The Job is Ours

LifeForceThe muse didn’t clobber me with this one, turning a light on all of a sudden. Rather, it has been simmering, incubating for some time. Because it has many facets that can not all be reported, and has the juice from many emotional milestones, like the slaughter of 49 innocents this summer in Orlando, my job is to somehow keep short and sweet a subject that has a lot of vertcal density and spreads out to the horizon, ultimately including us all. It is not exactly about RRT, but rather, a teaching imperative I see for counselors of all stripes. It’s a role we cannot escape. As a public health matter, it has fallen to us to take it on and do it.

It has become my conviction that we have to impact and change the way people talk and listen to each other. The urgency of doing it and a brilliant treatise on how to go about it was laid out by William Isaacs in Dialogue And The Art of Thinking Together, published by Currency Doubleday in 1999. This book remains one of the most influential I’ve ever read.

Isaac’s stepping stones, what he sees as “building capacity for new behavior”, are called Listening, Respecting, Suspending, and Voicing. Some of this will not be new to counselors. We know the importance of stepping into another’s perspective until we can feel it and could say it for them. This creates connection and alters brain circuitry. But he goes on, which space does not permit here, to describe the art and discipline of holding new attitudes, and waiting, in Shaker Meeting House style, with others, for the right words to come. To wait for a response, and not a reaction, is the target skill that opens up possibilities and keeps creative thinking going. This is of the utmost importance to our day and age.  It is the opposite of taking up a position and giving up on the other. This is a way that transcends individual therapy, but even envisions healing all of  society, changing our common container for the better, as people sit in small groups and dialogue. It’s not for the faint of heart. You must be willing to be vulnerable and to be changed. If you participate, you may, at worst, walk away undecided, but not unmoved. You will depart with the other’s viewpoint suspended, carried still within you. And you cannot possibly hate him or her.  Please consider reading the book.

The “small group” starts with ourselves and the people that come into our offices or cross our paths in daily life. The times urgently demand an antidote to position-taking and the end-stage alienation and cumulative desperation of tribes that we are now seeing. News bulletin: All counselors must report to the clinic and get inserviced on how to draw up this medicine and inject a dose to inoculate or, to begin to heal,  our fellow citizens who’ve been infected with hate, fear,  position-taking and refusal to be part of a commonwealth of heart and mind. While you’re in there, make sure you’re up to date on your own shots.

We cant go on as we are. It doesn’t matter how sloppy or halting, how modest and germinal,  a beginning at this would look like. It only matters that we begin.


Listening Deeply and Watching For Your Effect







Have you ever wondered how Jon can, within a few moments, get someone he’s never met into

a profoundly deep trance state and shift all sorts of things from there?


He does it by listening deeply and watching for his effect.


RRT isn’t about learning scripts by heart and then reciting them to a client. It’s about watching

the client’s face, body, and breathing as we verbally impact them and as we listen to what’s

been particularly upsetting or troublesome when they describe their suffering. We do this from

the very first moments of sitting down with them.


This is not to say getting to a full induction with hand movements,eye closure, and special

effects is the be-all and end-all for everybody. Indeed, with some, we may have to be very subtle

and go only as far as client’s willingness to respond will let us go. I can think of several clients

who were aligned against the antiquated notions of hypnosis—some sort of magic spell or mindcontrol

or submissive state—and who were more than prepared to ward it off. Here our ability to

read a client has to be even more keenly attuned to joining them where and how they can be

joined and working from there.


But the great majority of people come to RRT therapists when their suffering has reached the

point it provides its own momentum, harboring a hope for something better. Have you ever

noticed how, for lack of a word, grateful, clients sometimes are for the trance experience? They

are almost reluctant to come out of the inner place of solace and unity we’ve invited them into.

It’s as if their body and mind had been waiting to go there, even if they didn’t have a word for it

nor an experience to pin it to, but they’ve nonetheless anticipated we’d open that door.


Certainly there are clues the person gives if we’ve got our eyes and ears open. Here are some

of them:


1. Listen for a sense of urgency. This is expressed either overtly or in between the lines as they

describe what they name as the number one thing they want adjusted.


2. Watch for their response to uplifting language. Remember, we are not coming from the

medical model that looks at what’s wrong or broken and needs fixing. We are appreciating

strengths and resources that may have been obscured in the problem-focused orientation

that clients are so often immersed in. Our appreciation and voiced expectation for a good

outcome is like a fresh breeze floating over them. Particularly potent is our awareness that

problem does not equal identity. Watch what this does to facial expressions, body language,

and readiness to follow requests as we progress into the steps of the session.


3. Watch the effect of every sentence. This is where RRT is most like improvisation in music, a

conversation between intervention and response. Did what you just say strike a note of

concord or dissonance? Which way does that tell you to shift? Dissonance will sometimes

say, “Hey, hold up, there’s a hidden conflict which you’d better take care of first.” Concord

will say, “My client is digging it, let’s try to go a step further.”


4. Make sure you have understood and clearly shown that you understand, particularly how

tough it’s been for them. Everyone desperately wants this when they come for help and

many times will balk if the therapist hasn’t reflected back how tough it’s been. If you only

have part of the picture, the client will know it. If your mirror neurons haven’t fired up and felt

at least a bit of the pain they’re describing, they’ll know that too. Understanding and

conveying that understanding activates the attachment system and in some sense is already

becomes a big part of the solution. It says, “You’re not alone.” Watch for even more

openness, relief, and willingness to be joined that shows up in the body after you have really



5. Get a “Yes” set going. As you hear Jon work, do you notice how often he checks in with

“Does that make sense?” He’ll get an early “Yes” this way and if the client is a little confused,

he’ll break down his statements to get a short, staccato, series of yes’s to each part. We’re

all familiar with how later in an induction, he’ll invite the client to join in by saying “Yes” in

their mind each time they notice a hand or finger movement. This extends and builds upon

the yes’s that have come before. Yes is a powerful word, not just signifying an intellectual

grasp, but Yes is also a message to the inner mind—the client telling themselves they are

following us and open to following further.


6. Watch for the effect of metaphors that fit perfectly. The image of a deeply rooted tree that

has survived hurricanes completely “clicks” for a woman who hadn’t considered her

experiences had actually prepared her to weather life’s worst storms better than most and

that she now carried that resilience within. Or the metaphor of an isolated soldier that kept

on fighting long after the war was over, finally getting the good news that the armistice had

been declared, and by surviving it, he’d won. This “clicks” for the guy whose mind had been

repeatedly reading the data clog as still happening. There really is a light that goes on when

a story or metaphor “clicks”, and when it does, you have a powerful opening to move even

deeper into more clearing work.


7. Look for the obvious markers of a profound response. Shoulders suddenly slackening, arms

that go limp and heavy at the first touch, a hand moving in and touching the therapist’s hand

almost immediately, an absorption of attention and suspension of disbelief, a flattening of the

facial muscles and a switch to slow, deeper breathing, any spontaneous mimicking of

therapist’s wording or gestures. Sometimes you’ll suddenly find a whole torso that totally

releases and almost slides out of the chair. You can often go further in such instances into

things like arm levitation, or having a client actively hallucinate their symbolic activator and

point to it and tell you what it’s doing. You can have them “try” to open their eyes and finding

they can’t or try to suppress laughter and finding they can’t. Laughter in particular, in or out

of trance, can move mountains because the mind cant do fear, anger, or anxiety when it’s

joyful with the delight of deliverance or chuckling at the absurdity of hobgoblins. The idea is

not to “have to” go to these deeply responsive states with every client, but to be ready, alert

and take advantage when the signs are right that the client has that capacity.


I hope these thoughts are helpful, that they find you well, and that they add to your own

expanding repertoire as you practice this marvelous craft.


Mental Toughness

imagesReaders are likely very familiar with the intense and debilitating symptoms of PTSD and trauma in general, either by having known someone with the disorder, or through the coverage these topics get regularly in the news and special documentaries. What they may not fully realize are the more subtle symptoms that I would phrase as an impaired sense of personal efficacy or, to put it differently,  a void where mental toughness should be. But first, let us get our heads around a few concepts.

The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [1] made some important changes to traditional markers of PTSD. They reworked descriptors to more adequately reflect the behavioral aspects of the disorder under the three broad categories of re-experiencing, negative cognitions and mood, and arousal problems. Though the DSM doesn’t talk about mental toughness per se or the lack thereof, it does reference somewhat parallel concepts—the problematic negative cognition patterns that start to emerge in a person suffering with chronic PTSD. These range from a persistent and distorted sense of blame of self or others, to estrangement from others to markedly diminished interest in activities, among other features. In addition, a new subtype is described, the Dissociative Subtype. Its features include prominent dissociative symptoms, either experiences of feeling detached from one’s own mind or body, or experiences in which the world seems unreal, dreamlike or distorted.

In my clinical experience, the cumulative effect is often manifested in the form of a person in the chair opposite me who along with symptoms from the three categories also feels like a ghost with no substance left, a person who indeed now floats around with a detached, dreamlike experience of the world, others, and themselves. In severe cases there is a complete void of volition and initiative, and a badly eroded sense of self-efficacy.

I’m not describing anything new. These effects have been well noted in whole populations who have suffered through natural or man-made disasters for millenia. If physical strength is the ability to produce force against a resistance, then mental toughness must have to do with the ability to stick with that effort, to push back, believing one could yet have an effect, no matter what particular type of resistance one is up against. It is not a trait that some have and others don’t, or the seeming absence a defect of personal identity. To the contrary, it’s a natural human capacity available to all, that has a lot to do with our survival and evolutionary success as a species, but that may need redevelopment or recovery in some, especially following trauma. In the face of a continuing stressor, without the chance for recovery that allows for adaptation, at some point we would all collapse. The collapse of the will to push back and the belief in one’s efficacy—what seems like the evaporation of mental toughness—  is perhaps at the heart of the disorder and may be the most troubling feature in the subset of people who go on to develop full-blown PTSD in the aftermath of trauma.

Some may say “Aren’t you really talking about resilience?”  Resilience [2], a well-studied construct according to the APA, is made up of the following aspects:

  • A strong support system
  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
  • Skills in communication and problem solving
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

Resilience is really a broader concept and these features, however distinct and valid they may be, still strike me as mainly cognitive, self-absorbed,  or situational. They miss something that’s a precursor—  more basic, outward-looking, embodied, and elemental—the will to fight back, mental toughness.

The point of this article is how certain insights from strength training hooked up with my therapeutic sensibilities. If physical strength forms the biological base on top of which the superstructure of all other interrelated aspects of well-being are built, and I think it does,  it makes sense that enhancing physical strength not only makes us feel better in the short run, but under the right circumstances, promotes overall mental health in the long run. As a side bar, preserving physical strength is quickly gaining traction as the central variable to help people age  more gracefully, with relative freedom from premature disease or disability.

What became salient for me is how even brief enactments of strength, or strength displayed quickly, i.e., power,  could pluck other strings and be a reminder of capacities not really lost, a powerful reconnection point for someone whose trauma had left them feeling so powerless. The following clinical narrative represents a composite to show what’s possible when you’re tuned into this.

A client who’d been badly abused in childhood was now at least clear of the re-experiencing and arousal symptoms as a result of the early work we’d done. But this person was dogged by the persistent tendency to cave in and comply when met with forceful demands presented by others that resulted in  pervasive self-disgust and lack of integrity that showed up in several areas of  life. Though in a position of considerable authority and responsibility, this client would instantly capitulate even when leaned upon to do things against better judgment or thought to be wrong. I recognized from the limp handshake, the vacillating voice,  the instant withdraw from anything that would risk displeasure or require taking a stand, and the dream-like trance that arose when in the presence of powerful others, that all the residues of dissociative post traumatic stress disorder were there.

Practitioners of Rapid Resolution Therapy will recognize some of the tactics used with the disassembly of anxiety, as I adapted them in the following way. The first thing I wanted this person to do was to reconnect with the natural strength in the body. With certain therapeutic parameters in place, I role played a rather aggressive and obnoxious co-worker  regularly encountered at work and around whom my client felt paralyzed. I asked that we both stand up, and of course, got immediate compliance.

I backed the client into a corner with only an uncomfortable foot of distance between our upper bodies. I talked harshly, using some of the co-worker’s demeaning lines and down-putting attitudes. I informed my client that I weighed 240 pounds, was very strong,  and could push  someone around any direction I wished unless something was done about it. I stipulated hitting wasn’t allowed, but my client could place hands on my chest and do anything that occurred  to get me out of the space, as I leaned in a bit more. To our mutual amazement, my client planted both legs hard into the ground, set the jaw, held a big  breath,  and lowered the center of gravity, much like a linebacker does just before  the ball is snapped. With a visceral grunt, my client drove out of the corner using the big muscles,  and by an instant recruitment of whole-body strength that came from legs, back, and hips and went all the way up through shoulders, forearms and hands, shoved me halfway back across my office like I was an unloaded blocking sled.

With eyes as big as saucers, my client sat down in the chair slowly, and processed for the next few minutes how different and needed that experience was from anything that had ever been afforded as a child or in later years. Vocal tonality was markedly different—the voice had a more resonant timbre and never wavered. Gone too was the tentative breathlessness with which statements were started or ended. Thorax and shoulders were more open and upright and I could tell this person had the full support of their own air column back again. We are embodied creatures who can learn through movement and sensation as well as the intellect, so you can sometimes use these channels to a produce a profound shift in self perception and the opening of capacities long thought lost.

I then prescribed something for the first time ever in my career for a psychotherapy patient. I recommended aligning with a gym and carrying out a program of strength training for the next six months. I said the power they had briefly accessed needed development and that I wanted this person to get guidance in order to learn to squat, deadlift, press, power clean, and bench press correctly.  I got an emphatic nodded “yes” to all I was saying, as if already understanding what I was getting at, without even yet having experienced it.

The brain is an amazing organ as is the rest of our physical endowment.  Some key neuropathways reconnected for my client that day. But strength is not a one and done type of project, either in the consultation room or in the gym. My hope is that with a couple follow up sessions and some barbell training,  mental toughness will regain tone  and reciprocally come back on line as this person makes gains with their physical component. Through regular stressing, recovery, and adaptation, there is no reason why my client cant reap the full benefit of getting stronger at least weekly for years to come, and continue to feel its carryover into all aspects of existence.

I would hasten to offer the disclaimer that what I did here with a few people in a specialized situation should not be construed as advice or a blanket strategy to be used with all trauma survivors. PTSD is a complex disorder that often responds to our interventions, but informed sensitivity to the situation, safety parameters that protect client and therapist, and good timing continue to be essential.

I would say, however, that some clients have called me to share major decisions arrived at and changes made in their private or public lives that bespeak the continuance of strength and a certain mental toughness that has not abated. You see, with an impactful enough experience, such as the one described above, and a symmetrical follow up, such as time in the gym under the bar, the unconscious is thoroughly capable of recognizing a new pattern of adaptation and generalization to other areas of life with an efficiency and elegance that we can scarce imagine. I believe stacking things so that a client can experience their own power, and then staying with a program of strength training, facilitates the development of mental toughness by sending a deep signal to the brain that over time makes structural changes possible, both intracranially and throughout the whole body, and becomes part of the inner architecture of a person who is truly healing, growing, and adapting well to life’s continued challenges.

  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.).Sep 24, 2015.

You Cant Use RRT to Shift a Current Attachment Trauma

Arguing-couple-File-5938266You cant use RRT to shift a current attachment trauma, but instead to provide orientation.



An attachment injury is a rupture in the survival template of security and safety, so basic a cornerstone, that upon it rests our ability to regulate emotion, experience security, and the foundation of our ability to use socialization to learn and grow. When these injuries come later in life, especially to a person with an insecure attachment pattern, it can seem to ratify a basic fracture in the continuity with others and the world, and like a seismic event, release a veritable tsunami of disturbing perceptions and emotions. The sense of disconnection and disorientation people may feel is a big deal, and like other traumas, seems to live in a timeless zone, ever at the ready to infect and superimpose upon present day realities.


The question becomes, then, why couldn’t one use RRT to heal it? The answer lies in the major distinguishing factor with ongoing relationships. The “perpetrator” lives not in the past, but in many cases, is part of a continuing daily reality. Therefore the strategies employed by primitive mind turning on the turbo of emotions to cause an action—to flee or bare one’s teeth and bite—though not particularly adept, are at least timely.


When you think about it, this makes perfect evolutionary sense. If a lion raided the village andate some children, it wouldn’t do to conclude that upon his return he just may act differently and therefore could be given the benefit of the doubt. That wouldn’t be an easy sell to the villagers. In fact, they’d be accurate to remain on high alert until further data showed reason to let down their guard and go back to life as usual.

A prototypical wife comes to the first session of couples therapy with her husband who is four months into his addiction recovery. He has cleared quite a bit and is coming to grips with some of his behaviors, genuinely remorseful about the damage he has caused and desperate to put it right. The wife says, “Part of me sees what he’s saying and that he obviously means it and cares. But another part of me is saying, ‘Yeah, but he’s the same guy. If he cared so much, why didn’t that stop him the first time? What’s to prevent him from doing it again? I want to come out from behind my wall, but I hear a voice that keeps saying, ‘Watch out, Watch out.’”


Added to this, with some severe attachment injuries, such as affairs and betrayals, for some couples there is no longer anything that could be considered “life as usual”. The ground has shifted. It’s a whole new topography, and both members of a couple are in for not so much repairing what was, as they are building something entirely new.

What we’ve learned from RRT is that aiming at trust is as poor a goal as it is an inaccurate indicator of progress. Much better to be on the firm ground of assessment. “Dont trust, watch me, trust what you see” is our byline. The whole notion of forgiveness, letting go, and guilty pursuit of adequate recompense are wrongheaded and get in the way of the crucial project of accurate re-assessment between two people who want to continue on with each other.

But it takes something more. Harry Stack Sullivan once said we are wounded in relationship and we heal in relationship. The one who has been hurt must be carefully led to reach out in a moment of great vulnerability, with profound fears of rejection or failure up and running in the room, and be caught by a partner appreciative of that risk, equally in touch with their own vulnerability, and the depth of pain that has been caused. This is described in EFT literature as a “Softening Event” and it has the power to reset the entire attachment template of one or both. Only then can it completely register that one’s hurt and needs matter, and these can and do impact the other, who doesn’t run from it, but helps contain it, so both may be regulated and the relationship return to something with the semblance of safety. The point is, this is not brief clearing work, but the careful product of many sessions. Only then can the templates of expected disillusionment and re-injury, and the compelling negative cycles of interchange they create, be fully retired and laid aside.

RRT may not be the main treatment of choice for couples, but then you cant fry an egg with it either. We’re not going for a universal one size fits all. But the useful insights about the origins of hate, anger, fear and what these emotions are calling for; its vision for re-attuning to a present that hasn’t disappeared or been overwhelmed with past or future, the uselessness of trust as opposed to assessment, and the ancient survival mandates of primitive mind and what it’s up to, these may be very helpful orienting couples who have been through hell and back, in getting on with their next steps.



The urban dictionary defines malergy as: The effect of two or more people or circumstances that interact to have an over all negative affect where the sum of the parts exceeds the sum of the whole, negatively.

“There is malergy in that relationship where Sue needs be needed and Sam is always playing helpless. They have a malergistic affect on one another and those around them.”

Malergy can build especially quickly between two people in a troubled couple relationship, but also between two or more people in a work setting, between whole communities and cultures where continuing disadvantage meets continued abuse of power, indifference, or plain unawareness. And, if weʼre unaware of it, it can walk right in the door of our therapy offices and smack us in the face quickly, especially when the unknown, unforeseen context for a particular participant is a string of poor or damaging prior experiences in therapy or in life. Negative expectation combining with the perceived power differential is more than enough to set malergy in motion.

Most of us were taught labels for these phenomena– projection, transference, counter-transference, but I want to go beyond labels in this article, and the authoritative oneupsmanship that sometimes goes with them, to get to the heart of working effectively in that malergistic moment. The ability to reflect in the moment is crucial for RRT therapists because malergy represents the opposite of synergy, the positive momentum of connection that we want happening from the first moments in a session.

What I am highlighting as malergy goes under the banner of alliance ruptures in other experiential and relational models. Instead of expectancy, there is a narrowing of mind or entrenched resignation; instead of trust, there is deepening skepticism or even suspicion, instead of joining, there are verbal and non-verbal signs of moving away or repelling. Malergy can can show up in many forms; it can be quite covert with a particpant sort of quietly pulling back with lots of deference, deflection, or rapid shifts of content, or quite overt, with a particpant ramping up disagreement, questions about our training or approach, or outright refusal to follow our prompts.

Itʼs essential to operationalize the knowledge that such a shift in the relational dynamic bears the fingerprints of both therapist and participant. If a rupture is happening, both are making some contribution. It is incumbent on therapists to recognize the rupture, accept their part in it, and to step back and try to look at the relational process as it unfolds. We want to slow the session, and most of all, lead with vulnerability to address it. More will be said on this in just a moment. But the point here is that we are of no use to the participant if we play an unconscious reciprocating role in the malergistic scenario. There are identifyable stances therapists under stress usually take that other writers include under the umbrella of embededness in the relational dynamic. We may start to shut down, become more disengaged, withdrawn, cautious or even callous ourselves. Or we may start to pursue, becoming more frustrated, more intense, given to intrusive questioning, defensive explaining or lecturing, or even lapsing into pathologizing thought patterns and lauguage.

A key skill is to pay attention to the external and internal markers of rupture as we experience them and to follow up and explore them as they occur in the moment. This implies that the therapist is capable of a moment by moment tracking of the alliance and alert to watch for the effect on the participant of the language we frame to address the rupture. It implies we can regulate ourselves and pause long enough to step back and be curious about our own reactions and see the participantʼs behavior as the leading edge of unspoken fears or needs. The way to disembed, so to speak, from the malergistic relational dynamic begins by leading with our curiousity in a vulnerable, collaborative way.

For example, if a participant is backpeddaling by deferring, deflecting, or repeatedly shifting content, a therapist might say, “Gee, Iʼm noticing that I keep trying to connect and keep missing you somehow, almost as if youʼre a moving target. Is that how youʼre experiencing me right now?” If the client says, “Yeah, I get uncomfortable with a lot questions, it does seem like youʼre trying to pry me open,” the therapist can then follow with, “My apologies. Itʼs not my intent to pry, and we can take our time here. But could you help me understand more about what happens inside when I try to find out about you?”

Or, if the participant is critical, dismissive, or vying for control in some way, the therapist could say, “You know, itʼs strange, but I get the feeling that I canʼt make a single mistake here, that any misstep might be enough for you to throw in the towel on our whole project. Do you have this sense? Is there something upsetting right now that Iʼm missing?” RRT therapists will recognize these as extensions or elaborations of the skills of asking legal questions and demonstrating interest, but applied here directly to the alliance itself. Of course, the participant may deny anything is going on and thatʼs always a chance we take. We may just have to make a mental note and bide our time. But again, as an example, they may answer with something like, “Yeah, I went through a lot of therapy with my first marriage, and it amounted to me being labeled the bad guy, the sick one, and we still ended up getting divorced. Therapy doesnʼt help much of anything, except the therapistʼs pocketbook.” This provides the opening for a deeper attunement to the participantʼs bitter disappointment and need for a sturdy offense to fend off further hurt. The follow-up response could be as simple as leaning in and saying in a soft voice, “Really? Can you tell me more about that?” There would then follow a validating and unsnarling of the beliefs and feelings that make an offensive posture seem so necessary, which would in turn likely defang the opening conflict about being a participant in therapy once again.

Reflection in action can open the participant to their anger, their defensiveness, and even futher down the line, to their characteristic primary feelings of fear or hurt that form the background music for their way of showing up in relationships. The key thing is the willingness to be vulnerable, collaborative, and to step back in the moment and explore the nature of the communication and the relational dance that is going on.

Please note the question is not framed as “Whatʼs going on with you.” which the participant feels, and which automatically puts the onus onto them, as it locates problems close to identity. But rather the question is framed collaboratively, as “What just happened between us? Whatʼs going on right now?” The question is asked with tentativeness and humility, which conveys we are on equal footing, that we dont have all the answers, and that the relationship matters enough to tend to it. By taking responsibiliity for our end of things and staying vulnerable, the therapist models that taking responsibility and communicating vulnerably is a good thing, even desired. Participants will mirror this orientation, becoming more aware and accountable for their effect on us. And while it seems sometimes like slowing down to a snailʼs pace and paying attention in an almost microscopic way, it can actually move things along. It can disembed the therapist from a toxic dance, and direct the awareness of both to things that heretofore couldnʼt be named. It can often prevent a conflict from growing into an outright block, or from morphing into a subterranean one, which would eventually derail our process. It speaks safety on a deep level to the inner mind, and may be the first experience the participant has ever had of someone sticking with them and working safely through a relational stuck point.

As RRT therapists weʼve learned a model that joins, assesses, and moves clients toward a life-changing shift very rapidly, often in a single session. And it feels wonderful when it works smoothly with those willing and ready for it. But in real life we also meet clients whose lifelong tussels with distrust, rejection, being misunderstood, or feeling desperate, helpless, or one-down, has become their leading edge. We must remember that some time ago they may have had a very good reason for adopting that edge. Like the great mass of an iceberg that lies below the waterline, they may not see it in themselves, but we will surely run upon it if we try to rush on by. Many of us have fallen into just this pothole in our exhuberance with RRT and zeal to clear them and get to target.

In fact, and as a way of summarizing, some participants may need us to slow down, to take the time necessary to find out what the conflict is about, to take even several sessions prioritizing the formation of the alliance before going any further. They need us to pace things so as to gain room enough to lessen the leading edge and navigate around it, and ultimately, for them to find out our interest and attunement is genuine and that the therapeutic relationship can be safe, durable, and dependable.


Thinking Primitively



If you can think primitively, you can communicate about stuckness with any participant. You can also spot stuckness earlier than most clinicians might. We’ll talk first about the “educational piece” that now happens at an earlier point in the RRT process than it used to–right after demonstrating understanding but before getting the baseline design.


1.When it’s done well, covering this material early in the session can be hypnotic. The rich metaphors and unusual language open up a whole new vista to the participant’s mind.  But also hypnotic because it builds credibility. From the participant’s seat, a therapist who doesn’t follow the mainstream, who colors outside the lines, and who knows this territory by heart, immediately shapes up as a specialist. Respect, curiosity, even intrigue builds, as they want to follow and hear more, sensing the RRT therapist is different and has something unique to offer.  What follows we are now well familiar with. As you look over a few transcripts and learn the key points by heart, you’ll have them forever in your hip pocket, ready to go as the session unfolds.


Primitive mind can only communicate with emotion. It can’t send a fax. The purpose is not to make the animal feel bad but to get it to take an action that will enhance survival.


Why people get disturbed is not reachable through logic. When others go to explain what’s going on they are always interpreting with the evolved part of the brain; and it’s usually wrong because it interprets in its own terms. This is why we get all sorts of misinterpretations of causality based on the sort of person they are,  psychology about drives and secondary motives,  theories about family or social influences,  just about everything from soup to nuts (pun intended) to explain why they are having disturbing feelings except the correct one–primitive mind reads a threat as present now and is trying to motivate a behavior to get it to stop. A thought is equal to an event is equal to an active threat in primitve-speak. If you can think it, you can do it something about it; or better, if you can think it, it’s really there, it’s happening, so do something about it now! The evolved part of the mind doesn’t operate with the magic or with the speed of think it-do it,  and doesnt get that the overall purpose of feeling is to kick-ass, that is, jump us right into behavior. It doesn’t get it could be that simple.


Primitive mind is set up for an enviornment we lived in ages ago. It’s always about facing threat and either fighting it off or fleeing for one’s life. Primitively speaking, threat is felt as unitary, not placed on a continuum, and it’s all on the level of coming face to face with a lion. Primitive mind is not good at making fine distinctions or seeing shades of gray.  It’s about preserving the bloodline and survival. When it’s working smoothly, it brings to attention automatically what would be both beneficial and possible, which serves to enhance reproduction, safety, and survival. Primitive mind, which is built for speed, not accuracy, couldn’t conceive of how to weigh the evidence, titrate the response, or run its responses through more sophisticated filters, like ethics or the greater good. That’s why the intensity doesnt usually match up with the reported external or internal trigger. The threat could be coming from something external or something internal but, in the end, it gets read as life-threatening or an “it” absolutely necessary for survival.


With all this going on, mind makes a processing error with something that was threatening and holds it up in the hallway where it does not move all the way into storage. The upshot of this is the hallway makes a piss-poor holding area for threatening material. Wierd things happen.


For one, there in the hallway, human mind makes the error of mistaking data about an event that happened for the event still happening. Normally I can tell the difference between remembering putting on my shoes and the actuality of putting them on right now. My mind is not confused on any level that just because I can recall it,  it is not happening now. But for disturbing stuff that gets hung up in the hallway, the data about a prior event is read as something actually in existence and vividly underway. Thinking primitively,  this would be like the horror of opening a book on the Civil War and suddenly finding oneself on the battlefield with things exploding and people dying.   The distinction between a book and war or just info about a war and a real war is lost. Its all glommed together as ongoing war. The person can’t go back to a book being just a book and information just being data. It’s as if they’ve been fitted with a pair of the new high-tech goggles that project a virtual world, where mere thought brings on the reality of the orignal threat full-bore, with no end in sight. Sure, there are gradations of disturbance with this, but on some level, while the data is hung in the hallway, it remains disturbing, even if not currently being thought about. And primitive mind responds with a strong fusillade of emotion to get the person to do something about it. Whether they’ve had quiet lives or eventful lives, there is stuff hanging in the hallway for just about everyone.   People need help getting the primitive brain to know what the intellect already knows –that the Civil War is not in existence anywhere. Even on the fields at Gettysburg, there are not men writhing in agony, spurting blood from horrendous wounds. If it’s no longer happening at the site it originally happened, it’s not happening anywhere. If it’s not happening anywhere, it doesn’t exist.


Secondly, the traumatic data is near the portal for new data coming in and it associates to anything that is structurally similar. Together the two of them vibrate like a couple tuning forks, and hence, something incoming that needn’t have been threatening now becomes threatening simply because it hooks with  some similar aspect of the thing stuck in the hallway. The ability to see what’s really there starts to deteriorate when certain conditions are met.


Thirdly,  the hallway is where unhealthy meanings are likely to get attached. Now, humans can see meanings as relative and optional. But humans also see meanings as absolute, exclusive, and coterminous with the thing being considered. When we start seeing the meaning as inherent in the thing, we are surely loading up on distortions. That would be apparent to a goat, who just sees what’s there, but it is not always apparent to us. It’s like the difference between a friend asking you to look at a building through yellow tinted shades and you have full awareness that the building just turned yellow, and why,  and that it’s just as easy to take the glasses off and have things return as they were. But then if someone slipped into your room at night when you were an infant and surgically implanted yellow lenses onto your eyes, you would live life thinking the world always had this yellow tint. In fact, you might not even have a word for “yellow” and wouldn’t even notice it as different. It would be your absolute, exclusive paradigm. You’d assume everyone just knew that it was the way things were.


That is how it is with meanings that attach in the hallway. Something traumatic happens and destructive meanings get welded on like, “I’m worthless” or “It was my fault” or “I’m the kind of person who..” and become one with the data already being read as happening. Now we’ve got the meaning also being read as happening and it really starts to vibrate and shake. Let’s take an example. The mind could bring up something it would be good to avoid– the possibility of doing something embarassing. But if something traumatically embarrassing happened earlier that’s hovering near the incoming portal, like a fish near a sluice gate, it gets fed by stuff that comes in with any structural similarity, and it really starts to vibrate. It gets stuck more deeply, meaning, primitive mind dispatches the sledgehammers of upsetting emotions that drive its pilings in stronger,  deeper into the bedrock of emotional life, with no result. It’s truly stuck because no one can do anything about something not in existence about which there’s nothing to be done.  It starts to take on a life of its own. There is now no difference between doing something embarassing at one time, thinking about it possibly happening in the future, and being an embarassment continuously. Experientially,  just thinking it  makes it seem like one has just embarrassed oneself again right now. We can readily see how humans can get really screwed up and run around smashing into all sorts of things, with mind working like this.


2. As an added feature, I’ll outline how we can learn to spot stuckness by its telltale language. Jon Connelly dubbed this the language of “past future”. A guy might say in past-future,  “ I have a short temper. I get angry and hurt people.” Notice how past, present, and future seem fused together. If you point out to him he isn’t hurting anyone now, he’ll agree that’s true. But he might be thinking,  “But in my past-future, I “have/will” hurt people because I “couldn’t/can’t” stop.

To take a parallel slant on this, I recommend listening for excessive use of the imperfect  (usually signalled by would, was, were, used to). The imperfect is different from the past tense. In fact, in English the imperfect isn’t just one discreet tense. It’s anything that’s im-perfect, incomplete. In the past (what language studies call the past perfect) tense, things are over and completed at a definite point in time:


We went to the market last Friday.


The imperfect is the tense of narration and story-telling. It’s used to set a scene. It’s used to talk about a continuing action that took place in the past,  an action that started in the past and continues into the present, or an action that was ongoing when something else happened. It’s also used to describe states of being or enduring qualities.


The foothills were bathed in the rose-copper light of the late-afternoon sun hovering over the Arizona desert.


I used to sit in the market in the cool of the evening.


I was working my job on the docks, a gift of political patronage, when my big-shot brother-in-law, the alderman, walked in.


Tall, wiry, he would walk with a swagger, as if his hips were sweeping the boardwalk of anything that might get in his way, serenely contemptuous of the townsfolk and their rustic ways.


The imperfect shows up as a distinct tense in other languages, but is more hidden in English, where a speaker can slip into it,  such that we’re not aware we’re no longer hearing a report of events over and done with, but of a past that somehow continues, invades and even predicts the future, with permanent meanings tacked on and in effect:




He would take me into his basement, calling it our “special place”.


“I know eventually the taper will stop, and that’s when I get into trouble.  I’m no good with pain.” (notice we dont really known when “when” is)


I used to go by Applebee’s on the way to the beach. I hope I don’t go by there and smell alcohol and start using.


I’ve always had this fear of someone criticizing me. I shy away from people.



When a person uses the imperfect excessively, or talks like they are a passive passenger on a ride through their lives, where it’s circumstances at the wheel, my ears perk up to the possibility they are talking the language of trauma– stuck, with no barrier between past, present or future, unhinged from their own agency.


We know to how to look for obvious signs of trauma: re-experiencing, numbness, avoidance, or hyperarousal. But those signs show up in relatively bold relief.  Having this handle on language gives us a leg up on spotting it sooner, in its everyday dress, as participants present themselves. Going back to the first part of this piece, having a good handle on the above processing errors that lead to stuckness gives us a leg up on being able to describe what’s been going on to participants in a way that confirms their experience, normalizes it, and enrolls them in the shared mission to get mind to optimal, to get it all cleared up.






Hidden Language–Part III

imagesHidden Language Part III– Mark A. Chidley, Certified RRT Master Practitioner


Readers will recall in parts I and II of this series, we’ve covered the concepts of deep structure and parallelism and seen them applied to actual work in the RRT tradition. We’ve seen how hypnotic language can be, with its use of unstated propositions, embedded forms, passive deletions, and inferred causalities; we’ve seen how we can make use of classical forms found in great writing, such as holding metaphors or stories in balanced tension, or stringing them together in a series of three’s, or using epistrophe or alliteration to rythmically repeat a word or phrase we want to anchor, all these suggesting it is more than possible to work with language as precise, multi-leveled communication, pinpointing and adjusting mind at the deepest level. This is not content-driven communication, but meta-communication, which accesses the unconscious, even as it overwrites damaging meanings, beliefs, and experiences that have impaired a participant’s life.



In this final part we will look at a potpourri of RRT tools, saying little about ones that are well-known, saying more about ones which have not been so obvious.


  1. We are familiar already from Level I training with the invisble tense change. This is restating the participant’s statement of the problem (which is often a self-poisoning extension of identity) as something already moving into the past, or better said, restated in a way that suggests the participant stands in the present with the problematic issue no longer existing. For instance, if a client says “I can’t do anything right” the therapist might say,  “You’ve been feeling like you haven’t been able to do things right”.

2.  Stacking involves taking a familiar term and loading it up with new meanings. This frequently employs liberal use of truisms as we go along stacking the deck in our favor. If one studies RRT inductions, the word “energy” often appears,  stacked with  other meanings through a series of pairings that can’t be easily denied. The therapist directs the participant’s attention to movements in the hand that aren’t being consciously directed but are happening in close proximity to the therapist’s own hand and casts it as something happening due to their combined energy. Directing attention is noticing and noticing causes it to happen even more, hence attention is energy.  This is true. It takes energy to attend to something and paying close attention to any task tends increase the likelihood of results. The participant is told they will feel sensations or continue to notice movement–both truisms in the sense that the participant is already experiencing it. The therapist then states there’s energy in sensations, energy in movement, energy in combined intention, energy begetting energy. Sensations, movement, intention, energy.  Energy, a rather pedestrian term by itself, now seems a marker for something numinous happening in the room, a new experience the therapist and participant have caused  that is outside the realm of the ordinary, and which will lead to new possibilities. Stating the obvious, using truisms tends to get a “yes” set going. Stacking new meanings onto old terms tends to get the mind going in a new direction.

3.  Analogical Marking is using voice tone and rate to various ends. One might use a deeper vocal tone and more distinct articulation with a slight pause before and after the word or phrase to say to the mind “pay attention to this” without saying so out loud. For instance, we could restate the sentence in number one above as “You have not yet felt that you could do anything right”, with vocal emphasis and slight pause surrounding the word “yet”.

4.  Simple repetition.  There was a fine example of simple repetition in a transcription of a session with a young man obsessively worried about social rejection and the possibility of others holding dismissive attitudes toward him. Jon Connolly used this technique to effectively change the man’s mindset. He starts off saying


“…one thing that’s been to your disadvantage is mind attaching undue importance to other people, to avoid someone being cold or condemning to you. Undue importance because it doesn’t matter how many people don’t think highly of me. All that matters is who I can and am connecting with.”


He goes on to tell several stories. One is of a man finding his true love and another guy pointing out to him there are women in the world that don’t know he exists. Another is of a man digging for gold and finding it, only to have another man point out he dug about a thousand holes previously and didn’t find any gold. Another is of a student afraid to guess on a test in which there is no penalty for guessing.  Still another is of a man staking out ten fishing poles on the beach and, similarly, a passerby makes fun of him for accomplishing nothing times ten. Just as this conversation is finishing, one line starts to tug with a fish on it and the passerby asks what about the other nine lines that are seeing no action. In each case, Jon has his character in the story intone it doesn’t matter how many misses there are in life, and that all that matters is that we succeed once in awhile.


What’s really neat about this and all other examples of hidden language, is that the technique remains invisible. Across the span of a couple hundred words, the participant would be caught up in the flow of the stories and a casual observer might conclude Jon is merely talking to or teaching the participant. But to the trained ear, we catch that Jon has counterposed it doesn’t matter (how many misses there are in life) with all that matters (is that we succeed once in awhile) five times, sinking it deeply into the unconscious.


5.  Mind Reading. In a way, this tool is not so much about hidden language the therapist is trying to transmit, as much as it’s about the therapist’s use of deep structure and hidden dimensions already present in what the participant has said. There are many examples in archived sessions where a rape victim tells in a dejected tone of having been raped or an addict tells with shame the behaviors they did to support their addiction. Jon might say, “You were thinking this was about you”, or something like it. Mind reading not only conveys deep connection but also says that the therapist has incredible insight and somehow knows deeply about the participant’s experience with the disturbing event, even their thoughts. This builds immense credibility. The trick with mindreading is to stay very close to the participant’s actual experience and say things they have already said a different way,  or are implicit in what they’ve already said, thus avoiding disagreement.

6.  Incorporate responses of the participant into the RRT process. During an induction, a participant may report an unanticipated bodily sensation or reaction–like a churning in the gut or a spinning in the head. You say, “Perfect. Things are loosening, moving, happening just as they should.” Or perhaps after you finish a clearing, checking the effect,  the participant reports some residual upset. You say, “Good, you’re way ahead of schedule. Let’s get it all clear.” Celebrate any shift and incorporate it as the process unfolding as it should. When you eliminate the possibility of failure and turn everything into a success it speaks deeply to the participant’s unspoken question, “Am I too damaged to be helped?” Without saying so, you give your unspoken answer, “No! This thing is not as big or as bad as it seemed. We can do something about it!”

7.  Incorporate humor. Build your stories up in overlapping layers of hyperbole and exaggeration. Put the faulty beliefs and meanings that have beset the participant onto yourself (with the participant as the teacher) or into a fable or tale with some vaguely defined protagonist espousing the faulty meaning, belief, or stuckness. A good example of humor is seen in the stories above in the section on simple repetition. By the end of that sequence, the participant was chuckling at the same thinking that only moments before had him by the throat. Humor works in a couple ways. One, by directly poking fun at (and thus de-fanging) the thinking, while keeping the participant safe. And two, humor works from a  hidden and more powerful place as a misdirect. RRT has a module for vanishing anxiety. The heart of it is a zany back and forth repetition of the trigger paired with a response of arrogant indifference. It gets so outrageous that therapist and participant are usually splitting their sides with laughter. The misdirect lies not in battling anxiety with indifference, but with the trigger being paired with a mismatched experience, that of laughing. Anxiety and whole-hearted laughter can’t exist in the same space. Brain circuits that fire in tune with safety can’t simultaneously activate circuits of high alert. The mind will jettison one and move toward the other. The pity here is that some therapists are so stiff or overly careful in their work, humor seems to escape them, or at least, be a huge stretch in the office. Be willing to laugh at yourself, at life, and share it with others the way some comedians have (I think of some of the greats–George Carlin, Jonathan Winters, Jerry Seinfeld, Carol Burnett). This will put you in a minstrel spirit and allow you to tell stories that engage clients with humor and move what looked to them like mountains.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this piece and the three part series on hidden language as a whole. As a lover of language, I hope I’ve inspired you to look more at the remarkable opus of work we already have recorded in front of us and to believe in what Connolly has taught us–that language is powerful. It changes people. The time is approaching and is already here when neuroscientists will  prove how language literally re-wires the brain. Words are all we have to change people, but the remarkable thing is that with the right words at the right time, change them we can. We follow our intent for the client with a mighty keyring with many keys on it. That keyring includes all the forms hidden language might take and is now at your disposal.







Hidden Language–Part II

hidden jewel

Hidden Language–Part II                         Mark A. Chidley, Certified Master Practitioner, RRT


Readers will recall in the first part of this series I discussed deep structure as one way of understanding the hidden language that shows up so often in the work of Jon Connolly, in both live trainings and transcripts of his sessions disseminated for study within the RRT community. These conversations become transformative for people because there is so much going on underneath the surface of the spoken word that is having a beneficial and powerful effect, while sidestepping the clumsiness, potential disagreement, and poisoning that comes with proscriptive, prescriptive, or pathology focused language.

We approached deep structure looking at it as linguists have, as a series of propositions that are implicit, riding below the visible or spoken surface of the sentence the way the base of an iceberg rides below the visible tip, yet surely constituting its most potent, substantial part. This article will delve deeper into deep structure and also take a look at forming parallels through balanced forms and stringing things in a series.

I. Deep Structure

Let’s look at one familiar modality in RRT to see how this works. By now we’re familiar with Changing Internal Geography (see Level I manual).

“There was a time when you were outdoors and you saw something beyond beautiful. What was it?” The client names a cherished outdoor scene that is then linked with feeling peaceful and excited and these reasonable, expectable feeling states are immediately redefined as a peak experience of getting in touch with one’s identity or true and lasting Self. We then extend this idea through other metaphors, talking about how the body that’s here and can be touched is not the same as the body that was there at birth, yet the experiencing Self has continued in all these changing forms. We show that we’re not always in touch with this deeper Self, referencing how people have been confused about the sun’s disappearance on cloudy days, despite the fact that we know the sun is just as hot at 2 a.m. as at 2 p.m. and burns just as brightly.

Without saying so directly, weʼve posited the notion that human perception is faulty and things are often other than they seem. And that some of the biggest things in life don’t depend on our awareness for their existence and continuance. Without saying it in so many words, we push into the idea the client is not their body, but an eternal Self that is not hurt and survives all the changes of life, even physical death, even though their conscious awareness has not always been able to take this in, endorse, or even register it. The client is led along this line of thinking to where a separation opens between what has happened to the body and the inviolable, continuing Self.

But then there’s even more. At this point, Jon will sometimes tell a brief story of abuse in his own life and will hold a hand up parallel to the client’s hand after asking permission to do so. When the client gives that permission, Jon will point out (having demonstrated it) that there is mutual respect with the permission and say, “Then right now I’m closer to touching who you really are than those guys (or whoever the perpetrator was) ever got because I have your permission and you have my respect.”

This is a nice device, a sort of inverted factive predicate that assumes what appears at the end of the sentence are the controlling factors that cause what appears at the start of the sentence to be true. There are probably many other elements that allow human connection to happen, but Jon has neatly boiled it down to just two, and linked them to the idea that being touched without them equals non-touch and that people can truly connect sometimes without being physically touched at all. Without it being obvious or visible, a change has occurred. Before, the client’s abuse and identity were melded together. Now, they’re differentiated, and now there’s something else between the client and their abuse that promises to redefine closeness and possibly cancel out the abuse’s effect.

Let’s just take a step back from the surface language and look at some of the beautiful, deep structure going on in these utterances. Many others could be added, I’m sure:

You are not your body.

You are not your emotions.

You are not what’s been done to you by others.

Perception doesn’t tell the whole story.

Things can be other than what they seem.

Being touched physically without permission and respect equals non-touch

You can connect deeply with someone without being physically touched.

Permission and respect are necessary for being truly touched.

Permission and respect weren’t there then. They are now.

You and I are connecting deeply right now.

Who you really are is touching who I really am.

Who I really am is touching who you really are.

If you can connect deeply with me and I with you, then you are not damaged

You are capable of closeness

Your body may have been hurt but You weren’t

Your body and emotions went through it. You didn’t

If You didn’t go through it, You weren’t there for it. You didn’t participate

It may have happened in your vicinity, but it wasn’t about You.

If it didn’t happen to me, it didn’t happen to You

You were okay then, you are okay now.

You are okay, that stuff never got “in” You

Who you are is synonymous with or close to experiences of lasting beauty

The client’s head is swimming and his or her spirit is uplifting with all this deep structure that is never overtly stated, but rides beneath the metaphors and fills in the gaps between artful RRT utterances, so that it becomes an easy next step to go on to repeating sentence stems where the therapist and client parrot back and forth these contrasts:

He touched my body

He never touched my essence.

He hurt my feelings

He never touched who I really am

He confused my thinking

He never really touched me.

This transition from metaphorical to declarative language anchors the culmination of all the above, changing Internal geography. Taken together, the whole modality hits the client with a powerful experience that shifts them to a new paradigm, a new orientation, an experience underneath the level of words, as opposed to a cognitive exercise at the level of content of words. The shift washes off damaging, disturbing emotions, corrects implicit meanings, and redeems the client’s positive relationship to Self. Not bad for a day’s work!

II. Parallelism: Balanced Forms and Series, the Rhythm of Two’s and Three’s

Great literature and great writing is replete with pairs of things held up for consideration or contrast in two’s, or, strung together in a series of three’s. Writing that really shines doesn’t communicate through mere content, but adds the sensory enjoyment that rhythm, and the intellectual satisfaction that multiplicity of example imparts to language. These can be nouns, noun phrases, adjectives, adverbs, participle or prepositional phrases, even consonants or vowel sounds. Taking alliteration as just one example, Spiro Agnew once described the press as “Nattering naybobs of negativism”. Alliteration is an extreme example of how stringing things together catches the ear and rivets attention. When we line up two things side by side we call it a balanced form. But when we string three things together in parallel we call it a series. But note this: even if the wording becomes phrases or whole sentences, and the concepts stretch out to considerable length, the ear still catches the rhythm as it tries to follow meaning. But what also happens is the unconscious groups them together, sometimes equates them, a phenomenon not so obvious, but which gives us powerful therapueutic leverage.

I’d pause here to state, as I did in Part I, the debt of gratitude I have for the work of Brooks Landon, a professor of English at the University of Iowa, and his treatment of some of these concepts in his series “Building Great Sentences.” Professor Landon argues that the reason these forms have such deep and universal appeal is that they speak to the rhythms of life. We have two ventricles to our heart, two hemispheres in our brain, two of every major appendage. Our body houses a bi-lateral circulatory and nervous system. Armies of antiquity marched in time to drums beating a one-two, one-two rhythm. On the other hand, things in a series, arranged in threes, appeal to our sense of a wider sample and completeness. We have county, state, and federal governments. We have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In nature there is air, earth, and water. In human development there is childhood, adulthood, and senescence. We make sense through story and stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In logic there is major premise, minor premise, and conclusion. The YMCA aspires to unite Body, Mind, and Spirit.

Binary thought that wants to boil all things down to either/or, black or white, is everywhere. And it is countered by the urge to see more, include more, to give a more complete accounting. So the ear and the mind looks around for a trinity and is receptive to finding examples in three’s, everywhere.

So I’m taking just the briefest overview of the seductive power of balanced forms and things in a series for my purposes here of looking at how parallelism becomes a potent working force in RRT.

Let’s look at this passage of Jon’s work with Devan, a young drug addict in early recovery. The context is that Devan, while recovering from opiates, has been waffling back and forth between his commitment to abstinence and speculating on continuing to enjoy the effects of marijuana and the greater lure of the fantasy of being able to self-medicate without devastating effects necessarily happening.

To this, Jon says, “So, this one guy says, You know, what do we want to do today? I wanna go surfing.” And this other guy says, “Oh, I wanna climb a mountain.” Somebody else says, “I wanna be with my lover.” And somebody else says, “Well, I’m just gonna sit here and touch myself.” Well, or “I’m just gonna sit here and touch my brain cells with this kind of substance or that kind of substance.” And it moves you… using marijuana or using heroin puts one into that ballpark where the way he’s going to experience things isn’t by experiencing things, but by doing something to, you know, putting a chemical on his brain cells rather than engaging in something that, you know, involves living.”

Notice the parallelism of paired, balanced forms. Real life activities that give pleasure and provide interaction are paired against activities that involve self-stimulation and leave one isolated. Experiencing things through drugs through an artificially induced a state of mind, is cast as not experiencing and paired against engaging in something real, vital that is cast as living, being fully alive. Pleasure and interaction versus sel-fstimulation and isolation. Not experiencing versus fully living. Either. Or. The balanced contrast starts to chip away at Devan’s notion that he can somehow live in both worlds at once.

Devan’s core dysfunction here is his belief that switching off to a “lesser” drug will be striking a reasonable bargain with his addiction and all other problems. Further on in the transcript Jon blasts this with a series of metaphors that take this reasoning to its logical conclusions:

1) Kind of like somebody says, “I’ve had blackouts and gotten in jail and lost my license because I keep getting drunk on vodka and vodka’s caused me to do really horrible things that I regret and feel guilty about, so I wanna be able to just stick with white wine and light beer.

2) I mean, would you want that for somebody? If you have a son, and he’s 9 years old, and you say, “Son, what are you looking to do when you grow up?” And he says, Well, I wanna be able to make sure I use some kind of substance on a regular basis in order to get my mind to be calmer, that’s what I wanna be when I grow up. I really like the idea of using marijuana as a life choice and use that as the way to get satisfaction in life.” Your other son says, “Oh, me, I want to be an electrician. ‘Cause I like the idea of managing electric and power and people having light, and people having air conditioning. And I like the idea of doing something that really has value. And you talk to your first son, and he says, “Well, I wanna be, you know, using marijuana regularly in order to keep myself calm. That’s what I’d like to be, dad.” And he says, “You know, I think about it all the time. I’m trying to decide like how much of it to use. And whether or not maybe I should move to a state where it’s legal, and maybe I can get a prescription for it. Or, I’m thinking maybe it’s all right to live in a state where it’s not legal but maybe not in a state where it’s criminalized. And I’m also wondering, dad, about the idea about driving with it. I know I need to get around from place to place but maybe I should be thinking about a state where I can use it but maybe I don’t have to drive so much and maybe I could be on the bus line.

3) So, your buddy says to you, “Well you know my kid isn’t gonna get any medical attention and he’s gonna go through a whole lot of suffering.” And you say, “Geez, why?” And he says, “Well, ‘cause I took the money that I had to pay for his treatment and I lost it playing blackjack. And I just feel crappy about it.” And you say, “Dude, that’s terrible.” And he says, “Yeah, I’m just hating myself. I feel miserable about what happened. My kid’s not gonna get medical care ‘cause I put it all on blackjack. I had it. I lost it. He’s not gonna get…” And you say, “I’m so sorry. What’s the plan?” And he says, The plan is to stick with roulette. I’m not touching cards any more. I go to the casino, slots,roulette wheel, absolutely no more blackjack.” And you might be thinking, you know, man, your solution sounds a little half-assed to me.

You get the idea. Here Jon uses metaphor, with his unique imaginative verbal skill, like a bludgeon, to smash the idea that using a lesser drug could work some sort of magic bargain or that one could somehow escape the dead-ended preoccupation and wasting of life that co-occurs with addiction. But what I want to stress is that he uses a series of three metaphors that build on each other and extend in scope and seriousness. They involve complex concepts that touch on the sequelae of addiction, but Devan hears it all just fine. Devan hears this series as a progression, a reasonable sample, and accepts it as a complete representation of the future trajectory of his thinking.

From this point, Jon gets no conflict with the target, and when he tests for the belief’s presence at the end of the session, Devan says this:

“There’s no point if you feel you need it, it is an addiction. I don’t need marijuana. I may choose only to use marijuana, but there’s no, there’s no purpose in this. It clouds my um, it’s a mind altering substance point blank. It may not have caused a foreseeable problem, but if I’m dependent on it then it is a problem. I don’t need marijuana. I wanna be me, just as happy, and just as free – I’m me. You know, I’ve been doing just fine without it here. There’s no reason to return to it just ‘cause I can.”

There is a complete reversal of the thinking Devan had at the start of the session. We might say he’s now seeing the big picture, as an adult. There’s been a shift potentiated by the application of powerful RRT metaphors and concepts presented, first, in the balanced contrast of one thing against another and then, second, through a powerful, building series of three, a movie about the progression of realities that would follow.

We’ve now taken a fuller look at deep structure and the parallelism that constitute some of the invisible forms and the hidden power of language inherent in the RRT model. As we become more and more conversant with these forms, clients gain a shift in the deep recesses of inner mind relative to the upset or trouble in their lives. We have known it works for some time now, through direct experience, by sitting across from and seeing the outcomes–persons with faces resplendent, recharged, renewed. Now we know a little bit more about how and why it works. Next month I’ll wrap up this series with an article that will pull together some final thoughts and a show a couple more forms in which hidden language becomes the via royale of transformation.


Hidden Language–Part I






I will attempt in this two-part series on Hidden Language to connect some aspects of language to what we are doing as RRT therapists. This first part will set the stage, focusing mostly on the mysterious and exciting ways that language works. The second part Iʼll reserve for a fuller development of how a working knowledge of some of these
features will help us connect, speak precisely to, and hopefully help things shift for the better in our clientsʼ minds and lives.

I want to begin this two-part series with a doff of my cap to Noam Chomsky, the famous
now-emeritus professor of linguistics at MIT and to Brooks Landon, a professor of
English at the University of Iowa, who in his taped lectures on Building Great Sentences
(2008), made ample use of Chomsky in his discussion of the propositional bedrock that
underlie elegant and effective sentences and, in particular, his discussion of Chomskyʼs
notion of Deep Structure, from which parts of what follows are adapted.

Chomsky, perhaps the most influential figure in modern linguistics and communication
theory, asserted in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965) that the surface structure of
a sentence, what we might also call the semantic level of representation, was in fact the
final stage of communication, the stage we see on a page or hear when spoken to us.
Like the tip of an iceberg, an image I borrow from Landon, it rested on a deep structure
of possible meanings or propositions that do not receive a direct point by point
expression in the sentence produced. Letʼs take a look at how this works, using the
example Chomsky himself extracted from an argument made by the Port Royal
Grammarians in the 1700ʼs.

If we start with the sentence:

” The invisible God created the visible world.”
and laying all theological considerations aside, we can see this sentence rests on a deep
structure of 3 underlying propositions:

1. God is invisible
2. God created the world (perhaps the sentenceʼs most potent proposition)
3. The world is visible

Chomsky claimed that the deep structure was versatile insofar as it accounted for
meaning and provided the basis for transformations, rules that eventually turned deep
structure into surface structure. These transformational rules as he called them,
connected the deep structure with the surface structure, and here we get into an area
so complex that it is beyond my interests and the scope of this short article, only to
mention that these rules and the theoretical model that Chomsky built and later modified
throughout his career are still the objects of intense controversy and debate to this day.
But the existence of deep structure itself is now commonly accepted and taught in
writing courses throughout the land. In fact, to more clearly illustrate it we can look
again at the example above and see the 3 propositional breakdown of Chomsky and the
Port Royal Grammarians doesnʼt near complete the all deep structure possibilities. We
could also get:

4. There is a God
5. There is a world
6. God is powerful enough to have created the world

So, the original sentence rests on a number of unstated propositions so basic or
“apparent” that they are understood within the sentenceʼs meaning and donʼt need to be
written out. But here we note that they could be written out, brought to the surface in
various ways. Just a few are:

Being invisible, God created the world which is visible
or, The visible world was created by invisible God
or, There is a God and being invisible, God created the world which is visble
or, There is a world which is visible and the world was created by God who is invisible
or, There is a God and being invisible, God is also powerful, powerful enough to have
created the world which is visible.

Many, many variations are possible that will each hit a reader or a listener in different
ways. But I want to note with Landon, we should be aware there is subtle power and
perhaps inflection building in a sentence (or a thought sequence) that mentions God two
or three times and the world once, or that explicitly states there is a God (a proposition
that by no means finds universal agreement) as opposed to assuming it, mentioning it in
passing, or as a matter of fact. Aside from literary interests in how the reader of such
sentences may be impacted, itʼs the deep structureʼs impact on the hearer that I as a
therapist am most interested in.

Another example of deep structure shows how this works with passive inversion. If we
take the sentences:

a)The bear was chased by the lion.
b)The lion chased the bear

We see that the mind will often take a passive sentence construction and line up both
noun phrases (the lion, the bear), at the same time re-tooling the sentence, with a bias
toward wanting the thought expressed in the active mood.

Or consider these sentences:

a) Which martini did Harry drink?
b) Harry drank that martini.

We see the mind will take an interrogative left unanswered and invert it into its
corresponding declarative. Notice as with the God statement above, there is still more
deep structure if we cared to eek it out: There was a martini. Someone drank it. That
someone was Harry. The mind of many will hear all this as a communication clump and
will not be consciously aware of all its constituent parts, swallowing it whole, as it were.
This example nicely segways into passive agent deletion. Look at the sentences:

a) The cake was eaten.
b) (Someone) ate the cake.

In everyday communication we often delete the passive agent in many sentences or
utterances. The mind will use the transformational step of supplying the indefinite
pronoun someone as it converts the sentence to the active mood. Several writers in the
hypnotherapy literature, Bandler and Grinder to name two, have noted that the mind
when hearing an indefinite pronoun, or a noun phrase so general that it suggests
ambiguity, will often substitute or understand “I” in its place as the mind begins an
unconscious search for the meaning of the whole utterance. The master hypnotherapist
Milton Erickson was famous for saying things like, “My friend John told me people can
feel comfortable.”

A final class within what has been termed generative grammar will give us a
transformational item that we are already familiar with, embedded clauses or
commands. Let’s first look at embedding in general. Embedding is the process by which one clause is included or embedded within another structure. When one clause is used as a constituent part of another phrase or clause it is called an embedded clause. Any noun phrase or a subject, verb and object which can stand on its own is called a kernel or matrix phrase. Hence we get:

The boy who came is his cousin.
I told him that I would go.
He left when the bell rang.

We see that “The boy is his cousin”, “I told him”, and “He left” are all kernel phrases that
could stand on their own as a sentence, within which is embedded a subordinate
clause that modifies or adds something, but could not stand on its own. Sometimes you
can even get a clause within a clause:

[Bill wants (Susan to leave)].
[Peter said (that Danny danced)].

In this case the matrix sentence is the whole construction. Neither of the two clauses
embedded within each sentence makes any sense on its own, but must be attended to
by the mind to arrive at a final coherent meaning. But sentences like these that display
embeddedness are an artful tool in therapy because they load additional info into the
utterance, what some have termed a presupposition–to make sense something that
doesnʼ have to be true is taken for granted.

Iʼm thinking now of one of the classic utterances utilized in RRT when we are forming a
target and testing for conflict. This is what is often said after describing the target to a

“The question Iʼm asking is not how itʼs going to happen that Iʼm going to get you
there (to target), but, would it be okay?

The boiled down matrix sentence that could stand on its own is simply, “The question is,
would it be okay?” But by piling in a negative and an interrogative, the mind has to first
invert these as it bends toward end of the sentence to get the whole meaning. Clearly,
thereʼs a lot going on here and the clientʼs mind has a lot to preoccupy it already. Notice
how the surface structure seems to focus the client on the goal as it has them scan
inwardly for any residual conflict or qualms about proceeding ahead in a collaborative
venture. But notice from whatʼs bolded, those modifying clauses coming from deep
structure, that the clientʼs mind has heard a lot more–two utterances that here function
as embedded commands. The sentence seems to be about getting the clientʼs assent.
But the modifying, embedded commands are what the sentence is really about. In a
fundamental way, the sentence is about waking up the inner mind to an immanent
experience, a new direction, and the certainty that they are in the good hands of a
knowledgeable therapist who will take them there with safe passage.

This is as close to magic as language gets.

My conclusion is pointed, if not obvious. Language is powerful. Much of what we say
rides in like the Grecian horse of old through the gates of Troy, with the hidden payload
of deep structure and phraseology formed in one personʼs unconscious–the
therapistʼs–attempting to communicate directly with the unconscious of the other–the
clientʼs– in a language it can understand. Knowing a little bit about how language
works, borrowing from the great linguists of the 20th Century and other luminaries, we
can be a little more conscious in how we go about this task, perhaps, producing some
transformations of our own.



Taking Aim at Moralism




(with special thanks to Jon Connelly for many of these ideas)




With so many people coming in ravaged by guilt, resentment, regret, and shame we in the RRT community would want to know all we could about the underlying template driving this misery so that we could more thoroughly demolish it.




How would you go about getting anyone to believe it was possible to do something differently than they did it or should have done it better, gooder?




It seems unlikely anyone with even a smidgin of intellect would think like this. But let’s look at the other end of the intelligence continuum. If you went into a room full of astrophysicists you would not hear them talking about the aberrant movement of galaxies or planetary systems in terms of morality or moral rectitude. It didn’t happen because the stars were lazy, resistant or didn’t want to try hard enough. There’s no such thing as a bad star. It would be a crazy conversation if you walked up on it,  and if you introduced that thinking to them as an explanation,  they wouldn’t entertain it, not even for a second.




But we’ve all breathed this air for so long it’s to the point it seems like prima facie truth. It’s everywhere. So how can this have happened? The way you get someone to believe it’s possible to do something other than the way they did or that it’s possible to go back in time and do it better is to get that thought in during early childhood before higher order reasoning kicks in. The earlier you start the better. He or she hears mom or dad say, “You’re such a good boy or girl.” The child thinks, “Gee, whatever the heck good is,  it feels nice and I’m doing it fine.” But then the day comes when it’s not so much. You hit your little sister or threw your food on the floor and got the idea pretty quick of being bad. You fell from your prior state of grace and disappointed them and from there got the idea that you should’ve done it different than you did, better or gooder. And if the idea gets in there really deep, its about who you are rather than what you did.  This inability to go back and correct the past is now something negative about you and tends to explain subsequent mishaps. It sticks because you’ve got no alternative theory with which to counter this explanation of what’s going on in the world,  and these powerful adults on whom you depend for so much say it is so.




And so you grew up in a culture that took you from that and then drenched you in school and church and work in the attitudes and reactions of others who believe in it, too. Now, you couldn’t sell this system to an older kid who could already reason and was just hearing it for the first time. Just as you couldn’t get him to suddenly start believing at 12 in an extraterrestrial being with some wierd tooth-for-money exchange system or that tiny deer pull a beneficient fat guy around the world in a single night, you couldn’t convince him he should have been able to do it differently than he did or that his innate goodness or badness accounted for the way things really are and explained his fortune, misfortune and suffering. He’d reject any such hogwash.  But not if you started early and stacked it often. It’s preposterousness would be invisible to him. It hangs out as part of the landscape and becomes a kind of template because, unlike Santa, no one ever told us the myth of being able to do it differently– more, better, gooder, smarter– wasn’t real.  And we further notice, as we got older, no one was questioning it. It’s got considerable ongoing consensus and seeming validity.  It may, in fact, cost you big time if you go against the grain and actively expose it or renounce it.




The trouble with beliefs that have people (instead of the other way around) is that people begin to act on them. Acting on this belief is by far,  the most popular, default way to attempt to improve behavior. No matter that it flies in the face of ample evidence to the contrary– that no one does better at anything by feeling bad or guilty.  In fact,  the opposite is the case. Fear, guilt, and shame deteriorate performance.  Do you really think I’d make a better speech to your organization, bake a better cake for your dinner, or throw a better pass in the big game by reminding me of prior times I’d blown it or by scaring me beforehand with a picture of me looking back wishing I’d done it better? Yet people still regularly shame, exhort, warn, and guilt-trip others by citing mistakes or shortcomings with the unspoken demand to correct them in the past or in the future, or whatever time zone mistakes are hanging out in,  believing this will produce a better result.




Jon Connelly has pinpointed where it is all destined to fail.  Guilt and shame are glitches, maybe something like mutations of useful negative emotions. Negative emotions are designed by nature for one thing and one thing only–to get the animal to take action in the present, for survival’s sake. But the moralistic system diverts the emotional charge away from the present with the words  should or should’ve.  So it falls in the space between the emotion and the action never happening. Because no one can respond to the mandate they should’ve done it differently,  should’ve thought it for the better, should do it better in the future, or can go back or forward in time and do anything better, gooder. No one has ever gotten that one done.




So there results an endless loop amped up with all sorts of energy. You could title the movie, “Impossible Mandate Meets Archaic Nervous System”. Normally an emotional charge falls off with a completed action tendency.  It falls out of existence once an action is taken because there is no more reason for the emotion.  Only with moralism, there is no resolving mechanism at hand, because there is no way to act retroactively or prospectively.  Imagine, for a moment,  an giant ocean wave searching for a distant shore, a shore it never finds, to break upon. It would keep circling the globe indefinitely. I’m thinking an emotional mandate with no answer to it keeps circulating in mind-body in much the same way. Only after awhile, you wouldn’t see it so obviously on the surface anymore. The whole transaction falls into in the vast abyss between emotion and untaken action and becomes one of the prime drivers of emotional disturbance.




Many things happen to most of us along the way to reify this system. So one of the ways we can help people with guilt and shame is to happen to them in such as way as to create new experiences and impart new language for what’s really going on. I start by distinguishing true morality from moralism. The two have nothing to do with one another. Morality is a noun, a state of being, not a conceptual system. It’s synonym would be something like “Awake”. You cant have done it any different than you did and neither can they. When you make a mistake in your life and emerge highly resolved to not go there again, to not hurt yourself or others that way again, that’s not guilt. It’s called learning and results are knowledge and power. And if you happen to bump into someone else making a mistake in the present and are reminded of something in your storage bin, or not, one way you can go is to minimize the damage and treat them in the best way possible in that moment. That’s not guilt doing that. That’s called being fully awake, present, tuned up, and coming from a place of enlightenment. And, obviously, shifting in this direction does not usher in moral anarchy or mass unaccountability or imply you are condoning behavior that does injury. Those hobgoblins aren’t real–they’re just phantom leftovers from the old moralistic mythology of punishment and correction which itself was unreal and never was the cause of any behavior that improved. Looking through this new lens we actually improve response ability.




And it’s there, armed with this knowledge, with the whole thing and how it works clearly laid out and lit up for us, so that we, too, are standing in its light,  that we can make a huge contribution in the lives of those who come to see us.