Just don’t think about it….

I thought a quick analysis of this imagined exchange from a MoM perspective might be an interesting exercise:

Coach: “What would you like to have happen?

This is a nice ambiguous question and is something that can be either an outcome or a process.

Client: “I feel trapped.”

However, the client states a feeling that is expressed in metaphor/idiom, which is not a reply to the question. The client has answered the question, “What’s the problem?” but the referential index is missing. Trapped by the exchange with the therapist? Trapped by the soggy seat facing away from the door? And so on. But we can assume that the client is probably referring to their presenting problem, but this may not always be the case of course.

Coach: “When you feel trapped, what would you like to have happen?”

Coach refers back to the outcome/process, incorporating the feeling of trapped.

Client: “I feel I’ve hit a brick wall, I want to get over the wall.”

Classically, the client experiences the wall as the presenting problem, and not his coping behaviour. Getting over the wall is only one of many possibilities. MoM trainees will be aware of the other possibilities, including avoiding the wall going through the wall, going around the wall and so on.

We also know that the client’s current direction and momentum has led him to “hit” the wall. Thus we have either “hit” as in he has punched it, or “hit” as in he has run into it. There are probably other less-likely possibilities.

In the first scenario, he is punching it: we’d need to consider why exactly this man has violent tendencies to metaphoric walls (for example, he may have been taught to break down things that get in his way, or attended workshops that told him he was to be unstoppable). We also need to consider what this man hopes to achieve through this action.

In the second scenario, the man has been unstoppable…right up until something got in his way. He didn’t see it. This is someone who doesn’t pay much attention to where he is going and what is in front of him. This is someone who ignores outcomes, which is congruent with his responses to the first two questions.

Coach: “Is there anything else about getting over the wall?”

This reinforces the client’s failed solution to his situation and negates the problem of hitting walls and ignores the other possibilities that the client currently appears to be unaware of.

Client: “My friends are over the other side and I can’t get over the wall.”

There’s an obvious question here of how does he know they are the other side. Let’s assume they probably are both metaphorically and literally. This is his destination and outcome now defined. But we know from MoM that walls and related obstructions tend to reflect real world obstacles, usually in the form of a primary negative injunctive (a rule that says “no”). The height of the obstruction, in this case, a wall, gives a clue as to the status level of that injunctive, it’s location and orientation gives an idea of it’s time frame (i.e. it’s place in time. i.e. behind: historical).

This is a wall in front. Presumably high enough that he can’t get over it. In order to get over this he needs to raise/elevate himself (i.e. status increase), at least temporarily in order to transcend this rule that currently gets in his way. We have to ask ourselves if this is a good thing or not.

At least he isn’t “breaking through” the wall, i.e. breaking the rule.

Coach: “What kind of wall?”

Symbolically, this is an important question, although I think that the import is lost in this instance. A solid wall of concrete is a single piece, brick walls are made up of lots of small pieces. A clue: Think about how primary negative injunctives are formed…

Client: “Well it’s got bricks and it is also surrounded by a small wall.”

There is a smaller, secondary injunctive.

Coach: “Is there anything else about the small wall?”

Client: ”Well, it adds to the feeling of being trapped, but it’s made up of small bricks that i can break up and use, but that doesn’t help me though.”

At this point, it is worth mentioning the issue about “trapped” and “wall”. Go and stand behind a single wall, and see if you feel trapped. So we have a significant incongruency. In an MoM exchange, we’d have asked what was left, right, etc, and either this would have revealed itself, or would have presented as one of the 19 Boundary Violations.

The client’s strategy continues to fail, in that he thinks that he can change the metaphor by breaking up the smaller wall (presumably in the real world he thinks that this injunctive can be broken down and used to his advantage). In the early levels of MoM we leave the metaphor intact and don’t seek to change any aspect of it, we change the person’s coping behaviour, not the representation of their problem. In the higher levels we begin to change the identity within the metaphor as well to something more congruent.

Coach: “When there are small bricks that you can break up and use, what happens to the big wall?”

The client’s flawed strategy for changing the metaphor is now reinforced by the coach.

Client: “Ah, there is an opening over there.”

Is the opening to the left, or the right? This would be significant in terms of this is the right way forward or not. It might be something that is best left.

Coach: “When there is an opening over there what happens next?”

Client: “I can see if I can use the bricks to get through.”

The client has switched strategy from trying to get over the wall, to trying to go through the wall. Quite how they can do this by using smaller bricks isn’t revealed, but essentially not much has changed for this client. His strategy for dealing with rules that get in the way of his social life will remain as “The rules [primary negative injunctives] don’t apply to me”

We can predict that such a client will leave the session feeling immediately empowered and with raised confidence, “I can do it!” will be his motto.

I shall leave it to the reader to ponder the implications of this.

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4 Responses to Just don’t think about it….

  1. Interesting, would be keen to learn more as clients will often switch from metaphor to content in the matter of one or two questions.. the video clearly offers an extremely appropriate outcome given the client’s almost immediate resolution whilst maintaining metaphorical references.

    In addition,to what degree would a coach direct and lead alongside their considered clean language which I assume is beneficial up to a certain degree, given response of those involved and the state that’s caused due to such a “clean” method of reflection and exploration.

    I’ll look into this more so thank you for pointing me towards this corner of the web, wish you continued success! JH

  2. Simon says:

    Hi Andy. The list of 19 boundary violations sounds tantalising. It must be something new. Are these published?


    • admin admin says:

      Not yet, i’ll be doing a “masterclass” in these from next year. I’m also in the process of writing them up, but its turning into quite a major project, so may take some time.

      • admin admin says:

        Here’s a brief summary of 17 from the manual:

        Typical Types of Boundary Violations.
        Metaphor: person is in a box, boxed in. Asked, “what is to the left of the box?”
        1. Repetition of question. Client simply keeps repeating the question to themselves with
        varying emphasis on different syllables.
        2. Failed Expectation by Comparison. Client expressed disdain for the process by creating
        a comparative. “I thought you were going to hypnotise me, not ask all these questions.”
        3. Failed Expectation by Outcome. Client moves to outcome and says, “This isn’t
        4. Avoidance Through Lack of Effort. Without bothering to think about it, client says,
        5. Self Distraction. Client spots something across the room, in any direction other than
        “left” and says, “Nothing.”
        6. Failed Expectation of Identity. Client rejects process by stating, “I’m not a visual
        person” or some other attribute to identity.
        7. Failed Expectation of Capability. Client rejects process by stating, “I’m not very good at
        visualizing” or some other statement about capability.
        8. Failed Expectation of Authenticity. Client rejects their own response set by stating, “I
        think I’m just making this up.”
        9. Blocking. “I just go blank.”
        10. Category Jump to External Reality. Client replies by incorporating reality. “Your
        office door is to my left.”
        11. Client Changes Subject. This can take two main forms. (i). a direct question to, and
        about, the therapist (external referent) i.e. “How long have you lived here?” (ii). a return to
        suffering i.e. feelings, consequences, examples, diagnosis (internal referent) i.e. “It’s because
        I’ve been so unhappy for so long.”
        12. Displaced Emotional Reaction (Internal Referent). This is different from the client
        getting distressed because of “what is left”, instead the reaction occurs in place of “what is
        left.” The client displays an emotion that is more proactive/feed-forward than
        reactive/feedback. For example, they may get angry, throw their arms in the air declaring, “I
        don’t know, I don’t know”, tell the therapist that they are really tense and need to go outside
        for a cigarette, start weeping uncontrollably, and so on.
        13. Displaced Emotional Reaction (External Referent). The client reacts emotionally and
        directs this reaction at the therapist. The client may become angry, frustrated, disappointed,
        hostility or some other emotional protest, and places the therapist at causality.
        14. Dissociated Emotion. The client states that “my feelings are to the left”, or “anger is to
        the left.” Whilst this may fit the metaphor at some level, “There is a lot of anger left” it
        doesn’t fit the logical grouping of “box” metaphor.
        15. Time Orientation. The client states, “My past is to the left of the box” or some other
        time orientation, i.e. “my future”.
        16. Time Based Event. The client states, “my childhood” (time generic) or “my first day at
        work” (time specific) is to the left of the box.
        17. Situational Locality. The client states that their “office”, “bedroom” or “kitchen” is to
        the left of the box. These are the three most common (South of England sample

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