” Chaos is what we’ve lost touch with. This is why it is given a bad name. It is feared by the dominant archetype of our world, which is Ego, which clenches because its existence is defined in terms of control.” – Terence McKenna.
In my work as a psychotherapist, I am also a Clinical Supervisor. This is a role in which I oversee the work of other therapists and offer a mix of guidance, psycho-education and mentoring. A subject that came up in a clinical supervision session with one of my supervisees, this week, was that of ‘control’.
There is a vast amount written on this subject already, so I won’t use this opportunity to write my own take on that subject right now. I will, however, offer my thoughts on an aspect of the subject.
In response to what my supervisee had presented to me about a client, I considered ‘flipping’ the subject around. I decided to help my supervisee explore control, by looking at a sense of not being in control. I believe that you can best explore a subject when you consider all of the ways of relating to it and this includes looking at the alternative positions.
As a keen writer, I am also interested in language and how the use of words may express something deeper; not consciously communicated or, indeed, may have an influence over us. Sometimes we use words or terminology that falsely describe our position but which, by their very nature, may influence us into a position or response.
In looking at the opposite of control, for the purpose of this exercise, I offered my supervisee two options (though there are no doubt many more):
- Not in control.
- Out of control.
Here, I asked my supervisee to consider what these two ways of describing a lack of control actually mean. We concluded that ‘not in control’ was more of an observation. A stated standpoint. A position that recognises that control lies away from the self. We decided that while this may be an uncomfortable standpoint, it may not necessarily cause an exaggerated emotional state. It may heighten our emotional response, but perhaps in a rational, proportionate way.
We then looked at the second option and we concluded that ‘out of control’ is where a sense of chaos, fear, anxiety and confusion can more readily manifest. This is where we could see that heightened, amplified, disproportionate and exaggerated emotional responses were more likely to be triggered.
I asked my supervisee to think about what her client describes about the absence of a sense of control. Here, the task is to consider whether the client feels that the absence of control results in a sense of being ‘not in control’ or whether it results in a sense of being ‘out of control’. This will inform us about the responses of the client by enabling us to assess their amplification and rationality.
Achieving this, provides us with the opportunity for a richer and more empathetic insight into the client’s thought processes, responses and also equips us with the insight to know which type of intervention would best help the client back into an empowered state.
Let me be clear, however, that the task should not be to instill a sense of control into the client. That is not the role of the psychotherapist. The client must find their own answer, his/herself. Sometimes what is required is for the client to accept that he/she sometimes cannot be in control. It can be as helpful to learn to accept that we cannot control everything, as it can be helpful to regain a sense of control in some situations. Therapy might need to be used to help the client achieve acceptance and a sense of safety and comfort where they cannot be in a position of control in a situation.
This brings us to the aims of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). I feel that REBT fits well here; to identify what triggers us into our emotional response and then to identify what that trigger means to us. To change that belief for something more healthy, helpful and rational; thus freeing us to experience a less distressing emotional response. Achieving this then leads us to minimise problem consequences that might arise from our behaviours.
In this case, if the client believed that the absence of control means ‘not in control’, then we would more likely see the client coping better. If the client were to believe that the absence of control meant ‘out of control’, we would see their heightened and amplified emotional response and the client would be more likely to be expressing a sense of distress.
Another appropriate therapy to use to explore the subject of language and its cause and effect would be Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).
Do have a think about your own use of language; both internal thought language and language you use in communicating with others. Of the two options above, what would be your own belief about the absence of control?
If you are a writer, perhaps you will be interested in looking at how we sometimes describe something in a variety of ways, but how these different ways can have quite significant differences in their meaning and consequence.
(c) Dean Parsons. 2019.