A recent exchange made me think more about the way change works. Elsewhere I have already mentioned models of change – but I want to say more about the work of Virginia Satir as well as touch on Systems Thinking.
Why might this page help design effective safe experiments? Experiments are the steps taken along a route toward change – the journey from an old normal, to today’s normal and toward tomorrow’s new normal?
That said, there is one important issue to mention about that journey. In the world of therapy, much is made of walking alongside some-one as they make that journey and create change. This attitude, it seems to me, seeks to ensure therapists’ do not take the lead in that journey. This is a sound principle, but one that is easier said than done. Saying it – or wanting it – does not make it so.
Us therapists, like the training that shapes us, are still influenced by our own world view. Observers alter what is seen. Often this inevitability is not obvious in our daily practice but I contend that we are at our most dangerous when we only talk the talk – and omit to walk the walk. Models of change can warn us about that.
The consequence of any lack of action to counter our biases is a persistent, if implicit, tendency to focus on what happens to ‘clients’ based on an interpretation of what is ‘happening’. Who makes that interpretation? Too often it is the professional, not the person experiencing the change.
Safe experiments to promote change are there only to help inform any person shape the jourmey they want to take. As I have said elsewhere, this is not simply being ‘client-centred’; experimentation is an active process of delegating research and learning to the person wanting to do the work, and trusting that it will happen one way or another – their way (with a passing reference to Frank Sinatra, if I may!).
This is an active process and a therapist has an important role in educating adults. The core conditions of the person-centred model are necessary, but not sufficient. Safe experimenting involves intervention, not instruction. It requires a commitment to the ways of adult learning.
Let’s look at the some of the change models and how they can help the design of safe experiments. Below, I am including two ways of explaining Virginia Satir’s view of the change process. Notice how old and new normal is labelled old and new ‘status quo’.
…. and another way to see it
Now, I include Prochaska and Diclemente’s model of change as a helpful addition.
Their view of the move from ‘contemplation’ to ‘preparation’ and into ‘action’ tells us more about Satir’s passing reference to ‘resistance’. Prochaka and DiClemente focus more on the processes of change involved and they remove the implicitly judgmental language. In effect, they notice the faltering and cautious ‘try and try again’ nature of human activity (labelled ‘relapse’ in the diagram).
This cautiousness is sometimes referred to as the “conservative impulse“. It is a central feature of change – one in which small defeats are gradually replaced by small victories. In due time, possibly in a flash, those victories can lead to insight – a sudden revelation – the “transforming idea” recognised in most models of change. Such insights be seen as ‘big victories’, but they are not the big prize. Small moves, back and forth. can still get there.
If you want a challenge, then Thomas Kuhn’s book on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, is essential, if difficult reading. It has been describes as the most influential treatise ever written on how science does (or does not) proceed.
Put this all together, and the outcomes demonstrate the power of systems thinking. Simply put, systems thinking operates on the maxim that the ‘whole is more than the sum of its parts’ but those parts are needed to create a whole.
Transformation arises when I am able to fly in my helicopter and see the big picture, but I cannot do that until I have obtained my pilot’s licence. That takes a lot of effort – unromantic and painstaking – yet essential to any successful outcome.