Applying PCT to conventional methods

[From Bill Powers (2009.08.13.0806 MDT)]

David Goldstein (2009.08.13.02:30 EDT)

DG: If the child in question slept in his own bed before his mother suddenly and expectedly left, and then started to sleep in his father's bed after this happened, there seems to be some kind of cause/effect relatinship going on, given the assumption that there were no other major changes in the life of this child that happened at the same time.

BP: The name for this logical fallacy is "post hoc, ergo propter hoc" -- After which, therefore because of which. For(lightning --> thunder) it is true, but for (sunset ---> moonrise) it is not.

The apparent (conventional) causal relationship is that the mother's leaving acted on the child's nervous system in such a way as to make the child start sleeping in his father's bed. That would be one old-psychology way of saying it (there are others). If the father was bothered by this change, he could try conditioning the child not to emit that behavior (a shock administered as the child gets into the father's bed), reinforce the behavior of staying in his own bed (warm milk and a cookie and reading aloud out of a favorite book), or go find the mother and bring her back to the house, removing the stimulus that caused the original change in behavior. He would thus correct the child's behavior to suit his own goals.

In PCT, we would guess that the mother's departure caused some perception in the child to be disturbed relative to its reference level, and that the child's move to the father's bed was an effort to restore that perception to its preferred state. The focal point of therapy would not be to get the child out of the father's bed, but to discover the perception that was so disturbed and explore it as a way of getting reorganization going in the right places. If the father was bothered by the child's behavior, he could try to find out what perception was being disturbed, and help the child find another way to correct the error or reorganize a higher-level goal. Or the father could go to a therapist and try to discover why he himself is so bothered, or ask the son to go to a therapist to see if that might help him feel better.

DG: It is logically possible that the change in the child at this time was purely coincidental with the mother leaving. This would leave one with a strange event of a big change in the child that just comes out of the blue. There was no change in the environment. There was no learning or developmental change in the child. I guess we could call it a behavioral mutation after the fact of genetic mutations.

BP: The environment did change: the mother left. But logic has nothing to do with the problem here. How does it help to know that the child's seeking the father's bed is related in some way to the mother's departure? For that matter, how would it help to use the PCT explanation rather than a conventional one? If it were up to the therapist to decide what changes the child should make, and if the therapist could actually implement those changes in the child, the therapist could simply make the required changes and send the child home, all fixed. If the therapist thinks he understands the behavior, how does that help the child solve the child's problem, as opposed to the father's or the therapist's?

We know that simply changing the child is impossible. We know that the child has to make any changes that are going to happen in the child. Somehow the child has to reorganize so that whatever the real controlled variable is, the goal for it is changed, or the means of correcting error is changed, or a perception is changed (maybe Daddy ought to be a source of comfort but he isn't). And whatever reorganization happens in the child, it must not cause other errors for the child as large as or larger than the original one.

But step back a bit: Is there something wrong with a child's feeling (perhaps) lonely and abandoned and trying to find some companionship and comfort by sleeping beside his father? Does the father's desire for some privacy while he has his bit of nooky automatically outweight his child's misery? Couldn't the father take some time to find out how the child is feeling and help the child discover other ways to deal with that problem? Wouldn't an MOL therapist do exactly that?

It seems to me that the child's problem is simply swept aside while the adults try to figure out how to correct his behavior. It's not logical for the child to be angry with his mother or to do all the other things he does, so the child has no right to do those things. The child is treated as a problem to be dealt with, not as a person who is trying to repair damage to his world. And as long as the people around him see the solution as changing the child's behavior, the child is out of luck and on his own.

Best,

Bill P.

[From Fred Nickols (2009.08.13.1151 EDT)]

Bravo, Bill Powers! Great post!

···

--
Regards,

Fred Nickols
Managing Partner
Distance Consulting, LLC
nickols@att.net
www.nickols.us

"Assistance at A Distance"
  
-------------- Original message ----------------------
From: Bill Powers <powers_w@FRONTIER.NET>

[From Bill Powers (2009.08.13.0806 MDT)]

It seems to me that the child's problem is simply swept aside while
the adults try to figure out how to correct his behavior. It's not
logical for the child to be angry with his mother or to do all the
other things he does, so the child has no right to do those things.
The child is treated as a problem to be dealt with, not as a person
who is trying to repair damage to his world. And as long as the
people around him see the solution as changing the child's behavior,
the child is out of luck and on his own.

Best,

Bill P.

[From David Goldstein (2009.08.13.19:19 EDT)]

[About Bill Powers (2009.08.13.0806 MDT)]

DG: I don't see how this is a logical fallacy. It seems like it is an application of the scientific method. If variable A changes (mother leaves versus stays) and B changes (boy changes from sleeping in his own bed to insisting on sleeping in his father's bed; plus, the boy shows increased levels of anxiety, dependency, clinginess and C , there are no other changes that occurred in the environment or in the boy, then there seems to be some kind of cause/effect connection between A and B. Of course, I can't repeat the experiment.

BP: How does it help to know that
the child's seeking the father's bed is related in some way to the
mother's departure?

DG: The mother leaving is a disturbance. The boy's action is purposeful. He verbalized being concerned that the father would not be there. He also verbalized being afraid of ghosts and monsters in his room. He resisted my suggestion to sleep in his own bed for one night. If he had the light on, the ghosts and monsters wouldn't come, he says.

DG: I know that you are interested in contrasting the PCT/MOL psychotherapy approach with conventional approaches. Most Psychologists would know that this is the way the boy is handling the situation. They know that other children might show it in other ways. They would try and help the boy feel more comfortable and less stressed out with the new reality. The father doesn't real care about the boy sleeping in the father's bed, but he is concerned about the emotional upset which he sees in his child.

[From Bill Powers (2009.08.13.1938 MDT)]

David Goldstein (2009.08.13.19:19 EDT) –

DG: I don’t see how this is a
logical fallacy. It seems like it is an application of the scientific
method.

BP: Every logician I have ever known about considers it to be a fallacy,
and it’s very easy to illustrate, as I tried to do. Sunset is reliably
followed by moonrise sometime during the next 24 hours. Does the setting
of the sun cause the moon to rise within the next 24 hours? The moon
rises after the sun sets; does that mean that the moon rises
because the sun sets?

But this is not our major disagreement.

What I was trying to point out was that in the causal description, the
controlled variable is left out. I proposed that the mother’s leaving
disturbed some variable, and that the boy’s action was his way of
bringing that variable back to its preferred state. The appearance is
that the mother’s leaving caused the particular action to occur, but if
the controlled-variable idea is right, there is no causal path going from
the mother, through the boy, to the behavior. Instead, there is one
causal path from the mother’s behavior to the controlled variable, and
another (having the opposite effect) from the boy’s behavior to the same
controlled variable. To understand what is going on, it’s necessary to
identify the controlled variable. That means helping the boy to explore
what is going on until he discovers what really bothers him about having
his mother gone.

Notice how different this approach is from your description of what
conventional psychotherapists do:

DG: I know that you are
interested in contrasting the PCT/MOL psychotherapy approach with
conventional approaches. Most Psychologists would know that this is the
way the boy is handling the situation. They know that other children
might show it in other ways. They would try and help the boy feel more
comfortable and less stressed out with the new reality. The father
doesn’t real care about the boy sleeping in the father’s bed, but he is
concerned about the emotional upset which he sees in his
child.

BP: You’re saying that the object of therapy is to make the patient feel
more comfortable, less stressed out, less emotionally upset. That is not
the aim of the method of levels. Those results might come about through
use of the method of levels, but they are not the central aim of therapy
and nothing is done by the MOL therapist directly to relieve such
problems. However (before you accuse me of being callous and
unsympathetic), it very often happens that problems like these get
resolved during or between MOL sessions, because the patient is
reorganizing in the places that are causing these problems and bad
feelings.

The central aim of the method of levels is to make it possible for the
patient to fix what is wrong. When the real problem is solved, the bad
feelings go away without requiring any special attention. A therapist who
is overly impressed by a patient’s distress will get hooked on trying to
make the patient feel better and will fail to follow the paths that lead
to permanent removal of the problem.

I would have asked the boy, “Why do you want your mother to come
back?” Answering that question might make the boy feel temporarily
worse, but it leads in the direction of fixing the problem – the boy’s
problem, that is, not the therapist’s or the father’s, who can go hire
their own shrinks.

Best,

Bill

[From Rick Marken (2009.08.13.2200)]

Bill Powers (2009.08.13.1938 MDT)--

What I was trying to point out was that in the causal description, the
controlled variable is left out.

This, of course, is true whether we are talking about methods of
therapy (as you are with David) or methods of research (as you and I
were with Martin). In both conventional therapeutic and research
methodology, controlled variables are left out. I've tried to bring
them into focus by making "Controlled Variables" the title of one of
my papers (Am J Psych, 2001), by demonstrating the importance of
correctly defining the controlled variable when making model-based
predictions of behavior (JEP:HPP, 2005) and by waving the "red flag"
about the revolutionary importance of controlled variables when doing
behavioral research (RevGenPsych, 2009), alas all to no avail.

One possibility is that the difference between verbal explanations of
behavior that leave out the controlled variable and those that don't
may not seem that different because the listener is always putting a
"controlled variable" into the explanation mentally. For example, when
one says that the mother's leaving is not a direct cause of the boys
behavior one may be met with yawns because the listener has
subconsciously inserted a "controlled variable" into the explanation;
the boy's behavior occurs because he wants his Mom; having Mom there
is the assumed controlled variable. The fact that this is a hypothesis
about the variable being controlled is not noticed. Nor is it noticed
that this is not really a very good hypothesis because the "caused
behavior" (sleeping with Dad), which we would see as an effort to
correct for a disturbance to the controlled variable, has nothing to
do with getting Mom there.

I don't have any great ideas about how to solve this problem, if it is
a problem. But I think it's worth considering. That is, it's worth
considering the possibility that the central concept in PCT --
controlled variables -- is not seen as very important because people
tend to mentally insert what is essentially a controlled variable into
their explanations of behavior, without really understanding what a
controlled variable is (a variable being protected, by the observed
behavior, from the observed disturbance).

If there is any germ of sense in this I'm sure you can find it Bill; I
think it's too late for me to run with it coherently. In other words,
can you tell me what the heck I'm talking about? :wink:

Best

Rick

···

--
Richard S. Marken PhD
rsmarken@gmail.com
www.mindreadings.com

[From Fred Nickols (2009.98.14.0738 EDT)]

Makes sense to me, Rick. Maybe what you're talking about is "causal imputation" (a fancy term I read somewhere for essentially the same thing). On my part, I find people receptive to "target variable" and just plain "target" but that probably won't fly in respectable academic and scientific circles.

···

--
Regards,

Fred Nickols
nickols@att.net
www.nickols.us

-------------- Original message ----------------------
From: Richard Marken <rsmarken@GMAIL.COM>

[From Rick Marken (2009.08.13.2200)]

> Bill Powers (2009.08.13.1938 MDT)--

> What I was trying to point out was that in the causal description, the
> controlled variable is left out.

This, of course, is true whether we are talking about methods of
therapy (as you are with David) or methods of research (as you and I
were with Martin). In both conventional therapeutic and research
methodology, controlled variables are left out. I've tried to bring
them into focus by making "Controlled Variables" the title of one of
my papers (Am J Psych, 2001), by demonstrating the importance of
correctly defining the controlled variable when making model-based
predictions of behavior (JEP:HPP, 2005) and by waving the "red flag"
about the revolutionary importance of controlled variables when doing
behavioral research (RevGenPsych, 2009), alas all to no avail.

One possibility is that the difference between verbal explanations of
behavior that leave out the controlled variable and those that don't
may not seem that different because the listener is always putting a
"controlled variable" into the explanation mentally. For example, when
one says that the mother's leaving is not a direct cause of the boys
behavior one may be met with yawns because the listener has
subconsciously inserted a "controlled variable" into the explanation;
the boy's behavior occurs because he wants his Mom; having Mom there
is the assumed controlled variable. The fact that this is a hypothesis
about the variable being controlled is not noticed. Nor is it noticed
that this is not really a very good hypothesis because the "caused
behavior" (sleeping with Dad), which we would see as an effort to
correct for a disturbance to the controlled variable, has nothing to
do with getting Mom there.

I don't have any great ideas about how to solve this problem, if it is
a problem. But I think it's worth considering. That is, it's worth
considering the possibility that the central concept in PCT --
controlled variables -- is not seen as very important because people
tend to mentally insert what is essentially a controlled variable into
their explanations of behavior, without really understanding what a
controlled variable is (a variable being protected, by the observed
behavior, from the observed disturbance).

If there is any germ of sense in this I'm sure you can find it Bill; I
think it's too late for me to run with it coherently. In other words,
can you tell me what the heck I'm talking about? :wink:

Best

Rick
--
Richard S. Marken PhD
rsmarken@gmail.com
www.mindreadings.com