freedom for life

The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Saint Augustine's famous prayer to God to help him 'become chaste, but not yet' captures some of the ambiguity and problems around change. We can desire it, long for it, yet struggle to achieve it. There are many ways to approach this and to understand it. This is the first of two blogs looking at it from a constructivist point of view. I’ll return to the Magic Time series in due course. 

One way of looking at understanding the implications a desired change might have is to explore the advantages and disadvantages of a move from a position or behaviour that is unwelcome to one that is desired. This can be done using the ABC model developed by Finn Tschudi which goes like this:

A. Defining the problem and the direction of movement, so you get two positions:
A1: The current undesired position
 A2: The desired position

B: Asking for the disadvantages of A1 and the advantages of A2, so you get:
B1: The disadvantages of the undesired position
 B2: The advantages of the desired position

C: Asking for the advantages of A1 and the disadvantages of A2, so you get:
C2: The advantages of the undesired position
C1: The disadvantages of the desired position

Going through the process oneself often highlights dilemmas around change that otherwise would escape one’s attention. Most often it is the disadvantages of the desired proposed new position or the advantages of the undesired old position that are not considered and where we trip ourselves up. At other times it can highlight that there are few if any advantages of the proposed change.

Here is a practical example from Finn’s original paper ‘Loaded and Honest Questions’, which can be found in New Perspectives in Personal Construct Psychology, edited by Don Bannister and published by Academic Press in 1977. It concerns money.

A1. can’t handle money 


A2. can handle money well

B1. 1. doesn’t get what one wants (squanders money)
      2. too carefree, “doesn’t give a damn”
      3. intense discomfort, stomach aches 


B2. 1. get things one wants

      2. keep control

      3. avoid discomfort

C2. avoids being boring, pedestrian, trivial, dropped out of the “rat race”, “the freedom of a child playing at the beach.”


C1. bourgeois, trivial, dull, sticks to the rules


The undesired position of not being able to handle money supports a core identity which is symbolised by the ‘freedom of a child playing at the beach’ which is contrasted with the disadvantages of being ‘trivial, dull and bourgeois'. It’s not hard to see why change might be difficult with handling money matters when what is also at stake for someone is whether they are ‘free as a child’ or ‘trivial and dull as a person.’

The ABC model can be used in any situation in life where change is being worked with, not just psychotherapy. So I use it sometimes with Alexander Technique pupils to help them understand difficulties they may be having in learning. So here is example from Alexander work, disguised to protect anonymity, where the desired position was to be free from back pain and to be able to stand comfortably.

A1: Back pain caused by tightening my neck and shortening in stature.

A2: Pain free with the neck freeing with a lengthening of the spine and back widening to create an overall expansion with the breath releasing.

B1. Sciatic pain, physical tightness, anxiety, breathing held, don’t feel good.

B2. Pain manageable, freedom of movement, happy in my own company.

C2. Can be self-absorbed

C1. Happy means I might have to engage with other people

The disadvantage of being free from back pain noted in C1, was significant in that this person when ‘happy in their own company’ and not self absorbed in their pain found that other people often wanted to engage with them which they found both unwanted and difficult. To realize their desire to be pain-free or at least to have manageable pain was to face their difficulties in relation to other people. Until we used the ABC model their dilemma was not clear to them. Once it became clear, they were able to find a way that suited them to keep everything working in order to be pain free and happy while handling the attentions of others.

 And it is the ability of the ABC model to highlight and clarify dilemmas that arise when we want to make a change that makes it such a powerful tool in finding our way forward.

Published in Lessons from the Chair