History: where do ‘small safe experiments’ sit?

To be is to do: Jean-Paul Sartre (French philosopher)

To do is to be: Paulo Friere (S American radical Priest working in the mid 20th century)

Do-be-do-be-do: Frank Sinatra (um …. crooner)

As you can see, I am being frivolous as I look back over the history of my profession and to examine where I landed from time to time. If that makes me a butterfly, then so be it!

As this is a potted history – just my helicopter ride around the topic – I thought a light-hearted beginning would be best but I can mention a more serious review by Roderick Buchanan (2019), included in The Cambridge Handbook of the Intellectual History of Psychology, Cambridge University Press, pp.468-494.

This waiver permits me to focus on my own view and the more specific history of small, safe experiments. I’ll begin an account of these influences with a pointer to the neurologically-informed therapies of Stephen Porges, Bessel van der Kolk and Dan Siegel, to name just a few. Specialist training information from these individuals are available from internet resources such as NICABM and the PESI Institutes.

In addition, each person has their own website you can research; just follow their names!

My own work has been further informed by the ‘Attachment’ psycho-social therapies of Allan Schore. Understanding this core area requires an appreciation of the long ‘history‘. Too often there is a tendency to ignore the giants upon whose shoulders we are standing.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): I say more about this perspective as it is an approach to therapy, more than a theory to be learned. It shares with TA an ability to produce some interesting diagrams! This information does not appeal to all.

Compassion Therapy: again, I say more about this literature as it is another approach to therapy rather than a theory to be learned.

Mindfulness: I mention model with some reluctantly as it is in danger of falling into the same trap as Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) – becoming a ‘flavour of the decade’ – exploited by a number of people lacking the necessary knowledge and insight or training (see, I don’t dismiss training after all!). There is a ‘school’ of training called Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) but I would recommend the less demanding Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme. It is practical and requires a ‘sensible’ commitment from you (an eight week programme when I had a go.

I want to add a final, rather ‘old fashioned’ element to my ‘mix’: behaviour modification, and the Problem-Solving Therapy (PST) that emerged from it in the mid-20th century. Problem-Solving Therapy (PST) is a cognitive-behavioural intervention helping me to learn new skills and to change my attitudes. ‘Training’ focuses on fostering a positive attitude to problem-solving, as well as the development of the necessary skills. It was an important influence when I practised in the probation and social work services.

The dilemma this approach presents is its ‘nod’ to ‘helping’ clients, whilst still having firm ideas about what constitutes effective problem-solving skills. In so doing, this ‘school’ made the same error of some person-centred therapies;  both default to a set of ‘rules’ and values paying lip service to clients, whilst still quietly ‘telling’ them what to do!! There is a problem of ‘attitude’ here and using it in a social work setting highlights the issue.

Solution-focused therapy: this has been a central influence on me over the years.  There is a very useful introduction to the ‘five questions’ commonly employed in this model; questions that may  well help you design your own small, safe experiment.

My final mention is to credit Transactional Analysis (TA) with the largest impact on my thinking and practice. I say this as it is not so much the ‘information’ around TA that had an impact; its language and diagrams can put some people off. Also, some of it is dated and not easy to translate from its roots in the American West of the 1960’s.

The impact was more personal, it made me what I am today.

Return to:


What is a nudge

Designing a nudge

Looking over the scenic route

….. and looking out for the illusionary end-point

%d bloggers like this: