's powerful version of polarity therapy is in The Structure of Magic II . There's a succint account of internal conflict resolution by O'Connor and Seymour in Introducing NLP. John McWhirter's hemisphere integration process is outlined in Re-modelling NLP part 3, Rapport Autumn 1999.

(21) Homeostasis: a term coined some years before cybernetics by Walter B. Cannon in Wisdom of the Body, New York 1932. He explained how the body maintains equilibrium through 'negative feedback' signals to the brain, stimulating such things as the regulation of temperature through the mechanism of perspiring when the body is too hot or shivering when the body is too cold. Cannon articulated homeostasis as a fundamental physiological principle of survival.

Self-help groups
Look in the phone book under Addictions Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Al-Anon, Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, Co-dependants Anonymous, Council for Involuntary Tranquiliser Addiction, Debtors Anonymous, Depressives Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous, Families Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Helpers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Nicotine Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Pills Anonymous, Secular Organisation for Sobriety, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, and Workaholics Anonymous.


John R Searle,
The Rediscovery of the Mind, MIT Press 1994; Mind, Language and Society, Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1999

Gerald Edelman, Bright Air, Brilliant Fire; On the Matter of the Mind, Allen Lane 1992

Susan Greenfield, ed. Mind Explained, Cassell 1996

Anne Wilson Schaef, Beyond Therapy, Beyond Science, HarperSanFrancisco 1992

John Firman and Ann Gila, The Primal Wound, a Transpersonal View of Trauma, Addiction and Growth, State University of New York Press 1997

Craig Nakken, Addictive Personality: Roots, Rituals and Recovery, Hazelden Foundation 1996

Chelly M Sterman, ed. Neuro-Linguistic Programming in Alcoholism Treatment, Haworth Press 1990

Mara Selvini Palazzoli et al, Paradox and Counter-Paradox, Jason Aranson Inc. 1978

Ian McDermott and Joseph O'Connor, NLP and Health, Thorsons 1996

Sid Jacobson, A Summary of Important Considerations in Quitting or Controlling Smoking, South Central Institute of NLP paper 1997

Tina Stacey, NLP Addiction and the 12 Steps, ANLP seminar 1998 and personal communication 1999

Laurena Chamlee-Cole, personal communication 1999

David Grove, Clean Language and Metaphor Therapy trainings and personal work 1996-99

Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, Symbolic Modelling training and supervision, 1994-99

Pamela Gawler-Wright and Alistair Rhind Working Succesfully with Addiction seminars. Full of sound sense and good humour informed by experience and supported by principle. BeeLeaf Communication Training - Recommended

Thanks as ever to Penny and James and to Carol Thompson for their constructive suggestions and attention to detail.
Philip Harland
Photo of Philip Harland Philip Harland is a neurolinguistic psychotherapist with a private practice in London, England. He has written many articles on Clean Language for professional journals and the internet. In 2009 Philip published the first book related to David Grove's last innovations, Emergent Knowledge, 'THE POWER OF SIX: A Six Part Guide to Self Knowledge'. You can order a copy from or

 »  Home  »  Applications  »  Psychotherapy & Counselling  »  Possession and Desire
Article Options

Metaphors in Mind
in paperback
and eBook
Kindle and Apple Books

view all featured events