Injunctive Messages

Fifty years ago, in November of this year (2019), Bob Goulding walked into my group therapy class at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary and forever changed my life (see Chapter One of Bob and Mary here).  He was selling Redecision Therapy and the training program at his Western Institute for Group and Family Therapy in California and I bought.  He stunned me with his charisma, his intelligence, and his confidence in the capacity for people to change.


He invited me first to California and his training.  Once there, he invited me to learn all of his material from the ground up.  He nurtured me, encouraged me, and instructed me…  and I learned (see Chapters two through five of Bob and Mary here}.  I took his model in whole and digested it.  My dissertation was based on one weekend workshop conducted by Bob and his wife Mary (see Chapter six of Bob and Mary here).  They were awe-inspiring and worthy of it.


Here is what they taught.  When people are very small, they are exposed to destructive messages they coined as “Injunctions.”  In response, the small child made “Decisions” as to how to cope with these destructive messages.  These were messages to not exist, not be close to other people, not to feel successful, etc. The decision by the child allowed him or her to cope successfully in their original environment, but became an obstacle to functioning fully in later stages of life.


Try to imagine the yearning to grow up in tension with the decision to stay small in order to please someone.  This tension, this pulling in opposite directions was called an impasse.  In order to break this impasse, not unlike un-damming a river, the Gouldings invited patients to re-experience early scenes in their lives where the original decision had been made.  At the key moment, they would invite the person to make a Redecision (not a real word in the English language), that is to make a new decision that was just as powerful as the original one. 


They created their way of doing therapy in conscious rebellion against the analytical model that proclaimed that it took years to gain even a modicum of behavioral success.  They sought an efficient therapy, both in time and in expense to the patient.  They believed it was possible to help people defeat an early injunction and to remove its influence from their lives.  This was cant to them.  It turns out it didn’t work so well in day-to-day ordinary psychotherapy practice as many of us came to find out.


I never lost confidence in the validity of their work, even if I came to be far different from them in the execution of the material.  They published their second book, Changing Lives Through Redecision Therapy, and I was disappointed.  This was not too surprising given that Bob was far into his alcoholism at the time (see Chapter Seven of Bob and Mary) and Mary was still drinking with him.  My greatest disappointment had to do with the sparse description they gave to each of the Injunctions, three or four pages in total.  


By this time, I believed that their greatest theoretical contribution was this concept and that they had done an enormous service in identifying fifteen of them by this time.  I did not believe that Injunctions could be wiped from someone’s life, removed by an act of courageous and ingenious therapy and resolved.  I did not believe that one could “finish” an Injunction.  I did not believe as they stated that a young child had the autonomy as to whether to respond to an Injunction or not.  And finally, I came to disagree with the name “Injunction,” because it is a legal term and in the real word can be revoked by a judge in a court of law. 


I adopted the phrase, “Injunctive Message” (see The Heart of Redecision Therapy: Resolving Injunctive Messages here). Now, I say I did this.  I did it with the help of a truly great group of people in Los Angeles who were in a training group with me for over ten years.  I always believed that the Gouldings had never completely sussed out adequately the concept of their material, but they had brought it into being so others could add to it and improve on it.  I like the phrase “Injunctive Message” because a message doesn’t go away.  Our response to the messages can change mightily and for the better.  We created a set of habits around our original response and so we can create a new set of habits, both thinking and behaving.  The old doesn’t go away so much as it can be replaced by the new.


With my mighty little training group, we would spend at least an hour or more at our monthly meetings doing the sussing that had not been done.  In the process, we revamped the list and added ten more Injunctive Messages, going from the canon of fifteen to twenty-five (see the five-page chart of Injunctive Messages here).  In order to handle this unwieldy number we created categories of Injunctive messages, grouping them by their negative impact of five major areas of life:  Survival, Attachment, Identity, Competence, and Security.  We also discovered that there were two distinct decisions to each Injunctive Message, not one: Despairing and Defiant.  We identified a Coping Behavior that arose from the Defiant Decision and became key to diagnosing the original Injunctive Message. 


Most importantly, we redefined the concept of Redecision itself, from a dramatic act in time to a process of changing fundamental beliefs.  We added to this the drills necessary to practice new behavior and a new healthy internal Parental Voice to support the new belief and the new way of behaving.  In addition, we also came up with a system for self-evaluation, comparing our internal voices to see which of the IM’s might be active in our lives (see Injunctive Messages and Your Life here).


This was a lot.  This was actually huge.  It involved a lot of hours of painstaking observation and a lot of arguing, back and forth, looking for the truth; or at least plausible theory.  In my subsequent posts, I will explore in detail the material referenced here. 


Here is a partial list of the key players in the Los Angeles Training Group who made this material possible.  I owe them a life-long debt of gratitude: Nina Miller, Susan Faurot, the late Mark Faurot, Rebecca Dekker, the late Ruth Thurlow, Joanna Greenslade, Susan Tipton, Joyce Lauterback, Andrew Whaling, Judy Justin, Ellen Deker, Joe Shaub, Mariel Pastor-Simanson, Penny Fletcher, Andrew Whaling and Robert Lloyd.  In my Rome training group, the important names to recognize for their contributions are: Maria Luisa de Luca, Carla Maria de Nitto, Lucia Frattero and Mara Scoliere.  It is an old trope, but true none-the-less, without the people here listed none of this material would exist.

John McNeelComment