18. Question the Premises - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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18. Question the Premises

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Out Monkey Trap- Breaking Cycles Rel

Out of the Monkey Trap, Breaking Negative Cycles for Relationships and Therapy
by Ronald Mah

There are several key principles from strategic theory or therapy for the therapist to consider.  Questioning the premises is a gentle way to point individuals, couples, and families to the underlying rules and bases to their behavior, especially to how they restrict themselves.  It has similarities to insight-oriented therapy but is more indirect.  Questioning the premises comes from Milan Family Therapy branch of strategic therapy.  Milan Family Therapy as it has evolved incorporated the "…impact of constructivism and social constructionism, which led to the view that the therapist was not tracking down a 'truth' about family relationships or underlying dynamic processes, but rather she was constructing many 'truths' through the interactive conversation with the family.  Hypothesizing, instead of being seen as a chance to speculate 'what was really going on', became an opportunity to discuss a range of ideas in order to stimulate the therapist's ability to engage in an interactive and therapeutic conversation" (Campbell, 1999, page 77).  For example, the therapist may recognize that an individual restricts him or herself from dealing with anger because of a family rule of silence regarding one member's alcoholism.  A direct question would be, "Can you talk about his or her drinking?"  Or, the therapist may offer an interpretation such as "It looks like you're not supposed to talk about his or her drinking."  A more circumspect approach would be for the therapist to ask, "Would it be OK to tell your partner you don't like something?"  While the client may respond directly to the question, saying "no" and then expanding on it, the true purpose of the intervention has already been introduced.  Perhaps the client can break the code of silence, something he or she may have never considered before.  The therapist continues probing the rule of silence.  "Are there things you see your partner do that you are uncomfortable with?"  "How does it feel?"  "Is it hard to say something?" "What can you do?  What do you do?"  The therapist has to use his or her judgment with these gentle probing questions versus more direct feedback.  With skillful interaction, the "truths" that Campbell speaks of can be constructed and revealed.  And, sometimes they may be adjusted such that a cycle of dysfunction can be broken.

The cycle of dysfunction may be broken at its foundation- the premises underlying the triggering interpretations, perceptions, values and cognitions.  Or, since as the graph illustrates each premise or conclusion leads to a subsequent implicit premise leading inexorably to a final conclusion.  The following series of premises or assertions are linked together in a chain of false or questionable logic.  If any single link in the chain of logic is weak, the therapist should bring it into question.  For example, Silvio thinks that Jody working outside the house is insulting to him based on the following series of premises:

A --> B: Silvio believes that good spouse should cooperate with each other.

B --> C: Jody, his wife should cooperate with him and not work outside of the house.

C --> D: Jody should want to cooperate with Silvio and not work outside of the house.

D --> E: Jody should not want to work outside the house.  

Therefore A --> E:  Silvio believes Jody wanting to work outside the house means she's not a good spouse and is rejecting him.

Each of the first premises (A, B, C, and D) are held as absolute truths which would make logical the connection from the first premise to the concluding premise.  An individual, couple, or family often holds "truths" to be self-evident, when in fact they may be fallacies or require nuanced reconsideration.  The therapist can question any of the premises.  If any individual finds any one of the premises to be questionable, then the conclusion may be withdrawn.  Previously asserted and unquestioned conclusions may have been why the relationship had been stuck for years.  Questioning the premises may free the individual, couple, or family to find alternative healthier relationship processes.

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3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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