Cleaning Up Some Concepts

We have been emerging from confusion left upon us in our lives and our cultures by the long-time accumulation of distress patterns. We have been learning to resist the enforcement of that distress by the oppressive society and the resulting confusion caused by that. To assist this emergence and resistance we have occasionally proposed new concepts as a way of clarifying what we've observed and as a way of communicating with each other.

Some of these concepts have been very useful over a particular period, but in communication between Co-Counselors have tended to acquire patterned connotations that aren't helpful and generate additional confusion. Also new developments in the same area often bring greater clarity and make it possible to view the same phenomenon more broadly and from a better perspective than we did when we began using the original concept. Then the limited character of the original concept becomes an impediment to our broader view and the concept needs clarification, redefinition, or replacement.


One such concept is that of "control patterns." In first learning to counsel another person and assist that person to discharge, and in communicating this information between Co-Counselors, it seemed helpful to particularly notice the part of the patterns which interfered with discharging. These had accumulated on almost every one of our distresses from the social conditioning against discharge. Often these took the form of certain physical manifestations. Clients would observably grip their fists, or bite their lips, or hook their feet against each other in a patterned effort to remain "controlled," to not discharge. When the counselor would ask the client to contradict this by ungripping fists, unbiting lips, unhooking legs or ankles, or by adopting a relaxed posture, more voluminous discharge would ensue. We came to speak of these particular manifestations of the total pattern as "control patterns." Since discharge was enhanced and the counseling was made more effective by the counselor noticing, naming, and contradicting these, the concept of "control patterns" seemed like a worthwhile development and a useful addition to the tools of the counselor.

As time went by, however, in counseling practice, it became noticeable that the concept of "control pattern" had sometimes come to have a pejorative or "blaming" connotation. Any patterns of invalidation, scolding, or criticizing, which were, part of the distress of the person acting as counselor, would sometimes seize on, this concept and use it to criticize or poke fun at the client: "You've got a control pattern!" became a too familiar cry of triumph from a dramatizing counselor, as if he or she had just won a victory "over" the client. In practice such confused counselors sometimes manipulated their clients incessantly, justifying it by the tiny spurts of embarrassed laughter wrung from the uncomfortable client. The main thrust of re-emergence would become sidetracked by the counselor's dramatizations around the concept of "control patterns."

It's worthwhile to remind ourselves that any pattern is a very total phenomenon. The distress recording includes everything that went on at the time of the distress and at the times of the successive restimulated rehearsals of the original recording. To focus on only one, or a few, of the particular aspects of a distress recording which is gripping the client, and become preoccupied with it, is to dull ourselves to the tremendous opportunities for securing contradictions to the great variety of manifestations of the pattern. It's also good to remember and remind each other, that any client must be treated with respect, that the client is not the pattern. It is too easy to give the impression to a client who is fighting hard to get out of a distressed condition that the counselor is viewing the client as the pattern and is criticizing or rehearsing some kind of a superiority attitude at him or her.

I have not used the term "control pattern" (at least awarely) in my counseling for some time. It's true that I will seek the contradiction of a pattern in any aspect I can, including encouraging the client not to "hold on" to himself or herself in any physical way. I will ask a client to modify her facial expression, or use a tone of voice different than the content of the distress. I don't think, though, that to go on speaking of "control patterns" as if they were a separate phenomenon and with the term's apparent invitation to poor manners on the part of the counselor, is useful. I would suggest we consider dropping any preoccupation with, or frequent use of, the phrase.


Another concept that certainly has been useful, and still is, is the concept of "frozen needs." To observe that clients would expend much effort in continuing, fruitless attempts to secure "parenting," or "nurturing," or "loving," or "approval" from the current environment was useful. To further observe that counselors committed to such a client would often attempt to furnish these in the hopes of securing discharge or at least making the client "feel better" and that doing this provided little re-emergence from the pattern and always had diminishing effectiveness, was an important step forward. We realized that if a need is present at the time of a distress recording, that need can be and often is recorded as part of the distress recording and will replace rational motivations during its restimulation in later periods or in its chronic operation, and this was a valuable understanding. We came up with the principle that: "A frozen need cannot be met. It can only be discharged." This has certainly saved a lot of time and prevented wasted effort in Co-Counseling in the years since it has been circulated widely. I'm sure it will continue to do so.

Also, around this concept, however, there has crept in a kind of "blaming" or "critical" attitude on the part of some counselors. Clients have been told triumphantly, "That's just a frozen need of yours!," or "Quit rehearsing your frozen needs at me!" Such "triumphant criticism" has not improved the counseling climate or been helpful to clients.

I think a possible correction to this would be to realize clearly that the frozen need, although part of the pattern, is being held out by the client as a request for contradiction to the distress itself, and in order to secure discharge. Viewed in this manner, there is certainly no justification for having a critical or "blaming" attitude toward the client who is expressing the frozen need.

This does not mean that the counselor is now encouraged to try to fill the "frozen need," at least beyond the common technique of "over-filling" it (an initial massive, surprise contradiction to get the discharge started). There are techniques that have worked out well. Saying, "Goodbye forever to any hope of the parenting that I didn't get when I was little. I will have to be my own parent," and similar ways of contradicting the frozen need with an attitude of reality are still workable. But we need to recognize that the client was not being foolish in holding out the frozen need, but was holding it out, as in any dramatization, for the counselor's examination and in the hope that the counselor would recognize it as a call for help. Seeing the "frozen need" this way and carefully finding ways to contradict it and bring about its discharge should "clean up our act" a little bit in terms of our attitudes as counsclors toward our clients.

Harvey Jackins

Last modified: 2015-07-21 17:37:15+00