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Two Types of Therapy

The trouble with all our rationally-derived therapies is that they have all been put together by what we might call ‘adapted game players’. Being an adapted game player means that – for us – the game doesn’t exist. It means that – as far as we’re concerned, at least – we aren’t playing a game. It means that we’re ‘unconscious’ of what we’re doing. We don’t see that there is a game (and that we’re playing it) because we’re so very good at playing it!


It’s hard enough to see the game when we aren’t 100% adapted to it, never mind when we’re so adapted to it that it defines everything about us! So even when we’re not very good at playing the game we still don’t tend to see it. All that generally tends to happen in this case is that we ‘internalize the blame’ for not being good at playing it – we feel bad about ourselves because we can’t play it so well. We get to have low self-esteem about it. We think that there is something inherently wrong with us (in our essence) rather than seeing that there is this game that everyone is playing (without seeing that they are playing it) and that we aren’t – for whatever reason – very good at playing it. Because we are taking the game for granted therefore, as everyone else is, we can only assume that the problem lies with us…


This isn’t just what we as unadapted (or partially adapted) game players think – it’s what everybody else thinks too. Everyone else thinks that the problem is with us, as well! That’s why rational therapies are devised – to help us overcome our problems, to help us get better at playing the game that no admits to playing! There is of course nothing wrong with us wanting to be better at playing the game, or with the other game-players trying to help us to get better at playing the game (if we want their help in this regard, that is). The point is however that what’s going on isn’t being presented in this way. Everything is being understood on a totally false basis – the basis in question being that the game isn’t the game!


For the adapted game player the idea that he or she is ‘playing a game’ is flatly incomprehensible. As we have said, for the adapted game player there is no game, there is only ‘how things are’ and this ‘way that things are’ is – by definition – not at all arbitrary, not at all ‘decided by us’. Between a position that is ‘arbitrary-but-not-seen-as-arbitrary’ and a position that is arbitrary (or ‘playful’) and explicitly seen as such there is a whole world of difference. There couldn’t be a bigger difference. One way we’re conscious and we’re admitting to ourselves what we’re doing and the other way we’re unconscious and we’re playing a game without admitting to ourselves that we are. One way we’re living in the real world, the other way we’re living in ‘the world of unconsciousness’.


“But what about positions that aren’t arbitrary?” we might object. “Why hasn’t this possibility been mentioned? What if our position, our standpoint, happens to be the right one?” The answer to this is of course that there are no such positions. That’s like asking “But what about beliefs that are true beliefs?” There are no ‘true beliefs’! Believing in something is a choice we make without admitting that we have made it. If something really were true then we wouldn’t have to make such a song and dance about believing it! We wouldn’t have to go around beating the drum so much. We wouldn’t have to beat the drum at all. There is no such thing as a ‘true belief’ – there are only propositions that we choose to agree with, positions that we choose to align ourselves with, systems that we choose to adapt ourselves to. If we can’t see this then we can’t see anything! If we can’t see this then we’re lost in the world of unconsciousness…


This is what ‘unconsciousness’ (in the sense that we are using the term) means – it means that we have chosen to accept a certain position, a certain standpoint, as ‘the way things are’, and then hot on the heels of this decision we have also chosen not to see that we have made this choice. We have aligned or adapted ourselves to the rules of the game and – at one and the same time – we have made ourselves blind to the fact that it is only a game. We’ve carried out a manoeuvre that we’re not admitting to – a manoeuvre that we will swear blind (on as many Bibles or other Holy Books as you like) that we know nothing about. We will protest our innocence to the last.


This is a ubiquitous manoeuvre – adaptation to an arbitrary set of rules followed by the denial that the rules in question were arbitrary is what we all do, all of the time. It is instinctive to us. It is a very deep reflex. The reflex is ‘playing a game and saying that we are not playing a game’. This is what James Carse means when he says that a finite game player necessarily has to veil from him / herself the freedom that they have to not to have to play that game in the first place. This ‘intrinsic freedom’ (the freedom that we have not to play the game) is denied on a very thorough-going basis. This freedom does not exist as far as we are concerned – it has been squashed, it has been swept under the carpet…


This denial of our intrinsic freedom is where the inherent ‘dishonesty’ or ‘lack of integrity’ of all rational therapies comes from. The key assumption that all rational therapies (all those therapies which come out of our normal, everyday type of thinking) are based on is that there isn’t such a thing as ‘the freedom not to play the game’. How can there be such a thing as ‘the freedom not to play the game’ when we can’t see that there is a game? When we are 100% adapted to the game (so that the game becomes invisible) our situation becomes neatly reversed so that instead of intrinsic freedom (which is the freedom we have not to have to play the game) we have extrinsic freedom (which is the “freedom” to ‘obey the rules of the game’). Extrinsic freedom – when it comes down to it – is actually slavery in disguise. It is what John G Bennett calls negative freedom, which is ‘the freedom not to be free’ (or ‘the freedom to be unfree without seeing that we are unfree’). It is the freedom to be in prison without realizing it.


Negative freedom is backwards freedom – it is ‘freedom-in-reverse’. This parodic version of freedom is however so very normal to us, so very familiar that we can’t see it as a ‘reversed’ or ‘inverted’ form of freedom at all. It acts as a substitute for genuine freedom and so as soon as we accept the substitute we become incapable of seeing that we have lost the anything. We operate on this basis instead. We operate on the basis of false freedom. The fact that the genuine article has been effectively substituted for means that we are none the wiser about the switch – we don’t know that it has taken place, we don’t know that anything is missing. We don’t know that we’re lacking in the most important thing of all. We think we’re still free. So when we talk about ‘freedom’ what we mean is ‘the freedom to realize our goals’ (or ‘the freedom to do whatever we want to do’) and we can’t see that this is actually a reverse or antithetical form of freedom. We can’t see that this is actually the antithesis of true freedom (true freedom being, as we have said, the freedom not to have to play the game in the first place). We can’t see the parody.


Here I am, sweating and straining to obtain my designated goal, bursting myself to reach the nominated target, and this effort I see as an expression of my true volition. If I manage to obtain my goal then this will be ‘the greatest thing in the world’, this will be – to me – the sweetest fruit of all. I have successfully done what I wanted to do. Everyone wants to ‘succeed’. But we only need to look into this for a moment or two to see the glaring flaw in the argument. The flaw in the argument is visible in the way that I always say I ‘have’ to obtain the goal, or that it’s ‘not acceptable’ if I don’t achieve the goal. What this clearly shows is that my motivational system is predicated upon the lack of freedom rather than the actual presence of it. The whole thing about a goal is that I’m not free not to strive for it!  This is like winning in a game – the whole thing about winning is that we’re not free not to win! This essential lack of freedom is what makes a game a game. This is what James Carse’s ‘self-veiling’ is all about – we play because we’re compelled to, we strive to win because we’re not free to do otherwise…


This is what the world of negative freedom (which is the world of unconsciousness) is predicated upon – disguised compulsion. We ‘go along with the compulsion’ because we have to, we go along with it because the penalty for not doing so is too great. We align ourselves with it. We identify with the compulsion – I say to myself that what the compulsion wants me to do is what I want to do, and that way I avoid the conflict! I say “I want this!” or “I want that!” but that’s not true at all. I’m not the master of the house, the wanting is, the compulsion is. I’m just the puppet. If we wanted to see the truth of this then all we’d have to do is pay attention to what happens when I don’t manage to obtain the goal, when I don’t manage to get what I want.  What happens in this case is that I get punished. I’m not allowed not to obtain the goal, I’m not allowed to fail, and so when this happens I get penalized. When this happens I get to feel the full force of the lash – I get to have my ass well and truly kicked!


The feeling of being ‘a failure’ – which is of course a feeling that we’re all familiar with – is the feeling of being in a situation which we’re simply not allowed to be in. Failing is bad, bad, bad. The whole point of ‘failure’ is that there’s nothing good about it, nothing palatable about it, nothing acceptable about it. Its failure and that’s all we need to know about it. This is a very black-and-white kind of a thing – either you get it right or you get it wrong and that’s all there is to say about it. There is no sense that failing is in anyway ‘OK’. There is no way in which are can allowed to ‘let ourselves off the hook’ for having failed in the way that we have done. That’s why we have said that it is punishing not to get it right – it is punishing, punishing, punishing all the way. It’s a wall of punishing. There’s no let up. There’s never going to be any let up. It’s simply ‘not OK’ to fail and that’s all there is to it!


The reason we’re making such a point of saying this and going over it so many times is to show that what we’re talking about here (this whole black-and-white win/lose thing) is synonymous with what we have been calling extrinsic freedom. It’s the same thing. This utter lack of leeway is what extrinsic freedom is all about – extrinsic freedom is freedom with all the freedom taken out of it! There’s no tolerance for anything other than what has been stipulated. Extrinsic freedom is a rule and the only thing a rule allows is for us to go along with it, for us to unquestioningly obey it. Extrinsic freedom is thus a ‘determinate structure’ that we have elected to have absolute power over us, absolute authority over us. We’ve handed over our freedom to it and so now we are dancing to its tune, so now we’re marching to its drum beat. How we feel is entirely up to the external authority – it will reward us if we ‘get it right’ and punish us if we ‘get it wrong’ and so all we can do is try our very best to obey it…


Extrinsic freedom is ‘the game that we have adapted ourselves to’ and when we are adapted to it (when we’ve handed over all our freedom to it) this means, as we keep saying, that we can’t see that it’s a game. This becomes the one thing that we can never see. To see that that our way of understanding reality is only a game would be to see the inherent freedom in it and if we could see the inherent freedom that we have in the game then there would be no more game.


We can therefore say that there are two distinct types of therapy – one is the type that we invent when we take the rules of the game seriously, as if they are not just ‘the rules of the game’ (i.e. when we ‘play the game without being able to see that we are doing so’), and the other is the type that naturally arises when we see that we are playing a game, and no longer take the game-rules seriously. We no longer take the rules seriously because we realize that the rules are only rules because we have freely agreed to see them as such. When we see that we have freedom to play or not to play then winning and losing no longer have the same meaning for us that they used to have. We no longer define ourselves in terms of whether we are succeeding at the game or not. We are neither motivated by desire at the thought of being rewarded by ‘success’ nor by fear and dread at the threat of being punished for ‘failure’. We are in other words free from the game, we are independent from it. We’re bigger than the game.


A ‘positive outcome’ in game therapy (which by its nature never sees itself to be a ‘game therapy’) is therefore the ability to successfully obey the rules of the game (which we don’t of course acknowledge as being merely ‘the rules of the game’). When we can play the game as everyone else ca) then we feel good – we feel good because we are successfully adapted and this feeling of successfully ‘fitting in’ is our ‘reward’. This however means that there must also be a punishment if we don’t do well in the therapy, if we don’t meet the goals of the therapy, even though the game therapist will not acknowledge that there is such a thing as punishment for not succeeding. Game therapy is however simply an extension of extrinsic freedom (it’s another game) and for this reason there has to be a punishment, there has to be ‘blame’ if we do not succeed within the terms of the therapy. We may deny that there is any blame attached to failure in therapy but the truth is that it is always there on some level or other. Punishment can’t not be there, given the nature of extrinsic freedom, given the nature of games, given the nature of the ‘inverted motivation’ that is driving us. There is ALWAYS ‘OK versus not-OK’ in extrinsic freedom and if we buy into the ‘OK’ that means that we must equally buy into the ‘not OK’… There is no way around this!


Non-game therapy, on the other hand, has no therapeutic goals and no rules (or protocols) to be obeyed. There are no goals, no rules in non-game therapy because ‘whatever way you are that is OK’. In non-game therapy everything is allowed – there is no way ever to be in a place that is not OK! There is no situation that is not allowed. And even if we can’t see that ‘it’s OK to be not OK’, even if we can’t see that all situations are allowed (which is of course usually how we are) this too is perfectly OK…


What this means is that what we’re calling ‘non-game therapy’ is actually just another way of talking about reality. That’s what reality is like – reality is All-Accepting. Reality rejects nothing. ‘Non-game therapy’ is thus just another name for reality and ‘reality’ is just another name for intrinsic freedom

Author: Nick Williams

Nick Williams works and writes in the field of mental health and is particularly interested in non-equilibrium states of consciousness, which are states of mind that cannot be validated by standardized experiments or by reference to any formal theoretical perspective.

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