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Caught in the middle of a double-bind: the application of non-ordinary logic to therapy
Giorgio Nardone and Claudette Portelli
Centro Di Terapia Strategica, Arezzo, Italy
Purpose – The aim of this paper is to demonstrate the importance of Bateson and colleagues’ double bind theory, which has been a breakthrough in the history of psychiatry and human behavior because it freed us from the prison of ordinary logic. Design/methodology/approach – The use of non-ordinary logic, in understanding and in solving seemingly bizarre, over-the-lines human behavior, with its three different components: logic of paradox, logic of contradiction and logic of belief. Findings – This paper presents the work carried out by the Centro di Terapia Strategica of Arezzo, which following the MRI approach, has put together seemingly simple solution to intimidating complex problems. Practical implications – With the help of literature and practical-clinical examples, this paper puts forward the use of non-ordinary logic in brief strategic therapy in designing simple solutions to complex human problems such as phobias, obsessive compulsive disorders, presumed psychosis and other pathologies. Originality/value – This work helps therapists and other care-gives liberate themselves from the constraining chains of ordinary logic, in order to be able to solve human problems that seem unsolvable. Keywords Cybernetics, Logic, Problem solving Paper type General review
Things are actually much simpler than might appear but much more complicated than one might realize (Goethe).
Kybernetes Vol. 36 No. 7/8, 2007 pp. 926-931 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0368-492X DOI 10.1108/03684920710777432
Logic has guided human strategies and behavior since ancient times. It was always held to be a useful instrument for those who wanted to systematically project and construct solutions for speciﬁc problems. Yet in psychotherapy, effective and efﬁcient therapeutic maneuvers are often mistakenly regarded as the result of some strike of genius, when in actuality, behind these seemingly simple strategies, there lies a complex logic and theory. Gregory Bateson afﬁrmed that there is nothing as practical as a good theory, yet on studying human behavior and the various types of therapies in existence, one comes across many complex theories, none of them very practical. Unfortunately, this is the greatest concern faced by psychology and psychotherapy (Abrahamson, 2001). It is not enough to speak about theory and practice: there is a need to bridge the two by ﬁlling in the gap. To be able to do so, we need to revert to the underlying logical-epistemological criteria, which often follow a non-ordinary logic. Yet in our culture it is often considered as some sort of heresy to speak about therapy and non-ordinary logic.
for example. Often.. not consecutively. Caught in the middle of a double-bind 927 . All of us have at some point in our lives. as in contradictions. It is practically impossible to be always coherent with oneself. It is not enough to know and understand paradox. the man is lying only if he is telling the truth and vice versa. the most famous example of a paradox was given to us by Epimenides (quoted by Watzlawick et al. when authors cite or give examples of double binds. Published exactly 50 years ago. Often the double-bind phenomenon. we can deduce that it is true only if it is not true or better. Often in therapy we make use of the logic of contradiction. Very few therapists can master paradoxical statements during the session. But the cause-effect theory seems no longer ﬁtting when applied to complex phenomena. Bateson (1980) suggests. This is actually very healthy. Often our sensations and emotions get us to do things. he is truthful when he is lying. stated something like “I will not do that” but then ended up doing it. If I say something. This logic seems to work well when observing linear phenomena. i. because coherence dictates rigidity. which relies on the premises of “true and false” “no third value” and the logic of non-contradiction. and it is easier to transmit a concept by putting the patient in a double bind that holds a sequential form. when studying the dynamic between the individual mind and the collective mind. and in its very essence exempliﬁes applied non-ordinary logic. because we are more so inclined. 1997). and then soon thereafter I say something else that contradicts it. rationality and thus ordinary logic. Within this phenomenon lie three different logics: the logic of contradiction. because to do so one must have superb theatrical and rhetorical skills. Perhaps. This applies also to congruency. is mistakenly considered to be equivalent to paradox or to the paradoxical complication of a problem. A discordant effect takes place simultaneously. 1997). This is because contradiction is a rule. while the logic of paradox entails both messages reaching the listener at the same time. rather than the logic of paradox. one needs to know how to perform it. bring us to have a change of heart. or what is traditionally known as the Aristotelian logic. Paradox has a rigorous logical structure. But if I had to say to somebody “You are right but I hold a different opinion” this follows the logic of contradiction.Western cultures are still very much inﬂuenced by ordinary logic. Non-ordinary logic is that branch of mathematical logic that studies a common human phenomenon: self-deception. 1967).e. This is not only false but also reductive. not paradoxical.’s (1956) double bind theory was such a revolution in the study and understanding of human behavior. they just conﬁne themselves to speaking about paradox. making it impossible to oscillate and change. while ordinary logic often limits our going beyond common obstacles that might seem insurmountable. The logic of contradiction has a temporal sequence that separates the two different messages. which are not coherent with our ideas. Bateson et al. On following this statement to its logical conclusion. and thus brings about stagnation. 2004). as. in human beings. not an exception. because it reduces this phenomenon to only one of the components of non-ordinary logic (Watzlawick and Nardone. my communication is contradictory. that of the man who says “I am lying”. because it distance itself from the limitations created by common sense. the logic of paradox and the logic of belief (Nardone and Watzlawick. More often than not. Ordinary logic seeks internal coherence and congruency. this theory remains very current. where the same message entails two inverse-contradictory meanings (Watzlawick and Nardone. we have reactions that are not congruent with our declarations.
avoidance (Nardone and Portelli. and pointed it towards the man. it is a means for abridging time in reaching one’s objective (Bateson et al.. one will lose everything. People gathered around and started screaming to stop the young man. it seems that when faced with a threatening situation. Thus. one cannot believe in a supernatural being. constitute an example. But if when one dies. drew out a gun. To everyone’s astonishment. for example. you usually tend to avoid it. he had come to persuade people to contemplate the irrational by using the rational.e. On the other hand. In other words. thus your fear gets bigger and bigger. Following an investigative-therapeutic dialogue with a phobic patient. . 2004) by saying: So as we have come to discover. i. . . According to the model of the logic of mathematics. A more practical example can be extracted from therapy. you help maintain and worsen your situation. one discovers that there is eternal life and one had chosen not to believe in God. this is a highly subtle communicative maneuver that brings a person to believe in the irrational by using rationality (Watzlawick and Nardone. makes you feel good . Another component of non-ordinary logic is the logic of belief. Out of the blue a gendarme appeared. Yet the magic of the logic of belief can bring a person to believe in the irrational by means of a rational course. we could say that all religious assumptions follow this logic. who is considered to be one of the greatest persuaders in history. one wouldn’t have missed out on anything. This follows the logic of contradiction. while exclaiming “Come out or else I will shoot you”. If one follows the astringent logic of Marxist theories. the patient is invited and induced to “avoid avoiding”. A young man wanted to jump in the Danube with the clear intent of drowning. and your situation seems to always get worse . but rather. so as to create aversion towards his/her usual attempted solution. This is an actual example of a paradox. 1956). the most interesting expression of the logic of belief is given by “Pascal’s Wager”. and please correct me if I’m wrong. because if one has believed in God throughout one’s life. If we had to put aside all moral judgments. An amazing example of the use of the logic of contradiction is captured in the phrase “Redundancy is an economic expense”. . Perhaps. “Is it more convenient to believe or not to believe in God?” He then added: It seems more convenient to believe in God than not to believe. but afterwards you always feel more incapable. and then on dying one comes to discover that there is nothing. when there is a sort of resonance of meaning over time.7/8 928 Another example to help us underline the difference between the logic of contradiction and the logic of paradox is that of a real life event that took place in 1920 in Austria. who became more and more inclined to bringing his life to an end. because the therapist ﬁrst afﬁrms something. 1997). Thus. the young man obeyed and walked away. Moreover. who controls everything around us. it seems that every time you avoid something you fear. I would like you to start thinking that every time you avoid. it seems that at that very moment.K 36. The words of Saint Augustine. Those acquainted with hypnotic language recognize this to be true. you end up conﬁrming to yourself that you are incapable of facing it. Pascal suggests a rational question with an illusion of alternative to all those losing their faith. 2005b). we are dealing with the logic of contradiction. Redundancy is not repetition. which he/she then proceeds to contradict. avoiding makes you feel safe. a strategic therapist reframes in order to redeﬁne the situation (Nardone and Salvini. . In the name of the Catholic Church. thus bringing the patient to assume the logic of contradiction.
but also in reframing them (Nardone and Portelli. relates of a psychiatric patient who continuously carried out a clapping ritual. replied “Of course. tailored to the speciﬁc problem or problematic situation. to be able to train even inexpert therapists. depression. but starts introducing change from the very beginning (Nardone and Salvini. the irrational perception is conﬁrmed by the rational actions carried out by the patient (Watzlawick and Nardone. Most pathologies and their respective rigid perceptive-reactive systems are constructed following the logic of belief. transmissible. These strategies are able to break down in a very efﬁcient and effective way the vicious circles or the rigid perceptive-reactive systems holding the patient’s pathology. and thus the irrational belief is constructed. eating disorders and others. with a satisfactory smile. and predictable (Nardone and Portelli. he or she can proceed to correct. where the therapist does not limit his intervention to a mere diagnosis or deﬁnition of the type of pathology present. Once more. 2005b). not just at the end. Nardone and Portelli. In this way. Self-correction takes place also during the ﬁrst session. i. which is then further conﬁrmed by the need to carry out the propitiatory ritual every time he has to do something. Another aim was to render these protocols rigorous and systematic. This strategy comprises a series of tactics. In its clinical research experience of 20 years. Moreover. 2004. Another particular example often quoted by Paul Watzlawick. brief strategic therapy involves a self-corrective process. A psychiatrist goes up to him and asks him “Why are you clapping?” and the patient answered “To keep the elephants away” and the psychiatrist. The above are practical examples of how non-ordinary logic holds an incredible power in the construction of pathologies (Nardone and Portelli. employed by numerous therapists at various level of expertise. if they result in being inefﬁcient. Protocols need to be able to predict all the possible effects of each single maneuver. For example.000 cases. an obsessive compulsive patient might start off by carrying out a propitiatory magical ritual to prevent bad things from happening (Nardone and Portelli. Caught in the middle of a double-bind 929 . exclaims “But you see. 2005b). Thus. there are no elephants around!” and the patient. In these years. the brief strategic therapist comes to have a series of speciﬁc models for speciﬁc problems. in a rational way. one can make use of therapeutic maneuvers that follow a therapeutic sequence. it conﬁrms for him that that rite did him well. 2005b). where. Each maneuver should be reduced to having two.e. and even in the course of the sessions. These can be corrected throughout the therapy. or what we call a strategy. which were successfully applied to more than 1. 2005a). 1997). that the therapist follows rigorously but adaptively from the beginning until the end of the therapy. we managed to put together speciﬁc protocols for anxiety-phobic disorders. my clapping works”. and yet ﬂexible protocols for the treatment of speciﬁc pathologies. Thus. When nothing bad happens to him. a maximum of three contemplated effects. who collaborated in our clinical-research work. these protocols are replicable. These protocols are made up of a sequence of therapeutic strategies following non-ordinary logic. the Centro di Terapia Strategica of Arezzo has put together rigorous. 2005b). this is another fundamental principle introduced by Gregory Bateson. Another fundamental factor was predictability. during the strategic dialogue.This is an extraordinary example of how a rational argumentation can bring a person to believe in the irrational.
Bateson. (1956). P. I.. G. Penguin Classics. Bateson. “For the rest” says Bateson (1972. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. Krailsheimer (translator). (1967). (a cura di) Terapia breve strategica. D. J. New York. yet making it appear to be the patient’s personal discovery. Bantam Books. Nardone. Jason Aronson. G. and Nardone. References Abrahamson. (1980). Raffaello Cortina Editore. P. In conclusion. pp. NY. Behavioral Science. NY. and Portelli. Vol. Brief Strategic Solution-oriented Therapy of Phobic and Obsessive Disorders. Psicosoluzioni. the introduction of maneuvers following a non-ordinary logic. NY. G. 19-20) “to live is to play a game whose purpose is to discover the rules. MD. Rowman & Littleﬁeld Publishers – Aronson Group. G. Watzlawick. D. and Portelli. “When the diagnosis invents the illness”. G. (2004). Brief Strategic Therapy: Philosophy. Bradford. and Watzlawick. not an idea imposed upon him or her by the therapist (Nardone and Salvini. The use of non-ordinary logic has come to get the patient to substitute. G. “Cybernetic explanation”. (1967). D. ´es. which are always changing and always undiscoverable”. 251-84. Further reading Bateson. Knowing through Changing: The Evolution of Brief Strategic Therapy. (Eds) (2004). P. A..W. by his own accord. pp. American Behavioral Scientist. (1972).H. dethroning the therapist from the exasperating one-up position. which often hindered change (Nardone and Salvini. Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns. Vol. G. and with the patient’s learning the “procedures” involved in autonomously playing and wining this speciﬁc game.7/8 930 The process of therapy closes with “checkmating” the problem presented at its outset. Rizzoli. the old dysfunctional self-deceptions with more functional ones. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. .J. (1995). 8 No. 2.. Milan. New York. J. B. (1996). and Jackson.D. Italian Pascal. Inc. New York. Nardone. Pensieri. G. 2004). (1997). Vol. W. Dialogo Strategico: Comunicare persuadendo: tecniche evolute per il cambiamento. Technique and Research. 2004). NJ. and Weakland. Milan. NY. Nardone. Crown Publishing House. Bateson. Carmarthen. C. 10. Turin.J. Norton. A. Brief strategic therapy has come to make use of subtle stratagems and persuasive-evocative language to bring about change. pp. Beavin. and Salvini. Kybernetes: The International Journal of Systems & Cybernatics. (1998). C. Watzlawick. (2001). G. G. Pene version (1962). 365-72. (2005a).D. Pathologies and Paradoxes. Mind and Nature.K 36. G. Northvale. 29-32. made brief therapy always less directive. Ballantine Books. 34 Nos 3/4. Lanham. Ponte alle Grazie. Nardone. “Treatment efﬁcacy and clinical utility: a guidelines model applied to psychotherapy research”. Nardone. New York. (2005b). Milan. Haley. Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Once again the words of Pascal (1995) come to play: “People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which come into mind of others”.. J. Einaudi. Nardone. Jackson. Vol. pp. “Toward a theory of schizophrenia”.
(Eds). La terapia dell’azienda malata: problem solving strategico per organizzazioni.. G. Cavalcare la propria tigre: Gli stratagemmi nelle arti marziali ovvero come risolvere problemi difﬁcili attraverso soluzioni temple. Nardone. Nardone. San Francisco. and Watzlawick. The Art of Change: Strategic Therapy and Hypnotherapy Without Trance. (1974). Rizzoli. Weakland. G. P. P. (2003). Nardone. Milan. P. Milan. Watzlawick. pp. L’Arte del Cambiamento: manuale di terapia strategica e ipnoterapia senza trance. and Nardone. and Fisch. 53-61.com/reprints . Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Solution. et al. G. Ponte alle Grazie.W. (1990). Milan. Jossey-Bass Inc.com Or visit our web site for further details: www. “Logica matematica e logiche non ordinarie come guida per il problem-solving strategico”. Terapia breve strategica. and Salvini. R. G. Nardone. in Watzlawick. New York. (1993).. (2000). Milan. Raffaello Cortina Editore. Nardone.H. and Watzlawick. P. G. (1997). A. G. NY.Nardone. Norton.emeraldinsight. G. CA. (2000). Ponte alle Grazie.it Caught in the middle of a double-bind 931 To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: reprints@emeraldinsight. Corresponding author Giorgio Nardone can be contacted at: ctsar@ats. J. Oltre il limiti della paura. W. Milan. Ponte alle Grazie.
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