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.








Getting it Right


I’ll bet some of you, like me, have noticed as you’ve listened to tapes, how Jon seems to have the client at hello. That is, as you listen to him at work in the initial stages, he may not seem to be doing anything other than demonstrating understanding and asking a few peripheral questions about the participant’s circumstances. But then as he slides into the next steps, he seems to have the participant eating out of his hand, as it were. “Wow”, you might be thinking, “ I wish I had clients that ‘easy’”.

The truth is, part of why Jon gets such a strong connection time after time is that he is a very, very accurate diagnostician. I am using the term diagnostician here not in the DSM V sense of becoming a better labeler of pathology, but rather the sense of someone familiar with all the manifestations of stuckness.

So the question becomes, how can we listen like him and formulate things to become more accurate diagnosticians? How, specifically, is this individual in front of me right now, stuck? Long ago Milton Erikson said the client will demonstrate a rigidity of thinking or approach specific to the area of their problem. They’ve looked at it the same way over and over and will articulate circular thinking to any who care to hear. It’s just there that Jon’s out-of-the-box perspectives and facility with paradox and unusual juxtapositions comes in very handy.

But we can learn to do this, too. It starts with recognizing stuckness. There are at least four types of stuckness we can be listening for from the first moments:

Thinking from the negative
The disappearing present
Mistaking a condition for a quality, trait, or identity

As we progress in training, we learn also about the penchant most people in our culture have for explaining problems either in terms of moralism or some kind of spiritual higher purpose. Against this Jon poses science, with its potential for realizing how limited our will power and range of choice really is, and hence, the possibility of gratitude and release from guilt, resentment, and blame.

Actually, to think culturally about why people get screwed up is very useful for forming a target. Think about the dysfunctional messages females and males get growing up. Think of how intolerant of differences we still are as a people and how this impacts some peoples’ personal life experience. Think about how deep the roots go of anger, and even violence, in our culture as the default response to injustice. Think about the cultural breadth of the distortions broadcast out of our own profession and the resulting ubiquity of the desire to self-analyze, self-adjust, and the obsession over having enough self-confidence.

With this background in mind, I was recently struck by how deeply Jon listened to one young man’s initial presentation on one of the training tapes (Ian, trauma):

“When I was younger I was a very hyperactive child, loud, and always had
something to say. And I was given a very strong impression that that was
not okay. So I became very stoic and then was eventually being given the impression that was not okay either. So I’m trying to figure out what is my personality first of all. And to what degree should I accept other people’s input.”

This man’s experience was one of growing up in a very strict environment surrounded by a lot of social control, including a minister father who was also the school principal. The trauma of a series of severe, embarrasing reprimands and the meaning his mind put on of being a disappointment to his dad had been enough, with other life stuff, to push him into heroin dependency.

When it came time to outline the target, Jon said this:

“So, I hear, I’ve paid attention to what you said and I get that the stuff that took place impacted on the way that the info processing thing has been working in such a way as to cause what you describe to me which is a, there’s been a lack of clarity perhaps on how to (italics mine) feel and be and however to just feel and be hasn’t been kicking in
naturally and automatically. So that’s our starting point, that’s what’s been problematic.”

What’s at work here is a highly developed ability to not get sidetracked by any of the red herrings the client may throw out, but to listen deeply for the core thing that needs adjusting. Jon gets that the child’s meaning of being a disappointment had gotten embedded and fused on identity and had not budged since that time. And that the client’s rigid solution of trying harder and harder to figure himself out wasn’t working. Getting this right is a big part of the magic of connection that facilitates the shift. I want to say that even more clearly and emphatically, if I can. Taking the time to really get the client’s existential problem creates the leverage of a personally-tailored, accurate diagnosis that in turn enables the formation of a highly accurate target in the therapist’s mind even as it acts like a magnet for a quality connection between client and therapist. The connection with the therapist and the target’s fit with the client’s problem then paves the way to the client’s (unconscious) abandonment of their rigidly stuck postion and acceptance of the “magic” and embracing of the target.

From this point, Jon has Ian, and Ian pretty much just follows Jon into an updated, more natural way to be himself. Jon even enlists Ian’s help in refining the specificity of the model and Ian actively joins in, remembering the future in which he will be outgoing and socially at ease.

If you think about your life, the most important shifts took place because of someone who “got” you and then hit you with an experience wherein you could see yourself differently. You didn’t figure it all out with a series of decisions about your cognitions. You just saw it and moved toward it. It works the same for our clients. May we all be that kind of therapist.

The Path of Hypnosis


EriksonWhat do Rob McNeill, Bill O’Hanlon, and Jeffery Zeig all have in common? Years ago they all went out of their way to train under Dr. Milton Erickson.  Thus they learned a type of hypnosis that differs from the expectations and procedures of other styles still commonly taught and practiced today.




What makes Ericksonian hypnosis so different is that comes from a different paradigm than that of traditional hypnosis. Instead of doing something to the person in a top-down manner, Erickson was about a cooperative approach that was oriented to producing results. He understood the power of story and how multi-leveled communications that appealed to the client’s preferred sensory set could open up doors quickly.  He conceived of a conversation unfolding between two people,  out of which arose the possibility of guiding the unconscious toward a greater degree of health.. He would use this conversation to elicit or evoke learning or resources that were already there. In fact, as Zeig points out, hypnosis itself can be considered as a heightened state in which accelerated learning can take place. It was not about installing missing parts but elicitation of strengths and resources that had been blocked or underutilized.




The question arises why do hypnosis at all? Aren’t there other evidenced-based methods that are  proven effective? I like O’Hanlon’s answer to this one. He said that human problems can be broken out roughly into two categories, those under conscious control and those which aren’t. Smoking would be a good example. As you smoke, you decide to have the cigarette, you take it out, light it up,  etc. This is the conscious part. But the craving for a cigarette, which can arise at any time, is not under your conscious control and is sometimes the most difficult aspect for those striving to quit. The value of hypnosis is that it gives us access to automatic processes, the unconscious dial, if you will. This dial affects physical and emotional processes not normally under our control. And being able to tweak that dial up or down, to the client’s betterment or comfort, is sometimes life-changing in ways verbal cognitive work cannot approach, or if so, does only partially.




Hypnosis is not what the public usually thinks it is. As a participant, it is not about being out of it, asleep, dazed, bewitched, or losing of control of your own choices. As a practitioner, it is not about making someone relaxed, suggestible, subservient, or do things against their will or value system (which can’t happen). Real, clinical hypnosis is respectful, ethical, and tailored to each client’s particular needs. It is about using effect-driven language and connection to accelerate mind’s responsiveness toward the target effect you have in mind and that the client wants.




Every encounter and every interaction is unique. People are not viewed as subjects to be put through a cookie-cutter approach. Hypnosis as an art is not formulaic, but improvisational. Erickson would teach students that they essentially had to invent each cure situationally with each person.




One implication of this approach for the therapist’s role is that it takes away all possibility of making the client responsible or labeling them resistant, if snags are encountered. It’s about the therapist’s artful use of self to ascertain exactly where the person has been stuck, discerning underutilized resources and what combination of interventions will move them along toward better function.




Those who’ve been trained in Rapid Resolution Therapy will by now have recognized the many similarities  and parallels to Eriksonian methods. RRT does not simply mimic Erickson’s treatment, as there are many new advances within it and many that are still evolving. But we stand on the shoulders of Milton Erikson who first envisioned a new way to use observation and communication, almost surgically, to create new and dramatic effects at the same time coming from a place of deep respect and regard for the participant’s life and unique makeup that was a departure from the treatments of that day.




It was Einstein who declared you can live your life as if nothing in the world is miraculous or you can live like everything is. We walk along a trail blazed by masters. How exciting to be part of it and numbered among the relative few who have followed it. May you find yourself part of miracles every day as you go on helping others.












Will the Circle Be Unbroken?




Those with Emotionally Focused Therapy training or those who’ve read Hold Me Tight by Susan Johnson will recognize the concept of a cycle. The couples’ cycle or circle of misery and disconnect is the drama that they’ve been living and what usually drives them to finally get help.


Sue uses strong language to describe it. She talks about couples being “caught up” in the cycle, as if by a strong river current. The cycle frequently has thoroughly hijacked the couple’s process and it takes, depending on its severity, several sessions to get to what we call “de-escalation”.

The reason for this is that the cycle imposes a negative narrative on each one’s view of the other. Less of the partner’s positive attributes or the security features of the relationship are in the picture. There’s also, in varying degrees,  a blindness to the effect one is having on the other. There’s instead a focus on what’s lacking, what’s wrong (usually with the other), and what hurts have gone unremedied. This narrative, which seems so self-evident, is partly based in truth (wounds have been inflicted) but partly based in defensive distortion. The narrative,  in other words, starts to affect model of self and other. It becomes the blanket explanation for what’s going on and deeply influences expectations and behavioral options. When you’re insecurely connected, your inner GPS shifts toward recognizing and warding off danger, translated here as the possibility of further interpersonal hurt. We automatically protect ourselves and veer toward survival behavior and our more basic psychological defenses. This makes sense from an evolutionary point of view, in that for most of the history of our species, danger was imminent and thus the utility of a system that could quickly focus on the threat, simplify things, and ensure survival.

But it can really muck things up and inflict a level of co-created pain that has only been truly appreciated in the last twenty years or so.  It can complicate things for the therapist too, who encounters the couple, on average, six to seven years after the onset of disconnection and usually in the advanced stages of their defensive struggle. Everything has become dangerous,  even the decision to get into therapy, for it may risk upsetting the tenuous bond, or risk exposure, or risk being “wrong” and the one with the identified “problem”. Here’s a list of typical excuses colleagues on an EFT listserve came up with that they hear from couples.

  •  going to therapy means we’re crazy
  •  the therapist will take sides
  •  my partner is much more verbal/articulate/in touch with her feelings than I am and the therapist will clearly take her side
  •  if we need couples therapy we are so messed up in the first place we should just    break up
  • my partner wants to bring me to couples therapy to break up with
  • the therapist will tell us we should break up
  •  we really can’t afford the time to do it
  •  he (she) says I’m the one with the problem and she (he) doesn’t need any help
  • it’s probably too late anyway
  • it’s not really that bad
  • it’s too expensive
  • we need individual therapy first

When I hear any of these during the first phone call or meeting, I know the speaker has been hijacked by the cycle, is not seeing clearly,  and is doing the best he or she can to make sense of this huge current that is washing them downstream in a river of pain.

The cycle itself runs as follows. The deep attachment needs and fears feel too vulnerable and difficult to admit, much less manage and put into words. Dangerous primary feelings like panic, dread, lonliness, exhaustion, abandonment, not mattering, failing, being unloveable, and yearning for acceptance reach a level of unmanageability and a layer of secondary feelings steps in and substitutes for them. It is easier to show anger, suspicion, contempt, or simply numb out than feel the underlying primary feeling. Behavior and position in the partnership is also driven by this mismanagement problem. He may start to habitually withdraw, tune out, ignore and she may habitually start to pursue, criticize, plead, or complain. Attack-defend or demand-withdraw (either through resistance or superficial compliance) are commonplace patterns. Like two dancers that know only one dance, each one’s step begets the other’s complementary step, over and over in repeat cycles.  The problem being that little accurate communication is going on about the deeper message and what the hurt is about. Instead secondary feeling reactivity, defensive behaviors and positions become the drama of everyday life, dealing blow after blow to the already hurting primary feelings and self-assessment, seeming to confirm one’s worst fears.

All this is rooted in what Sue Johnson, and John Bowlby, the father of attachment theory before her, noted years ago. If the answer to the question “Will you be there for me? Will you have my back?” is NO or MAYBE, deep alarms go off and predictable responses follow.

I hope this brief explanation holds up a useful mirror or sheds a helpful light. If you find yourself in the midst of the river and caught in the current, don’t give up and don’t escalate the fight. Try to see your step in the dance and get help from a qualified therapist. One who believes emotions are our currency, that they yield valuable information about what’s really going on, and ultimately, are the royal road to healing and growing stronger.






What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted?


Please play: 

As I walk this land of broken dreams,

I have visions of many things.

Love’s happiness is just an illusion,

Filled with sadness and confusion.

What becomes of the broken hearted

Who had love that’s now departed?

I know I’ve got to find

Some kind of peace of mind


The fruits of love grow all around

But for me they come a tumblin’ down.

Every day heartaches grow a little stronger,

I can’t stand this pain much longer!


I hope you took time to hear the great Jimmy Ruffin singing this

timeless hit. The brokenhearted represent a very special type of client we’ll see from time to time, and a special kind of frozen grief. We know that most people will progress through several relationships in life, even marriage and divorce, and painful though the endings are, they recover, move on and eventually meet someone who fits for them. But we know as therapists there are some for whom the end of relationship is a

kind of trauma. They get lost and seem stuck. As Ruffin sings, “Always moving, and goin’nowhere.” They show some of the markers of trauma: numbing and derailment of life direction, dysphoria, intrusive thoughts, repeated flooding of sensory data at triggers connected with the relationship; but unlike the avoidance we see in other types of trauma, we see rounds of painful rumination and replay; gravitation back toward the relationship even as it remains a source of pain. A tremendous pain keeps roiling around under the surface of everyday life. I’ve seen the brokenhearted keep texting, calling, emailing, like songbirds throwing their call into the air for the lost mate.


Without lengthy explanation, I want to round up a list some of the main principles from RRT and hit some of the life-changing conversational tactics used in transcripts with actual participants. This will both focus and improve our practice.


Ghost bust seminal events the participant’s mind will bring. Especially harsh endings and rejections. I recall a woman who remembered trying to rescue her alcoholic dad from a dangerous situation as a child, only to be decimated by his withering criticism when she told her mother, the only adult in a position to act. She had been daddy’s little girl, but that special relationship came to an abrupt halt. She veered away from her dad in fear, and remained fearful, over-conciliatory and accommodating to the men in her life from that point forward. She entered new relationships in a fog and didn’t get over them easily when they ended. She came wanting to break out of this pattern.


Clear distorted meanings. Especially the idea that one needs someone else to complete them, and can only be okay if with someone else. There are several transcripts in which Jon shows the way to be okay with someone is to be okay without them. He demonstrates the effect of clutching on the arm in a needy way. People instinctively back off from this. He points out the reaction of the other is not even a conscious choice. You can’t hold the attitude that your life can’t work without the other in it and not produce that effect on someone.


Enroll people throughout the session in the view that transitions are a normal part of life. The amount of conncection and closeness with people shifts, comes and goes like the tide. Construct a model that is at peace with this, able to go with the flow of it. It’s no more personal than rain on some days or sun on others. It’s not about them.


Instill acceptance of the expiration date on some relationships. Here we have the story of the guy forcing down sour milk and then vomiting it back up. He has to make it work. When asked why, he pines for former times when the milk tasted so sweet. A simple fact of life is this: sometimes relationships can’t work between two people, no matter how hard they try. The relationship comes apart in time. The answer is to get more milk.


Get the participant to see that missing the person is a misfire. When something seems threatened or in jeopardy our inner mind attaches great value, indeed, makes it seem exceedingly valuable to get us to do something to protect it, even to the point of causing incredible anguish. The mind is working hard to get the person to move toward something when it would serve no purpose. Now the mind bringing something to awareness that it would be good to avoid is useful even when unpleasant–say like keying up fear when the house is on fire. But it sometimes turns on emotion when it’s worse than useless and doesn’t elicit any useful behavior–like the guy going into a panic because the lady next to him in the elevator sneezes. Missing someone is the mind dysfunctioning like that. The question becomes, does all the obsessing, missing, ruminating lead to any useful behavior? If not, it’s a misfire. What’s more useful and positive is for the participant to be moving toward being close with someone when it’s interesting, meaning, the conditions of it being beneficial and possible are both fulfilled and reciprocated.


For a treat, and as a contrast to Ruffin’s song, check out To Whom it May Concern, by Sixto Rodriguez (aka Sugarman).



When treating the heartbroken in the context of addiction recovery, get them to look at the impracticality of getting into a romantic relationship at this time. It’s sort of like white water rafting where every move needs maximum attention and commitment to navigate the course and the person paddling starts musing, “Gee, I guess right about now would be the time to fall in love.” The only thing crazier would be if another person in early recovery started thinking and acting in tandem with this, as so often happens.


There are many things in our oral and written materials that can assist in guiding the

brokenhearted to being present rather than grief-stricken, tuned-up rather than needy, and enlightened rather than opening to more heartache or expoitation. I hope you look through them and develop your own repertoire.









In 1865 Lewis Carroll wrote about a little girl, Alice, who follows a white rabbit down a hole and enters a whole other world where a host of strange characters regularly turn logic on its head. She winds her way among them intermittently struggling with her own size and identity. Eventually she runs into the Queen of Hearts, whose vengeful demeanor and favorite saying, “Off with their heads!” has everyone intimidated. In the finale, Alice faces the Queen’s wrath and calls her and her minions out as just a pack of playing cards. As they rush her, she awakens to find not playing cards but leaves all over her face, and safe back in her own world with her sister just in time for tea.


Overwriting is a term Melinda Paige coined for the powerful clean up that is done in RRT relative to participants’ destructive meanings. Some of us might say, “Oh, that’s just reframing, “ but I think what we’re onto may be something more. Let’s take a brief look at the way overwriting is used in our work.


Overwriting is typically used after a powerful connection has built up. In looking over many transcripts, I find Jon reserves most of the best overwrites for the end of the process, sometimes following ghost busting, sometimes intermingled with it. In other words, overwriting understands our work is not done until dysfunctional meanings are cleared. It assumes a substantial amount of collaboration and momentum toward target is already underway. This is set up by the first stages of the method (including, possibly,  induction work) which open up access to the participant’s inner mind, as we talk to it in ways it understands.  We can understand why connection must build first, as we would only incur defensiveness or disagreement if we swung the wrecking ball right at the outset.


Reframing, as it is conventionally used, might leave the participant still thinking it over or debating an alternative view in their mind as they leave.  In RRT we invite the participant to not only look with us through another lens but, if we are artful, to step through the lens and experience themselves differently as they see how life events haven’t negatively defined them after all and in fact could be construed in a very different way. Overwriting seems a much more powerful form of reframing as we combine it with the participatory aspects of connection. It’s the difference between stopping a movie at several points in the theater to discuss it with the audience versus sitting beside the participant in the theater while the whole movie runs. A movie so compelling and totally involving that we both forget the popcorn on our lap. Totally into a new movie that ends much better than they ever thought it could.


Some examples come readily to mind. Changing internal geography and identity is a huge overwrite, as we lead her through to the realization that the core of her was never touched by the abuse. This is so powerful as survivors often feel soiled or tainted by abuse. There are many overwrites in our lexicon relative to shame. One of my favorites is the girl and her father:


“Get it outside of you for just a moment. A woman told me her father once kicked

her across her room and left her locked in her closet all day. She said that was

the moment she knew she was worthless. I said, ‘I don’t get that. If you and I saw

a grown man beating up a kid out in the parking lot and I asked you why these

things are happening, your first answer wouldn’t be, ‘Well, isn’t it obvious, the

kid is worthless?’ It wouldn’t, would it? Maybe you’d say, boy, we just learned

something about that guy. But we wouldn’t have learned anything about the

little kid’s worth, would we?”


This overwrite, which also uses dissociating the story, usually has massive beneficial impact, as deeper mind gets how shameful behavior was located in the perpetrator from beginning to end and never got in even skin deep to the survivor. It is then free to just sluff off.


We all know the overwrite of science over moralism. It starts with the story of the tree branch that is down and casts the participant as teacher to a younger person, teaching a scientific view of causality versus preference, moralism, or blame.  The younger person in the story is our participant who is still trapped in those viewpoints. It ends with the participant getting how gratitude replaces pride but also things like guilt, regret, resentment, and blame. They get it through and through that they did past events in the only way they could have at the time and things couldn’t have possibly transpired in any other way. Moreover, those events are no longer in existence. The much better course is to be present, tuned up, and causative in the here and now.


A final example is often found on the tail end of clearing abuse when we clear stories of parental neglect. I’ve always liked how Jon will frame the parent’s inaction or hurtful responses as neurologically disconnected at the time. It isn’t that mom got up one morning and thought through the best way to screw her daughter up for the next 30 years. She just couldn’t connect the dots at the time the participant-child came to her with the bad news of molestation. Jon paints an accurate picture of the severe click-off that denial does in the mind when confronted with overwhelming bad news. “It’s like you tell this guy, ‘Your house is on fire,’ and he says, ‘That’s a very valuable house, I’m choosing not to believe you.” The parent’s mind literally couldn’t take it in, therefore they couldn’t connect the dots and couldn’t have taken effective action. This often enables massive relief and a sense of peace for participants. Similarly, in other transcripts, physical beatings, suicides, rages while on drugs, all manner of out of control behavior is pictured as a neurological storm, chemicals running around in a badly disconnected brain. This overwrites the long-carried notion that the behavior was personally directed at them or meant something about them.


Like Alice of old, we powerfully wake participants up from the walking nightmare that came from the meanings their mind attached at the time. We overwrite that story quite forcefully,  but artfully,  with proper timing. Listen and watch for when Jon starts a sentence, “Let me tell you what happened there…” You may just pick up something that will help your participant step back through the looking glass into a more positive world, into a more positively embodied existence.