Book review: Change

When and how do people change? And when do they get stuck in situations and problems that seem hopeless? This is the focus of this book, Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution.

The book is based on the authors’ experiences with brief therapy. Unlike traditional psychotherapy, which tries to uncover the “deeper” causes of problems, brief therapy focuses on solving peoples current problems. Why spend years of therapy going back to the hypothetical root cause of some problem, when what you really need to do, is get rid of the issue now. And even IF you find the cause of the problem, you still haven’t solved it.

The authors claim to have helped 80% of their clients in 4 sessions or less!

The book starts with a chapter on group theory, which is used as a theoretical framework to classify groups interactions and different types of change. This is in my opinion the only weak point in the book – I would have preferred to see systems thinking used as a basis.

The book then goes on to describe Problem Formation (identifyind the problem) and Problem Resolution (solving the problem). There are lot’s of case stories throughout which demonstrate their approach.

The authors’ principal tool for resolving their clients’ problems is, strangely enough, paradox. Since many problems seem unsolvable by rational means, somehting non-rational is often needed. One example is a man who has a phobia of going out. Even going to the local supermarket triggered severe panic attacks. The authors instructed him to go to the supermarket, identify the point at which he dared go no further, and stop one step before that. That point never came, of course, and he was able to complete the trip without a panic attack.

In this way, using paradox, they are often able to induce large change in a short time, with relativley little effort. This sounds familiar, right? This is complexity theory. Unfortunately the book is from 1974, from before complexity science really took off, so that angle isn’t covered.

I was intrigued by the role that paradox plays in solving the problems. It helps convince me that paradox is an important tool, that our thinking today does not utilize sufficiently. Quite often we want solid, unambiguous answers and can’t bear fuzziness and paradox – and that may limit our thinking.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in how humans change. The book is written with a therapeutic background, but it has applications far beyond that, since you can’t really change anything without changing people!

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