The term, “psychological tricks” unleashes all kinds of indignant thoughts about the psychology profession; in fact, it sounds downright evil and fraudulent. What kind of professional practitioner would use trickery in treatment of psychological disorders?
No, we’re not talking here about the deceitful type of trickery like malpractice or quackery. That definition of fraudulent or unethical psychological trickery calls for filing official complaints, reporting fraud and exposing the perpetrators.
However, these mind tricks have other meanings.
There is psychological trickery afoot today that is helpful to family members and patients. One kind of trick that can work to alleviate problems through paradoxical intention and dereflection is called symptom-prescription.
Viktor Frankl, (1905-1997) offers this the technique of symptom-prescription in dealing with the problem of insomnia; he says, instead of trying to go to sleep, get up and walk around. Make a conscious effort to stay awake, in fact try very hard to stay awake, and you’ll find yourself sleepy quite soon.
By employing the symptom-prescription method, Rian McMullin, a cognitive psychologist says that even behaviors such as obsessive-compulsive disorder can see improvement. The story is told of how he used the method with compulsive hand washers. He told his patients to wash their hands even more frequently than they felt compelled to wash. The result was: “Over time, they managed to exert conscious control over the behavior and then reduce it.”
The thrust of symptom prescription is to direct the patients’ attention to doing more, and not less of whatever is causing the problem. Some people generally call this method, reverse psychology.
Obviously, self-destructive behaviors would not be a good fit for this method of therapy, but in certain behaviors, it accomplishes relief from worry, causes behavioral changes and gives beneficial and desired results.
Dereflection is the act of removing the attention from oneself and placing it on the needs of others. Sometimes the “self” problem will disappear with this method. In this example, Frankl used an example of a male sexual problem. The husband was instructed to concentrate on satisfying his wife only, and not to worry about his own satisfaction. Soon, he was enjoying healthy sex again without the worrying problems of achieving orgasm.
Viktor Frankl was a physician, neurologist and a psychologist who survived three years in several Nazi concentration camps. He developed logotherapy, a form of therapy that held to the idea that there was meaning and ultimate purpose to life.