The Pattern System for Psychotherapists, Part I

The Pattern System has been developed over 40 years of observing my clients’ behavior, emotions, underlying psychological issues, and their origins in childhood. This has been enhanced by many years of supervision, training, and consultation with therapists and trainees and many discussions with colleagues. I have put this together using my background in systems thinking and information technology science.

The Pattern System is a personality system that allows you to map a client’s psyche in detail. It is a new way of organizing into useful form the extraordinary amount of data we absorb about our clients. It provides a way for therapists to clarify the unique character structure of each client, leading to an understanding of his or her special needs, strengths, and difficulties.

This organizational map makes it easier for you to apply your existing therapeutic knowledge in a way that is tailored to each person. It is especially useful when your treatment of a particular client is stalled or you are confused about how to proceed. By mapping his or her patterns and healthy capacities, you are guided to a clearer understanding of where the therapy is stuck and what to do about it.

The Pattern System provides handy information about the kinds of underlying dynamics that are likely to be operating for each type of pattern a client may have. It also will help you to understand possible transference and counter-transference issues that may arise with each client depending on their patterns and yours.

For example, clients who have a Prideful Pattern have a need to be seen as special and better than others. Some of them can become easily hurt by what they perceive as criticism from others, including you. They need to be gently led into an exploration of their underlying feelings which often come from the Deficiency Wound. On the other hand, clients with a People Pleasing Pattern need to become aware of their tendency to try to please others, including their therapists. They grow by learning to assert themselves, set limits, and take initiative. These are just a couple examples of patterns that impact not only the client’s life but also the therapy process.

The Underlying Dynamics of Each Pattern

Let’s look at this in more detail. Once you assess that a client has a certain pattern, the Pattern System provides readily-referenced information about the possible underlying defensive motivations for this pattern and their possible origins in childhood. For any given pattern, there are a variety of different options, so, of course, the Pattern System doesn’t attempt to tell you exactly what your client’s dynamics are. It shows you the most common motivations and origins to help you gain insight what might be going on.

For example, if a client has a Caretaking Pattern, it might be motivated in one of the following ways:

  1. The client might be afraid of being attacked, criticized, shamed, or betrayed if they don’t take care of people.
  2. The client might be afraid of rejected, abandoned, not cared for, or dismissed if they don’t take care of people.
  3. The client might be attempting to get acceptance, interest, approval, caring, or love by taking care of people.

These are just some of the possible motivations for this pattern.

Each motivation is related to a childhood wound or other origin. For example, if the client is afraid of being attacked (verbally or physically abused) if he or she doesn’t take care of someone, this relates to the Attack Wound, where the child was subjected to or witnessed anger, rage, or physical abuse. The child probably learned that by taking care of a parent who threatened to be angry or violent, he or she could sometimes forestall the rage or abuse.

Of course, we know that every client is unique and each story is different, so the Pattern System just indicates possibilities. You will have to help the client explore their unconscious motivations and defenses and their childhood history in order to discover what the actual motivations and childhood origins are for that person.

This article will be continued in our next blog. For more information about the Pattern System, please visit: