freedom for life

The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Richard Casebow

Richard Casebow

Back in the mid-1980s, I started to suffer from severe sciatica that often made walking and working difficult. At the time, I was training in London to become a Chartered Accountant and I left, as I was spending increasing amounts of time off waiting for the pain to subside. Around this time, I also became depressed, as my prospects seemed to darken with little hope of a normal life. In seeking help I found my way both to a psychotherapist and then to an Alexander Technique teacher, both of which helped enormously. The therapy with forming a life plan and understanding myself, encouraged me to dream of the life I have now. The Alexander Technique gave me the practical tool to help realise it and to allow me to rehabilitate myself to lead a full normal life.

The link between Alexander Technique, Psychotherapy and the art of living intelligently became something that has fascinated me ever since and is something I have continued to explore myself and with pupils and clients since. This blog is my attempt to elucidate the links, as well as to talk about Alexander Technique pure and simple and the benefits of therapy.

I founded the Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre in 1994, Counselling Conversations came later after I became a practising therapist in 2003. Professionally I act as the Treasurer of the Personal Construct Psychology Association and sit on the board of the UKCP’s house magazine The Psychotherapist. When I am not to be found working, there is nothing better I like to be doing than spending time on a Scottish hillside, exploring the arts or just spending time with friends and family, including the family cat. 



Sunday, 29 April 2018 13:33

Burning Down The House

The smoke alarm went off. I got up, thinking it must be telling me that the battery was coming to the end of its life, but that I had better check anyway. Then I smelt smoke and went to the kitchen to see flames coming out of the dishwasher. I approached to see if there was anything I could do, decided there was not and went to call 999. Speaking to the woman on the end of the phone, I was aware of freeing my neck and consciously choosing the tone of my response. Once I had put the phone down, I calmly put on a jumper and some shoes and left the house, as the smoke began to gather above me on the ceiling; it was time to leave. 

Waiting for the fire brigade to arrive, and then while they put out the fire, I was again aware of my neck and back working to keep me breathing and grounded, accepting of the situation, clear and focused, as I started to plan and sequence what needed to be done.

At times I found myself starting to be feel trembly and then I’d just settle myself back into being calm and thinking, where thinking, as Heidegger pointed out, is ‘a form of thanking and therefore of being grateful’. And there was much to be grateful for: first and foremost for being safe and alive, and then for the kindness of neighbours, previously unknown, who appeared with synchronistic magic, with offers of tea and a coat, immediately as I wished for them. 

At the end of the incident I was talking to the chief of the fire crew and I thanked him and his crews firemen and firewoman. He was visibly taken aback commenting that few people thanked him or his crews at the end on an incident. That surprised me but then thinking about it since then, I think it was my ability to stay centred and be practicing thinking as a form of thanking in real time, which is conscious control in action, that allowed me to be present to him and his crew, the jobs that they do, and the lives that they save; by being there rather than being wrapped up in the loss of my beautiful home.

The stress came later, as I struggled and kept myself awake. But gradually I stilled myself into dreaming, awaking as free as I ever have been with my heart open to the world, as a new level of psycho -physical integration emerged. What has happened since, which is the nature of this work, is that I have become even more aware of those habits whereby I try to interfere with this emerging way of being. I am aware of how I want to go back to what was familiar and yet I am also aware that I do not want to, which is how it is on the threshold of opening to new levels of internal freedom. As I work through the external challenges of the coming months in terms of the flat needing to be repaired, redecorated and what remains of my stuff cleaned and restored, I am aware of the internal challenge to further surrender to that psycho-physical attitude where I keep myself open and accept what is. Something summed up rather beautifully here by Tom Cheetham: 

‘We need to keep our internals open. I can think of no better way to express that freedom from hard-heartedness and dogma that is one goal of the human struggle. It is a psycho-physical Quest to be open to the world. Not curved in upon ourselves, but open to the tastes and textures of the world as Manifestations of the Real.’

Tom Cheetham  Green Man, Earth Angel

NICE have just produced new guidelines for Parkinson’s in adults and have continued to include a specific mention of Alexander Technique for people experiencing problems with motor control and balance. This is good news as initially they had sought to remove the reference to Alexander Technique as they thought it was just a form of physiotherapy, which it is not, but it's a mistake that happens all too often.

Fortunately, both STAT, the professional body for Alexander Technique Teachers, to which I belong, and the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council were able make submissions to correct the mistake. This sort of mistake regarding classifying the Alexander Technique is very common; it has never been readily classifiable in terms of existing taxonomies, although if it was to fit anywhere it might be within health education, albeit a specialist form of it. This is how Walter Carrington, who was Alexander’s assistant and took over Alexander’s training course, classified it. 

For the Alexander Technique is something you learn, so that you develop constructive conscious control. It is not a treatment, it is a re-education of habits that have built up over the years so that your general functioning improves. You are therefore a pupil when you come for your Alexander lessons, not a patient. You have a responsibility to learn and that might mean that you have to re-learn how to learn. I know I did; prior to my Alexander lessons, whenever I approached trying to learn something, I used far too much muscular tension in the wrong places and this impaired my learning, as well as contributing to making the sciatica that was crippling me at times much worse than it needed to be. 

That sciatica was my reason for first seeking out an Alexander Technique teacher. In this I am like many others who first come for lessons, in that I was seeking help for a specific problem. My teacher did what any good Alexander Technique teacher does and approached the problem indirectly by focusing on my general co-ordination and helping me to establish some sort of use of my self. This allowed me to develop my conscious control so that not only could I inhibit the muscular tension in the wrong places when I was looking to learn, but that I could then move more freely without crippling myself and start to live more normally. In this alone, there was a great gift but there were other gifts which over time have become my reasons for continuing to use Alexander’s technique to further develop my conscious control, most notably in helping me to be more present, more accepting of my self, freer in my movements, more relaxed when with company and more balanced and freer in my thought and action. I could go on but my reasons are all now to do with living a better life, the foundations of which are the fundamental re-education which Alexander’s work provided me with. 

And that fundamental re-education involves putting one’s use first, so that one does not damage or harm oneself even when physically fully engaged. This is at the heart of Alexander’s work when considered as a specialist form of health education. But, it is more than that; it is a way of consistently enhancing performance in all activities and ultimately living a richer, more fulfilled life through having balance and control, all of which are of course are dependent on maintaining the best standard of general functioning that one can. Which is where Alexander work, is incredibly useful and what makes it appropriate to categorise it as a specialist form of health education.

Saturday, 17 June 2017 07:56

Donald Trump and Fairytales

Donald Trump may not be out of his mind but he may be an idiot and in saying both things, I am actually saying the same thing: that he lacks a sense of community or fellowship, he lacks a connection with his Self. Now the word 'Self' takes on numerous different meanings in different thought systems, not least in Alexander’s work, Jung, and in the work of constructivist psychotherapist Jay Efran. He distinguishes between Self and Mind, as providing two important psychological contexts, where the Self is about openness to experience, connection to others and the world at large - community in other words - while the mind is centred on safety, survival and proving itself right at all costs. Jonathan Raskin, another constructivist, in a recent blog used this distinction to suggest that the problem with Donald Trump that enrages many people is not that he is out of his mind but actually in it all the time, and therefore lacking an openness and connection to others and the world. 

This, in the old Greek sense, helps makes him an idiot, a private self-centred person, lacking skill, who does not understand that, to be an individual, one is sustained by community, depends on community and needs to nurture it, rather than potentially destroy it. Something that Eric Anthamatten rather nicely explicated in the case of Donald Trump in the New York Times at the weekend.


What though has this to do with either Alexander Technique or therapy? Well, with both there is a need to get in touch with one’s Self, where the Self includes everything as Alexander thought, then you get something akin to what Jungian Marie-Louise Von Franz wrote in her book on Redemption 'Motifs in Fairytales:' If you take the human personality as a sphere, with the Self embracing the whole sphere and also being the self-regulating factor in the centre, any deviation will have compensations,’ or we might say negative implications in general functioning if we were to follow Alexander. And while a Jungian might work with dreams in order that the ego functions in harmony with the Self, Alexander would work with the habits that make up the personality, so that the Self functions in harmony with the personality.


What that means in Jungian or Alexander terms is that we need to be aware, conscious of the habits by which we disturb our balance and pull down into mind. We can then learn to stop relying on these habits and literally come up and be held in the context of our Self that allows the better parts of our nature to function, connecting us to others and to our environment. That way we can see our way forward both living our individual lives but within the networks of our sustaining communities and now more than ever our sustaining world, something that President Trump finds all too easy to cast aside. 


Casting aside that concern for the world and for others, living in a world of insults and revenge, with the demand for personal loyalty, reminds me of The Emperor’s New Clothes, and the importance of truth telling not just to others but most importantly to ourselves. And to quote Orwell here:

‘We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.’


It’s better not to end up on the battlefield and we can get there avoid it by listening to others and then to ourselves to find out where we are justifying or defending ourselves by habitually going into mind and staying there rather than coming up into connection with our Self and, through that, with community and others. 

Whenever I seek to introduce Alexander’s technique to someone, I ask the rhetorical question of 'what is it a technique for?’ The answer I give is drawn from the title of Alexander’s second book, 'Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual'. Which is a bit of a mouthful and it is all too easy to imagine a present-day publisher objecting to this and demanding something snappy like ‘Improve Your Posture’, ‘Fix Your Back’ or even just ‘The Alexander Technique’. Alexander, I think, would have objected and tried to explain just how well the title does tell you what his work is about, if only you had the technique to stop and be curious as to what is in front of you.

So let me explain what I understand the title means and why constructive conscious control is important for each of us as individuals, in other words why it is a good for us that we might want to invest our time and money in.

The first term I usually start with is the term 'conscious' and, like all the terms in the title, it is a word we approach with our prior understandings, connotations from other theories that can get in the way of understanding what Alexander is writing about. The term 'conscious' in Alexander’s work is used to talk about being aware of ourselves and very specifically being aware of how we are going about controlling ourselves in the activities of our daily lives.

These activities rely on a set of basic actions such as sitting, standing or walking, actions that we learn before we are two and before we have a memory to recall how we learned them. Which means that most of us have no conscious idea of how we do any of these actions, that is we have no idea of the habits of how we control or coordinate ourselves, and lacking any idea, we have no ability to assess the implications of what we have learned, whether it is a tendency to be beneficial to our health and performance or not. We are in Alexander’s language relying on subconscious control and, in doing so, if our habitual manner of controlling ourselves interferes with our postural support, it will interfere with our breathing and therefore our vitality and our functioning generally - in this respect it is not constructive. The interference with our general functioning has many symptoms not least the sore necks and backs that bring so many people to Alexander’s work.

Constructive conscious control involves many things, not least becoming aware of our subconsciously learned habitual manner of controlling ourselves, in order that we can assess the implications of these early habits. We can then replace them with consciously learned habits if necessary, that do not interfere with our general functioning and vitality but rather enhance it. In this move to conscious control we get away from many of the negative aspects of control that people can be concerned about in terms of rigidity, tightness and worrying about the correct way we should do things. Conscious control brings with it a lightness, flexibility and a freedom, which allows for spontaneity. If we follow this path, many symptoms that bother us lessen or disappear - as our general functioning improves – we feel alive. We also find that we become more balanced and successful in performing skilled activities, whatever they maybe.

Amongst the great benefits of practising constructive conscious control is that it allows for constant successful adaption in terms of general functioning to changing circumstances including our ageing, so that we make the most of ourselves and the opportunities and possibilities that life and our current age offers us. So for a teenage musician it might be about instilling habits that will help them avoid career threatening injury as well as helping with the quality of performance. For someone older it may be about re-educating themselves out of habits of moving that are a major cause of their neck or back pain, or to improve their performance skills in a particular area. Or it might be to help prevent problems with movement from occurring as they get older. At any age it might be helping with the recovery and rehabilitation from illness including surgical operations. Or it might be looking at habits which are deeply psychological in terms of how we face and interact with others, which are important and need to be worked with at some point. We all face such challenges at different points in our lives and conscious control is a great help in meeting them. The earlier one starts in some senses the better, but no one is too old to learn if they want to feel more alive and make the most of the opportunities afforded to them.

I think I must have been twenty six when I went for my first Alexander Technique lesson. The primary reason for going then, as it is for many people, was to find help with a musculo-skeletal problem. In my case it was the sciatica that was at times crippling and limiting what I could hope to do with my life. While my progress was slow in developing the conscious control whereby I could live a full and active life, there were brief glimpses from the start of something different to what I was then experiencing. 

Those differences were not just in relation to my back, but in terms of being less stressed and these, along with the promise of conscious control, lured me further along the way that led me to train to teach Alexander’s Technique. Which has been a good decision and along that way, I have found that my reasons for travelling in that direction are reconstrued in the light of my ongoing experience, not least the ability of being able to live a full and active life, a possibility that seemed distant and was for my twenty-six-year old receding beyond the horizon.
One reason that has remained constant and comes ever more to the fore is using the Technique to adapt to changing circumstances whether they be physical, personal or political. 
Physical changes are present in our lives, whether we like it or not as we pass through the various stages of life from being an infant to childhood and beyond to the point where we start to fail and decline. There is a natural life cycle here which one sees in the way children choose to co-ordinate or use themselves, should that be given half a chance. Unfortunately, what they are faced with, whether it be school seating or small screens, distracts them from this journey into adulthood and they start to distort themselves into ‘distraction from distraction’ as TS Eliot put it and into end-gaining. Rare is the person who escapes this journey and does not need a practice of re-education, such as the Alexander Technique provides, to bring themselves back to themselves and the possibilities that are afforded to them from being present to their own unique arising and growth.

There are in this journey, times when we have to adapt to different levels and types of physicality for which Alexander Technique is most helpful in insuring that such transitions occur without injury and leave us more co-ordinated and integrated than before. Something I am very aware of having recently gone into a ten-day intensive dance retreat not dance fit and then having to readapt to a world where I have to find my freedom not in dancing but in sitting and writing. 
I am also aware of the importance of Alexander Technique to me in adapting to the changing world in which I live, where with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump old certainties are passing. As this old order passes and one waits with uncertainty in the unknownness of the new emerging order to find one’s way forward, I find it useful in avoiding too much ‘hostility’ with regard to changes I regret. ‘Hostility’ has a special meaning within Personal Construct Pyschology which Jonathan Raskin recently blogged about in Psychology Today.

‘Hostility’ is an attempt to ‘cook the books’ when our constructions of how the world is, or how we would like it to be, fails and we start trying to extort others into validating what has already failed in its predictive venture. We all do it at times but not necessarily on such a grand scale as President Trump and his inability to accept that the crowds at his inauguration were substantially less than at President Obama’s. It is easy to spot in others with regard to politics both here and across the Atlantic at the moment; the trick though is to see the beam in one’s own eye first. And, here it is back to basics, the basics of breathing and understanding one’s own position and that of the others that we disagree with. This is what allows politics to work with its inevitable compromises as people seek to work out what they have in common to move forward, despite their profound disagreements, rather than force others into their ways of being. The dialogue at this level, funded on courtesy is the basis of morality, at a more personal level the dialogue gives rise to ethics. Which ever level you are at, the important thing remains not to force your constructions on others but to stop, breathe and be curious about who you have in front of you.

Sunday, 18 December 2016 18:10

How to Have A Peaceful Holiday Season

With the holiday season fast approaching, three small but powerful and effective habits to work with, to help ensure a smoother time with friends and family, if things are getting a bit fraught and fractious.

1. Stop and breathe – breathing is highly recommended for everything, period. We need oxygen to function effectively and to remain calm. When we manage to calm ourselves, situations are less likely to get out of control.We are also more able to do the following:

2. Stand in the other person’s shoes. Where there are disagreements, our curiosity often fails us and we end up wanting to assert our own views and position rather than learn about the other person’s position and views. Standing in the other person's shoes does not mean you have to agree with them, it just means that you take the time to see the world from their vantage point. This is a practical form of acceptance and allows you to have a relationship with them based on respect and understanding.

3. Check out that you have understood the other person, to their satisfaction. And, don’t be afraid to ask someone to check out their understanding of your position, so that you both understand each other before getting into an argument. You might find it is not necessary and find it easier to identify both where you have things in common and where you have genuine differences that need to be resolved between you.

The first of these habits of stopping and being aware of one’s breath is of course central to the practice of conscious control using the Alexander Technique. One thing that strikes many new pupils is just how often they are going about their daily business holding their breath. Good self-management requires a practiced ability to stop and not just react; to come into breath and to use all of one’s intelligences to respond creatively and flexibly in each given situation. It also provides a solid foundation for developing our social awareness of being able to stand in another’s shoes. Without this ability, relationships tend to break down or fail to form adequately. It is central to my work as psychotherapist, with both individuals and couples, where the capacity to intentionally form and manage relationships rests on knowing who the other is, not in your world but in their world – only then do you accept them. Where relationships break down, the knowledge of who the other person is to themselves has often failed to develop, and if we want a relationship it is our job to be curious about who the other person is, especially if they are the person we have chosen to spend our lives with. And this brings me to the final habit, which is the one, more than any other that I invite couples to take away from couples therapy, which is to check out to the other person’s satisfaction that you have understood what their position is. There are all sorts of advantages to this not least in that if a person feels understood they are more likely to be able to listen to you. It also accords them a respect which is otherwise often missing and helps to prevent criticism which escalates into conflict and contempt which is toxic to relationships. It provides one of the important foundations for long lasting and nourishing relationships which are central to life and human flourishing.
All of the above are habits to be practiced. They are small-scale habits with profound long-term benefits for living well and can help reduce conflict and strife when things are getting bit a bit fraught and fractious over Christmas.


Friday, 25 November 2016 17:01

Getting Into Action

I started this blog back during the summer after a conference in Padua where I volunteered to organise the next European Personal Construct Psychology conference here in Edinburgh in 2018. I am coming back to it now, after a gap in blogging that has been too long. As a background it might not seem to augur well for a blog about getting into action and yet that is exactly what I have been doing. In that I have started an Apprenticeship in Movement Medicine, which is a conscious dance practice; put together the plan to bring the conference to Edinburgh; and prepared and delivered a training day for the Hampshire Counselling and Psychotherapy Association – which was in part about getting into action.

The blog has been there on my ‘to do’ list each week, only to get bumped to the next, as deadlines came and other priorities needed attention. Which is a familiar part of life for us all and involves prioritising and choice. Included amongst the choices is a choice of how we react, especially when there is a lot to do and we are in danger of, or actually become, overwhelmed.

That there is a choice there is sometimes missed and, if it is missed, we then lose the opportunity to grow and develop what Alexander would have called ‘constructive conscious control.’ This is the aim of his Technique and as a phrase is rather a mouthful and if approached too cognitively and intellectually misses the simple import of his work, which is that it is possible to gain control of our behaviour over time and channel our energies consciously in the direction we want to go in.

The use of the word control, for some people, including some Alexander Technique teachers can be off-putting, as it is often associated with forcibly making oneself do things by tensing up and discipline, which can be another problematical word for us, as it can also carry some pretty heavy connotations. Yet the essence of the work I do, both as an Alexander Technique teacher and as psychotherapist, is to help people put aside such habitual ways of being and acting towards themselves and to cultivate a ‘freedom in thought and action’ as Alexander put it, that allows them to be more fully themselves and to act as such.’

And ‘freedom in thought and action’ and therefore getting into action, is very much what psychotherapists are interested in, as the Existentialist psychotherapist Irvine Yalom has noted. Elsewhere he has written that the ‘mechanics of action’ are all too often missing from therapy trainings, and one of the strengths of Alexander’s work is the understanding of the ‘mechanics of action’ that it offers. This enhances my work as a psychotherapist. Which in turn, through my training in Personal Construct Psychology with its understanding of personal meanings, relationships and the roles we play, complements my Alexander training in helping people to become aware of their early habits of relating and moving. Habits which when unrecognised can lead to difficulties in personal relationships and musculo-skeletal pain, as they tighten up in anxiety and nervousness in an attempt to control their reactions. It was this part of my work that I presented in Hampshire, and as ever the necessity of knowing what to stop to allow ourselves to breathe and begin to see the possibilities of our way forward were highlighted as a first step in advancing along our way, whether our difficulties are with others or the mechanics of action. And learning how to do this for oneself is central to the Alexander Technique and the development of constructive conscious control for it is also central to any therapeutic endeavour, indeed any endeavour to get to know oneself and be fully oneself, alive and in action.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016 19:19

The Way To Language

'There is only endurance, and pain.’ So wrote John Aubrey in 1638 on being caned at school. His coping strategy was ‘to go to another place in my head: the bank of the brook at Easton Pierse, or the tree-lined riverbank at Broad Chalke, where I count the flowers and arrange their names in alphabetical order.' He adds: ‘I do not, I will not cry out. I am not in this scene; I am somewhere else, with the soothing sound of water running by.’ Of the violence repeatedly meted out to him, with its rhythm of blows he says: ‘It is the grammar and rhetoric of violence. A language I will not learn, though the whole school seems to speak it.’

He was twelve when he wrote this. The language is clear, as are the lessons learned of how to cope with the repeated and predictable violence of his school; by resisting crying out; by protecting himself, by going elsewhere in his head, distracting himself from what was happening in the present moment; of a strong and clear decision not learn the ways of violence that he was being subjected to.

It is the kind of story that therapists are wont to return to when they hear it. There is much rage and violence in the world of many different kinds that we are all subjected to. We are all also capable of violence; rage is hardwired in, but then so is love and we are all capable of that too. What matters is what we do with each, and John Aubrey made a clear decision of the kind children often do, of saying 'no' to something and therefore of saying 'yes' to something else, to other things, other interests already present in him. Other interests which form the basis of his later occupations as a gentleman scholar, collector of antiquities, early archaeologist and inventor of modern biography. These interests are already present in his surviving writings of this time collected by Ruth Scurr in an altogether fascinating biography of the man using his own words.

This saying of 'no' and then 'yes' is of as much interest to the psychotherapist, as the Alexander Technique teacher in me. There is an element in each practice, as in all practices of growth that allow for change, of saying 'no' to something, suspending or inhibiting being the professional words my practices have chosen to systematically use, in order to say 'yes' to something different to make our way forward, to have a full and on-going experience of living, and living as well as we can.

There is another matter here, one that first made me think of writing this blog, one that connects to my last blog and the Theatre of War, which I started to write about there. Which is that words can speak across centuries, in Aubrey’s case nearly five centuries, in Sophocles case 2500 years, with a clarity missing in the jargon of mental health and diagnosis. Both men found a way to language and to speak about what was unsayable in their experience and their culture. So it is in therapy, which is a way to language that allows someone to begin to name their experience, to speak about what was unspeakable at the time, which is invariably not without emotion, but allows them to face their history, their past which is intruding on the present, and curtailing their future. And in that place of facing their experience and finding breath, is where real speech about ourselves starts, and life can begin to course again. Alexander work is invaluable in helping to find the stillness to face the unfaceable and good therapy is an act of language finding together in conversation and autopoiesis is the end.

Tuesday, 02 August 2016 20:46

Anxiety and the Mechanics of Action

Looking online, what is most elaborated in articles about anxiety, are how it feels in terms of fear, nervousness, panic etc., the physiological underpinnings of this and the sorts of thoughts that accompany it. One feature of anxiety that can be overlooked is how much it is tied to our anticipations of what is happening or going to happen to us. Yet, from a Constructivist standpoint, this is exactly where we might best begin to understand it. For it is where our ability to anticipate breaks down, where things are beyond our current understanding, that we experience anxiety in terms of a loss of ease, fear, sometimes to the point of being frozen and unable to act. 

In the case of panic attacks, it is sometimes more useful to make sense of what is happening, not so much in terms of our anticipation failing us, but in our anticipation of an imminent threat to our existence. Which highlights one of the puzzling features of panic attacks for people that have them. It is that they often occur when there is no apparent palpable immediate threat – it just feels that way, people react that way. 

A simple behavioural change with both anxiety and panic attacks concerns learning to stop and control one’s breathing. Such a change requires a good working knowledge of the mechanics of action, whereby we co-ordinate ourselves in the act of living, which is something that Irvin Yalom, the Existentialist psychotherapist, has noted is often missing from psychotherapy trainings. It is, however, central to the Alexander Technique which teaches pupils about the mechanics of action and how to consciously co-ordinate themselves for any activity or situation, in a way that gives themselves the control to find poise and the ability to cope actively, and creatively with what they are facing. The Alexander Technique excels in this and is a powerful tool in developing the kind of stance on one’s personal history that is one of the best predictors of psychologically overcoming traumatic life events. What is also very much needed, if successful on-going change is to occur at the highest levels, are helpful ways of enquiring into core non-verbal ways anticipating ourselves and events, such as the ABC model, which I blogged about last time. 

These core non-verbal ways of anticipating life events are tied to the early habits we develop in order to depend on the people we grow up with. As such they are helpful to us as babies and children. Unrevised they will subvert us, as we will then seek to depend as adults on others, as we did as infants or children, which never ends well. Living continually demands of us that we answer and revise, from the moment we are born to the moment we die, the question of whom we can depend on and for what?

Living consciously allows us to answer that question more easily, as it continually reappears in our lives, revising our constructs, as we grow older in the arc of life. For this to happen we need to accept our anxiety, for what it is, a feature our understanding of our lives, that tells us we are uncertain as to what will happen and happen to us. How we construe that anxiety, the stance we take on it is, what is important from a psychological viewpoint for an active, meaningful and rewarding life.

Both practices that I work with, the Alexander Technique and Personal Construct Psychology, PCP, have different strengths that compliment each other in this. The Alexander Technique for its understanding of the mechanics of action and teaching of conscious control in the act of living; PCP as a psychology for living that facilitates the reconstruction that is continually necessary for us to feel alive in the adventure of life and its uncertainties.

Saint Augustine's famous prayer to God to help him 'become chaste, but not yet' captures some of the ambiguity and problems around change. We can desire it, long for it, yet struggle to achieve it. There are many ways to approach this and to understand it. This is the first of two blogs looking at it from a constructivist point of view. I’ll return to the Magic Time series in due course. 

One way of looking at understanding the implications a desired change might have is to explore the advantages and disadvantages of a move from a position or behaviour that is unwelcome to one that is desired. This can be done using the ABC model developed by Finn Tschudi which goes like this:

A. Defining the problem and the direction of movement, so you get two positions:
A1: The current undesired position
 A2: The desired position

B: Asking for the disadvantages of A1 and the advantages of A2, so you get:
B1: The disadvantages of the undesired position
 B2: The advantages of the desired position

C: Asking for the advantages of A1 and the disadvantages of A2, so you get:
C2: The advantages of the undesired position
C1: The disadvantages of the desired position

Going through the process oneself often highlights dilemmas around change that otherwise would escape one’s attention. Most often it is the disadvantages of the desired proposed new position or the advantages of the undesired old position that are not considered and where we trip ourselves up. At other times it can highlight that there are few if any advantages of the proposed change.

Here is a practical example from Finn’s original paper ‘Loaded and Honest Questions’, which can be found in New Perspectives in Personal Construct Psychology, edited by Don Bannister and published by Academic Press in 1977. It concerns money.

A1. can’t handle money 

A2. can handle money well

B1. 1. doesn’t get what one wants (squanders money)
      2. too carefree, “doesn’t give a damn”
      3. intense discomfort, stomach aches 

B2. 1. get things one wants

      2. keep control

      3. avoid discomfort

C2. avoids being boring, pedestrian, trivial, dropped out of the “rat race”, “the freedom of a child playing at the beach.”

C1. bourgeois, trivial, dull, sticks to the rules

The undesired position of not being able to handle money supports a core identity which is symbolised by the ‘freedom of a child playing at the beach’ which is contrasted with the disadvantages of being ‘trivial, dull and bourgeois'. It’s not hard to see why change might be difficult with handling money matters when what is also at stake for someone is whether they are ‘free as a child’ or ‘trivial and dull as a person.’

The ABC model can be used in any situation in life where change is being worked with, not just psychotherapy. So I use it sometimes with Alexander Technique pupils to help them understand difficulties they may be having in learning. So here is example from Alexander work, disguised to protect anonymity, where the desired position was to be free from back pain and to be able to stand comfortably.

A1: Back pain caused by tightening my neck and shortening in stature.

A2: Pain free with the neck freeing with a lengthening of the spine and back widening to create an overall expansion with the breath releasing.

B1. Sciatic pain, physical tightness, anxiety, breathing held, don’t feel good.

B2. Pain manageable, freedom of movement, happy in my own company.

C2. Can be self-absorbed

C1. Happy means I might have to engage with other people

The disadvantage of being free from back pain noted in C1, was significant in that this person when ‘happy in their own company’ and not self absorbed in their pain found that other people often wanted to engage with them which they found both unwanted and difficult. To realize their desire to be pain-free or at least to have manageable pain was to face their difficulties in relation to other people. Until we used the ABC model their dilemma was not clear to them. Once it became clear, they were able to find a way that suited them to keep everything working in order to be pain free and happy while handling the attentions of others.

 And it is the ability of the ABC model to highlight and clarify dilemmas that arise when we want to make a change that makes it such a powerful tool in finding our way forward.

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