THE META MODEL
John Grinder and Richard Bandler (1975), inspired by Chomsky’s Transformational Grammar (from the field of linguistics) developed the idea of The Meta Model by modelling Fritz Perls’ and Virginia Satir’s use of powerful questioning techniques that elicited precise information from their patients.
In effect, the Meta Model is a means by which we can use language to clarify language, i.e. encourage our patients to become linguistically more precise.By Using Meta Model questions (challenges) we can move our patients communication patterns from Surface Structure (what is said) to Deep Structure (what is meant by what is said).
Patient: “My feelings are just not considered at all”
Therapist: “Who specifically doesn’t consider your feelings?”
Patient: “It’s impossible to cope”
Therapist” “What in particular is it impossible for you to cope with?”
Patient: “I need help”
Therapist: “What precisely do you need help with?”
Patient: “I feel bad”
Therapist “What does feeling bad mean to you?”
Patient: “The depression is getting me down”
Therapist: “How exactly are you feeling depressed?”
Patient: “I want to be better at coping”
Therapist: “Better than what?”
“Better in which way?”
Challenging self-imposed limits
These questions can be asked directly in the history taking so that you can begin to challenge the limits the patient has imposed on him or herself. They can also be worked into the therapy process in trance in an indirect way, e.g. ‘I wonder what would happen if you were to stay there and just notice the feelings you experience.’
Patient: “I can’t stay in the room when I begin to panic”
Therapist: “What would happen if you did?”
“Imagine you could, what would happen then?”
Patient: “I can’t relax”
Therapist: “What prevents you from relaxing?”
Patient: “It’s impossible to talk about it”
Therapist: “What prevents you from talking about it?”
Patient: “I must / I have to / I need to wash my hands three times before I eat”
Therapist: “What would happen if you didn’t?” or “What exactly makes that necessary?” or “Who says that you have to?” or “Suppose you did it four times?”
Patient: “He never tells me he loves me”
Therapist: “What, never?” or “Has there ever been a time when he has told you that he loves you?” or “In his way, how does he show you that he loves you?”
Patient: “She always says something disapproving about me”
Therapist: “What, always?”
These questions can be asked to challenge the patient’s perception of where responsibility rests.
Patient: “Every time he does that he irritates me”
Therapist: “How exactly do you allow him to irritate you?”
Patient” “The way he looks at me frightens me”
Therapist: “Tell me how you let yourself get frightened”
“At least he’s looking at you, not ignoring you”
Challenging “mind reading”
These questions can be asked to challenge assumptions made by the patient.
Patient: “I know what she was really thinking”
Therapist: “How do you know?”
“Suppose she told you she was thinking…?”
“Has anyone ever been mistaken about what you were thinking?”
Challenging opinions stated as general truths
These questions can be asked to challenge generalisations.
Patient: “Honesty is the most important thing in a relationship”
Therapist: “In whose opinion?”
“Who says so?”
“According to whom?”
GENERALISATION, DELETION AND DISTORTION
In communication, both within ourselves and with others, three general processes can be identified:
In themselves they are neither right nor wrong, they simply help us to cope with life. However, people often use these mechanisms in a way that is unhelpful or limiting.
Observation of a patient’s behaviour and language patterns allows you, the hypnotherapist, to identify the processes that may contribute to the development and maintenance of the presenting problem.
Often when discussing problems, people will frequently delete information or are vague and unspecific in their choice of words. By using Meta Model questioning the therapist can unravel the processes of Generalisation, Deletion, and Distortion.
Below are useful and limiting behavioural examples of these processes, as well as linguistic examples that you may encounter in the therapy room:
Generalisation A process whereby one example is taken as representative of all of its kind.
A child who scalds itself with boiling water from the kettle can make a useful generalisation that boiling kettles should not be touched.
Being late for dates causes relationship problems; therefore you learn to become (not obsessively!) punctual.
Those who learned not to cry when they hurt themselves as children sometimes over-generalise and learn never to express feelings in later life.
One frightening experience on a plane can lead to never flying again.
“Men shouldn’t cry”
“I never do anything right”
This is a process whereby we selectively pay attention to certain aspects of our experience whilst excluding others. Deletion reduces the world to proportions that we feel capable of handling. This reduction may be useful in some contexts yet confusing or painful in others:
A person using a mobile phone in a crowded place can ‘edit out’ the surrounding noise so that they can attend to the phone conversation.
After childbirth a mother can delete some of the more painful details of the experience whilst relishing the delight of the result.
Depressed patients can manage to exclude all happy experiences from their immediate consciousness and only remember the miserable ones.
Some people who feel themselves victimised in a relationship will often ‘delete’ their own provocative behaviour in the retelling of an incident or indeed ‘delete’ it from their own consciousness altogether.
“If only you knew what I am going through.”
“She’s a better person.”
The process whereby we misrepresent reality often by adding our own emotions, values & beliefs (e.g. exaggeration, fantasy) to the objective facts:
Creativity (e.g. Salvador Dali’s paintings).
Embroidering an anecdote for dramatic or amusing effect.
Adding a negative interpretation to our surroundings, e.g. a phobic will distort the reality of the threat presented by a phobic stimulus.
An anorexic patient will distort their own view of their body image.
“We don’t communicate.”
“I know he doesn’t care.”