Yes But, No But…

One of the very best books about human relationships is called “The Games People Play”. It was first published by Dr Eric Berne in 1964. Dr Berne called his method of doing psychotherapy Transactional Analysis. It was enormously popular in the United States. Unlike most books about psychotherapy he became a best-seller. It is not surprising. You don’t have to know anything about psychology to read it. It is hilariously funny and at the same time very serious. It is amazing that his method has not become the most popular in Great Britain.

It is all about the devices we humans dream up to get our own way. We are all vulnerable to flattery though some of us are more so than others. If we want to get good results as a psychotherapist we need to know how to deal with all kinds of strategies that our clients try out on us. Here are two examples:

“Gee you’re wonderful professor!” Years ago when I was a bookseller and spent many happy week-ends with a group of friends in hotels in different cities in the UK looking for books and selling my own. I was very popular. I was always being asked to go for coffee with my male colleagues. A new friend was sardonically watching me. He said “Why does everyone like you? Haven’t you got any enemies?” Needless to say I didn’t know what to say. I was dumbstruck.

“Why does this happen?” I said. “Because you have a halo round your head and on it is written in large letters ‘MOTHER’.” Just what many men and women are looking for: only they don’t realise it. Nor did I.

I remembered what he said. I didn’t like everybody and I ought to behave accordingly. I soon collected a few enemies. I felt better. Thirty years on he is now an old friend.

When I began my work as a therapist I met several clients who responded to me as my bookseller friends did. But I knew what to do to take the attention away from me and get them to do the work for themselves.

After the first few visits, some clients, both men and women said “I love working with you. I can’t wait for the days to pass so I can come again.” This is an example of “Gee you’re wonderful professor!” It is vital that a therapist must deal with this, or you would never get anywhere with such a person. My response was “Don’t you believe it!” Once we got down to serious work some stopped coming early and a few stopped putting me on a pedestal, learned to take care of themselves and didn’t need Mummy any more.

The second example is “Yes but”. It is commonplace in psychotherapy. One client had been to me for 4/5 sessions. Usually people will take up something each time, go away and think about it.

There are people, believe it or not, who pay good money to psychotherapists to prove them wrong. This one went back to the beginning every time. When we got to the sixth session I challenged him. “You don’t really want to change, do you?”

“Yes I do!” So I went on offering him some alternatives, as I had done before and every time he rejected it with the words “Yes but”. Then I stopped. “I’m feeling very frustrated” I said. “Why should you feel frustrated? All you’ve got to do is sit and listen” he said. I replied “Let’s switch roles. You’re Jean and I’m you.” He found it very difficult. ”Go on then. You must know by now what I say.” So he started off and every time he made a suggestion I said “Yes but”. I could see he was getting angrier and angrier. At last I said “How do you feel?” “Very frustrated.” “Now you know that’s how I feel when someone says “yes but” over and over again.” He didn’t come back, to my relief. You can’t force people to respond. He wasn’t ready to face his problems. At least he had learned something about how other people feel.

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