reason troubled people hire human-service providers is to help them change some personal
trait or relationship because they can't do it themselves.
Professional and client satisfaction rise in proportion to the providers' (a)
knowledge of human change and other
and (b) skill at
facilitating clients to make
beneficial personal and systemic changes that last.
Paradox: human and environmental change is constant, yet often
people can't make it happen
when and how they wish (e.g. diets that "don't work") - specially if
they're unaware of being dominated by a pro-tective
article proposes a theory of human change, and implications for
(a) effective therapeutic interventions, and
(b) client "resistance" to beneficial change. These are complex and
controversial topics, and this article is in outline format.
This theory is based
on 51 years of adult life,
36 years as
professional relationship therapist, and
This article is written to (a)
all student and practicing human-service professionals, (b) their instructors, funders, administrators, and evaluators; and
to (c) interested
Use these ideas to refine your ideas about how you can
promote desired changes in your and your clients' lives. To prepare
(a) get undistracted and review these basic
premises about human personalities and
behavior. Then (b) reflect, and answer these
questions out loud:
What is "an effective
Why do some interventions "work,"
(fill your and your clients' primary needs) and others don't?
Why do some clients "resist"
some beneficial therapeutic interventions?
Why am I reading this article?
how these premises about human systemic change compare to your beliefs
What's Your Theory
Premise: you and every co-worker and client have evolved a
semi-conscious theory (set of beliefs) about human change. You use
your theory automatically in every personal and professional relationship.
You may or may not be able to articulate and illustrate your theory clearly
now (can you?). Becoming conscious of the premises that comprise your theory
is apt to improve your clinical outcomes and satis-faction. Do you agree?
how your premises about systemic change compare to these:
Your beliefs and assumptions about human systemic change underlie all your
clinical assess-ments and interventions. Your co-workers' (e.g. your
supervisor's) beliefs about change shape their evaluation of your work and
its results. Your and their theories of change may or may not agree.
Typical clients seek clinical help because they're unable to
define, make, and sustain personal and other systemic changes. Therefore,
the basic purpose of
counseling and therapy is to facilitate desired and beneficial systemic
change in individual clients and/or selected relationships and/or
physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual change is constant and inexorable.
It is caused by
aging + new knowledge, perceptions, and experiences (like therapy) + environmental shifts.
Changes in one member of a human system (like a household or family) affect
(a) all other people in the system, and (b) may cause changes in related
systems like extended-family homes and relationships, neighborhoods,
Personal and family-system change may be voluntary and/or forced
by aging and/or environmental shifts.
disagree on the safety or utility of making significant
systemic changes, the person experiences ambivalence, indecision, self-doubts, and
confusion. These promote "resistance," hesitations, "second-guessing,"
behaviors and relationships.
Some changes cause losses (broken emotional-spiritual bonds) that require
grieving, and others don't. Part of clinical assessment is discerning
significant losses and the status of related grief.
More premises about human change...
changes are temporary (primary attitudes, values, and beliefs haven't
changed) or perma-nent because dominant subselves
have changed these variables. Some providers call these first-order
and second-order changes, respectively. Option
explain and use this concept with clients and co-workers to facilitate
making appropriate systemic changes.
All animal ((human) behavior is
motivated by the ceaseless drive to reduce current physical, emotional, and
spiritual discomforts (fill current needs). Needs are either surface
When people reflexively focus on filling current surface
needs, they usually cause tem-porary (first-order) changes because their
underlying primary needs remain unfilled.
Implication - clinical work
that focuses on making superficial systemic changes will often be
ineffective, as judged by the client.
Often, "logic," "reasoning, " and "common sense" will
dominant personality subsel-ves that surface or primary changes are safe
enough. Therefore, people (i.e. their ruling
subselves) continue frustrating and/or unsafe behaviors despite
painful and/or dangerous results until their subselves
A strategic option is to assist clients to hit bottom safely.
kids and adults change their attitudes, values, beliefs, and perceptions,
their private and social behaviors usually change. Conversely, new behaviors can promote such
changes because of new experiences (behavior outcomes)
"Hitting bottom" often follows years of rationalizing and trying various
surface changes and accep-ting that they don't produce desired second-order
changes. Addiction relapses, failed diets, and serial divorces provide
classic illustrations of this primal dynamic.
and communication knowledge and
promote achieving desired permanent (second order) changes. So a powerful
clinical meta-intervention is teaching clients such know-ledge even if they
don't ask for it.
and its related
provide practical information and resources to do this effectively, based on
over 50 years' experience and study.
People are more apt to make second-order (lasting) changes in their
attitudes, thinking, and be-having if they experience
satisfying results from the changes, vs. talking about
such results. This suggests the strategic value of clinical role-plays and
homework assignments - i.e. giving clients "therapeutic experiences."
Every adult, child, and human system
has a unique tolerance limit for concurrent inner and outer change.
When perceived changes approach or exceed their limit, people and systems
will "resist" new changes (i.e. their ruling subselves will resist overwhelm - systemic
chaos). Effective clini-cians stay aware of and honor clients'
limits to systemic change. They accept and adapt to a client-system's
pace in stabilizing after significant
internal and/or environmental change.
final premise about systemic change...
- Families benefit by their leaders
intentionally planning and managing major
systemic changes, like geographic moves, altered roles and/or rules,
marriages, divorces, cohabiting, retirements, babies, custody changes, kids leaving (or returning) home,
losses, and deaths. Difficulty planning and managing major personal and/or family
changes effectively usually indicates one or more family leaders is ruled by a
+ + +
premises at work within you right now. If you're reading this to improve
(change) the effectiveness of your work with clients, are there some
who c/overtly don't want you to
Pause, breathe, and notice your
that our goal is to clarify your concept of how
and promote beneficial systemic change. Review the four questions above and see
if your answers have changed.
About Subselves and
Premise - personality
often differ on their willingness to change their
attitudes, values, priorities, roles, and goals. Until each active (dominant) subself
approves, personal and clinical attempts to make lasting personal and family changes
are likely to fail.
subselves' beliefs are often
based on the past, not the present, and are often myopic, unrealistic, and rote.
These subselves will usually
because of "common sense" or "logical explanations."
Typical subself beliefs that block beneficial systemic changes are...
I change, something really painful will happen.
Common symptom: you or a client
demonstrable realities and safeties.
worthless, disgusting, and unlovable. I don't deserve (to change and increase my) comfort
or pleasure!"; and/or "If I seek pleasure or comfort - specially
if other people are needy - I'm selfish (bad)."
Common symptoms: marked apathy ("I'm just too lazy..."), self
and rigid justifica-tions, and/or admitted or denied "indifference."
These are usual manifestations of excessive subself
host person or I change, we'll break one or more important rules
[should (not)s, must (not)s, have to's...] and we'll be bad -
so important people will scorn or reject (abandon) me again."
Common symptom: acknowledged or denied excessive
don't know (a) what I feel or need, and/or
(b) how to fill my needs
safely." Common symp-toms: high reactivity, emotionality, and an "inability to focus" -
i.e. excessive local or chron-ic confusion and/or overwhelm. Probable cause:
chaos because of a
And some ruling
subselves resist change because they believe...
"If I allow change, I'll
lose my job or my status! I don't know what I would do, and
that's too scary!" (This is a distorted belief. Subselves
are (probably) discrete brain regions, so they can't be "fired"
or "killed." They can learn to accept a useful
new personality role
when they believe doing so is safe and beneficial to themselves and the
young subselves they guard.
never be able to change
or stay changed - I can't do it." Common symptoms:
self-discounting, and "unreasonable and/or rigid pessimism."
The real cause is a protective
distrusts the true Self and a be-nign
to make and stabilize desired changes
not safe to feel
significant hope or desire for (i.e. to want) something,
because I'll just be hurt and disappointed again." Common
symptoms: "low affect," emotional
ambivalence, and/or "apathy."
Implication: to promote
desired second-order (lasting) systemic change, providers need to want to work with individual
subselves to help them try out new beliefs and trust the resident
true Self to effec-tively manage any stressful reactions to changing
like those above. My professional experience consis-tently suggests that discounting "intrapsychic work" as part of a
multi-modal clinical strategy will inher-ently limit therapeutic
with any clients.
General Clinical Options
Over time, providers (like you) develop semi-conscious strategies
("habits") for implementing their model of systemic change with their
clients, patients, and/or students. Can you identify your general strategy
now? Use these illustrative options to help articulate your strategy.
essential first steps are to (a)
guide your clinical work
and (b) clarify your beliefs about what promotes and blocks systemic
change. Notice your subselves'
to each of these options...
After stabilizing any client
crises, interest client adults in
learning a version of the personality-subself ("inner family")
concept. Option: use a handout like
or expand your
verbal expla-nations. Expect initial (false self) anxiety that
"having a bunch of people inside me" means "I must be weird
and crazy" or have "multiple personality (disorder)."
Help clients appreciate that their
subselves are not
bad or evil, and are each trying to help them
in short-sighted, impulsive, misinformed, and often distorted ways. Invite skeptical clients to try this safe
exercise and read and discuss this
Premise - all systemic change is
made or blocked by the personality subselves that govern each family member. Typical
clients aren't aware of this and what it means, and/or how to harmonize their subselves
under the expert
of their true Self.
here and the related
offer a practical way to do this over time.
their true Selves
and (b) maintain a long-range outlook (e.g. 15 - 20 years),
vs. focusing only on filling immediate surface needs.
When appropriate, encourage
clients to describe their own model of human change, including what blocks
it. Then invite them to
become more aware of their
they apply their model
of change to resolving their presenting problems.
Teach clients the difference
between first-order and second-order
and why this difference is useful. Help them see each
type of change occurring in their lives and relationships,
in your clinical work together. Then teach and illustrate how distrustful, conflicted
false selves cause
("You committed to being on time, and you were for several
sessions. Then your ruling subselves reverted to coming in late.")
(including kids) in the difference between
Then help them experience
below their presenting problems
to discern the latter. Options: illustrate this with relevant problems like
note the connectrion to temporary and permanent change. Reinforce this two-level needs concept with a summary handout like
Help clients distinguish between focusing
on the problem, and focusing on their
i.e. how they're trying to
fill their needs. Often the
latter is the problem. For example, typical couples
deny, blame, defend, explain, or argue about unmet
rather than doing patient
learn common false-self fears
that can inhibit desired change. Then help them
their true Self to develop strategies to overcome these fears respectfully and safely.
To do this, you'll need to have such strategies yourself.
clients differentiate between
chaos and anxiety ("confusion")
and healthy uncertainty as they experiment with new attitudes and actions.
Restated: reframe some "confusion" as a welcome symptom of beneficial change
("personal growth") in progress. Do you see your own confusions that way?
Recall - we're overviewing general options for promoting desired personal and
family changes in yourself and your clients...
clients who are guilty and anxious
about identifying and asserting their needs,
(subselves) to accept that discomforts
are part of being human ("like breath-ing"),
and are not "selfish" or shameful.
Affirm that some
attempts to reduce discom-forts can be toxic
(e.g. addictions), wholistically
unhealthy (e.g. deferring health checkups), and/or illegal. Where true,
the primary problem is
true-Self disablement, not the behaviors.
and teach clients and
colleagues to understand and try these
Encourage their experimenting with the skills relative to their
presenting (surface) problems, and assess the results. Teach
(mutual respect) attitudes and win-win
repressing, avoiding, fighting / arguing, or withdrawing. Options: use these
Lesson-2 resources to help, and alert
clients to the
whether lack of relevant knowledge is helping
to block the changes clients desire. Specifi-cally, check for toxic
ignorance of these basic
Then provide needed
knowledge via in/direct in-struction, demonstrations, handouts, referrals,
Watch for clients' anxious false selves pretending to (want to) learn, but
covertly fearing what new knowledge might bring: scary new
responsibilities, and painful new awareness (broken denials) and losses.
A final general option to help clients achieve desired second-order (lasting)
with ways to motivate
blaming themselves and others,
see all family-member needs as
legitimate and important,
validate their own and other's personal
as teammates to
identify primary needs so they can do
Typical false selves will anxiously resist this, until (a) shame, guilt, and fears
are allayed, and (b) trust in the resident true Self and perhaps a benign
Higher Power grows enough, over time.
I recommend Stone and
Winkleman's useful paperback
Your Inner Critic - Turning Self-criticism Into a Creative Asset
(1993) as an awareness-raiser and practical help.
Pause, stretch, breathe, and meditate on how these proposed general
change-strategies compare to your normal clinical strategies and habits. What do
you notice? Is your true Self answering, or "some-one else"?
Premise - clients seek professional help to make and maintain desired
personal or relationship changes that they can't do themselves. This article
proposes that counselors, coaches, consultants, mediators, and therapists are
more apt to provide effective service if they can articulate a coherent model of
why and how systems change - or don't. The article summarizes a set of
experience-based premises that comprise a model of human systemic change. Use it
to clarify your current premises and model.
Providers focus on (a) facilitating the changes the client wants (a first-order
strategy), or on (b) teaching the client how to identify and overcome the
barriers blocking them from making the changes they desire - a second-order
strategy. Which strategy do you usually use in your work and life?
paradigm proposes that when a person's personality
are conflicted on the safety and/or value of some systemic shift, they will
prevent meaningful change or allow only temporary (first-order) changes.
Classically, this is labeled "resistance." Second-order (permanent) changes
occur when active subselves and the resident
(capital "S") agree that change is useful and safe enough.
article closes with a summary of clinical options for promoting
desired systemic changes.
+ + +
Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get
what you needed? If not, what
you need? Who's
these questions - your