Psychotherapy, Couples Counseling, and The Magic of Flexibility


As I was driving on one of the long and open California Highways from my psychotherapy clinic in Beverly Hills to one in Valencia, I was thinking of my last couples counseling session and preparing to the marriage counseling clients I was about to see. A low and raspy voice tore through the thin garments of my thought. The radio station I happened to be on had little to do with couples counseling or marriage counseling for that matter. The host was in the midst of discussion, presenting seemingly rational and specific arguments against the evolution theory, and in the defense of creationism.


“How peculiar…” I thought to myself. This was an unusual issue to be discussed in the West Los Angeles and Beverly Hills area, and the sleepy suburbia of Valencia seems to be disinterested in the issue as well. The radio station was originating from more remote areas of beautiful California.  “Past attempts of resolving complex matters in an ‘either or’ fashion has always an inevitably proved to be misguided” – I continued my internal dialogue. As a psychologist and a psychotherapist I am often presented with a conflict within couples counseling and marriage counseling sessions in which each party feels righteous and justified. Usually in couples counseling and outside of it the truth is not on either one of the poles but somewhere in the middle.


Contemplating the seemingly opposite theories of evolutionism and creationism, two key principles of psychotherapy and marriage counseling came to mind: Law of Requisite Variety and The Principle of Hierarchy of Ideas. First, allow me to entertain you with a quick explanation of what these principles are:


The Law of Requisite Variety has been adopted by psychotherapy, marriage counseling and couples counseling from cybernetics. In simplified form it means that the one with the most flexibility of behavior will control the entire system. For example, children many times exhibit vastly larger flexibility of behavior than adults. Screaming bloody murder, throwing themselves on the floor, rolling across the aisle kicking and screaming just to get the toy they want, is quite a flexible behavior indeed. Since most of us had the pleasure to be either participant or a sympathetic observer of these behavioral fireworks in local supermarkets, it is rather clear that in most cases the children were in charge of the situation.


One of my friends, a psychologist and psychotherapist at my Valencia office, mentioned an instance in which her 3-year old son decided to exercise his lungs and rolling abilities in the living room, while demanding desert instead of the dinner. She decided to join the festivities and entertain her Valencia neighbors by outdoing her child. She got on the floor screaming louder and kicking harder. A moment later she noticed her son stopped the show and was staring at his mother with horror. In this case my friend exhibited larger behavioral flexibility and got back in charge of the situation.

Hierarchy of Ideas is another important psychotherapy, couples counseling and marriage counseling principle. Hierarch of Ideas states that the one who controls the level of abstraction in the communication, controls the communication itself.  Any issue that comes to mind can be “chunked down” toward more specificity, or “chunked up” toward more generalization and abstraction. If, as a psychologist, I am the one doing the “chunking,” I am the one leading and controlling the conversation or negotiation.


Let’s take your car as an example of Hierarchy of Ideas prinsiple. To “chunk down” toward more details I could ask “Which car specifically do you have?” The answer could be Honda, Beemer, Mazda, etc. And to “chunk up” toward more abstraction you could ask “What is a car an example of?” Well, a car could be an example of transportation, or an example of things made of metal, or an example of technology. Something to keep in mind is that the more abstract we get – the more “chunked up” we get, the easier it is to reach agreement.


The closer we get to the abstraction, the easier it is to resolve the conflict. For example, one of the universals is that everyone wants to be happy. Most people have a very different idea as of what specifically “happy” means, however, the more abstract we get in our communication, the easier it is to agree that everyone wants to be “happy,” right?


In my clinics in Beverly Hills and Valencia I employ both of the principle to assist my clients resolve relationship conflict. If I can resolve relationship challenges so effectively, why not put my psychologist and psychotherapist hat on and attempt to resolve the seeming conflict between the theories of evolutionism vs. creationism?


First, shall we agree that instead of only two possible standpoints of either evolution or creation there could be more possibilities and combinations? Let’s use what we know this far to see how through controlling the level of abstraction in our conversation we can reach agreement. What an awesome tool to have in relationships! So let’s start with creationism and “chunk up” toward the bigger picture and the higher level of abstraction:


–          What is the purpose of creationism?

I would say the purpose of it is to understand the world around us in its entire diversity, as well as our place in it.


–          And what would be the intention of that?

Perhaps, to understand the laws of creation and the laws of the Divine.


–          To understand the Laws…for what purpose?

To get a glimpse into the Divine, and ultimately, a better understanding of ourselves, humans.


–          What is the intention of better understanding ourselves?

To be more in charge of ourselves, our destiny, and the world around us.


–          And what would be the purpose of that?

To understand and strive toward actualization of our true potential, to be a harmonious part of creation (in Divine’s grace), and ultimately, to be happy.


Now, let’s examine evolutionism and “chunk up” the idea of evolutionism to get to the bigger picture and higher level of abstraction:

–          What is the purpose of the evolution theory?

The theory attempts to explain the world around us and its origins, including the origins of humans.


–          For what purpose?

Possibly, to understand ourselves and the world around us.


–          And what is the intention of that?

Perhaps, to master ourselves and our world.


–          For what purpose?

To fulfill our potential, our creative genius, and ultimately, to be happy.


As we are playing with the levels of abstraction, moving from a specific idea or term, to the bigger picture of a meaning and purpose, we discover something interesting. There is really no conflict between the ideas of Creationism and Evolution, is there?


On one hand, the Divine does not operate with a magic wand, and things do not just pop out of the blue, do they? (Well, except your In-Laws). The Divine operates through Laws and Principles, which science explores through a variety of methodologies and tools.


On the other hand, scientific methodology is clearly limited and science always has a list of phenomena which it cannot adequately and fully explain at this time.  There is no need to look far – human body and mind have plenty of yet resolved mysteries and abilities beyond current scientific understanding, such as the placebo effect, some of the phenomena exhibited in hypnosis, etc.


Once we agree to keep an open mind and an attitude of curiosity and flexibility, we make the first step toward deeper understanding of ourselves and our world.


Dr. Harel Papikian
Relationship Empowerment

9300 Wilshire Blvd. #306
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

25350 Magic Mountain Parkway #170
Valencia, CA 91355

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