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Theory of Change

People will only change when their thinking changes.

One cannot behave differently than how they think, unless they are being deceitful, pretending or acting (and then they know they are doing so).

Actually the belief system is in a somewhat constant state of flux – not unlike the water in a river. However, like the water in a river, there are ‘strange attractors’ which continually recur, such as when the water flows around a rock. One could suggest that the core beliefs are like those rocks – they shape every experience with a swirl that is very similar though different from the last one. Thus cognitive change requires substantive changes, although not necessarily large changes, in thinking.

The process of change is relatively simple, although not easy. It follows two specific processes. The first is a process uses consciousness as its format for ‘debugging’ distressing thoughts. The reason for this use of consciousness is that ninety-five [95%] percent of what we do is nonconscious – by bringing the nonconscious into consciousness, we have the opportunity to change it. The process has five steps:

awareness – we must understand that we have maladaptive [distressing]
attendance – we must attend to these thoughts
analysis – we must learn to analyze these thoughts in effective [formal
and public] ways
alternative thinking – we must discover other meaning that may
exist for maladaptive thoughts
adaptation – we must adapt to [habituate] new thoughts.

The second is a process that uses imagery and the submodalities of imagery in a similar context. Awareness of the images brings them into consciousness. At that point they can be cross-mapped in a variety of ways that can bring about change in the emotional content of the experience. Three specific methods are:

“Guided imagery” is a term variously used to describe a range of techniques from simple visualization and direct imagery-based suggestion through metaphor and storytelling. Guided imagery is used to help teach psychophysiologic (mind-body) relaxation, to relieve symptoms, to stimulate healing responses in the body, and to help people tolerate procedures and interventions more easily.

Imagery can also be used “interactively” to evoke imagery dialogue where the nonconscious [or a part of the nonconscious or the body] is invited to tell its own story – [See CBT#22 Six Step Reframing]. This gives people a way to draw on their own inner resources to support healing, to make appropriate adaptations to changes in health, and to find creative solutions to challenges that they previously thought were insoluble.

The use of association and dissociation allows the individual to “metaperceive” or visualize several different levels of an experience. The process of using metaperceptions [visualization, imagining] for the purposes of helping people change is not new. Cognitive clinicians have been doing this for years. However, over time, the dimensions have expanded considerably. We can, for example perceive ourselves in regard to time as in the present, in the past, or in the future. We can also change not only the time, but also the place and the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

In addition, we can perceive ourselves in what are called positions, we can view ourselves in the first position as actually the one experiencing the event, in the second position, as the other person in the experience, or the third position, as a by-stander watching the event occur from the outside. The movement to these different positions changes the emotional content of the experience as it modifies the degree of association or dissociation with the experience. Thus we can view ourselves as if in a movie, experiencing a phobic reaction to a stimulus, without feeling the emotional fear in the process. Or, conversely, we can view that same experience from the first position, as a process of desensitizing ourselves to the emotional feelings caused by the stimulus through imagined exposure.

We can even perceive ourselves in a different time and place. How many different perceptions of ourselves perceiving ourselves that can occur in a single person is open to question. With practice, such metaperceptions can probably be expanded.

Cognitive clinicians and NeuroLinguistic Programmers have extended metaperception beyond thoughts to images, smells, tastes, distances, brightness, etc. And the switching of these submodalities has apparent effect upon our thinking. These inner states are filled with variables, some of which are hard to label, which affect our affect. For better or worse, we can group these into four types:

• mental representations of the world: including symbolic mind states such as ideas, words, and the abstractions about sensations [images, smells, sounds, touch and taste].
• quirks: are another set of inner state variables such as curiosity, anticipation, etc. which have mind/body connections, but are sometimes included as emotional states.
• sensations: include actual body feelings such as ‘goose bumps’, hair raising, etc. One can actually feel these sensations in our minds/body rather than just talk about the abstractions of them. These are evolutionary developed components that have evolved over time into an early warning system. The ‘feelings’ of fear are really bodily sensations that warn us to prepare to fight or flee, and we begin to have bodily sensations that indicate that the preparations are proceeding.
• emotions are really abstractions about sensations or cognitive creations interpreting the sensations or qualia of perception. The sensations of fear for example are identical to the sensations of anger. The difference is created through a cognitive process that determines whether the threat is one that can be defeated.

Of course these groupings are arbitrary and the various sub-components can be grouped in various ways. We can mentally group an instinct [curiosity] with an emotion [fear] or an idea with a sensation. These in-depth perceptions are generally nonconscious and are combined into mental contexts or filters which help to preconceive the way in which we experience the world. By consciously changing these submodalities, we change the mental content of the experience.

This ability to metaperceive ourselves and the reality of the experience also allows us to alter our present mental contexts and create new ones. It is this process which allows us to change. But change is not always easy. Just wanting to change doesn’t mean that we are willing to do it. We are all coherency-seeking systems. Our personalities are a coherent set of conscious and nonconscious mental contexts, we are the sum of our thoughts; particularly those valued or attached thoughts we call beliefs. We are set up at every level to try to maintain coherency, that is, to maintain ourselves as we are. We are operating out of a set of mental contexts that include all of our beliefs and our strategies, etc. That’s what keeps you ‘you’ and me ‘me’; everything that comes into a person’s world goes through their own particular filters and gets distorted, generalized, and deleted. If it weren’t for that, you would not be you, but simply a reflection of whatever environment you are in at the time.

So we are set up to maintain who we are. But because we are human beings, we can represent in our subjective experience what it’s like to be other than who we are: somebody who doesn’t handle criticism well can imagine handling it well and say, “I want to be like that”. But the person who wants to handle criticism well is still that same person who doesn’t, and who is also set up to stay who s/he is.