Paradoxical Intention Techniques and Changing

26 April, 2020
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Viktor Frankl, the father of logotherapy, proposed paradoxical intention techniques. Their goal is to mitigate the suffering caused by certain behaviors through humor and contradiction.

A paradox configures two mutually exclusive elements coexist. Even though it may not seem like it, human beings constantly move within the paradoxical framework at first sight. A person may love and hate the same person at the same time, for example.

On a therapeutic level, the techniques of paradoxical intention may lead people to analyze their problems following an apparently contradictory logic. According to various studies, these techniques are very effective. However, they require skill and experience on the part of the therapist. Continue reading to discover what they’re about in more detail.

Paradoxical intention techniques and dealing with fear

Viktor Frankl noted that the main goal of paradoxical intention techniques was to dampen patients’ individual fears. According to his perspective, one must replace a pathological fear with a paradoxical intention or desire. In addition, this basically applies to those who suffer from severe anxiety. In that case, the person doesn’t have a specific fear but, instead, fears fear itself.

That pathological fear leads to blockage. Also, the person fears failure in what they want to achieve and obsessively thinks about that fear, which lead to failure. This creates a vicious cycle they can break with paradoxical intention techniques.

Thus, what paradoxical intention seeks is for a patient to learn to like what they fear. For example, a stuttering person may be asked to stutter as much as possible. The therapist should tell them to do it in front of others and ask them to stop only when they make everyone laugh. Paradoxically, this may help them stop stuttering.

A frightened woman.

Paradoxical intention techniques

The first thing someone who works with the paradoxical intention of overcoming a problem must do is stop their desire to control or change their symptoms. Rather, the therapist must encourage them to deliberately let them manifest and, if possible, exaggerate them. It’s very important for the patient to give up their desire to control what happens to them and be willing to worsen their symptoms.

The next step is to apply paradoxical intention techniques, which are basically the following:

  • Symptom prescription. This is the most common procedure. The patient must voluntarily provoke their symptoms. This also applies to people who say they have no control over any aspect of their lives.
  • Paradoxical restriction and containment of change. It consists of forbidding all behaviors that lead to change or improvement and offering a pessimistic perspective. This is good for people with blockages.
  • Posture change. It consists of taking an absolutely catastrophic reading of the patient, exaggerating their problems and defects. This technique is perfect for those who complain a lot or are challenging.
  • Relapse scheduling. Here, the therapist must induce the patient to voluntarily relapse into the behavior they wish to eradicate. It seeks to eliminate the idea that the patient can control their circumstances.
  • Confusion and interference. It consists of the therapist expressing themselves in a confused and disordered manner when the patient partially and confusingly talks about their problems. This encourages them to be more accurate in describing what happens to them.
  • The anticipation of results and patient utilization. This consists of determining the sequence of the problematic behavior through self-records and exaggerating the difficulties that the patient will have to be able to alter that sequence.
A woman in therapy.

The effectiveness of the techniques

Paradoxical intention techniques are basically indicated for those who have a high expectation of failure against what they propose or a low capacity to recognize their resources to face difficulties. Mainly those with large obsessive burdens or phobias they can’t resolve and that, in both cases, generate a lot of anguish.

In practice, these techniques have been found to be quite effective. However, the exact reasons why this occurs are still unknown. Thus, there’s still a lack of understanding regarding the effectiveness of these mechanisms.

An illustration with butterfly-shaped mills.

Paradoxical intention techniques are used in different types of therapies. The main difficulty is that they require the therapist to be very skilled. If this isn’t the case, the patient will end up perceiving these techniques as an ordinary manipulation they don’t want to be a part of.