As with John, the change David made is easily understood without any reference to the underlying neurological changes, and I don’t see how any application of current neuroscience could have improved the process or its outcome. Until neuroscience can tell us specifically what we should be doing differently in therapy, it’s about as relevant to our work as particle physics or the migration of butterflies.
If you’re really listening to your clients, you’ll realize that they’re often being quite specific about what their problem is and what kind of solution would be useful. If a client speaking about his wife’s infidelity says, “It’s in my face, and I’d really like to put it behind me,” that isn’t just a metaphor: he’s telling you that the image of his wife enjoying sex with someone else is right in front of him, where he can’t possibly ignore it, and that if the same image were literally moved far behind him, where it would be less obtrusive, he’d pay less attention to it and respond less intensely.
Similarly, if a client discussing her memory of abuse says, “I feel frozen in that moment, and I need to get some distance from it,” she needs to allow her still image of the event to become a movie, so that it can change as time passes and then recede into the distance, becoming smaller, dimmer, and less disturbing. This approach isn’t rocket science, nor is it neuroscience. Instead, it’s a simple matter of finding out exactly what the structure of someone’s personal experience of a problem is—rather than the content within that structure—and then experimenting with useful ways to change it.
Steve Andreas, M.A., has been learning, teaching, and developing brief therapy methods for more than 45 years. His books include Virginia Satir: The Patterns of Her Magic and Transforming Negative Self-Talk. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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