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Leonard George, in his book, Alternative Realities, has written a superb commentary to cognitive behavior management, and while there are some disagreements, this introduction is mostly a paraphrase of his work.

Let the mind be enlarged, according to its capacity, to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind.
Francis Bacon

George divides normal daily experience into four domains: the external world, including the society and the cosmos within which we live; the body that interfaces us with the outer world, and within which is a world of sensation unto itself; the realm of the past, which we relive through our memories; and the inner world, populated by our thoughts, emotions and fantasies.

We rarely think to question the ‘obvious’, ‘common sense’, what ‘everybody knows’. Everybody knows that severe and persistent problems in living are generated by chemical imbalances in the brain and that medication is the only solution. Failing that, the person will need to be incarcerated ‘for his or her own good’. This orientation, of course, seeks to challenge what ‘everybody knows’.

We are connected to the events around us through our senses and our actions. The surface of the body is covered by specialized organs that convert physical energies of various kinds – light, air pressure changes, mechanical forces impinging on the skin – into nerve signals. The nerve cells, or neurons, use a system of electrical and chemical communication to send messages from the sense receptors to the brain. Our awareness of the external world is based on these messages.

The world seems to be made of solid separate things with fixed identities and meanings. Furthermore the objects that compose the world do not appear to depend on us for the characteristics we perceive them to have; they seem to be out there completely disconnected from our own state. We do not experience the world as a place that we construct, but as a collection of sovereign things that we discover.

These givens of everyday life – the coherence and fixed, independent existence of things – seem beyond doubt. Although we seem to experience the world directly, as it actually is, our awareness, in fact is the end product of an immensely complicated and imperfectly understood process taking place in the central nervous system. What reaches our brain via the nervous system is not a meaningful picture of freestanding objects, but a deluge of nerve impulses.

The framework of ordinary reality is made of our assumptions and expectations, our desires and fears. The angry dwell in a world of enemies; the ambitious, in a world of opportunities; the fearful in a world of threats. These are not just ‘attitudes’ – they actually determine, to a large extent, our very perceptions. The crafting of the brain’s neural bombardment into a meaningful world is accomplished within a fraction of a second – edges and similarities are detected and knitted together into objects, depth is added, comparisons with memory traces are undertaken, uninteresting or unidentifiable material is discarded, threats and opportunities are labeled and highlighted, and much else – perhaps within 60 to 80 milliseconds. So, the ‘present’, is actually an experience of the past. And the past, as we ordinarily think of it, does not exist in a substantial way.

Body awareness too is a construction, not a simple discovery. The shape, actions and boundaries of the body that we experience are those of a mental image synthesized by the brain and projected onto the screen of consciousness.

Remembering the past is literally an active reconstruction of a picture of the past. A typical remembrance is likely to be a blend of accurate information about the recalled event and invented material. And the experience of recollection itself contains no sure clues that can tell us which is which.

Even Descartes, who attempted to strip every uncertainty from his experience, stopped short of considering the uncertainty of the inner world. “Cognito, ergo sum”, he declared – “I think, therefore I am”. He could not bring himself to doubt the immediate reality of his own thoughts, which he took to be the evidence of his identity. There would seem to be no room for constructive processes here. ‘I’, as crystallized in the contents of my mind, exists as the solid core of my experiential universe. The boundaries are clear and distinct; I do not confuse myself with other objects. However, we find that the parameters of the self do not remain fixed, but expand and contract – again, like all of the other domains of experience, in dependence on the prevailing biological and psychological states of the individual.

Where, in all this flux, is that solid self that seemed to be beyond doubt? Careful observation of the stream of consciousness reveals an ever-changing procession of sensations and images. The more closely I search for a substantial self, the less substantial it becomes.

In short, consciousness is a construction, not a direct encounter with naked reality.

The organizing of neural impulses into a meaningful experiential world is controlled by our beliefs and motivations. Out thoughts, are not merely commentary on these neural impulses, but are neural impulses in themselves, and therefore are a part of the input to the organizational content. Our beliefs are not random. They form a map of reality that informs us of what is possible and impossible, both for ourselves and the world we live in. This web of assumptions has various names in the human sciences – maps or models of the world, worldview or theory of meaning.

Humans are the tool-using species. And our most valuable tool is our theory of meaning. Without a theory of meaning to inform the experience building machinery about which stimuli to weave into the picture and which to ignore, individuals cannot organize their own actions. And, when the brain senses that the person is disoriented and helpless, it pulls the alarm. The result: fear – which can be reinterpreted as anger, sadness, and the like.

The infant is therefore driven to acquire a worldview, to quell the craving for meaning and control to reduce anxiety. The basic assumptions of this worldview are usually absorbed from the parents [accurately or inaccurately]. These beliefs are reinforced throughout childhood by the society’s processes of socialization. It is important to note that we take in the basic features of the worldview early in life. The foundations of belief about the cosmos, society, body and self are laid even before we fully learn to speak. Throughout life, these primordial convictions will remain impossible to express – and therefore impossible to question.

In the child’s experience, there two options: embracing the worldview of the culture or suffer the anxious chaos of refusing to do so. The only worldview known to the child will quickly take on an aura of absolute reality, if the only known alternative is meaninglessness. The parental worldview acquires the mantle of unquestionable truth.

Later in life, a person might challenge some of the details of the world view, trading them in for other beliefs; but the most fundamental, deeply buried assumptions continue, unnoticed, to sculpt the awareness in, and of, their own image.

A theory of meaning requires some flexibility to adapt to changing circumstance. The person must have methods of preserving the theory from disintegration in the face of challenges. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget discussed two main mechanisms by which the worldview deals with new information. He called these processes assimilation and accommodation. Via these twin processes, we navigate our daily lives, either conforming our experience to our assumptions [assimilation] or changing our beliefs to absorb new facts [accommodation].

Our reaction to novelty – whether we assimilate, accommodate or simply ignore – is affected by the responses of those around us. One of the most powerful clues available to us about the reality we share with others is what those others tell us about it. Thus, if everyone else in the group agrees to the status quo, the observer who glimpsed an anomaly will usually convince him/herself that s/he did not see it. The conventions of culture stabilize an individual’s awareness from two direction: from within, via the theory of meaning and from without, via social influences.

Controlling attention is one of the main ways in which a theory of meaning molds experience. We focus on what we believe to be real, valuable or threatening, and ignore that which we consider to be meaningless or trivial. As a result, we miss most of what is going on around us and within us. It follows that people whose attentional focus is less tightly controlled by expectations will occasionally notice features of the world that are undetected by others and imbue those observations with special meaning.

Human nature abhors an explanatory vacuum. The unknown might contain dangers; so we are driven to clarify, to assimilate or accommodate all pieces of experience that seem not to harmonize with our worldview.

In ancient Greece the Delphic oracle recognized Socrates as the wisest man. What was his wisdom? He is said to have summarized it thus: I know that I know nothing. This suspension of certainty, if balanced by a grounding in disciplined curiosity, can open us to mindfulness.


People tend to have problems in living when they cannot form mutually satisfying and gratifying relationships. Usually this occurs because of the ways that they behave with people based upon how they think about themselves, other people and their prospects for the future. Particular concerns occur when people have thoughts about loss of control.

Hopelessness occurs when someone does not believe a particular desired goal is even possible. It is characterized by a sense that, “No matter what I do it won’t make a difference. What I want is not possible to get. It’s out of my control. I’m a victim”.

Helplessness occurs when, even though s/he believes that the outcome exists and is possible to achieve, a person does not believe that s/he is capable of attaining it. It produces a sense that, “It’s possible for others to achieve this goal but not for me. I’m not good enough or capable enough to accomplish it”.

Worthlessness occurs when, even though a person may believe that the desired goal is possible and that s/he even has the capability to accomplish it, that individual believes that s/he doesn’t deserve to get what s/he wants. It is often characterized by a sense that, “I am a fake. I don’t belong. I don’t deserve to be happy or healthy. There is something basically and fundamentally wrong with me as a person and I deserve the pain and suffering that I am experiencing”.

One area of continuity that runs through this process is that the person identifies a ‘loss of control’. It is an evident consequence of being self-aware that if one has some conception of one’s own nature, then one must also have some conception of the nature of things other than oneself, i.e. of the world. Thus, the very existence of self-awareness, and therefore human beings, depends on the making of some distinction between ‘objective’ (things that are not an intrinsic part of the self) and ‘subjective’ (things that are an intrinsic part of the self) [Hallowell].

However, as a consequence of this skill and the ability to ‘imagine’, human beings are able to view themselves as both subject and object. The consequences of this skill have some psychological downside. Often when we view ourselves as the object, we are subjectively viewing ourselves as the ‘victim’ of some act by others. This negative way of thinking about ourselves has a profound effect on the way we think about self and others. If our tendency is to think of ourselves as the subject [e.g., the actor in the scenario], we tend to think more positively, since we think of ourselves as being in control of the situation. The object thinking of self as not intrinsically a part of the self is a paradox of immense proportion. As not intrinsically ‘there’ we are a ‘thing’ with no control over our circumstances. When we think of ourselves as the object or recipient in the scenario, we tend to think negatively, hopelessly and helplessly. This is based on the epigenetic rule that we have a bias toward our own actions and against the actions of others. Thinking of ourselves as ‘object’ we lose the positive bias.

Or, as Bateson suggests, “the human being, depersonified in his own talk and thought, may indeed learn more thingish habits”. Ourselves as object may be sad, helpless and hopeless as defined by depression; angry at being misued; or anxious and fearful because of our inability to predict and control future situations. Each of these is considered to be a negative attribution which lead to problems in living.

Individual people respond to these internal cognitive states with different degrees of emotionality – e.g., anger, sadness, fear, shame, etc. It is interesting to note that while it is common to assume that people with issues of sadness and fear feel out of control and victimized, those with anger issues as well feel that they are victims.

Many offenders are accustomed to feeling unfairly treated and have learned a defiant, hostile attitude as part of their basic orientation toward life and other people. Offenders often think they are entitled to a kind of absolute freedom in the way they conduct their lives. From this point of view, any restriction of their freedom is resented as an unjust intrusion. Relationships with other people are dominated by a struggle for power. Win-lose (us & them) is the dominant form of personal relationship. They picture themselves as the victim and righteous anger displaces the feelings of loss and failure. This logic is a vicious cycle. Whether they win or lose, the underlying cognitive structure is reinforced.
Bush & Bilodeau 1993

In all cases, such emotionality leaves people prone to behave in ways that will tend to make them unlikable, thus increasing the probability of receiving reinforcement for these thoughts from others through the responses they receive.

Thus, the process starts with a thought, a seemingly innocuous psychological state. However, “far from thoughts being vague ‘nothings’ that go nowhere and do nothing, neuroscientists have learned that thoughts are electrical impulses that trigger electrical and chemical switches in the brain. Thoughts are not just psychological in nature, they are physiological – electrochemical triggers that direct and affect the chemical activity in the brain.

When given an electrical command – a thought – the brain immediately does several things: it responds to the thought by releasing appropriate control chemicals into the body, and it alerts the central nervous system to any required response or action [Helmstetter].

Traditional ‘scientific’ theories of brain chemistry imbalance therefore have it backward; they have identified the effect as though it were the cause. Thoughts have been demonstrated through biofeedback and meditation to not only excite chemicals in the brain, but to reduce them as well. Thus, the key to our mental states is what we think. Our thoughts generate a reaction in the body. These bodily changes are interpreted as emotions, which lead us to feel certain ways which generate a propensity for a certain demeanor and action.

The most severe and persistent problems in living occur by accumulating thoughts over long periods of time or in circumstances where these beliefs are taught to the individual by significant others. In the extreme, a family who teaches its children that they are helpless, hopeless and unworthy is likely to have children who suffer from extreme problems in living.

Being told – particularly by someone ‘who should know’ – that a given event is uncontrollable will create an expectation that the event is uncontrollable, even without experience of the contingency. Conversely, just being told that an event is controllable will also short circuit experiencing the contingency. Seligman

However, the development of such meaning is an interactive process and the responses of the family may be reinforcing, but not initiatory. The primary methods of communicating information are through language, emotional contagion, instruction and modeling. Thus, the problems of the child managers can be nonconsciously conveyed to the child, often in ambiguous ways, which the child can easily misinterpret, bringing about a cycle of reinforcement that is unintended.

Children are natural mimics–they act like their parents in spite of every effort to teach them good manners. –Unknown


Each individual must create his/her own Theory of Meaning. This grand unified theory is as individual as a fingerprint and no two theories are the same. Even identical twins brought up in identical circumstances will develop different theories, which should substantially deflate the genetic construct of behavior which posits that all behavior is genetically generated.

The theory of meaning is derive from a process with the following steps, starting with a bottom up data collection from random experiences through a process of:

• Perception – stimuli is perceived through the senses. If one of the senses is defective, the stimuli will be different than for most people. However, even typical people may identify different aspects of the same stimuli.

• Appraisal – the individual will determine the utility of the stimuli. Utility is identified as ranging from pleasure to pain. Based upon this appraisal, s/he is likely to give it a moral label of good [if pleasurable] or bad [if painful].

• Comparison – the individual will then cumulatively compare the stimuli to other stimuli seeking patterns of experience. Human beings are pattern makers and we can make patterns out of any random design. Thus the patterns identified by the individual may or may not be true.

One of the major standards of comparison is to compare oneself to others. Thus the beliefs that one holds about self and others become major categories of mental schema in determining outcome.

• Judgements – finally, the person will make judgements about their appraisals and comparisons – e.g., s/he is better at that then me.

It is up to the infant animal, … to create its own categories and to use them to make sense of, to construct a world – and it’s not just a world that the infant constructs, but its own world, a world constituted from the first by personal meaning and reference.

Every perception … is an act of creation.

Sacks – A New Vision of the Mind

Constraints To Data Collection

There is a reality outside of us, although just what it is would be difficult to define. There are objects and events that occur in the ‘real’ world. Our perception of these, however, is limited, first by natural constraints and then by the filters that we create.

At some time, probably while in the womb, the individual experiences his/her first sensations. Sensations come from our senses, the major of which are sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. If one or more of these senses are diminished by a biological anomaly or defect, there is a physical constraint on the perception of the experience. The perception will not be typical.

Genes prescribe epigenetic rules, by which the individual mind assembles itself [Wilson].

In addition to that, there are neurological constraints based on natural epigenetic rules that are inherent to the entire species unless the individual has some genetic or physical defect. For example:

We are aware that our central nervous system is in some way designed to limit the amount of information that gets to us. Some examples of these limitations would include sound waves that are below 20 cycles or above 20,000 cycles per second, which we cannot hear although they exist in reality. Visual detection exists only between 380 and 680 milli-microns; above and below is undetectable. Bandler & Grinder

The central nervous system thus is a regulator of what we are able to see, hear, feel, smell and taste and these constraints shield us from the ‘reality’ outside of us, even if we are genetically typical. The ‘reality’ of an organism that has alternative limitations of sensory areas would be quite different from the one we perceive. Snakes, which ‘see’ electromagnetic waves that we feel as ‘heat’, would fit that category.

Once we have had an experience, it also becomes less and less likely that we will experience that same object or event with the same profoundness the next time it occurs. In fact, we fairly quickly become habituated to experiences and ‘block out’ of consciousness mundane concerns.

Traveling to a different part of the state, I was provided a room in a family home. We arrived after dark and after becoming acquainted with the family, I was shown to my sleeping quarters and went to bed. At some point during the night I was startled by a train that seemed to be coming through my bedroom. The light actually flashed on the wall and the roar was, it seemed, right upon me. The whole building shook. The family, who had lived with this train for some time, did not even wake up. They had forgotten to tell me about it, because they essentially no longer heard [or felt] the train passing. This was inexplicable to me – but I have learned over time that this is the way habituation works.

This constraint on the sensations of the train was not based on the limitations placed by the nervous system. If we had been awake and talking, my reactions would have brought the train sound, light and feel to the family’s consciousness and they would have fully experienced it. But habituation is a significant part of how we experiences of the world as it filters out what we will actually perceive at any given time.

We experience an event through the collection of data from the senses and ‘feel’ [in a physical sense] the sensation of the experience within the parameters of our neurological constraints. At this point, certain other epigenetic rules are implemented. Martin Seligman called this ‘prepared learning’. He said that ‘…humans are innately prepared to learn certain behaviors, while being counter prepared against – that is, predisposed to avoid – others’. These are the algorithms of growth and differentiation that create a fully functioning organism.

One of the most profound of these rules is the rule of association. Human beings associate or link one thing with another seeking to define a pattern within random perceptions. We can, in fact, stare at a ceiling tile with random dots and find all kinds of intriguing faces and forms.

The choices that a person makes about these experiences – how s/he compares these experiences, are the beginnings of his/her individuality. There is no reason to believe that s/he will in a first sample or ever after make choices in the same way as other people. But it is assured that the choices made over time will be uniquely individual. It would also be unwise to believe that the pattern s/he perceives actually exists, for as with random design, the pattern is as much in our mind as it is in the environment.

Through an exponentially increasing number of random experiences, the individual, based on another epigenetic rule, will begin to generalize about experiences. Such generalizations are abstractions that differ from both the actual experience and the sensation [which is its own abstraction or generalization of the experience]. This is a different level of logic.

One of the experiences that all individuals perceive, is the interpretation of common experience by other people in the ecosystem. Just as we may not ‘see’ the pattern on the tile or in an illusion until it is pointed out, so too, our perception of reality is shaped by other people by their emphasis or ‘pointing out’ of particulars. Of special importance are the interpretation given by those people of significance. These outside interpretations have profound influence on the meaning or interpretation of the experience and are gradually absorbed and habituated into the prototype individual’s psyche. This experience of culture [social constraint] is somewhat like the experience of gravity, at once profound and unnoticed.

Bandler and Grinder point out that this constraint includes all the categories or filters to which we are subject as members of a social system: our language, our accepted ways of perceiving, and the socially agreed upon fictions.

They give as an example, the language system. Within any particular language system part of the richness of experience is associated with the number of distinctions made in a given area of sensation. In Maidu, an American Indian language of Northern California for example, only three words are available to describe the color spectrum. English has eight [specific] color terms.

While human beings are said to be capable of making 7,500,000 different color distinctions in the visible color spectrum (Boring, 1957), the people who are native speakers of Maidu habitually group their experience into the three categories supplied by their language. The person who speaks Maidu is characteristically conscious of only three categories of color experience while the English speaker has more categories and, therefore, more habitual perceptual distinctions.

Thus, the social constraint or culture is limiting in a) what concepts it provides to the individual for consideration, and b) how it reinforces the individual’s social performance [interaction]. If the individual generalizes something that is contrary to the culture, the impact may be profound. Galileo discovered this when he promoted the Copernican idea that the earth was not the center of the universe.

With epigenetic rules, neurological constraints and social constraints, the typical individual is still struggling to make sense of the world, to be able to predict what will happen next with some degree of accuracy. S/he is making attributions, appraisals and comparisons, testing out generalizations and creating hypotheses about why things happen and trying to give meaning not only to individual events, but to the world. Finally, s/he begins to form a ‘grand unified theory’, with the major generalizations being about self, others and personal future prospects. How we compare with others in the ability to predict and control events will lead to expectations about future prospects.

Thus, the individual has now set up, individual constraints that will limit what s/he perceives. As Grinder and Bandler tell it our individual experiences begin to differ more radically, giving rise to more dramatically different representations of the world. The individual constraints are the basis for the most far-reaching differences among us as humans.

By individual constraints we refer to all the representation we create as human beings based upon our unique personal history and our interpretation of it. Every human being has a set of experiences that constitute his/her own personal history and are as unique to that individual as are his/her fingerprints. And these experiences are generalized into a theory of meaning – they describe just what the world means to this individual.

Accumulation Of Data Leads To Identification Of:

  • Patterns – e.g., s/he is [is not] always better than me
  • Hypotheses – e.g., I must [not] be as good as others
  • Theories – e.g., I must be bad, worthless, hopeless &/or helpless or okay and in control
  • Rules – those expectations about how people should behave

As stated above, the process leads ultimately to a Theory of Meaning and each person has created this meaning out of a random process, shaped and honed by the acculturation process in which s/he was raised. If the culture places high expectations upon mathematics and the theory suggests that “I am not as good as everyone else in math”, this is likely to lead to problems in living. It is important to note that if the culture were to emphasize mathematics, it is likely that most people in the culture would be very good at math – thus the child is comparing him/herself against a skewed norm – not all people are good at math.

It is also important to note that the theory of meaning is not necessarily true – there is no reality ‘out there’. Meaning requires a ‘meaning maker’ and occurs only in the mind.

I want you to realize that there exists no color in the natural world, and no sound – nothing of this kind; no texture, no pattern, no beauty, no scent. Sounds, colors, patterns, etc., appear to have an independent reality, yet are, in fact, constructed by the mind. All our experience of the natural world is our mind’s interpretation of the input it receives.
Sir John Eccles

Under normal circumstances, the mind receives energetic neural impulses from external stimuli through the sensory system. From these neural impulses, a reality is created. This is not to imply that there is not some reality out there, for there is a general consensus among people about what exists. It is to say, however, that outside of this consensus, no one really knows.

Consensus omnium – What everyone believes is true. Aristotle

Our own personal perspective of reality, particularly on logical level of generalization and abstraction about self, others and future prospects is quite our own.

The age of theoretical conclusion is usually somewhere between the ages of four and seven.

Howard Gardner defines three characteristic learners and that discussion, while not a perfect fit, may provide useful information for us to consider about this early theory conclusion.

The intuitive learner: Gardner reiterates some of what we just discussed in slightly different terms. He suggests neurobiological and developmental constraints owing to species membership and to principles of human development that operate predictably in physical and social environments. These constraints, the result of hundreds of thousands of years of evolution, are very powerful, and prove very difficult to dissolve. The kinds of materials and skills that we master easily seem to be those to which the species is especially attuned. Potent evolutionary reasons allow certain realms [like language] to be mastered in a natural way; by the same token, otherwise adaptive factors may give rise to the misconceptions and stereotypes that emerge as so troublesome. Generally, the typical young child masters a great deal of information and appears highly competent in his/her circumscribed world being able to use and comprehend symbol systems fluently and offer workaday theories and explanations of the worlds of mind, matter, life and self. Because of the ease with which these performances are expressed, Gardner terms them performances of intuitive [naive or natural] understanding. It should be emphasized that these understandings are often immature, misleading, or fundamentally misconceived. This is certainly the case with many of the self-concept and interpersonal understandings even though in many instances they prove serviceable enough.

Children come to master many apparently complex domains easily, but apparently not those matters for which schools have been designed. There is a gap between the intuitive [spontaneous – appraisals, comparisons] learner and the traditional student dealing with systematically learned [judgements] concepts. Students who have perfectly adequate intuitive understandings often exhibit great difficulty in mastering the lessons of school. It is these students who exhibit ‘learning problems’ or ‘learning disorders’. Yet even those who prove successful in school typically fail to appreciate the gaps between their intuitive understandings and those that are embodied in the notations and concepts of schools.

The traditional student has profound [social or cultural] constraints of an extrinsic sort: the historical and institutional constraints that are embedded in schools that have evolved over centuries to serve certain societal purpose in certain ways. The relative absence in schools of a concern with deep understanding reflects the fact that, for the most part, the goal of engendering that kind of understanding has not been a high priority for educational bureaucracies.

In the school context, educators have ordinarily sought and accepted rote, ritualistic, or conventional performance. There exists a gap between the traditional student and the disciplinary expert [expert in a special discipline] revealed by recent cognitively, oriented research. Even esteemed students typically do not successfully transfer their knowledge to new settings, and, worse, they typically do not appreciate that they have fallen back on the powerful but naive understandings of early childhood; those molecular concepts, constructs and steps with which they first learned of the world. Hence the traditional student emerges as at least as remote from the disciplinary expert as from the younger, intuitive learner since even those students who apparently succeed in schools often have not understood in a deep sense the very concepts and principles around which their educational program has been designed.

The disciplinary expert cannot begin to master a domain, or to understand it, unless s/he is willing to enter into its world and to accept the disciplinary and epistemological constraints that have come to operate within it over the years. Performances of disciplinary or genuine understanding are always changing and never complete; expertise is manifest when an individual embodies his culture’s current understanding of the domain.

When comparing this process to the development of a theory of meaning, it is easily noted that the child creates often immature, misleading, or fundamentally misconceived notions about self, others and future prospects. The student learns very little about these basic constructs in school or society and using the confirmation bias, the student can easily note reinforcement for negative ideation in the schooling and socializing processes. Finally, unless the person is willing to enter into a disciplined process and accept the constraints of the discipline, s/he is unlikely to gain a genuine understanding of the limits and opportunities available in the cognitive domain. Outside of traditions such as Buddhist meditation, there are very few opportunities for personal growth and development to alter the naive constructs that may inhibit interrelationships and lead to problems in living.

Once a naive theory of meaning has been set, a confirmation bias sets in so that the intent becomes collecting data to find confirming evidence and there is a tendency to ignore contrary evidence. This is a little like looking for your keys – they are in the last place you look – because you then stop looking. The confirmation bias leads us to ignore first, second, third and fourth evidence in which we don’t find what we are looking for since the evidence is contrary – until we find confirmation – at which point, we stop looking.

When trying to assess whether a belief is valid, people tend to seek out information that would potentially confirm the belief, over information that might disconfirm it [Gilovich].

This confirmation bias leads to a top down data collection process that is quite different than the former bottom up process. Now we are seeking information that supports our theories.

Remember that we are seeking to confirm theories about ourselves, others and the future prospects in the world from the perspective of a four to seven year old child, usually modified only modestly over time!

This top down data collection process continues to use the perception, appraisal, comparison and judgement process. Now, however, the process tends to habituate through constant repetition and become nonconscious indicating that the central nervous system has completely learned it. Thus, if a continued comparison leads to self-statement such as “I am worthless”, this is repeated constantly and the person becomes less and less conscious of the fact.

Additionally, as we grow older, the thoughts themselves become events to be perceived, appraised, compared and judged. Thus, a chain of negative thinking can occur, which reinforces itself.


The fundamental assumption that we are making here is that people are the sum total of what they think. In fact, no person can act differently than s/he thinks, unless of course, s/he is acting.

If this assumption is correct, a person who believes that s/he is worthless, helpless and/or hopeless is likely to display a personality that conveys these negative thoughts. S/he may convey, through the wonder of emotion [often anxiety, sadness and/or anger] behaviors that are indicative of the thoughts and emotions.

A description of the summed social behavior within a group (tribe or sub-group) is called its culture. A description of the summed social behavior within an individual can be called his/her personality. Individual attitudes may be described as the affective behavior occurring from one set of beliefs within the total theory of meaning and personality. Thus a person may be personable in every area except when talking about a particular subject in which s/he may be consider obstinate, irrational, etc. On the other hand, people whose negative attitudes and resultant summed negative social behavior constitute a substantive part of their personality are often considered irrational beings who need to be controlled. The degree of deviation from the cultural norm of the summed social behavior determines the magnitude of the difference.

Personality has its own characteristics. Etymologically, Ayto tells us that the word person – Latin persona originally denoted a ‘mask, particularly one worn by an actor.’ It gradually evolved through ‘character played by an actor’ phonetically through parson and later restored to person meaning ‘human being’. A thesaurus gives us words like character, demeanor, disposition, manner, nature, and temperament and the dictionary suggest that it means being a person, personal existence or identity of one’s own.

It is important to note that people who have physical or neurological problems are particularly prone to negative thinking because it is difficult to create balanced and rational thoughts when you are obviously different and must explain the difference. People with mild mental retardation are more prone to have negative and distressing thoughts, because they are sufficiently competent to understand their own deficiencies; in comparison to others and in their ability to control their own lives, they interpret in the negative. It is not the deficiency or the even the cognizance of the deficiency in itself that creates the negative attitudes, it is the meaning that the person gives to this difference. It the person with mental retardation was somehow able to identify the difference as positive and beneficial, s/he would have fewer problems in living. It has been indicated that people with depression see the world more realistically than typical people. If this is so, it is helpful to have some rose colored glasses to buffer the harshness of the real world. Within reason, balanced and rational, but slightly ‘rosy’ thoughts are better for us. Put another way

Things turn out best for those people who make the best of the way things turn out. Art Linkletter


The manner in which intervention is thought to be related to intended outcomes for a particular population is considered a ‘theory of change’.

The theory of change is that ‘change occurs only when the person thinks differently’. Simply thinking better things about him/herself can cause changes in the person’s feelings and behaviors. Since there is no reality, it is not even necessary that these thought be true – only that they are believable. There is a consensus reality that is made up of the cultural belief system and the believability is reinforced if it is also believable to the culture.

The question of intended outcomes is also important in this discussion. If we are attempting to help people change what they think, this reinforces the notion that we must have their sanction to help. While it is true that we can covertly provide ‘memes’ [thoughts or ideas] for change, these will have little or no effect, unless the person chooses [consciously or not consciously] to accept them. Memes that are positive [internal attributions/subject oriented] tend to be more acceptable than memes that are negative, [external attributions/object oriented] although habituation works with both. Therefore ‘seeding’ the environment with positive memes can be beneficial because they are more gratifying.

However, cognitive change is essentially ‘self change’ and unless the person is willing to accept you as a helper, help is unlikely to occur. It is for this reason that the process is predicated upon the preferred preferences or goals of the individual.


Cognitive behavior management makes no attempt to change people for the ‘better’ – since we do not know what the better is until it is defined for us by the individual. The customer defines quality. From that standpoint, the process does not allow a coercive control of clients – ergo, there can be no resistance.

Goals, Not Needs

Cognitive change is self-change. This demands that the change worker negotiate with the individual about what in him/herself s/he wants to change. This will require a visions statement about goals and future. Since people with severe problems in living believe that their problems are personal, persistent and pervasive, this is no easy matter. One does not, therefore, start with broad statements of goals, but rather with questions about what hurts? What would you like to stop from hurting?

Because people with problems in living are likely to see themselves and the situation as helpless, hopeless and/or worthless, they tend to apply only avoidance or defensive goals. The dilemma, of course, is how to effect change where no preference for change is attained; or it is achieved through persuasion and coercion rather than choice. Presently we assume a stance that posits that a child will receive services if s/he needs such services, whether s/he want them or not. The notion of need is an interesting one since it is based upon a social judgement of one who is quite unlike the child. The result is often a reinforcement of the child’s assumptions that those ‘others’ are truly the problem, and we end up with a power struggle rather than a service. Because this is such a prevalent experience, the entirety of human service delivery is pivoted on the assumption of the need to control those who would prefer not to be in the system. Words such as compliance and resistance are common to the system. And substantive outcome is at best, extremely limited.

One of the changes that is required to make human services more effective is to find a method of developing the revealed preferences of the child and designing a way to provide services to enable the child to attain these goals. The shift from needs to goals is profound, and must start with the first assessment contact.

“Optimism, the conviction that you can change, is a necessary first step in the process of all change” [Seligman – 1994].

Clues To Potential Areas To Help

In order to help a person with problems in living become cognizant of more appropriate achievement goals, it may be helpful if we can help them locate their points of distress. It is often difficult to get a desire to change expressed. Part of this is the concern that it is the ‘other’ who needs to change and part may be based on the lack of conviction that such change can actually occur.

What often adds to the frustration is when the person refuses to participate, or at least to participate effectively, and is relatively non-responsive to the inquiries. While it is known intellectually that you cannot help anyone unless they want help, helpers seem to get stuck in trying to help the person see the worker’s vision of the future and to understand how wonderful it would be if the person would abide by it. This coercive, though often ‘well intended’, notion leads to failure in almost all systems. The complaint of the professional is that the child was resistive, ‘shut down’, would not participate, or worse yet, is so ‘ill’ that s/he doesn’t understand what is good for him/her and needs to be forced to accept help.

The central task of psychology, whether experimental or applied, is the understanding of human behavior. To say, however, that our behavior is complex is not to deny that it has structure. It is useful for you to distinguish between rule-governed behavior and determined behavior.

People who come to the attention of human service professionals typically have pain in their lives and experience little or no control in matters they consider important. This is true regardless of the coercion they may feel about the process. All change workers are confronted with the problem of responding adequately to such issues. Responding adequately in this context means assisting in changing the client’s interpretation of his/her experience in some way that enriches it. Rarely do change workers accomplish this by changing the world. The approach is typically to change the client’s experience of the world, or at least his/her interpretation of that experience. People do not operate directly on the world, but operate necessarily through their perception or model of the world.

When humans wish to communicate their experience of the world, they form a complete linguistic representation of their experience: this is called the Deep Structure. As they begin to speak, they make a series of choices (transformations) about the form in which they will communicate their experiences. These choices are not, in general, conscious choices. The outcome of those choices is the Surface Structure and this is the structure of the person that others in his/her ecosystem perceive.

One of the things that happens in most assessments and helping relationships is a series of verbal transactions between the client and assessor/change worker. A common feature of the encounter is that the counselor tries to find out what the client has come for; what the client wants to change. In terms of this process, the counselor is attempting to find out what theory of meaning the client has. How does s/he see the world and his/her place in it?

As indicated, this process may be difficult if the client is not willing to engage us in a discussion of what s/he wants to change. In fact, if s/he is feeling coerced, s/he may specifically resist. However, what s/he talks about – the content – is not relevant. It is the structure of his/her language that will give the change worker the clues to potential areas for help. It is the Surface Structure that we are exposed to and by reconnecting the Surface Structure to the Deep Structure we gain a fuller perspective of the client and his/her model of the world.

If the model of the client’s experience as articulated through the Surface Structure has pieces missing, it is impoverished. Impoverished models imply limited options for behavior. Since such a limitation of options often leads to problems in living, the change worker, simply by listening to the client’s responses and identifying areas where there are pieces missing, has a beginning sense of what the individual may want to work on were s/he willing to get involved.

It is from this linguistic process that the clinician is able to help the client begin to become conscious of, and choose to address [set a goal], the problems in living.

Community of Interest

A second major construct is that both helper and helped must recognize the interactive nature of the problems in living. People do not form nor maintain their personal beliefs alone. Each belief is tested in the public realm and is either reinforced or reconsidered – although the confirmation bias remains in effect. If a child believes s/he is ‘worthless’ – there is some reinforcement somewhere – albeit inadvertent. Secondary benefits of problems in living can be reinforcing. Both the assessment and the intervention must consider the other as both a support for and against change. If the significant other is going to sabotage [consciously or nonconsciously] change, s/he must have an intervention as well.

This construct is built upon three conceptual structures:

1. That interactions between people create thoughts in the other person that may be helpful and/or harmful;

We have a ‘magical’ ability to influence how others think simply by the words we choose and the style of communication. Slips of the tongue can become major causes of distress, yet few of us know what are the elements that are destructive. Parents and teacher commonly use language, which support maladaptive thoughts. In fact, their effectiveness epitomizes the strength of cognitive behavior management procedures.

2. That this interrelatedness extends to all of the people who regularly populate an individual’s ecosystem; and

Gregory Bateson (1979) suggested that while the division of the perceived universe into parts and wholes is convenient and may be necessary, no necessity determines how it shall be done. He points out that we commonly speak as though a single ‘thing’ could ‘have’ some characteristic. A stone, for example, is ‘hard’, ‘small’, ‘heavy’, and so on.

But this way of talking is not good enough. To think straight, it is advisable to expect all qualities and attributes, adjectives and so on to refer to at least two sets of interactions at a time.

Language continually asserts by the form of subject and predicate that ‘things’ somehow ‘have’ qualities and attributes. A more precise way of talking would insist that the ‘things’ are produced, are seen as separate from other ‘things’, and are made ‘real’ by their internal relations and by their behavior in relationship with other things and with the speaker.

3. That these regular participants need to take responsibility for the whole, not simply draw attention to a part.

To suggest that a disruption in the community is caused by an individual takes responsibility away from all other participants. Just as the juvenile justice system is seeing the wisdom of gathering together the ‘community’ for healing, so to must the community participate in both the assessment and the recovery process .

These concepts might suggest that referral and assessment for professional clinical services may be ‘toxic’ as presently implemented. A person is selected for assessment because of ‘information’ about attitudes or behaviors that are affecting social performance obtained by the community. Described by Bateson as ‘the difference that makes a difference’, this information has made a difference to the community of interest and has reached a level of concern that they believe requires a referral. Usually this information about the individual is described as inappropriate or atypical behavior that has caused some degree of disruption in the normal process of life in the community. This is certainly worth exploration.

However, it cannot and should not be done in isolation since the community is an interactive part of the problem.


“Every belief is a limit to be examined and transcended.”
John C. Lily

Theoretical Underpinnings

Cognitive theory posits that:


Essentially it is thought that determines feelings that then determine action. If your thoughts are always positive: “I am in control; I am okay, you are okay; and the future looks pretty good”, you are likely to feel positive, convey positive attitudes and relate to people well.

Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.

If you believe you have been trespassed upon, you are likely to generate the bodily sensations of fight/flight, which you then interpreted as either anger or fright and respond accordingly.

It should be pointed out that the bodily responses to the thought of fight/flight can negatively affect the person as it accumulates over time. The responses prepare for a burst of energy. If there is no burst of energy, it is hard for the body to calm down, and if there is a burst of energy on a regularly basis, it is easy for the body to get worn down since the expectation is that this high energy load is only for special occasions.

Thought is the mediating factor, and thought comes on several different levels ranging from operational to the pervasive. In other words, I can operationalize a thought of trespass in specific occasions, but not feel trespass on every phase of my life, or I can have a permanent and pervasive belief that people often [or always trespass] and I am both prepared to see it and to react to it. The latter condition, of course, predisposes one to see trespass, even where none exists.

In a generalized way, we will refer to these as surface thoughts and core beliefs. Surface thoughts which occur situationally are usually conscious because the situation is novel, providing as Bateson has said a difference that makes a difference. The mind tends to attend to novel situations where new information is available.

Core beliefs, on the other hand, are personal, persistent and pervasive. Personal in the sense that no one else is considered to have the same thoughts. Persistent in that they continue on and on. And pervasive in that they cover every area of life. Core beliefs cover the entire spectrum of life and the world around us, but the major structures of concern are beliefs about self, others [including not only what you think about others, but your projections about what you think others think about you], and expectations for the future.

Attribution Theory

The issue of expectations involves attribution and expectation theory. When individuals engage in an activity, they may attribute [explain] their outcomes to the operation of one or more causal factors. Research has focused on the conditions that influence the tendency to ascribe responsibility to personal forces (e.g., ability and effort) or to impersonal forces over which the individual has little control (e.g., situation and bad luck).

The Internal-External [I-E] variable represents a generalized expectancy about how reinforcement is causally related to one’s own behavior. At the one end of the I-E dimension are individuals who believe that reinforcement is contingent upon their own behavior (internals), while those at the other extreme believe that reinforcement is independent of their actions and is controlled by luck, chance or powerful others (externals).

What produces self-esteem and a sense of competence and protects against depression, is not the absolute quality of experience, but the perception that one’s own actions controlled the experience. Seligman

Expectancy Theory

When a person generally attributes the causes of success and failure to external sources, s/he is essentially making a statement about his/her ability to achieve. Since if s/he has no control over the outcome, the issues of helplessness, hopelessness and worthiness come to the fore. More importantly perhaps, the belief in potential failure is likely to create an interpersonal expectancy effect or self-fulfilling prophecy which ensures such failure. More importantly, perhaps, is that such expectancies can occur in other people who are appraising, comparing and making judgements about the target person’s competence.

“A Self Fulfilling Prophecy [SFP] is said to occur when one’s belief concerning the occurrence of some future event…makes one behave in a manner…that increases the likelihood that the expected event will occur….” [Eden, 1990].

Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary [1983] defines expect as ‘to look for as likely to occur or appear’. It is the likelihood-of-occurrence sense that triggers SFP. Webster’s also defines expect as ‘to look for as due, proper, or necessary. This is a normative definition of expectancy. This object of normative expectancy is what ought to occur in the future. This is not the type of expectancy that produces SFP; it is the stuff of which role expectations and other normative concepts are made. While it is important that individuals understand how they ought to perform in the roles that they inhabit, it is more important that they feel from others that they can perform those roles.

These two meanings of expectancy – likelihood of occurrence and normative – are sufficiently different that they can be contradictory. If the child manager tells a child that s/he is expected [in the normative sense] to report in on time, but in his heart the child manager actually expects [in the probability sense] the child to be late, it is the latter expectation, not the normative one, that will be unwittingly communicated and may result in tardy behavior on the part of the child. Thus it is expectancy in the sense of that which the expecter believes is likely to occur, rather than that which a person believes ought to occur, that leads to the behavior that fulfills the prophecy. The ‘performance expectation’ refers to the level at which the child manager believes the child is likely to perform. [Eden – 1990]

Such self-fulfilling prophecies have obvious negative valance in terms of the performance of children with severe and persistent problems in living, both from their own expectations and the expectations of others.

Automatic Thoughts & Cognitive Errors

If you have a lot of negative thoughts about yourself, these thoughts have become nonconscious through a process of habituation, but appear regularly in the human consciousness stream [the covert process of perception, appraisal, comparison and judgements]. When they appear here as automatic thoughts, we say that they are self-talk which reflects the inner logic of the Theory of Meaning, including the core beliefs. They are not the full-blown core belief, but an aspect of it; therefore, such automatic thoughts provide clues to the core belief.

Change strategies usually start by addressing the ¬cognitive errors of self-talk. Such cognitive error correction is often enough to help a person with problems in living change an attitude about themselves, although it does not usually address the personality. For people with severe and persistent problems in living, it may be important to address the core beliefs themselves through cognitive restructuring. The difference between these two strategies is mostly one of degree, not type. Cognitive Restructuring requires extensive work to help the individual consciously reconsider his/her core beliefs that are not even conscious. However, it may also require additional work with imagery or unanswerable questions.


The existence of de-automatization is one reason to believe that consciousness may be involved in debugging automatic processes that run into difficulties [Baar, 1988].

Baar and others have theorized that consciousness is useful for the purpose of ‘debugging’ those automatic processes that are nonconscious.

Automaticity [mindlessness] versus voluntary control.

The question of how much conscious control we have over our judgements, decisions, and behavior is one of the most basic and important questions of human existence. Mainstream psychology accepts both the fact of conscious or willed causation of mental and behavioral processes and the fact of automatic or environmentally triggered process.

Conscious Processing

Conscious processes are mental acts of which we are aware, that we intend [i.e., that we start by an act of will], that require effort, and that we can control [i.e., we can stop them and go on to something else if we choose.

In contrast, there has been no consensus on the features of a single form of automatic process; instead two major strains have been identified – similar only in that they do not possess all of the defining feature of a conscious process.

Preattentive Or Preconscious Processing

These are the two classic forms of ‘not conscious’ mental processes; both forms operate effortlessly and without need for conscious guidance, but one [mental skills] requires an act of will to start operations, and the other [preconsciousness] does not.

Most of our day-to-day actions, motivations, judgements, and emotions are not the products of conscious choice and guidance, but must be driven instead by mental processes put into operation directly by environmental features and events. Baumeister et al., have concluded that consciousness plays a causal role only 5% or so of the time.

Of course, one’s own thinking is more or less under one’s own conscious control, so the principle of ideomotor action by itself does not mean the resultant behavior is caused by nonconscious, external environmental events. But because perceptual activity is largely automatic and not under conscious or intentional control [the orange on the desk cannot be perceived as purple through an act of will], perception is the route by which the environment directly causes mental activity – specifically, the activation of internal representations of the outside world.

People are active participants in the world with purposes and goals that they want to attain. One must assume that goals are represented mentally and like any other mental representation are capable of becoming automatically activated by environmental features. Much, if not most, of our responses to the environment are determined not solely by the information available in that environment but rather by how it relates to whatever goal we are currently pursuing.

The development of most acquired forms of automaticity [i.e., skill acquisition] depends on the frequent and consistent pairing of internal responses with external events. Initially, conscious choice and guidance are needed to perform the desired behavior or to generate what one hopes are accurate and useful expectations about what is going to happen next in the situation. But to the extent the same expectations are generated, or the same behavior is enacted, or the same goal and plan are chosen in that situation, conscious choice drops out as it is not needed – it has become a superfluous step in the process [Baugh & Chartrand].

Automaticity seems to be reversible. Automatized skills can become conscious again when they encounter some unpredictable obstacle. The existence of de-automatization is one reason to believe that consciousness may be involved in debugging automatic processes that run into difficulties [Baar].


The process of cognitive behavior management is one of helping the person de-automize and become mindful of their own thoughts and then reconsider the utility [capacity to bring pleasure and/or pain] of these thoughts and their effectiveness in helping one reach his/her goals.

In order to accomplish this change, the change worker will need to help the client cover a process of becoming aware of his/her thoughts, attending to them over time, analyzing these thought and when they are found to be distressing, creating alternative thoughts where the thoughts prove to be non-utile, and finally helping the client habituate to his/her new balanced and rational thoughts as a way of adaptation usually through habituation.

Awareness – helping the client become aware of his/her automatic thoughts means that they must be ‘caught’ and brought to consciousness. Awareness indicates that the individual knows what s/he is looking for and can identify it.

The nature of automatic thoughts:

– Often appears in short hand
– Are almost always believed
– Are experienced as spontaneous
– Are often couched in terms of should, ought or must
– Tend to predict catastrophe, see danger and expect the worst
– Are relatively idiosyncratic
– Are persistent and self-perpetuating
– Often differ from public statements
– Repeat habitual themes
– Are learned

Common cognitive errors contained in automatic thoughts include:

– Filtering: The person focuses on the negative details while ignoring all the positive aspects of a situation.
– Polarized Thinking: Things are black or white, good or bad. The person has to be perfect or s/he’s a failure. There’s no middle ground, no room for mistakes.
– Overgeneralization: The person reaches a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. S/he exaggerates the frequency of problems and uses negative global labels.
– Mind Reading: Without them saying, the person knows what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, s/he has certain knowledge of how people think and feel about him/her.
– Catastrophizing: The person expects, even visualizes disaster. S/he notices or hears about a problem and start asking, “What if?” What if tragedy strikes? What if it happens to me?
– Magnifying: The person exaggerates the degree or intensity of a problem. S/he turns up the volume on anything bad, making it loud, large, and overwhelming.
– Personalization: The person assumes that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to them. S/he also compares him/herself to others, trying to determine who is smarter, more competent, better looking, and so on.
– Shoulds: The person has a list of ironclad rules about how s/he and other people should act. People who break the rules anger him/her, and s/he feels guilty when s/he violates the rules.
– Externalizing: The person explains the cause of success and/or failure as external forces such as task difficulty or luck over which s/he has no control, instead of to his/her own effort. “It’s his fault! She doesn’t like me!”
– Prophecizing: The person has negative and relatively stable expectancy or generalized beliefs about a lack of self-competence in achievement situations. “I’m going to fail this test. Nobody is going to talk to me.” Predicts negative outcomes.

In order to attend, the client will need to first identify the process. This may occur by either asking him/her what they were thinking just then [particularly when under stress] or repeating what they just said. “I can’t do this.” “I am just no good!” Using examples of this leakage of self-talk can help the client begin to understand that such things go on. However, these thoughts may happen so fast and so automatically, that s/he has trouble catching them. They can be slowed down by as simple a process as counting. If the client realizes that s/he just had a thought, but is unsure what it was, s/he can simply put in his/her journal the fact that s/he had one and what time. Keeping such a count will usually begin to slow the process down, so the actual thoughts can be caught.

Attendance – requires that person spend time collecting data on his/her thoughts. Usually this is done through a thought journal and a thought and evidence journal. These written documents make the process more real and emphasize the process of learning something about what is happening. They also keep the person attending to his/her thoughts outside of the clinical encounter.

Analysis – Two aspects are important about the analysis. First that it must be conscious and public. Thinking consciously about our own thoughts is quite different than the nonconscious chaining [thoughts about thoughts] which often simply is reinforcement for our original judgments. Here we are trying to find contrary evidence. Additionally, we noted earlier that automatic thoughts often differ from public statements. It is much harder to fall into self-fulfilling confirmation bias processes if there is someone else who might dispute circular thinking and false evidence.

The second major aspect is that some formal process of analysis must take place that is predicated on the scientific method. The beginnings of science are usually attributed to Aristotle. Prior to this deductive procedure for uncovering the truth, the traditional means for structuring experience was the myth, a term deriving from the Greek mythos, meaning ‘word’ in the sense that it is a definitive statement on the subject. To give someone the ‘word’, even today is to “show them the ropes” or tell them how events and incidents occur within the context of this environment. A myth then was an authoritative account of the facts that was not to be questioned, no matter how strange it may seem. Myths need be neither true nor false, just useful constructs for explaining the nature of an experience. Such myths were the ‘common knowledge’ of various cultures and helped naive people understand the nature of the world. One of the main uses of myths was to provide an explanation of how real world events work. In everyday speech an ‘explanation’ is usually taken to be the answer to a question that begins ‘Why?’ Answers inevitably begin with ‘Because’, and the question and answer together constitute what we generally call a statement of cause and effect. People using myths made no pretensions to truth, rather they were stating – “this is the way we do things around here”. It is somehow comforting at times of crisis to have a belief system that provides some explanation for what would otherwise seem a capricious event.

The opposite side of the reality coin from mythos is logos, the Greek term for an account whose truth can be demonstrated and debated. It is this kind of truth that Aristotle was trying to grasp when he developed logos into ‘logic’ by use of the process of deduction. Rather than address the questions of life experience based on local perspectives, Aristotle’s procedure for uncovering truth was to postulate premises and then use the now familiar rules of logical deduction to derive the consequences implicit in the premises. The classical example of this procedure is:

Premise I: All men are mortal.
Premise II. Socrates is a man.
Conclusion: Socrates is mortal.

It is important to note that nothing is said about the actual truth or falsity of the premises. If, for example, all men are not mortal; or Socrates is not a man; the conclusion may also be false. Physical reality and truth play no role in the deductive method; the premises are assumed to be true, with the conclusion following from this assumption. This method of seeking truth, which was an epistemology in which one inferred specific instances [conclusions] from general observations [premises], was predicated upon principles which were potentially myth in themselves. Thus if the premise that Socrates is a man was a myth, then the conclusions were also mythical.

It is also important to note, that the ‘inner logic’ operates predominantly in a deductive manner. The assumptions of the logic are not questioned, but assumed to be true.

It was not until the work of Francis Bacon in the seventeenth century that the method was challenged. Bacon suggested turning the situation around by trying to infer general instances from specific observations. Thus followed the principle of induction, whereby conclusions about future events are drawn on the basis of repeated past observations. In Bacon’s view, if we observe the Sun rising in the east for fifty consecutive days, then we can predict that it will rise in the east on day 51. And the longer we observe such regular behavior, the more confidently we can speak about its continuation.

On the one hand, it is satisfying to have a method that takes into account what nature is actually doing; on the other hand, why should such a procedure provide reliable information about the way things work? On what grounds should I believe that just because my pen has always dropped to the floor when it rolled off the desk, that it would the next time? The short answer is that there is absolutely no justification at all. This is the Problem of Induction.

Galileo helped by contributing a refinement to the Bacon methodology by instituting the notion of controlled experiment. Galileo said that if you have a theory about how some phenomenon works, you must construct an experiment in which all the variables except the one you’re interested in are controllable. It seems that he interjected two new factors: 1) that one must have some notion [hypothesis] about how things work and that you can test that hypothesis through 2) a controlled process which will test the notion.

The idea of creating an hypothesis about how things work has significant importance in being able to perceive what is happening. It seems, as suggested by Albert Einstein [1949], that “the human mind has first to construct forms independently before we can find them in things …knowledge cannot spring from experience alone, but only from a comparison of the inventions of the intellect with observed facts.” Isolated facts are useless curiosities until they are put together with other facts into some kind of pattern. Thus the importance of creating a ‘theory’ about how things work is an important aspect of being able to ‘see’ whether it happens.

Though there are many ways to demonstrate things are false, a scientific approach to understanding the natural world can never prove an interpretation is true. But with the ideas of deduction, induction, observation and experiment welded together, the stage is now set to examine the problem.

Alternatives – creating alternative thoughts is the single most creative aspect of the process and of intelligence itself. Often people with severe and persistent problems in living are rigid in their thinking and you may need to teach creative thinking to help them increase their thought flexibility. Flexibility, in general, is a good thing. The more reasons you can think of to explain an experience, the more likely you will find one that is compatible with quality living.

To have an attitude is to have a predisposed way of interpreting new information. We tend to formulate our point of view to protect our preconceived attitudes. It makes us distort, rationalize or forget things. In order to be creative, we must become aware of and then abandon or at least constrain our attitudes. One way to do this is to deliberately look at the issue from different perspectives. Creative thinking gurus suggest certain basics that can be extrapolated. We can look at the process – which deals with change in time and space [growth, transformation, development, evolution, sequence, stage and cycle]. By concentrating on the details of order we ask about phases and steps, expansion/ diminishment, etc. Or we can look at differences [contrasts, distinctions] or similarities [connections, affiliations]. These help us to define allegories – “This is like that” – or metaphors – “this is that”. In learning we change contexts by transforming the strange into the familiar, as when we describe gravity as an attraction. In innovating, we need to change contexts transforming the familiar into the strange.

We can also change our attitude by viewing the problem on a different order or level. What does society look like from a molecular level or an astrophysical level? Social problems of individuals look differently from higher or lower orders. All of these changes of perspectives are important, but perspective is not limited to these constructs. We can change our perspective by becoming someone or something else. “Walk a mile in my shoes”, even imaginatively, is a method of changing perspective. Thus the methods of delimiting attitudes, many of which are unconscious, are infinite; but unless one becomes consciously aware and makes a specific effort to develop a beginner’s mind, a mind that is open to considering new options all such perspectives are limited by our attitudes. One effective method is to prohibit your present thinking. If they passed a law prohibiting what you think should be done; what would you do?

Another creative thinking process is lateral thinking. The ordinary thinking you are used to can be called ‘vertical thinking’ – upright, traditional, logical, analytical, sequential. It emphasizes the importance of being right every step of the way. In contrast, lateral thinking might be called ‘sidewise’ thinking. It is deliberately provocative – playful. It encourages thinking in disconnected leaps and bounds. It allows and even encourages you to be wrong – to make mistakes. Thinking laterally changes your point of view. It employs a variety of techniques you can learn just like any other skill. The main purpose of such thinking is to abolish traditional thinking.

The mind works to make sense of confusion and uncertainty by recognizing familiar patterns in the outside world. As soon as a pattern is recognized, the mind switches into it and follows it along, making further thinking unnecessary. Once a pattern has been formed then the mind no longer has to analyze or sort information. All that is required is enough information to trigger the pattern. Unless there are competing patterns, then anything remotely similar to the established pattern will be treated just as if it were that pattern. The active process of recognition is the effort to identify the pattern. Pattern recognition is the most marvelous property of the human mind, yet it is inevitable that we should use the wrong pattern from time to time. It also follows that the fewer patterns we have the more often we are going to use the wrong ones. For people with problems in living the rigidity of limited patterns of thinking is a serious problem.

We need to be aware that in perception the mind works as a self-organizing system [active system] that allows incoming experience to organize itself into patterns without which life would be impossible. We also, however need to be very much aware that the repertoire of patterns will determine our recognition, our abstraction, our analysis and all of our thinking. Lateral thinking provides three methods to change patterns – to operate outside of the box – and think creatively. These three methods of 1) ‘stepping-stone’, 2) ‘escape” and 3) ‘random stimulation’ can be used as specific and formal procedures for generating a new idea or new approach. Lateral thinking is equally applicable for the individual problem solver and the problem-solving group. The principle technique is that of ‘changing contexts’ by either transforming the strange into the familiar for learning; or the familiar into the strange for innovation. Lateral thinking also employs three techniques for constructing analogies:

• Direct analogy – in which we describe how the subject or problem we are considering is like other things;
• Personal analogy – in which we engage in role playing in abstract contexts; and
• Compressed situation – in which the particular facets of a problematic situation are explored in depth.

Lateral thinking has to do with change and involves escaping a pattern that has been adequate in the past, but needs improvement.

Each alternative thought needs to be examined for the potential consequence that may occur with use. We are not, promoting positive thoughts per se. Saying to yourself “I am good at math” is not very helpful if the facts will prove you wrong. What we are looking for are balanced and rational thoughts – e.g., “I am really not as good as some people in math, but I can improve with hard work”.

Adaptation – In order to help the client change his/her thinking we will need to provide methods to habituate the new thoughts into the evolving neurological system. We turn to the process of habituation. If the client will repeat the new balanced and rational thought over and over – particularly as an insert in times of stress, this thought will become habituated. This does not replace the old thoughts, but offers an alternative automatic thought. Usually, the most satisfying and gratifying thoughts will take precedence, so this thought has a better than average chance to take over.


For some people whose core thoughts are very personal, persistent and pervasive, the cognitive error correction will not take. This is because our theory of meaning must be coherent.

Cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance theory, developed by Leon Festinger (1957), is concerned with the relationships among cognitions. A cognition, for the purpose of this theory, may be thought of as a ‘piece of knowledge’. The knowledge may be about an attitude, an emotion, a behavior, a value, and so on. People hold a multitude of cognitions simultaneously, and these cognitions form irrelevant, consonant or dissonant relationships with one another.

Cognitive irrelevance probably describes the bulk of the relationships among a person’s cognitions. Irrelevance simply means that two thoughts or ‘pieces of knowledge’ have nothing to do with each other.

Two cognitions are consonant if one cognition follows from, or fits with, the other. If I believe that I am worthless, a corollary thought that other people don’t care about me is quite consonant. People like consonance among their cognitions. We do not know whether this stems from the nature of the human organism or whether it is learned during the process of socialization, but people appear to prefer cognitions that fit together to those that do not.

Two cognitions are said to be dissonant if one cognition follows from the opposite of the other. Thus, if I have a balanced and rational automatic thought that I am okay, and a firm belief that I am worthless, these are in conflict. A person who has dissonant or discrepant cognitions is said to be in a psychological state of dissonance that is experienced as unpleasant psychological tension. This tension state has drive-like properties that are much like those of hunger and thirst. When a person discovers dissonant cognitions, s/he is driven to reduce the unpleasant tension state that results.

The alternatives open to an individual in a state of dissonance, includes factors that affect the magnitude of dissonance arousal. In its simplest form, dissonance increases as the degree of discrepancy among cognitions increases. Likewise, dissonance decreases as the number of discrepant cognitions decreases.

Dissonance is also inversely proportional to the number of consonant cognitions held by an individual. Each of these cognitions serves to support the otherwise discrepant behavior. The greater the number of such consonant cognitions, the less the dissonance.

Finally, in order to estimate the magnitude of dissonance from the factors listed above, the importance of the various cognitions must be taken into consideration. Glaring discrepancies among trivial cognitions would not create much dissonance in the individual.

If dissonance is experienced as an unpleasant drive state, the individual is motivated to reduce it.

If the dissonance is between the automatic thought and the core belief, the person feels a significant magnitude of arousal and has very few other thoughts that are consonant with the balanced and rational thought – thus the likelihood is that the old automatic thought will prove to be more satisfying and gratifying because it is consonant, consistent and coherent with the core belief.

Deep Structure

Linguistically we used the term deep structure to indicate how a person codes an individual experience. Without defining the whole process, it is helpful to get people closer to defining their thoughts in sensory terms. In fact, you can help them visualize situations and use those visualizations to change the context by substituting differing submodalities. Submodalities is a term used for the qualitative aspects of the sensory system. For example:

The Visual system would include submodalities such as: shape, color/ black and white, movement, brightness/dimness, distance, location…

The Auditory system would include submodalities such as: volume, tempo, pitch, frequency…

And the Kinaesthetic system would include submodalities such as: temperature, pressure, texture, moisture, pain, pleasure…

By changing the submodalities in the scene, the emotional content of the scene is changed as well. Thus, getting down to the fundamentals of thought – the sensory perceptions and submodalities will help to identify how the person codes experiences and what s/he is selecting to code.

We can also use certain ‘digging’ techniques that help to bring the abstraction or logic level down. Two similar techniques that are often used are:

Laddering: Laddering is a way of analyzing your internal monologue statements by looking for more and more basic underlying assumptions and predictions until you arrive at statements of core belief. The technique is called laddering because it proceeds step by step. This is a form of unanswerable question. Laddering has only two rules. Rule number 1 is to question yourself with the following format, and Rule number 2 is don’t answer with a feeling. The format is to ask:

‘What if ________________________? What does it mean to me?’

In the blank space the client writes a self-statement from his/her internal monologue. Then s/he writes the answer to the question. Having done that, have the client use the answer to fill in the blank and ask the question again. After using this sequence a few times, the client will arrive at a core belief. The answers must be confined to statements that express conclusions, beliefs or assumptions – not descriptions of feelings.

Vertical Arrow: Instead of disputing negative thoughts, have the subject ask another unanswerable question – “if this thought were true, why would it be upsetting to me? Start by writing the negative thought and drawing an arrow down to the next item that is the answer to the question. Then ask the question again and draw an arrow down to the next answer. This will generate a series of negative thoughts that will lead to more clearly defined core beliefs.

Both techniques are oriented toward consciously thinking about the rationale for the stated belief. The repetition leads to a deeper understanding of why we believe what we believe until it becomes unanswerable.

Two factors are involved in this process, the first is to identify some area of stressful thinking and the second is to have the person think about his/her thoughts in a formal way – e.g., a way that is conscious and public, includes a scientific process in order to reduce personal bias.

It is one thing, of course, to explore and delineate the core beliefs; it is another to change them.

Tools for digging

Cognitive behavior management has a plethora of techniques and procedures and more are being invented everyday. The technical structures that underpin these interventions are worth considering. We have identified the following infrastructure to such interventions.

Psychoeducation: Since cognitive interventions are concerned with thought and thought includes language and concepts, it is an important step to ensure that the person you are working with understands the language and concepts being used. Understanding what it feels like to be anxious, angry or sad is not automatic. In fact, children often need to learn the language of emotions and theorists differ on whether meaning creates the emotion or vice versus. Wierbicka views emotions as a semantic [conceptual] domain that governs the patterns of discourse and Harre takes emotions to be part of the domain of statements [actions and interactions. Stein’s approach to emotions – to a degree at least – seems to combine aspects of both: Emotions are schematically organized, i.e., part of a representational system, and these schemata are ‘put to work’ in response to emotional events in the form of being angry. However, they first of all are cognitions, constituting the motivational force for individuals to (re)act in a certain manner. Regardless of your position on these constructs, it is clear that children must learn to distinguish the bodily sensations caused by arousal and by having language for that interpretation can mediate the intensity of the emotion.

For some interventions, such as teaching interpersonal cognitive problem solving to children of four years of age, you may need to teach words and concepts so that the child can even participate.

Reframing: is the metastructure. By changing the context or meaning of a thought we change the emotional content and the resultant behavior.

You just don’t understand what it is like to be blind.

Gee, we must be missing a lot.

This novel reframing provides an outcome of 1) pattern interruption, because the response was so unexpected, 2) the likelihood that the person will be bemused to figure out how someone could possibly miss something by being sighted, and 3) it honors the person’s blindness in a way that this rarely done. This change in experience is really the only essential piece of any reframing model.

Reframing is the transcendent metastructure of cognitive change for it is a system of providing ‘mismatch’ either through outside suggestion or through individual metaperspective taking. It is a method of reorganizing the emotional content of a thought and allowing rational as opposed to emotional response to predominate.

We can understand frames as being our conceptual or cognitive views of particular situations. For instance, do we perceive a story we hear from a client to be a tale of problems or of solutions? Our choice of frames help us to hear certain aspects of the client’s talk, while not helping us to hear other parts of the conversation.

The reframing technique is not new. It is often used by well intentioned parents, teachers and probation officers to lead people into behaviors that can help or actually cripple them for the rest of their lives and are powerful and effective mechanisms of change. One of the most powerful reframing occurs when the mental health profession reframes unacceptable behavior as an ‘illness’.

Change means a change in the ways clients talk, and most likely think, about their problems. If a clinician can hear changes in how clients talked about their problems in sessions, then s/he can assume that there would be corresponding changes happening in the clients’ lives.

There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. ‘Such bad luck’, they said sympathetically. ‘May be’, the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. ‘How wonderful’, the neighbors exclaimed. ‘May be’, replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. ‘May be’, answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. ‘May be’, said the farmer.

The meaning of any event depends upon the way in which we perceive it. When we change the frame, we change the ‘frame’ of reference and change the meaning. Having the horse run away was a ‘bad’ thing, until the horse brought the wild horses to the farmer. Having the wild horses was a ‘good’ thing, until the son broke his leg. Having a broken leg was a ‘bad’ thing until he was passed over for conscription into the army. While the story is likely told in order to show the value of nonattachment as displayed by the farmer, the neighbors’ responses clearly demonstrate the power of reframing.

The farmer’s nonattachment, his ability to think of and utilize many frames of reference without commitment to one, provides him with a much more satisfying existence. He is neither elated nor distraught as his neighbors are.

In general communication theory there is a basic axiom that a signal only has meaning in terms of the frame or context in which it appears. The sound of a squeaky shoe on a busy sidewalk has little meaning; the same sound outside your window when you are alone in bed means something different altogether.

We use reframing in almost every other structure as a means of enabling the client to reconsider the meaning of his/her experiences.

Metaperception: Visualization/imagining – having the client imagine an experience through all his/her senses, while taking different roles which increase or reduce emotional content through association: being associated means seeing an experience as if it were actually happening, through one’s own eyes as a participant. [Perceptual position – First Person] OR dissociation: which means thinking of oneself in the way that one thinks of another person. [Perceptual position: Second or third Person]

Metaperception, of course, includes many other dimensions. One can move forward and backward in time, move to exotic places, etc. The mind does not separate reality from imagining; therefore a whole experience can be relived with a different outcome.

Creating the future: Goal development and implementation planning is a method of creating the future. Goals are self-fulfilling prophecies, which are said to occur when one’s belief concerning the occurrence of some future event makes one behave in a manner that increases the likelihood that the expected event will occur.

Goal development cannot be underestimated. It is not by chance that people with severe and persistent problems in living have few achievement goals. Their tendency is to look backward – oh this awful thing happened to me back there and ruined my life – and now I am helpless and can do nothing about it. Goal development therefore is a reframing process that points the arrow of time to the future – a place which you can do something about.

Relaxation: This refers to a formal method of relaxation that includes a combination of deep breathing, muscle relaxation and visualization techniques. One cannot be both anxious, fearful or angry and relaxed. During the state of relaxation, Benson studied how the body changes – a ‘relaxation response’ in which the heart rate, breath rate, blood pressure, skeletal muscle tension, metabolic rate, oxygen consumption and skin electrical conductivity all decreases. On the other hand, alpha brain wave frequency – associated with a state of calm wellbeing increased. Every one of these physical conditions is exactly the opposite to reactions that anxiety, fear and anger produce in the body. Deep relaxation and these emotions are physiological opposites and mutually exclusive.

Verbalization: is about improving the human thought stream through self instruction that alter that constant monologue that goes on mentally as we name events, judge experiences, compare ourselves with others and comment on just about everything. Combined with habituation we are able to provide alternate thoughts. We can infer core beliefs. We can manage our own behavior through step-by-step instructions and we can cue our relaxation response.

Problem solving: a problem is a failure to find an effective response. Such failure often leads to remuneration that can become cyclical and is identified as worry. Problem solving requires both a formal process and creative thinking. The formal process included Stating the problem, Outlining your goals, Listing your alternatives, Viewing the consequences and Evaluating your results – which nicely adds up to SOLVE. It is important also to examine WANTS and NEEDS, which are quite different concepts that are often confused. Interpersonal problem solving involves and interactive process with alternative and consequential thinking playing a major role. The historical assertion that relief of emotional tension can help one think straight is reversed – the ability to think straight can help to relieve emotional tension. Clients learn to 1) think about what to do when they face a problem with another person, 2) think about different ways to solve the same problem; 3) think about the consequences of what they do, and 4) realize that other people have feelings and think about their own feelings too.

Anchoring: If someone is in a certain state, you can set up an anchor. That means you can trigger this state by associating it with an external stimulus. Anchors can be a specific gesture or a picture [visual], a word, sound or voice tone [auditory]. A touch or movement [kinesthetic], a smell [olfactory] or a taste [gustatory]. With anchors you can change and control your own or someone else’s emotional state.

The basic structures seem to underpin all of the cognitive behavior management techniques and procedures. Used individually or in combination, you can help a client not only identify his/her core beliefs, but to revisit the situation through relaxation and visualization and reframe the experience and/or its submodalities.


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