Archived Post

from [ Marc Abrams (990826.1643) ]

As I go through the CSG archives, compiling the DB, I often run into
amusing, interesting, and or "Classic" posts by various people on various
subjects. So from time to time as I run across something amusing or
interesting I'll post it to the net. This post by Bill came at the end of a
thread on the uses of CT in therapy with David Goldstein.

BP9103031431 Explaining the Test and Goals of CT Therapy
Thread: CT Therapy (6)


Date: Sun, 3 Mar 91 14:31:02 -0600
Subject: The Test, therapy

On the Test for the Controlled Variable and advice-giving in verbal
therapy --

The Test, in the laboratory, can be set up as a quantitative method for
systematically eliminating hypotheses about what is under control. In
more qualitative applications like therapy it is still a quantitative
test, but the units of measurement are necessarily not so clearly
defined. The quantifying scales would be rough estimates of amounts:
hardly any, a little, some, pretty much, a lot. Along with estimates of
amounts go estimates of direction: with, toward, to; against, away, from.
There really isn't a clear boundary between qualitative and quantitative
measures. So the basic idea of the Test is the same in either case.

What the Test is for is to check your guesses about what is being
controlled by a person (if anything). If some variable is being
controlled, then anything external to the person that has a tendency to
alter that variable will be met by an action of the person that works to
alter it in the opposite direction. If you say to someone "Let's watch
channel 7" and the person says OK and watches channel 7 with you, then
watching channel 7 was NOT a controlled variable for that person. The
person presumably wasn't already watching channel 7 when you made the
suggestion. If the suggestion wasn't resisted, you know that "not
watching channel 7" was not a reference condition before you made the
suggestion. The person wasn't avoiding watching channel 7. After you make
the suggestion and the person complies, of course, the person does have a
reference condition that says "I'm watching (what is on) channel 7."
Otherwise that person wouldn't watch it. But whatever the reason for
going along with the suggestion (it may have nothing to do with watching
television), you can be sure that complying with the suggestion didn't
disturb something the person was already controlling for. If the
suggestion had amounted to a disturbance, the person would have said "No,
let's watch the Channel 5 news at 6:00" or "No, I want to finish this
book," or "No, I hate that channel."

Or the person might have said "All right" and then wandered off to start
a project in the kitchen. The words people say do not necessarily reflect
their reference levels. When you say to a child "Come to dinner," the
child, reading in the living room, promptly says "OK, I'm coming." That
keeps you from saying "Come to dinner" again but it doesn't get the kid
to the table. When the doctor says "Take a white pill every four hours
and a yellow one before every meal," something like half or less of the
patients actually do so. But do half of them say to the doctor, "No, I
don't think I'm going to do that"? Of course not. They do whatever is
necessary to give the doctor the impression that they intend to take the
pills faithfully, because if they don't give that impression, they will
get a lecture and feel foolish for arguing against doing what they are
told is good for them. They learn very quickly how to avoid the lecture
when they are given the prescription, and they learn how to avoid it on
the next visit to the doctor: "Oh, yes, I took them all." Of course this
means that drugs get a lot of unearned credit in outpatient treatments.

Actions speak louder than words, says the accumulated wisdom of mankind.

To see what a person is controlling for you have to watch what the person
does more than listen to what the person says. If you give advice to the
person and the person seems to go along with it, but the problems don't
go away or at least change, then either your advice was ineffective or
the person didn't actually take it. Actually, if the person DOESN'T
resist the advice, you can be pretty sure that it's irrelevant. Either it
doesn't impinge on anything the person is controlling for, or the person
has no intention of putting it into practice (and by appearing to accept
the advice is simply stopping you from insisting). If the advice is
relevant it will be telling the person to do something new or to do
something differently instead of what the person is already doing. It
will call for a change in a controlled variable somewhere. If making that
change means little to the person, the person will make it. Otherwise the
person will resist. Of course the object of therapy is not to change
things that mean little to the person.

Suppose the person avoids using anger for self-protection, even when it's
appropriate. If you say "I want you to try to be more aggressive with
[threatening person] tomorrow," that is like saying "I want you to behave
as if your problem is solved." If the person actually considers taking
the advice (instead of just saying OK), and imagines doing so, the
reasons for avoiding anger will immediately come into play and the person
will say "Oh, I couldn't do that." This tells you that the person is
actually controlling for some variable affected by being angry or
aggressive. If the person says "All right, I'll give it a try," you can
be pretty sure the advice isn't going to work even if it's taken. If
that's all there were to it the person would have stumbled across that
solution long ago.

So it would seem that the point of giving advice is only to discover what
advice will be resisted. And what do you do when it is resisted? Do you
explain how important it is to try it out, and overcome the resistance?
Not at all. You have applied the Test and have learned something.
Somewhere in there you have disturbed a controlled variable. You abandon
the advice immediately, and try to narrow the definition: "All right,
let's forget doing that. Let's talk about what would happen if you did
it. Suppose you said 'Butt out, Jack.' What do you think the effect would
be?" If the person answers with a description of the imagined
consequences, you are closer to the right definition. If the person says
"I'd never say anything like that," this suggests that the controlled
variable is concerned with the person's own image and not fear of
reprisals, and you can shift to that subject. As long as you're getting
resistance, you're getting somewhere.

It's beginning to look as though giving advice is just a way of applying
disturbances to see if they are resisted.

Of course just getting resistance isn't the point of therapy. When you do
get it, you have to back off instantly to avoid creating and escalating a
conflict between you and the therapee. You don't want to destroy what
control the person has by overwhelming it. Backing away isn't a defeat
for the therapist. By the time you back away you have learned what you
wanted to know, or moved closer to it.

However, the point of therapy is not for YOU to learn but for the person
in therapy to learn. Somehow applying the Test has to end up teaching the
person something, not the therapist. There really isn't much of general
usefulness that the therapist can learn, because each person's
organization is going to be a little different. Applying "experience" to
interactions with a person in therapy is assuming that this person is
just like all previous people one has seen in therapy. A therapist has to
learn NOT to learn from experience and to follow wherever the person
leads. Even companies that design pressure vessels have to hire design
engineers, in spite of the fact that every conceivable pressure vessel
must certainly have been designed by now. There is no such thing as a
design that will serve all purposes. The same is surely true in therapy,
where the system is immensely more complex and the interactions with the
world are even more varied. Every person is a new design.

If there is anything general to learn about therapy, it has to be at the
level of principles where all people are alike. All people control. All
control systems resist disturbances of their controlled variables. All
reference levels, nearly, are specified as part of some higher-level
process. Reorganization follows attention. These are the things that
control theory has to say, provisionally, about therapy. The CT therapist
uses these principles to guide the exploration of a person's
organization, to lead the person to see how that organization works or
fails to work, and to help the person find a point of view from which
effective reorganizations can be generated.

So what is the discovery and naming of controlled variables supposed to
accomplish in therapy? This isn't an abstract exercise but something that
is supposed to lead to insight, reorganization, and an enhancements of
the will. The person is supposed to end up better able to control what is
experienced. This means that identifying a controlled variable really has
a negative purpose: to identify variables that are being controlled
unsuccessfully. When you identify a controlled variable by finding that
the person resists disturbances of it, you have found a successful
control system. There is nothing to fix about that system. It's working.
All that can possibly be wrong is that it's being used inappropriately or
unsuccessfully to achieve the purpose of some higher-level system.

All roads, therefore, lead to the method of levels. The aim is to trace
the hierarchy of control upward to the point where there is a control
process that ought to be working but isn't. Then you have to help the
person see why it isn't working right. By "working right" we must mean
"working so as to achieve still higher-level purposes." This is the only
way to define a control problem that doesn't assume some one objectively
right way for all people to be organized. The problem must always be that
some high- goal is not being met. The place where reorganization is
needed, as far as therapy is concerned, is somewhere in the middle,
between the person's highest levels and the lowest. The lower-level
systems, most generally, will be working correctly if there is no organic
problem. The highest-level systems are seeking the therapist's help and
are on the therapist's side (or the therapist should be on their side).
In the cooperative exploration known as therapy, two people learn just
which processes aren't working so that higher systems can use them. And
one person reorganizes them until they do work.

Not every human problem, given this understanding, is a therapy problem.
Therapy will not provide missing higher-level systems. It will not cure
goals that are set at the highest levels in ways that guarantee conflict
with everyone else. It will not provide the things that education
provides: understanding of the world, of other people; acquisition of
skills. It will not provide what spiritual searches provide: the sense of
harmony and beauty that makes a person feel whole, that makes life worth
bothering with. Those things concern us all and no one of us is more than
a learner in these regards. The end of the line in therapy is not
becoming a super being, but becoming an ordinary person capable of
entering the struggle along with the rest of us. Getting up to speed, as
it were, for continuing a journey in a direction that is not clear to

Bill Powers uppower@bogecnve 1138 Whitfield Rd. Northbrook, IL 60062

[From Tim Carey (990828.1045)]

From [ Marc Abrams (990826.1643) ]

Thanks heaps for posting this Marc. It was an exquisite piece. Vintage