Non-Game Therapy

There are two great peculiarities of ‘non-game therapy’. One is that it is essentially ‘a-theoretical’, and the other is that it is wholly unintentional on the part of the ‘therapist’. We can explain the first point by saying that NGT is based on uncertainty, which means leaving a gap for the ‘truth of a situation’ to manifest itself, rather than knowing in advance what sort of form that ‘truth’ is going to appear in. in other words, we do not have a conceptual context in place within which to slot all experiential data. Game therapies (or rational therapies), being based upon the paradigm of certainty, always have a theoretical context lurking in the background somewhere. They are trying to promote some view of reality, whether they admit it or not (and the chances are very much that they won’t admit it)…



A game therapy may resemble non-game therapy in the first phase: a game therapist will engineer uncertainty in his or her client (i.e. they will destabilize their client’s constructs) for the purpose of replacing the client’s old and supposedly dysfunctional game which a new and ‘adaptive’ game. This comes down to a matter of competency and efficiency: the general aim is simply to maximize performance within a given frame of reference. We can also say that game therapies are ‘rational’, or ‘logical’ in nature, which means that they essentially involve the ‘positive’ message that it is possible to maximize happiness and effectiveness through purposeful action. This is the basic assumption – that we can restructure our thinking in order to approximate better the objective order of things, which in turn will positively influence our state of mind. This sounds like a perfectly reasonable assumption, yet we are going to suggest that it is completely and utterly wrong.




As we have said, non-game therapy is identical to game therapy in that the first step involves the destabilization of the client’s constructs. What this basically means is that “What you thought was true, isn’t really true!”  The difference, however, is that the non-game therapist has no agenda, he or she has no game going, and therefore the ‘follow through’ stage of imposing the new rules of the game simply doesn’t happen. The client will in all probability want to know “What is the RIGHT thing to do?” (i.e. “What is true?”) but the central message of NGT is that There is no RIGHT way” and “There is no RIGHT way to describe reality”. Instability isn’t a nasty in-between phase that we have to put up with before we can gain the security of a new set of stable mental constructs to hang on to, instability is all there is. Instability (or ‘unfixedness’) is freedom; it is the key to qualitative change, and qualitative change is what reality is. As quantum physicist David Bohm says, the only meaningful thing we can say about the universe is that it is a single unbroken movement, the profoundly mysterious movement from one unknown to another. As Heraclitus before him said “All is flux”.  Reality is not a thing that we can describe (or entertain models about) because in order to do that we would have to get ‘outside reality’, and this we cannot do. In attempting to define reality we end up like a puppy chasing its own tail. As Taoism teaches, we can ‘be reality,’ but we cannot objectively see reality because there is no external vantage point from which to see it. In short, there is no right way to see (describe) reality. There is no way to match the Complex Whole to our limited models or theories. “The map is not the territory”, as Robert Anton Wilson puts it.  If we are lucky enough to see a spectacularly beautiful sunset that is enough – there is no need to talk about it, there is no need to add a ‘voice-over’ or running commentary. There is no need to talk about it, and there is certainly no need to worry about what the ‘right way’ to talk about it is. Similarly, there is no need to worry about what the ‘right way’ to think about reality is because thinking is not the point.



We can now turn our attention to the second ‘peculiarity’ of NGT. When we talk about destabilizing the client’s constructs, and transmitting the message that “There is no RIGHT way to think about the world”, this all sounds very purposeful, but actually there is a hidden paradox here – to say that there is no right way is saying that ‘no right way’ is the right way.  So now we have made a ‘right way’ out of ‘no right way’. If I act or speak purposefully, then that is straightaway a game, because purposeful action means that I already know what it true, that I already know where we are going. Anything I do that comes out of a model is a game, and even the model that ‘there are no ultimately valid models’ is a model. In NGT, therefore, there is no question whatsoever of trying to obtain a therapeutic ‘result’ through rational or purposeful means. Purposefulness equals ‘the unquestioned and unquestionable rule of the model’; it equals ‘the tyranny of the description’. When we are ruled by thinking our allegiance is to our thinking (to the map), and not to reality. The unseen ruler (or hidden tyrant) is our ‘context of interpretation’.



Any therapeutic outcomes that we might see as desirable, such as ‘happiness’, ‘a sense of meaning or beauty about life,’ ‘peace of mind’ or ‘personal authenticity, creativity, and spontaneity’ do not come about as a result of thinking.  Happiness and peace of mind are ruled out straightaway because attachment to a limited view of reality means anxiety and the brutal repression of stuff that doesn’t fit in. Experiencing a genuine sense of existential meaningfulness is out of the question, because the only meaning that is allowed is the imposed meaning of the map.  Beauty is subverted almost before it enters the picture because it (like the soviet art of the last century) has to speak the language of the ruling values of the conditioned mind.  Authenticity goes out of the window because we know only our mind-created ideas of ourselves. Creativity is not allowed because creativity threatens to falsify our maps, because it, like humour, does not serve any master. Creativity is an enemy of the system of thought, because it shows thought’s cherished rules to be mere ‘lines drawn in the sand’. In general, we can say that spontaneity has to be repressed, and yet life without spontaneity is not worth living. What we get then is not life at all, but a sham, a mockery of what life ought to be.  It’s a ‘rational simulation of life’!



Out of the struggle to find and enforce the ‘right way of thinking’ comes nothing but confusion, pain and fear, and yet that is the only way we know. We eternally seek the ‘ultimate description’ that will allow us to master life and so solve its problems once and for all. All of this is not to say that I can’t ever be rational or purposeful: maps are of course useful as tools but when I fall under the influence of fear or greed an invisible ‘reversal’ occurs whereby the map becomes the master instead of the tool. It becomes something that can never be questioned but only obeyed, and once a map becomes ‘absolute’ in this way it is no longer useful – in fact it becomes the exact opposite of useful. Thus, the value of thinking is quite lost when I cling onto my rationality, my mental maps, and my purposefulness as something that is going to ‘save the situation’, as something that is ‘going to get me what I so desperately want’.




To say that non-game therapy cannot be carried out on purpose is the same thing as saying that ‘we cannot help someone on purpose’. If we can’t do anything purposeful then where does that leave us?  This sounds suspiciously like a recommendation for doing nothing, which naturally which naturally seems absurd as a basis for a therapeutic interaction.  ‘Doing nothing’ as a way of helping someone would however be just as purposeful as ‘doing something’ and so a better formulation of the principle of NGT would be to ‘do nothing in particular’.  This of course sounds equally absurd – surely, we think, any fool can just sit there and ‘do nothing in particular’? That is what we tend to think, but if we thought that then we would be very wrong. This point is actually the key to the whole thing, because being in an urgent situation without being attached to any notion of ‘what can help us here’ is extraordinarily difficult, and for this reason it is also extraordinarily rare that we will come across it. When the situation is urgent we cling like mad to whatever maps and model we have. The more pain or distress the client is in, the more we cling to our role as a ‘helper’, or ‘therapist’ (or whatever it is that we would like to think that we are). It is at times like this that our training comes to the fore, our expertise, our ‘know-how’. And yet, there is no ‘know-how’ for this sort of thing. There is no ‘know-how’ for how to be with someone in distress. The ‘know-how’ in question actually exists for quite the opposite reason – our so-called ‘know-how’ is there to create a safe distance between our client and us. The undeclared function of our expertise is to allow us not to be there in that painful and uncertain space. Our ‘know-how’, our ‘expertise’, is actually preventing the person we are supposedly helping from being in that uncertain space, and – instead  – they now have to inhabit the ‘positive’ or ‘formatted’ space that we have unwittingly provided them with.



Maps and methods always separate us from our experience – they come between us and what is happening. If I make a method out of ‘being with someone’, all I have done is to reify a false idea of the doer (who ‘does’ the method) and a false idea of a ‘done-to’, who is the recipient of the doing. So what we have here is a false (or theatrical) relationship between two game-identities – a relationship between who we jointly think I am, and who we jointly think you are. This is phoney closeness because I am not who I think I am, and you are not who you think you are, and so even if our two assumed identities are united in the congruence of our thinking, there is actually only the thinking there. Who we ‘really are’ has been sacrificed on the alter of rationality, on the alter of consensus reality. Our two false puppet selves ‘can get it together’, and on paper it all looks good. However, in order for this theatrical business to seem as if it is actually working, we have to become 100% invested in it, which mean we have to shut out reality for good. Any inkling of radical uncertainty, anything that is not part of our game, would blow the whole thing apart.



A type of integrity is needed in order to play the game, a sort of false integrity which we could call the integrity of the game.  This idea can be explained in terms of a commonly known phenomenon, which is the ‘integrity of the lie’: if I tell myself I lie in order to momentarily justify myself, then I have to go on believing in the lie afterwards, even if the lie is patently absurd. Once I start putting a spin on reality, to suit myself, then somehow I find that I have become committed to that lie, and so I have to continue slanting reality, even if the whole business becomes rather ludicrous. When this happens, everything that I do is secretly for the purpose of propping up my angle. There is no longer such a thing as an honest or sincere act, everything exists to serve to game; the game is both supremely important, and at the same time tacitly ignored, since to focus on what we are doing would blow the game.



Our roles (or ‘social identities’) are games, and so is the whole business of being a therapist or a client. This in itself embodies a deep form of dishonesty, or insincerity. Actually, in the room there are only two people sitting there. Our convenient social labels are of course the purest nonsense, it is exactly the same as if we were playing ‘Cowboys and Indians’, or ‘Cops and Robbers’.  When children play a game, they know it is a game, even as they have fun playing it, but when adults play a game (such as ‘therapist and client’) they get quite lost in the game, they get quite humourless about it. Even to say that there are ‘two people’ in the room is still a rationalization, a convention of thinking. This basic conception of ‘me’ and ‘you’ is a game too, and a very fundamentally defensive one.  If we drop this game, then we find that there is no more ‘me’ and there is no more ‘you’. There is no distance, in other words, and so by not running away from the discomfort of ‘not knowing what to do’ we discover that by doing no more than just ‘not avoiding’ this discomfort (and compounding our cowardice by making a virtue of that avoidance), we have already done the most honest and sincere thing that we could do.


Psychologist/psychotherapist turned spiritual teacher Ram Dass (1970, p 27) makes this point by saying that we ‘turn ourselves off’ by identifying with the certainties of roles and models:


…Its quite easy to sit and meditate and realize how all this is, to see how you get stuck in roles and how the life process, the spiritual contact, turns off the minute you think you’re somebody doing something. As long as I think I am speaking to you and I’m doing something to you – forget it! – I’m just keeping you out there as “them”. The question is, are you them or are you us? If I think of you using any model in my head that keeps you being them, I end up turning off myself. My consciousness, my concepts of the universe have turned me off because I know that the higher consciousness state is a state of unity. It is, “here we are”. I have experienced that. I know that. That’s valid. Its absolutely obvious now that every time I perform an act which increases the distance, that kind of subject-object distance, I am taking myself one little jot further away from that unitive state which I now know, is. Only an idiot is going to bring himself down…


But if it is not my game identity, my role, my learned responses or training, that helps, then what does do the helping? Where does the help come from in an urgent situation (and all situations are urgent, once we penetrate the spurious security of game reality). John Bennett approaches this question by suggesting that ‘wisdom’ is actually an independent entity which exists outside of space and time and which operates through people without being their personal property. Robert Anton Wilson refers to this independent wisdom as the non-local self, which is who we find that we really are, when we go beyond our local, mind-created, or ‘provisional’ notions of ourselves.  Another, possibly more familiar term is the transpersonal Self, or Aldous Huxley’s Mind at Large. In the following passage, esoteric psychologist and teacher John Bennett (1966, p 270-271) puts forward the idea of Independent Wisdom:


Wisdom is here understood as a Reality more concrete than knowledge or even understanding. This can be seen in the Hebrew word Hokma which expresses the idea of Mastery: that is, wisdom in action. Wisdom is an independent, that is complete, Reality and not an attribute. We may participate in it, but we do not possess it. In the aspect of Will, it is the Universal Individuality. In the aspect of Being, it is a spiritual organism in which are operative the four Cosmic Energies of Consciousness, Creativity, Love and Transcendence. In the aspect of Function, it is the Great Work, the Magnum Opus, whereby the evolutionary process of the world, or the return of the Creation to its Source, is sustained.


If Independent Wisdom, which is wisdom that comes out of nowhere, is the source of the ‘help’, then this totally does away with the need for ‘knowledge’, by which we mean models or theories or ideas of any kind. Furthermore, it is not merely that knowledge is unnecessary, but rather that knowledge is the obstacle to the process. Knowledge is theatrical, it is a show that we put on to distract ourselves from our own helplessness, whilst independent wisdom is dramatic, arising unaccountably from our acknowledgement of the fact that we ‘do not know what to do’. Knowledge, and the reliance on the techniques that come from knowledge, are our ‘comfort zone’, and it is only through allowing ourselves to be in the discomfort zone of ‘taking a risk’ that anything genuinely helpful can get to happen. What this means is unconditionally accepting the here and now, and not bringing with us anything that we might previously considered of use. Ram Dass (1972, p 26) makes this point by saying that it is not what we know that is of help, but what we are:


So what I’m saying is that this evening is part of my work on myself because I realize that the only thing you have to offer to another human being, ever, is your own state of being.  You can cop out only just so long, saying I’ve got all this fine coat – Joseph’s coat of many colors – I know all this and I can do all this. But everything you do, whether you’re cooking food or doing therapy or being a student or being a lover, you are only doing your own being, you are only manifesting how evolved a consciousness you are. That’s what you are doing with another human being. That’s the only dance there is! When you’re protesting against somebody, the degree of consciousness with which you’re protesting determines how well they can hear what it is you’re really saying. And consciousness does not mean attachment to polarity, at any level. It means freedom from attachment. And once you see that the highest mother is the mother who is the most conscious mother, the highest student, the highest therapist, the highest lover, the highest anything is the most conscious one, you begin to see that the way you serve another human being is by freeing him from the particular attachments he’s stuck in that turn him off to life. You realize that the only thing you have to do for other human beings is to keep yourself really straight, and then do whatever it is you do. 




There is a paradox hidden in the idea of ‘non-game therapy’, and the idea of the ‘non-game therapist’. The paradox is that therapy, in the usual sense of the term, means a special sort of interaction between two people.  Non-game therapy, however, means that there is nothing ‘special’ going on at all. All I do is just be myself, not being any special way, and that – presumably – is more or less what I do anyway. Just as there is no special way to be, there are also no ‘special people’. If non game therapy is when ‘you don’t have any games going’, i.e. when you don’t have an attachment to any role, then that means that the role of therapist goes out of the window straightaway, along with everything else that we know and are familiar with. So non-game therapy is when there is no therapist anymore, when there is just ‘us’, as Ram Dass says.



This is not big news – all truly effective therapists know that they are not actually therapists at all, obviously they see that this is just a social game that we play! If they didn’t see this then they would be no more than ‘unconscious game-players’, the same as everyone else. It’s ‘the blind leading the blind’, therefore. If I don’t have the basic insight to see this, then what possible use could I be to anyone? Another way to put this is to say that genuine interaction between ‘therapist’ and ‘client’ involves humour, a playful sense of the irony of the situation. If there is no irony, then all we are doing is colluding in the game, mutually reinforcing our attachments. ‘Us’ implies that we have gone beyond the final attachment, which is the attachment to duality, to the divisive idea of ‘me’ and ‘you’, and so the ultimate paradox of non-game therapy is that there is no helper, and no one to be helped. Therefore, all of the notions that we might previously have held are ultimately revealed to be quite meaningless. They were only just a pretext, a pretext that was necessary then to bring us to where we are now.




Art: Dzia




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