When a person has an experience, s/he interprets the experience based either upon an ever expanding range of utility [pleasure/pain], upon prior knowledge or based on analogy with prior knowledge. Over time, these interpretations accumulate until the person is able to begin to create a ‘theory of meaning’ [usually between the ages of five and seven] with which to predict what is going to happen in the future. A person who has interpreted many experiences as painful will then begin to experience distress whenever they predict such experiences are likely to occur. These ‘attitudes’ or predispositions impact on an interactive world and often generate exactly the distress that the person expected – reinforcing the theory. When the person’s theory of meaning is in whole or part distressing, they experience problems in living. Severity depends on the degree of personalization, persistence and pervasiveness; and the resulting degree of psychological flexibility available to the individual.
The goal of all cognitive change is to help the person change the meaning of the distressing experiences from very distorted reality into a more balanced and rational reality – thereby increasing the psychological flexibility. This requires a metacognitive [thinking about thinking] process.
Since we convey information to ourselves and to others through both left-brain logic and language concepts and right-brain intuitions and visceral (gut) sensation – quirks; both of these aspects are useful in changing the information available for interpretation. The following methodologies describe broad areas of intervention. They are not pristine. They overlap considerably. They generally show, however, how the changes in thinking [concepts and quirks] are addressed.
Psychoeducation: A process of deliberately providing new concepts to an individual to enable them to ‘think differently’ about experiences. The ultimate process of cognitive change is to define and utilize cognitive strategies [often developed into algorithms (specific cognitive strategy protocols that lead to specific outcomes) or heuristics (specific cognitive strategy protocols that lead to probable outcomes). These strategies are openly used and often require new concepts to be acquired for implementation. For example: in Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving, the concepts of before and after are imperative to being able to use the script. It was discovered that four year olds can learn these concepts and therefore can use the scripts to solve interpersonal problems. As another example, a critical concept for understanding cognitive change is the concept of habituation. Any highly practiced and automatic skill tends to become ‘modular’ – unconscious, separate from other skills, and free from voluntary control. The fact that people become unconscious of a repetitive or predictable stimulus does not mean that the stimulus has disappeared; on the contrary, it continues to be processed in the appropriate input system – unconsciousness and proficiency tend to go together. The loss of consciousness of a predictable event ‘is’ the signal that the event has been learned completely. Such automatic responses can be made conscious and conscious experiences are available for alteration.
Goal/Value Clarification: This is a generally logical process of providing the client with concepts that can be used to generate the identification of values and the development of goals. Values are the criterion for measuring change, but cannot be achieved in the real world. Goals are the ‘real world’ articulation of value achievement. If money is the value – being a millionaire might be the goal. It is difficult to help anyone change without them being conscious of their values and goals. Habituated goals connected with distorted thinking often leads to criterion that is inaccessible for behavioral change.
Appraisal Analysis: The process of interpreting an experience is usually automatic [habituated] and follows a general pattern of often-distorted self-instruction. The process of appraisal analysis includes both a formal investigation process (e.g., scientific method) and a ‘public’ forum (the counselor) to help avoid the confirmation bias, was originally devised by Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis. The five-step process includes:
• Awareness to automatic self-talk and the cognitive errors that occur
• Attendance to these cognitive errors or distorted thoughts
• Analysis of the distortion with a formal method similar to a detective or a scientist seeking truth and utility. This is usually done in a public situation with a counselor to help avoid the confirmation bias
• The development of alternatives, more balanced and rational expressions of the thoughts
• Adaptation to the most pleasing of these alternatives through habituation
The habituation of balanced and rational alternative thoughts provides a new script for appraisal.
Metaperception: A process of ‘seeing again’ or imagining an experience in whatever form the individual uses to imagine. Often called visualization, but many people do not ‘see’ pictures or images. Metaperception represents a right-brain form of reframing.
Guided imagery is the clinical term generally used to describe the range of metaperception techniques from simple imagining and direct imagery-based suggestion through metaphor and storytelling.¬ The ultimate mechanisms of metaperception are still a mystery. In the last twenty years, however, we have learned that imagery is a natural language of a major part of our nervous system. In most people, the left brain is primarily responsible for speaking, writing, and understanding language; it thinks logically and analytically and identifies itself by the name of the person to whom it belongs. The right brain, in contrast, thinks in pictures, sounds, spatial relationships, and feelings. It is relatively silent, though highly intelligent. The left-brain analyzes, taking things apart, while the right brain synthesizes, putting pieces together.
The right brain has a special relationship not only to imagery but also to emotions. Many studies have shown that the right brain is specialized to recognize emotion in facial expressions, body language, speech, and even music. This is critical to healing because emotions are not only psychological but physical states that are at the root of a great deal of illness and disease. Studies have found that from 50% to 75% of all problems presenting to a primary care clinic are emotional, social, or familial in origin, though they are being expressed by pain or illness.
Metaperception can be helpful in so many ways that it is more accurate to think of it as a way of helping people rather than a way of treating disorders. Metaperception is essentially a way of thinking that uses sensory attributes and, in the absence of competing sensory cues; the body tends to respond to imagery as it would to a genuine external experience. While working in an interactive mode, the guide’s purpose is not to offer solutions, but to create a setting in which clients can most effectively access their own resources, solve their own problems, and discover their own solutions. This occurs as clients are introduced to their imagery-making abilities, their ‘unconscious mind’, their ‘right-brain thinking’, their ‘inner wisdom’, or whatever other metaphor or description is comfortable for both the guide and client. As they work together, the guide models calmness, trust in the client’s resourcefulness, and respect for the process of questioning the unconscious for its own solutions.
More specifically, the Interactive Imagery Guide’s role is to:
- Assess the appropriateness of imagery for this client.
- Create a safe place for exploration by the client.
- Teach the simple relaxation and imagery dialogue techniques used to access inner resources and solutions.
- Prompt the client with content-free language if the process stalls.
- Encourage the client to imagine their solutions, how they can brainstorm through barriers, create effective plans for change, and continue to refine their actions until they reach their goals.
Cross Mapping: A specific form of metaperception. When a person remembers an experience, they bring back stored information including the sensory elements – called submodalities. We have submodalities for each sensory modality – e.g., vision (color, brightness); auditory (loudness, tone); taste (sweet, sour, bitter, salty), etc. To a large extent it is the existence of these submodalities that provide the information necessary to make an interpretation of the experience. By changing the submodalities of the experience, we can change the interpretation.
Self-Verbalization: A natural process of talking to oneself about specific issues for purposes of habituation – e.g., making a process automatic. For example, one can self verbalize the instruction to solve a problem or build something. As one creates the ‘script’ [algorithm or heuristic] for the self-verbalization process and then uses the script out loud as one performs the actions. Gradually the script is faded until it becomes a form of automatic self-talk.
Problem Solving: People use two types of problem solving: interpersonal and practical. Both types are essentially composed of formal self-instruction scripts. The interpersonal type of problem solving uses a formal dialogue process in which even very young children learn a script for evaluating and solving the problem. For practical problem solving a general heuristic can be proposed which would provide a cognitive strategy for general problem solving – some psychoeducation is included concepts such as wants and needs are provided. More specific problems, such as math, have their own algorithms or scripts. For individuals who have difficulty with math – a self-instruction process can be helpful.
Anchoring: A process of enabling an individual to recall/re-establish the mental/emotional status of prior experience – e.g., confidence, interest, enthusiasm, etc. This is accomplished by using a physical cue to bring back a consciously recognized prior state. This can be quite helpful in automating a positive mental or emotional state.
If someone is in a certain mental or emotional 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 hand gesture or a picture (visual), a word, sound or voice tone (auditory), a touch or a movement (kinesthetic), a smell (olfactory) or a taste (gustatory). With anchors you can easily change and control your own or someone’s emotional state.
When anchoring, you have to follow these conditions:
- Uniqueness of stimulus: The anchor should be something that you don’t do in other situations. So don’t anchor something like clapping the hands (Only if you want to go into a specific state when you are at the theater and have to clap your hands)
- Intensity of experience: You have to be associated into the experience. It should be strong.
- Purity of experience: Your experience should be without contamination.
- Timing of anchor: The experience should be at its peak. You have to wait for the right moment to set up the anchor.
- Accuracy of replication of anchor: Different kind of touches is different anchors. You have to do the same thing when you set up and fire off the anchor.
First, you have to know which state you want to anchor. It can be any kind of state, like confidence, happiness, and so on. Then, you have to choose an anchor. This can be any touch, word, sound or movement. If you anchor yourself, you normally use a touch as an anchor. It could be something like touching your ear, scratching your nose, giving your wrist a squeeze or touching your thumb and first two fingers together. Now, go into the state you want to anchor. This can be done by:
- Recalling a time in your past when you felt the way you want to feel every time you fire off the anchor. Close your eyes and see yourself from a dissociated point of view. Step into the picture and look at this scene as if you were looking through your eyes (associated point of view). See, hear and feel everything as if you were actually there.
- Imagining a time where you could have felt this way. Step into this picture – be associated into this scene.
- Associating into somebody else of whom you know that he feels this way. First, see him from a dissociated point of view. Then, move into the image of him, associate into him. You will begin to feel the same things you think he feels.
- Doing something in which you feel this way. If you know that there is an activity in which you are in the state you want to anchor, use this activity to anchor your state. For example, if you want to anchor happiness, do everything that will make you happy. Read some jokes, play games, have fun, etc..
You can make your state stronger by changing the submodalities; the aspect of sensory input – e.g., sound, color, tone, etc.
And now, anchor this state. Simply do the thing you have chosen as your anchor.
You can test your anchor by going into a normal state and then firing off your anchor. If your state doesn’t change the way you want it to, go back and make your state stronger and better.
Meaning is a contextual thing. Change the context and the meaning changes. In Mind-lines: Lines for Changing Minds, Hall & Bodenhamer give this outline of meaning and reframing.
1. Meaning Isn’t Real. It does Not Exist ‘Out There”
Meanings have no reality ‘out there’. Meaning only arises and coheres within a mind – it only exists as part of a given person’s internal world. It emerges as a neuro-linguistic product from our interactions with people, events, ideas, etc. as a completely internal thing.
2. Meaning is made out of ’thoughts’
The idea of meaning arose from the fact that we can ‘hold things in mind’. This is the significance of the original words for meaning in Old High German and Middle English. What we hold in mind are representations, thoughts, ideas.
3. Meaning slips and slides
As a non-thing, we can’t expect meaning to have a static or rigid quality. Instead it keeps moving and shifting. Meaning has plasticity to it so that it bends, stretches, moves, slips, slides, etc. Realizing this about meaning will help keep us from thinking of it, or treating it as solid or permanent. If meaning arises by ‘mind’ in ‘mind’ – then we can expect it to come and go according to the functioning of consciousness.
Meaning does not and cannot exist apart form a meaning-maker. It takes a human mind to create, communicate, and experience meaning. While there exists a ‘plasticity’ to ‘meaning’ that even the language used to describe meaning does not solidify, this does not make it so relative that we can make anything mean anything. But it does suggest that we should expect to discover fluidity to ‘meaning’ such that it keeps shifting and changing and never stays put.
4. We construct meaning – and invent reality
Because it takes a meaning-maker to create meaning, meaning emerges in our experience as a human construct. Philosophically we call this understanding of meaning ‘Constructivism’. Recognizing this empowers us in thinking about and working with ‘meanings’. Ultimately, we construct or construe our internal realities. The old biblical proverb expressed this in a simple but succinct way: “As a man thinks in his heart, so he is.” ‘Reality’ thus operates as a function of our maps [i.e., perceptions and constructions]. This, in turn, leads to the realization of our personal responsibility for constructing useful ideas and maps.
5. Meaning occurs in frames of reference
As a human construct that arises as a thinker-feeler uses his or her consciousness to create ‘meaning’, meaning always exists in some frame or context.
What significance does this have? Primarily it directs us to go looking for the frame.
“What frame of reference does this or that idea occur within?”
“What frame is this person using to say or perceive this?”
“What frame has to be there in order for this statement to make sense?”
Frame-less meanings do not, and cannot, occur. When you have a meaning, you have a frame of reference. An idea, thought or emotion as a personal meaning attains much of it’s ‘meaning’ from the ideas, experiences, events that it references.
6. Frames govern meanings
Frames govern, modulate, organize, drive and control the experiences that occur within them [i.e., the thoughts, feelings, language, behavior and responses]. When we set a frame that frame will govern the consequences and conclusions that follow. Korzybski called this ‘logical fate’.
The statement “I love you” means one thing when you say it to your wife. It means another when you say it to your father.
Reframing then is a process of helping the client find another frame of reference in which to consider the experience, thereby changing the meaning of the experience. If I walked up to you and started talking about your automobile, I have thereby ‘set the frame’ for our conversation. Setting the frame refers to setting either the content of the subject mater or the context for the subject matter. If I ask, ‘what automobile do you prefer?’; I have set the context of the conversation as eliciting your preference [i.e., values and criteria] while simultaneously, I have set the content of discussing particular automobiles.
A subtly occurs in this. Namely, that while the language of the question gets you to focus on the content of the automobile, at a higher logical level, I have actually set a frame whereby I can elicit your values and standards. I haven’t done so explicitly, only implicitly. And if “I have ears to hear” I will learn about your values and your strategy for decision-making.
When you learn how to embed various contents within higher-level contexts you will know how to preclude another person’s conscious awareness as well as how to include it.
Relaxation training refers to the regular practice of one or more of a group of specific relaxation exercises. These exercises most often involve a combination of deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and visualization techniques, which have been proven to release the muscular tension that the body stores during times of stress. Deep relaxation and anxiety are physiological opposites and are mutually exclusive. Methods include:
- Abdominal Breathing
- Lie down and close the eyes noticing sensations in the body
- Place on hand on the chest and the other on the abdomen
- Let the breath find its own pace
- Count exhalations [1 to 10] and repeat
- Progressive Muscle Relaxation
- Arms: hands, elbows/biceps, triceps
- Head: eyebrows, squinch face, eyes & mouth, jaw & tongue, neck
- Midsection: shoulders, arms, stomach & abdomen, back
- Legs: buttocks & thighs, inner thigh, toes
- Simultaneous Contractions
- Cue-controlled relaxation
- Breathe in, relax
- Comfortable place
- Peaceful scene
- Absorbing scene elements
- Eliminate gaps
- Colors, light source, temperature, smell, touch
- Perspective changes
- Peaceful scenes
Mindfulness: Mindfulness is described as experiencing what the mind and body are doing as they are doing it, being present with one’s mind, body, and energy in their ordinary states of occurrence – mindfulness (e.g., attention to the present moment, assuming a non-judgmental stance, focusing on effectiveness). Part of mindfulness is to prepare your mind in what to think in stressful situations before the stressful situation occurs.
The skill that is most necessary for overcoming an automatic self-destructive path is for the client to learn to be an ‘impartial spectator’ of his/her own mental activities: trying to observe your own covert and overt behavior as if you were observing the behavior of another. This was a concept that Adam Smith used as the central feature of his book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. He defined the Impartial Spectator as the capacity to stand outside yourself and watch yourself in action, which is essentially the same mental action as the ancient Buddhist meditation concept of mindful awareness. Smith understood that keeping the perspective of the Impartial Spectator under painful circumstances is hard work, requiring, in his words, the ‘utmost and most fatiguing exertions’. The cognitive path is not an easy one, however simple the skill might seem. When one is aware that one is becoming angry, but is outside the anger, one is in a better position to selection optional ways to deal with the anger. One option is to accept the anger, but not react to it.
Acceptance: There are two opposite cognitive processes to approach negative thoughts: self-defense and acceptance. In self-defense, you use logic or evidence to disprove the negative thoughts. Once seeing that the negative thoughts are distorted and untrue, the subject usually feels better. However, many negative thoughts can be handled far more effectively with acceptance. If the subject can do this with inner peace, self-esteem and a little humor, the results can often be spectacular. In a metacognitive process a participant takes the role of Negative Thoughts and has a dialogue similar to Externalizing. The subject, instead of disputing, accepts each negative thought, accepting the fact that s/he is broken, imperfect and defective, accepting these shortcomings with honesty and inner peace. The surprising result is that the subject can gain invulnerability when s/he makes herself completely vulnerable and defenseless.
Creative Thinking: These are attention directing and mapping techniques that are easy to use, and encourage people to move their perceptions and thinking to different perspectives. If the map is clearer and more complete it is easier to find one’s way around.