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Author: Karin Schlanger

Do you dare use paradoxes in your practice?

Can you use Paradoxes in Problem Solving Brief Therapy?

For us, the answer is “yes, when indicated”, like any other intervention.  For some reason, the word Paradox is heard as a bad one when used in psychotherapy.  Psychotherapists usually believe that there are several considerations and potential reasons why they might use paradoxes cautiously.

When yes and when no? 

At the Brief Therapy Center, we collect a lot of relevant information to the specific situation that our client brings to our office. We believe that the problem for which they are looking for a change with is maintained by what we call Attempted Solutions: all actions and lectures they have been trying to make things better. Ironically these actions maintain the problem alive and causes them pain.

Traditional therapists view paradoxes, like other interventions as not suitable for every client or every situation because they can be disorienting or confusing. Consistent with that view, therapists need to assess a client’s readiness and comfort level with such interventions. Effective use of paradoxes requires a deep understanding of the therapeutic process and the client’s specific issues. Therapists must have the necessary skills and training to use paradoxes appropriately so they may be hesitant to employ them until they gain more experience.

Other possible concerns with the use of paradoxical interventions is that they can sometimes appear confrontational or insensitive if not used correctly. Therapists must maintain a strong ethical foundation in their work and avoid causing harm or distress to their clients. Cultural factors can influence how clients perceive and respond to paradoxes. What may be an effective intervention in one cultural context may not work in another so therapists need to be culturally

considerate when using paradoxes to avoid misunderstandings or offense.

What do we do at the Brief Therapy Center?

As in any other model of therapy, the relationship between the professional and the client is of the utmost importance.  The therapeutic alliance is essential for effective therapy. In Problem-Solving Brief Therapy we speak the client’s language from the very beginning, listening carefully to the actual words that the client uses to describe their own situation. It is up to the therapist to listen carefully for what is important to the person/s that they have in front of them. We will do another blog on the importance of using the Client’s Position so that the person feels respected and heard. Once the positive relationship is established, the therapist is the one who potentially has the solution for the problem the client is presenting: after all that is why they are coming to ask for help. Remember the part where we presented our thought that is is the Attempted Solution that keeps the problem alive? You could argue that this perspective in itself is paradoxical so we are much more inclined to put our perspective on the table and examine it, together with the client to see if it will work better to cut through the pain and come out at the other end of the tunnel. The timing and appropriateness of paradoxical interventions are critical. They should be used when they align with the therapeutic goals and the client’s needs. Using them too early or inappropriately can be counterproductive.

We are happy to show you how we think in the Brief Therapy model

Different therapists have different therapeutic styles and orientations. We believe that if someone has been told over and over that there is no reason to be depressed – the sun WILL come out tomorrow—and that approach, with the best of intentions hasn’t worked, what is wrong with letting clients know that they actually have good reasons to be sad/depressed? And they should not try to change that situation until the therapy process has had some time to investigate what might be better. That means, by implication the paradoxical intervention of ‘don’t change your depression until you are ready to.  It is back in their control and they decide when to change. That could sound like a paradoxical intervention. From the point of view of the Brief Therapy model, all we are doing is staying away from what has not worked.

 I invite you to join our upcoming training to learn more about this issue and how the Brief Therapy model works to get people the best help possible. Secure your spot for the online training today!

In closing, effective use of paradoxes requires skill, sensitivity, and an understanding of when and how to apply them to benefit the therapeutic process.

Karin Schlanger

Karin Schlanger was the Director of the Brief Therapy Center in MRI since 2008 until the sale of the building in 2019. She continues to be the director of the BTC currently. She has worked as a psychologist, supervisor in the Brief Therapy Model and professor at several universities international...

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