There was a wonderful moment on TV last night that must have had NLP aficionados rolling on the floor with laughter, when a psychoanalyst accidentally betrayed what he really felt (and the VT editor, who could have saved him by cutting the shot, chose not to)…
It happened in the BBC’s culture documentary series, Imagine, in an episode entitled A Love Story, about 36 minutes in. The psychoanalyst, who has been saying some pretty strange things with the kind of quiet assurance that makes you really really want to believe him, backs away and covers his mouth. Oops.
Well, maybe not oops. There are many possible reasons for that combination of movement and gesture. The caricatured NLP interpretation that it mimics a child who has just told a lie is, of course, possibly true. And it is, equally, possibly false. We don’t really have enough information to apply the fanciful generalization to this particular case.
At the same time, what the psychoanalyst in the programme says about love is pretty much a caricature too. Perhaps sometimes true, and undoubtedly sometimes false, we rarely have enough information to apply his fanciful generalizations to particular cases of love either.
Over at Cognitive Daily, Dan Ariely and irrational decision-making, discusses how we can be led to accept irrational choices when we lack enough information to make a rational judgment, and are distracted by irrelevant information. Similar mechanisms lead us to believe impossible things when our choices about what to believe appear to be limited by lack of information, and by distraction. Thus, fanciful generalizations seem attractive.
`I can’t believe that!‘ said Alice.
`Can’t you?’ the Queen said in a pitying tone. `Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.’
Alice laughed. `There’s no use trying,’ she said `one can’t believe impossible things.’
`I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. `When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast…’
In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Alice tries to make sense of things, while the White Queen demands belief in a world view that’s part nonsense.
Interestingly, that’s not the only connection between the White Queen and psychotherapy. She also has a cure for melancholy:
`Only it is so very lonely here!’ Alice said in a melancholy voice; and, at the thought of her loneliness, two large tears came rolling down her cheeks.
`Oh, don’t go on like that!’ cried the poor Queen, wringing her hands in despair. `Consider what a great girl you are. Consider what a long way you’ve come to-day. Consider what o’clock it is. Consider anything, only don’t cry!’
Alice could not help laughing at this, even in the midst of her tears. `Can you keep from crying by considering things?’ she asked.
`That’s the way it’s done,’ the Queen said with great decision…
And she has a theory about panic attacks that I’ll leave you to discover for yourself.
The powerful (but perhaps boring) thing about CBT is that it tries to deal with the reality of individual cases, not in fanciful generalizations. In the story, Alice’s attempts to rationalize fail her right to the end, even (in a final twist) after she has awoken from her dream. In real life, CBT’s attempts to rationalize almost always succeed.