Ethics - Doing
essence of creative problem-solving, according to Rothenberg in his study of Nobel
Laureates, is the resolution of polarities or the blending of opposites. So often,
he observes, new discoveries in science, art, or philosophy are the opposite of
previously held ideas. Even more surprising is this: not only is the opposite
true, but both the opposite and the previously held idea are operative and true.
is this more evident than in our own field where we have learned that the following
opposite polarities can coexist:
1. Nurturing clients facilitates
change, but so does confronting them; blending the two techniques is even
2. Dealing with unexpressed feelings promotes insight,
as does exploring underlying thought processes; combining the two strategies is
3. Seeing clients in individual sessions is quite effective,
as is working with them in groups or families; sometimes a combination approach
is even more powerful.
4. Dealing with the past promotes changes
in the present; looking at present behavior helps explain the past; both approaches
combined make for a more productive future.
practitioners employ insight as their principal tool; others prefer to ignore
self-understanding altogether and concentrate on action strategies. Some clinicians
stay objective and detached in the therapeutic relationship; others present themselves
as authentic and genuine. It is apparent, therefore, that our whole profession
is grounded in polarities that contradict one another and that reconciling opposites
is a requirement of the practitioner.
professionals tend to think in the language of opposites! When administered a
free association test, Nobel prize winners are more likely to respond to a stimulus
word by supplying its opposite. Rothenberg cites several examples of how this Janusian Process (from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings who faces in opposite
directions at the same time) operates in problem-solving. Albert Einstein had
been greatly perplexed as to how he could develop an all-encompassing general
theory of relativity similar to his special theory of relativity applied to light.
He was convinced that there was some underlying order to the physical world, that
God does not play dice with the universe. The idea came to him that
if a man was falling from a building he would be in motion and yet at rest relative
to an object falling from his pocket. The reconciliation of this paradox led to
Einsteins most famous theory.
believe this same process underlies our most creative work in therapy. When we
are stymied with a difficult case, it is usually because we are trying the same
things over and over again. Therefore, the simplest prescription for practitioners
who feel stuck is to apply the strategic dictum of doing the opposite of what
has already been tried. This could involve several strategies mentioned by Dolan:
1. If talking doesnt work, become silent; if silence doesnt work,
2. If you feel stuck while sitting, start moving; if you
feel stuck while moving, try sitting immobile.
3. If the mood is
impersonal, soften it; if the situation is emotional, shift to a more objective
4. If you feel anxious, take a few deep breaths to relax;
if you feel bored, do something to heighten the intensity.
formula for becoming unstuck in any situation is to identify your pattern of ineffective
responses and then to alter something in a systematic way whether it is
the style, the content, the context, the direction, the pace, the intensity, the
frequency, the force of impact, the speed of action, the amount of pressure, or
the degree of investment in the outcome. Tinkering with individual variables might
be plotted something like this: the therapist asks the client pointed questions
about her history and background, after which she becomes evasive. The therapist
then tries using more open-ended inquiries, but the client begins to ramble and
drift off track. Finally, the therapist stops asking questions altogether and
tries the oppositesitting quietly. This time the client volunteers useful
Ethics - Fabian
Tactics: Doing the Unexpected
The strategy of confusing an opponent in
an adversarial position by adopting an unexpected series of moves is described
by Goldberg as Fabian Tactics. Named for the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus,
who was able to out-maneuver Hannibal during the Punic Wars, this approach seeks
to avoid direct confrontation in those situations where one is clearly overmatched.
Throughout history, other military leaders have defeated vastly superior forces
by using tactics designed to delay, harass, and confuse. Thomas J. (Stonewall)
Jackson during the Civil War, Francis Marion (the Swamp Fox) during the Revolutionary
War, and Erwin Rommel (the Desert Fox) during the North African campaign of World
War II were able to throw opponents off balance with completely unpredictable
and incongruous behaviors.
strategy of General Fabius against Hannibal was not simply to evade battle or
stall for time; it was designed to destroy the enemys will to fight, to
so thoroughly demoralize and frustrate him that he would give up and go home.
This was also the strategy of the Viet Cong that proved so effective during the
clients are hardly enemies or opponents, even if they
sometimes see us in that role. Yet the principle of avoiding direct confrontation
and employing indirect interventions with an entrenched and resistant client was
a particular favorite of Milton Erickson. Many of his hypnotic induction procedures
that proved potent, even with those most determined to resist, were based on Fabian
Tactics of doing the unexpected.
Marshall enters the office and demands that I accommodate every one of his detailed
requests before he will agree to work with me, he is expecting me to turn him
down so he has an excuse to fire me. He tells me that in order for us to proceed
further (Marshall is an attorney), I will have to agree to the following:
Schedule appointments on a week-by-week basis with his secretary.
2. Bill his
office once a month and wait for payment until he has received insurance reimbursement.
Agree not to schedule anyone else immediately before or after him so he will not
be seen entering or leaving my office.
4. Allow him to bring his portable telephone
into the session in case anything from the office needs his immediate attention.
Permit him to sit in my chair because it has maximum support for his back problem.
Stick to his agenda of matters he would like to address. If he does not wish to
talk about something, I will agree not to push him.
7. Keep on hand for his
exclusive use his brand of herbal tea, which he will supply.
was so stunned by the sheer audacity (not to mention volume) of his demands that
at first, I did nothing except stare at him openmouthed. While Marshall adjusted
his posture in my chair (that had been his first request to which I had innocently
acquiesced), I considered my options. If I told him what I really thought
that I would not stand for his manipulative, controlling behavior, nor would I
tolerate his games to undermine my position then it seemed clear that therapy
with Marshall was over. I must say that idea appealed to me tremendously. Next,
I considered what would happen if I tried to negotiate with him. I mean, this
man was a professional litigator. He chews people up and spits them out for a
living. He even carries a telephone with him so he can intimidate someone whenever
the mood strikes him! And I think I am going to go up against this guy and get
him to back down? I felt like General Fabius facing Hannibals hordes astride
therefore considered my third option: give in to his demands, but with a few conditions
of my own. This I reasoned, might disarm him completely and we could stop with
I said. What you are asking sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I have no
objection to anything you ask. In fact, I like a person who states what he needs.
That is why I will accept your conditions if you will accept mine.
now, Marshalls initial signs of triumph evaporated. What do you have
in mind? he asked in his silkiest, lawyerlike voice. Nothing much.
Just a few modifications of your requests. First, if you are going to sit in my
chair, I ask you not to lean back, as sometimes it tips over. Second, you are
more than welcome to keep your tea hereI think thats a great ideabut
you will also need to bring your own cups, sugar, spoons. Oh yes, and a teapot.
I think it would be best if you made your tea with your own things. As for your
portable phone, thats fine. But if you are going to take calls during the
session, I would like to do the same thing. And the scheduling arrangement, I
would be happy to arrange things with your secretary that is, if you will
remind me the day before I am supposed to call her.
continued no further as his laugh interrupted my negotiations. (I
was just warming up, too!) He moved out of my chair with the exasperated remark
that he did not know shrinks were so temperamental about where they sat. But now
we had an understanding, even an alliance of sorts. I am not saying this guy did
not continue to be a challenge to deal with, but I found that whenever he did
resort to similar controlling tactics, I could best neutralize them through indirect,
- Kottler, Jeffrey A., PhD. Compassionate Therapy. Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, 1998.
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Reflection Exercise #11
The preceding section contained information on
using Fabian militant power interventions. Write three case study examples regarding
how you might use the content of this section of the Manual in your practice.
When a client enters your office and demands that you accommodate every
one of his or her detailed requests before he or she will agree to work with you,
what are they probably expecting and why? To select
and enter your answer go to .