Pathogenic and therapeutic aspects of double bind


  • Nodar Belkania Tbilisi State University


double bind, Pathogenic aspects, therapeutic aspects


A common form of paradoxical behavior in interpersonal relationships is double bind, which was first described scientifically by Gregory Bateson and his associates, who based on their analysis established a theory of double bind. In interpersonal communication, the person sending the message is called the transmitter and the person receiving the message is called the receiver. Communication can be verbal or nonverbal. Every verbal communication always has a nonverbal component. As a rule, the nonverbal component follows the verbal one, i.e., is coherent with it: When we verbally express a pleasure, we do the same nonverbally. But we can also say something sad with a smiling face. When verbal and non-verbal aspects of the message coincide, it is called the congruent, when they diverge or contradict each other - the incongruent message. A special form of incongruent messages is double binding, which only occurs in close interpersonal relationships. For example, if a friend is sad and I ask him, "Is something wrong with you?" and he answers, "Everything is fine!", that can become a problem in the relationship. Double bind is especially difficult for the receiver who is factually or emotionally dependent on the transmitter.      In case of double bond, the transmitter has psychological advantage: he controls the situation himself and in case of emergency he can back out. The receiver is psychologically disadvantaged, because he does not know what to do. The effect of double bind and paradoxical behavior on human psyche and interpersonal relationships, as mentioned above, first studied by G. Bateson and his associates.[1] They put forward a new theory of schizophrenia according to which schizophrenic behavior could be caused by certain communicative structures, which they described as the phenomenon of double bind. Although the later empirical researches did not confirm their theory, the influence of their theory on psychotherapy was significant.      However, psychotherapists soon realized that double bind as a technique can also have therapeutic effects. The founder of logotherapy, Viktor Frankl deserves credit for applying paradoxical behavior as a systematic method for therapeutic purposes.[2]  He introduced into psychotherapy the method of paradoxical intention. Although paradoxical behavior as a therapeutic technique was known before him. Frankl used paradoxical intention to treat patients with anxiety neuroses, obsessive-compulsive neuroses and other pathogenic reaction patterns.      Special attention to the therapeutic aspect of double bind and paradoxical behavior was paid by P. Watzlawick and his associates.[3] They described the method of the paradoxical intervention as a special case of the therapeutic double bind. The basic principle of therapy is the same as Frankl's: what you are afraid of and what you are threatened with is cured. However, Watzlawick and his colleagues emphasized the applicability of the method also for any interpersonal problems and analyzed many examples from the beautiful literature.      Therapeutic and pedagogical effects of paradoxical behavior we often observe also in everyday life. An impressive example of such effect is described by Victor Hugo in his novel "Les Misèrables": Jean Valjean, released from prison, tormented by hunger and fatigue, repulsed by everyone because of his past, was extremely hospitably received by a kind bishop. Overcome by old habits, the guest stole the silverware from the Bishop's room during the night and ran away. He is caught by city guards and brought to the bishop the next morning. Instead of anger and revenge, which would have brought life imprisonment to the former prisoner, Bishop fetches the remaining silver candlesticks and gives them to the guest in front of astonished guards. The Bishop's paradoxical therapeutic intervention has had such an effect on the former prisoner that it has radically changed his life and put it in the service of good.     The double bind usually has a pathogenic effect on the human psyche and behavior, but it can also have a therapeutic and pedagogical effect also in everyday interpersonal relationships.

Author Biography

Nodar Belkania, Tbilisi State University

Professor at Tbilisi State University


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