A blueprint for a therapeutic reframe

There have been a few things in my learning of therapy that have hit me like a ton of bricks… in a good way. A kind of student “Aha” moment. And they have mostly come from fields peripheral to therapy.

The first one was in a workshop years ago run by Melbourne psychiatrist Bill McLeod. The workshop wasn’t about therapy, it was cooked up by Rob McNeilly, hoping Bill would share some of his accumulated wisdom. He was certainly a walking encyclopedia and eloquent master of linking ideas from peripheral fields to human dilemmas.

I heard that we human beings are explaining beings. We can’t help ourselves. So when something happens we just have to come up with an explanation. This is what we do:

Something happens.

We make up a story to explain what happened.

Then, we look for evidence to support the story we made up, and we always find it. You can always find evidence for the story you made up.

Then, (and this is thee scary part) we forget we made the story up.

Then, the story LIVES US.

The trouble is, that the story, the explanation, while tranquilising, is almost always limiting.

The example I like is that we used to think the world was flat. So someone sails to sea and doesn’t come back.

Then, we make up the story that the world is flat.

Then, we look for evidence. People who sail out a long way don’t come back, people who sail out a short way do, so there must be an edge out there that the former fell off.

Then we forget that we made the story up, and people sailed to sea being lived by the limitation of their story.

We do this all the time. Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance. (Who made this story up and where did it get us?) CBT is best (Well that’s history). We do it with our children. “She is shy” “He plays up if he eats snozcumbers” The stories we make up create a future that our children live into. We do it with our clients “He is resistant.” These explanations are tranquilising, which is why we like them, but they have huge potential to limit us.

I remember hearing Julio Olalla saying that Christopher Columbus didn’t discover what he discovered because he was smarter, or had better boats, or had more money. It was because he was willing to see differently. To take a look at how he took a look.

So the blueprint for a reframe:

What story would you rather be lived by? Make that story up. Look for evidence for that story. When you find the inevitable abundance of evidence for that story, forget you made it up. Let it do what we love our explanations doing, let it become our reality.

I am cooking up a project. I am going to take some stories that seem to create suffering instead of possibility and make up a new story. My first project of this sort was about premenstrual syndrome. If your interested go to howtotrainyourhormones.com

My next project tackles the growing phenomenon of anxious children. Stay tuned for a made up story that brings possibility instead of suffering.

If you have an area of interest in your work, and the prevailing story is one of suffering, but your story is one of possibility, don’t wait for science to catch up. Make some noise. Start by leaving a comment here. If you want some support to grow your idea, I recommend Bill O’Hanlon’s book writing course. I found it a wonderfully supportive way to get some clarity to write something useful.


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