Power, Threat and Meaning

Several directions to consider

In 2017/18, a group of clinical psychologists started a debate about the increasingly frail system of mental health assessment – processes used to label emotional and psychological ‘problems’.

The rather lengthy commentary, entitled Power, Threat and Meaning, can be found via:


I mention their work as they question the tendency to label behaviour and to see our responses as ‘problems’ in the first place.  I want to offer a similar challenge here on my website; as an opportunity to review your life within the boundaries of your own …..


I want my own approach to focus on the safe experiments only you can design.

I would go as far as saying that the Framework improves on my own perspective by making the POWER issue even more explicit. The Framework highlights the social setting in which we seem obliged to operate.

The Framework reminds us that we have to fit in to the world of other people, even if we only fight against the pressure to do so.

Sometimes we are oppressed by other people and sometimes we do the oppressing. It helps to be clear about this less comfortable aspect of the world in which we live.

Whenever you review your Road Map and Genogram experiments, please keep in mind where you fit in to your community and how you are treated in that wider world. I say, keep in ‘mind’, as your community is part of your mind!!

Limits of any Framework

Any Framework  presents its own problems. It is still an attempt to explain what we do and where we fit in.  This website seeks to reverse that process by asking:  do you want to change and, if so, in what direction and, if so, how?

Rather than assume ‘a one size fits all’, my own approach assumes that you may fit in with the majority, or you may be in the minority or indeed, be a minority of one.

Other Frameworks and models seek to paint a picture of ‘Everyman’. I discuss some of them under Models informing Therapy.  Such Frameworks are destined to fail (and not simply because ‘Everyman’ is now a sexist word!).

That said, some people I know rather like a label as it can provides a starting point. It can become a focus for initiating change. However, in my experience, others have been known to use the label as an excuse for doing nothing, made easier when an ‘expert’ makes a pronouncement!

Some possible lines to follow

Can the Framework foster safe experiments and story-telling? Try this, for instance:

EXPERIMENT:  take a bit of paper and identify something current in your life – preferably a minor obstacle – and consider:

‘What happened to you [as you faced the obstacle]?’ (This may show how has Power operated in or on your life, e.g by a parent, teacher, manager or friend.

‘How did it affect you?’ Assuming the obstacle was a kind of Threat, what uncertainty did the outcome create in your life?.

What sense did you make of it?’  Elsewhere, I have said that humans may well be defined as meaning-making creatures. So what Meaning did you make out of the outcome you faced?

NB As a seemingly brief experiment, this may be more difficult to complete than is first obvious. Give yourself time, if needs be; put things down and come back to your results, if needs be.

When you review your notes and results, consider:
What did you do, or are you doing to survive [that obstacle]?’ This identifies the responses you are making to the Threat?

Using the SWOT analysis

It’s an experiment  that fits in to other elements on this web site. For instance, this framework picks up part of the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats):

‘What are your strengths?’ (What access to Power resources do you have?)

…and asks if these questions help you know….

….. how do you deal with Threats?

Can you turn threats into Opportunities?

The results may well fit into the matrix illustrated here, if it helps.

Image result for swot analysis template

Implications for the Script we ‘write’ about our life

These questions, and your answers, may help you construct some aspect of the story of your life (often called your ‘narrative’). In this web site, this ‘story’ is connected to the Script you have written for yourself on an unconscious level.

You can continue the experiment by considering:

‘What is your broader life story?’ and what changes, if any, do you want to make to that story and the way it is unfolding?.

It may help to return to your Road Map described early on in Ecograms and other Maps. This may help you develop your story from the various cross-roads emerging from your own road map.

Note how the Framework fits rather well into the cognitive behavioural models of change and the Transactional Analytic (TA) model, in particular.

Some key questions to consider when designing a safe experiment

If you want to continue the experiment, return to the TA questions.

Remind yourself about a current issue in your life, and ask:

What do you want (that is different)?

How will you get what you want (make it different)?

What stops you getting what you want?

Who or what do you need, in addition, now, to get what you want?

Such questions, in my view,  help us to move things forward, rather than simply label a condition. Too often health professionals spend time on what is known as ‘assessment’ in order to search out an appropriate label. It can do more than that: assessment collects ‘facts’ relevant to your life story so you can be  initiate change – get treatment, if you like.

Assessment, in my view,  is best regarded as helping YOU to tell your story. Change may not be possible until that story starts to be told.

The Framework – as adapted and summarised here – is well worth a more detailed examination. It questions assessment in its traditional form, and modern practice.

It may cast light on what you understand about your current circumstances.

Most importantly, it is an approach that invites you to start formulating your way forward, rather than waiting to be ‘told’!

Further lines of enquiry

How to give yourself a nudge

Doing safe experiments

Welcome to Find Your Nudge

Telling a different story

A pathway to change

The Scenic Route

A larger obstacle

An index of pages on Your Nudge

Published by Robin Trewartha

I am a semi-retired, Registered Counselling Psychologist working from Norfolk in the UK. My website is based on experience working as a therapist, supplemented by working in the Probation Service over ten years, in child protection for four years and Higher Education teaching for seven years. I continue to run my own private practice. The creativity of many clients - in developing safe experiments - has provided the backbone of what you will read.

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