reframe or re-define the "symptom-carrier's" problem behavior into a
positive, desirable trait and then recommend changing the way the
family interacts. For example, if one child develops very weird
mannerisms, the therapists may say this is the child's way of holding
the family together and preventing the mother and father from fighting
and divorcing. Then, the child may be asked to try even harder to
show his concern and love for the family by having more mannerisms.
The rest of the family is asked to recognize and show their
appreciation for these "signs of love."
Paradoxes are common in ancient Chinese writings: to get what
you want, you must accept whatever happens and continue on your
Yield and you need not break:
Bent you can straighten,
Emptied you can hold,
Torn you can mend. -Lao Tzu, 300 B.C.
By yielding you can overcome force; goals striven for mightily,
such as happiness, are rarely achieved; thus, the wise person desires
Likewise, the Bible speaks of paradoxes--the meek shall inherit the
earth. Those who want to be first, shall be last. Viktor Frankl (1962,
1985), founder of Logotherapy, was one of the first to explicitly use
paradoxical intention therapeutically. Actually some form of paradox is
involved in many therapies: cognitive-behaviorists (challenge the
irrational thinking), Gestaltist (go look for the opposite feeling),
hypnotherapists (tell the client to freely rebel against the suggestions),
family therapists and others (tell an overprotective mother that her
major task will be to teach the child that he doesn't need her).
Both paradoxical intention and symptom prescription work
sometimes. But it is not known how these paradoxical techniques
work. Perhaps, by learning you can increase the symptom, the
unwanted behavior, you come to feel more in control. Then you can
give up the symptom. Perhaps, by exaggerating the unwanted
behavior, you learn it isn't so bad to blush, to stutter, to feel a little
afraid, to have a dirty house, etc. Perhaps, when you are spending half
your day doing some useless activity, you realize how ridiculous it is.
Perhaps, by seeing the contradictions and the situation differently, one
can find a new, more acceptable solution to a problem. Perhaps,
striving to increase the unwanted behavior just confuses the rebellious
"little devil" inside. Perhaps, symptom prescription is merely extinction
via satiation, fatigue, response inhibition or punishment.