Tuesday, 5 December 2006


There are many different strategies in psychotherapy. One is paradoxical intervention – the shock of the unexpected. Eric Berne, the father of Transactional Analysis, was an unusual psychiatrist in several respects. Not only did he originate a novel and very effective system of theory and practice; he was also witty – some of his saying and writings are very amusing – and he was a keen poker player who liked to win his bets.

There is a story of Berne visiting a mental hospital locked ward where patients considered dangerous or unmanageable were incarcerated. His hosts pointed to a man standing alone in a corner, and said: “He is a very difficult case. He is catatonic, and hasn’t spoken to anybody for five years”. Berne replied: “I bet he will speak to me before I leave this ward”. They were incredulous.

Berne went over to the man, and said “Hello”. The man ignored him, whereupon Berne stamped heavily on the man’s foot. The man glared at Berne and said: ”What the hell did you do that for?”

A good instance of paradoxical intervention.


zola said...

Could you suggest a good paradoxical intervention for Toni Blair vis-a-vis telling only lies, lies and more lies?

anticant said...

Tell him the truth.

butwhatif said...

Nah. Surely it's lies that are needed.

You'd need, for example, to start manufacturing 45 minutes claims, say about India, Pakistan or Israel. Force Blair to have to rubbish it all.

Isn't that how these paradoxical interventions are meant to work?

anticant said...

But he wouldn't rubbish it. He'd believe it. Blair's a total fantasist [remember those fibs he told about stowing away on a plane to somewhere or other when he was a schoolboy?]

What would I do with someone who is convinced they are a poached egg? Sit them on a piece of buttered toast and stick a fork into them.

billstickers said...

Surely, the only true paradoxical intervention is the one where you totally ignore the subject.

Let's all meet {wink} at Altrui's house tonight.

butwhatif said...

How about sitting the said patient on a Texan's knee, providing them with pink ribbons, and asking the said Texan to repeat endlessly "You is my bitch"?

Do these interventions ever work?
I'm thinking back to a few 9-11 conspiracy threads I've ended up visiting (following links from CiF, funnily enough). There, alongside the usual 'it was the US/Israeli government,' you'll find far more outrageous suggestions as well (12 members of the Illuminati, who are really aliens, control the world etc). Real David Icke stuff.

Now I guess it's safe to say that these more 'out there' posts have not been planted by altruistic psychiatrists, doing their bit for paradoxical intervention. But let's consider that they might have been, that it would kind of fit the treatment.

But the mainstream conspiraloons simply dismiss the more outrageous others, calling them loons, green inkers, but they never really stop to rehearse the considerations and arguments that could well cure themselves of their condition ("Where's the evidence, matey? Do you really think such silence could be maintained by so many people? Why do you take absence of evidence as evidence of presence" etc etc etc.)

No. The mainstreamers just carry on, business as usual. Either that, or, they then go on to claim that the more far out posters are working on behalf of the said conspirators, trying to get it so that they all are tarred as out and out crazies. The original behaviour that you'd be intending to cure only gets reinforced.

Just an observation.

Would I have to sign some kind of ethics statement to try to do a proper study on this? ;)

anticant said...

butwhatif: Some good points there! It's an exercise in competitive looniness, isn't it. Like religions. ][I would say that, wouldn't I?] I look forward to your completed study. You can sign up to the anticant code if you like: "no bullshit".

But surely the Texan should be repeating "You're My Pet Goat"?

butwhatif said...

"Hardliners turn on Ahmadinejad for watching women dancers" (The Guardian today.)

Ahmadinejad replies: "Lighten up guys, s'only a bit of fun. Why are you all so morbid? We've limited time here on earth. We're both of the world and of elsewhere. Live and let live, that's what I say."

The 'hardliners' return to their hotel, take off their religious clobber, revealing themselves to be Iranian liberals. Meeting their CIA funders, they conclude: "Cor blimey, this paradoxical intervention malarkey is bloody amazing!"