Gregory Bateson has been an extremely influential figure on 20th century philosophy, specifically with regard to social anthropology, linguistics, visual anthropology, semiotics, cybernetics, psychiatry and therapy. He spent some time in New Guinea observing and analyzing behaviour patterns in different cultures. I think that it help to analyze completely different cultures in this process because one can look at the correlation between speech, tone of voice and body language without too much of a bias. I am not sure about this therapy but he did spend a huge amount of time analyzing communication and interaction between people.
I should briefly like to mention two theories of his which I have found to be very helpful in my work as a psychotherapist and then I would like to expand on one particular theory.
His theory of the ‘vicious circle’ is very important. He points out that there is a vicious circle in communication, and that behaviour produces a reaction which, in turn, produces a subsequent behaviour from the interlocutor. Therefore the behaviour of X affects Y and he reacts in a certain way; then, Y behaves in a certain away and this is followed by X behaving in a certain fashion. Two presupposition of NLP take on board this theory—(1) ‘we calibrate on behaviour’, and (2) ‘words are not what they represent’ (Brookhouse, 2012).
Symmetrical relationships are also very important. He pointed out that there are two types of relationships:
Symmentrical relationships which involve people who are equals although competitive.
Complementary relationships in which there is unequal balance (eg the dominance-submission type between parent and child; or exhibition/spectatorship type between performer and audience).
Brookhouse S (2012). Conference presentation at the National College of Hypnosis and Psychotherapy. 25 March 2012.
Bateson studied with Donald Jackson, Jay Haley and John Weakland in the 1950s and did a huge amount of pioneering work on schizophrenia and its aetiology. They described the concept of ‘double binds’ and said how destructive this was to the development of a child’s behaviour. The pointed out that it a child was consistently given double binds by mother or father (or both) during development, he would then begin to construct the world out of contradictory cues and emotional messages. From the reading that I have done into the aetiology of neurosis, I have found that the double bind has a hugely negative effect on child development and one’s ability to act authentically in adult life. One only has to go back to the work of BF Skinner to remember the stress that was caused to the rat who came to a junction knowing that, although he received conditioning through the sense of smell that both doors could contain food, that one door had food and the other didn’t. This caused anxiety. Wolpe (1958) also spoke of the manipulative nature of double binds in the context of the family.
I am sure that most here already know this term. But for the few that don’t, this is my definition. A double bind occurs when, normally, an authority figure—say, a parent, boss or teacher—gives mixed messages to his or her interlocutor. This person becomes a victim because he is unable to leave the communication field and he knows that either failing to fulfil one of the requests will result in punishment of some kind, or failure to believe that one of the statements is true will resilt in a misattunement of what is being said or displayed.
Examples of this are as follows:
1. The mother tells her daughter that she loves her but her face shows hatred or indifference.
2. Father to daughter: ‘You must take the rubbish out in the pouring rain, but only if you want to’.
3. Mother to son: ‘You must love me’.
4. Teacher to pupil: ‘Speak when you are spoken to’; and in the next instance, ‘Don’t talk back!’.
5. Father to son: ‘I am very angry with you—[with a big smile on his face] come here an give me a cuddle’.
In these instances, the victim is unable to define the paradoxical situation, and is unable to confront or resolve the conflict internal or externally. Thus, there is an entanglement of communication. The words, tone of voice and body language are not in sync with each other.
This theory is very helpful for us as psychotherapists because we can use positive double binds in order to provide choice in the consulting room. And, if one uses double binds and the apposition of opposites, as well as a response set one can really help clients to move on and reduce resistance in the therapy and in the hypnosis.
Here are some example of positive double binds. In fact, many NLP trained therapists do not know the origins of this term and call all ‘positive double binds’ simply ‘double binds’. But psychoanalysts, quite rightly I think, place a huge amount on the destructive nature of this in the family context.
Here are some examples:
1. Therapist to client/patient: ‘Would you like to feel completely comfortable and relaxed on that chair or the other chair’.
2. Therapist to client while encouraging time distortion: ‘ Did it seem a very long time to you or just sort of a really long time to you?’.
3. Therapist to client: ‘Are you ready to give up smoking now or in a few moments time?’.