Resolution, Not Conflict

The guide to problem-solving.

Bad Luck, Bad Choices or Psychological Reversal?

What seems like bad luck or self-defeating choices may stem from the subconscious workings of a phenomenon that therapists are just at the very beginning stages of recognizing and treating. Read More

Hot Diggity! I can name your song Ms. Heitler and YES it is REAL.

Wikipedia term: Approach-Avoidance Conflict

"Approach-avoidance conflicts are choices regarding something positive, such as going out to a party, that has a negative valence (avoidance), such as getting grounded for being at the party. These decisions and the emotional state of ambivalence cause stress.

Approach-avoidance occurs when an individual moves closer to a seemingly desirable object, only to have the potentially negative consequences of contacting that object push back against the closing behavior. The negative consequences often are only imagined, so it is frequently fear that creates the problem.

Kurt Lewin (September 9, 1890 - February 12, 1947), a Jewish psychologist who is recognized as the founder of social psychology, created theories about the conflicts humans experience as: approach-avoidance, approach-approach, avoidance-avoidance, and double approach-avoidance.

Approach-avoidance conflicts occur when one goal contains both positive and negative characteristics. That is, an individual fears something that he desires. When the goal is far away, both positive and negative feelings about the goal are less strong; however, as he approaches the goal, a person's feelings about the negative characteristics arise, and he backs down, avoiding getting too close to achieving the goal. Then, as the goal is further away, he approaches again, only to have the same feelings of avoidance arise again, and he backs off, which decreases the internal conflict. Balance is achieved in ambivalence."


Greetings Kelly,

I love your idea that psychological reversal creates approach-avoidance conflicts vis a vis happiness. Wow!

And did you know that Kurt Lewin is one of my favorite theorists? I quote his work in the first chapter of my book From Conflict to Resolution, as he, like me, tends to see difficulties in terms of blockages in conflict resolution.

But untill you pointed out the connection between Lewin's concepts and psychological reversal I didn't hadn't seen how the ideas overlap.

Warmest thanks!


Excellent Article -- until...

I found this article to be very inspiring and informative...

...Right up to the point where a magnet is run down the patient's back to remove "negative energy".

I'm sure this is effective for gullible patients, who are susceptible to the placebo effect, but logical patients may feel, at that point, that they were being scammed.

Why would he add this holistic-type nonsense to an otherwise excellent therapy?

the magnet

To Wallace,

First and foremost, I am delighted that you found the article "inspiring and informative." Those two words express how I have been feeling watching this new form of therapy during the year I've been working with Dale Petterson.

As to the magnet, you raise a valid question. On the one hand, the magnet clearly works. Patients definitely get better.

At the same time, the explanation about removing negative energy is just a hypothesis. Does the magnet "remove negative energy?" I have no idea. I know it works, but I have no idea how.

I do think it's more than placebo effect, in that placebos work about 60% of the time and the magnet, as part of the total package of interventions, seems to work pretty much 100% of the time. But why? I've no idea.

The magnet, while it works, is in fact not the only solution. I have seen cases where running a hand or fist down the governing meridian has the same impact. Time and testing will tell....

Some of my clients fear being "gullible" or "scammed," and some have left the energy treatment early or didn't go at all rather than participate in "holistic-type nonsense." I feel sad about these folks. By judging the treatment before the results have come in, they deprive themselves of what can be impressive healing for a wide range of painful states, physical or emotional.

I figure my role is to lead horses to water, not to make them drink.

Meanwhile, thank you for your thoughtful response to this new set of psychological treatments.


This seems like the same kind of "Healing Touch" thing debunked...

Dr. Heitler, you know I love your blog. But the magnet thingie seems like the same "therapeutic touch" nonsense debunked by pre-teen Emily Rosa more than a decade ago, and written up in JAMA.

There may well be a placebo effect. That effect exists with many, many things. But please don't feel sorry or sad for patients who are not willing to buy into the potential placebo affect of an unproved "therapy." Honor their skepticism. They may feel sorry for you for offering to employ it at their expense! :) In fact, I could see a nifty therapeutic rupture arising over this kind of "therapy."

"the magnet thingie"

The part that impresses me most about psychological reversal and its removal is that people with chronic "bad luck" seem to do better in their lives after it has been removed.

The magnet is a small part of the overall intervention.

My hope is that other therapists will take opportunities to experience and experiment with this new generation of energy therapy treatments.

Scam until proven valid prevents progress. My preferenec is to check out with an open mind treatments that seem to be helping patients.

With regard to payment, so far when I bring Dale in to join me in working with my clients I pay him out of the fee the client pays me. I take a 50% cut in pay for the hour, but I gain in satisfaction of knowing that my client got the most appropriate treatment intervention for his/her particular target symptom for that session.

I've been impressed that my clients quickly get the feel for what issues they want to bring in Dale's techniques for, and which issues they want to discuss with just me.

In any case, I would love to know more about Emily Rosa and the JAMA article. I'll try to track it down, but if you have access and can send it to me I'd be most appreciative.

Lastly, I am delighted to read your comment that "I love your blog." The effort and time of writing feel worthwhile when I hear that readers are finding what I write worth reading.

Warmest thanks for taking the time to write in your comments!

Cite to Rosa article...

I see the problem

Thanks so much for sending these links. The one to the NY Times article is not working, but the one to the Rosa article helps to clear up the concern.

The Rosa study in JAMA was about therapeutic touch, and whether practicioners of therapeutic touch "could correctly identify which of their hands was closest to the investigator's hand" and thereby perceive a human energy field.

The removal of psychological reversal is a totally different process. It does utilize doing something with the energy flow down the central meridian along the spine. But there is no attempt to "perceive a human energy field" in Dale Petteson's work.

The presence of energy meridians is a standard assumption of Eastern medicine (acupuncture, etc) technique. Therapeutic touch may share this assumption as well. But perceiving energy fields via therapeutic touch is definitely NOT a part of Dale Petterson's, or Bradley Nelson's Emotion Code, techniques.

YOUTUBE has videos with explanations and examples of this kind of work. Go to YouTube and search Bradley Nelson Emotion Code.


I didn't mean to open a can of worms about the magnet.

My only point is that a patient, like me, would suddenly get suspicious as soon as the talk turned to some kind of undefined energy.

Please understand that there are many snake oil salesmen out there selling nonsense like homeopathy and cure-all herb blends.

I am impressed that the results are 100%, but I suspect that there are other factors here as well.

Can of worms or helpful comment?

Actually Wallace I'm very appreciative of your comment. The magnet is actually the one piece of the treatment that I myself have questions about.

When clients have a pacemaker or other condition that might make magnetism problematic, Dale does the same motion with his hand instead of the magnet. So far in the several cases where I've seen him do this, it has worked.

My conclusion is that that treatment works, but the magnet itself may be an irrelevant contributor.

Makes sense.

I loved this article. I especially appreciated the insight that a tendency to mistrust happiness stems from one seminal experience. The thesis resonated with me because I realized a while back that I have difficulty dealing with contentment. I get very anxiouls when things seem to be going well in my life, and I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. Sometimes, just to relieve the suspense and get it over with, I do sabotage myself: miss an important deadline at work, pick a fight with my romantic partner, etc.

After reading your article, I thought about what the "pivotal experience" might have been, and I think it's probably when my parents divorced when I was 6 years old. I had been living my whole life thinking things were peachy keen, and then the bottom dropped out. I remember almost consciously deciding that I would know better in the future, not to trust situations where everything seemed fine. (For someone experiencing this, it's like some part of your psyche is saying to life, "Okay, you got me that time, but now I'm on to you. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.")

I can't exactly travel to Denver for treatment, but at least identifying the problem is a step in the right direction. I can keep reminding myself that just becuase things are going well, that doesn't mean they are destined to inevitably fall apart. So, thank you for that.

Regarding the magnet bit, I too think that sounds like hokum, and I suspect that the high success rate is due to a self-selected group of patients who believe in the treatment and are therefore more susceptible to the placebo effect. However, I have seen other therapies involving some kind of touch, and we know there's a link between touch and memory, so maybe there's something to it. Maybe it's not the magnet at all, it's the sensation of having something run up and down the spine. It would be interesting to see some brain scan research here, looking at people's brain activity while they remember the pivotal event without touch, and comparing it to brain activity while they remember it while something is run up and down their spine.

Thanks for a great article.

your insight sounds right on

Your pivotal experience fits with just the kinds of experience that I"ve seen clients uncover as the source of their psychological reversal.

A parental divorce that feels like "the bottom dropped out" also can be the source of a belief that it's not safe to love or be loved.

If you would like to do a brief treatment, we do them with folks from anywhere in the world via Skype. My hunch is that one treatment hour would be plenty, and maybe even a half-session would do. My clinical website at has a Contact Us form if you would like to find out more about this option.

I love your idea of brain scan research. If you know anyone set to do that kind of thing I'd be delighted to talk with them.

Meanwhile warmest thanks for sharing your "pivotal experience" with me and with other readers of this blogpost.

I'd love to know if simply identifing the event will end it.

Another technique you can try instead of using a magnet is to close your eyes and visualize the memory, and then picture it exploding and disappearing into evanescence.... We have one client who does that successfully instead of using the magnet to evaporate the negative emotions evoked by old memories. The memory stays but the negative feelings associated with it go away the same as they would with the magnet.


punching the hippie is always

punching the hippie is always a good career move, but there's no hippie here.

"repentances that destroy karmic barriers of the past, the present and the future" :

"may past present and future thought
may thought after thought not be corrupted by delusion
may my bad practice of the past all be gone
and may they be gone from my nature"

"don't consider the faults of the world
those who consider the wrongs of the world
only add to their own"

the hippie-infused stereotypes of the teachings really make it hard for us. on the hand, great article and really in the spirit of this!

I think, in treatments

I think, in treatments involving an element many people are naturally suspicious of (like the magnet), it's especially important to maintain the scientific standards that could bring the treatment's validity to the forefront. For example, is this treatment repeatable by other practitioners? What happens to the results if the treatment is applied in a double-blind manner, where neither the patient nor the practitioner know what it is intended to achieve? Are the results truly 100%? What defines a successful treatment--if I undergo it and my life improves marginally but not significantly, is that counted as a success? Usually, given something as complex as human emotions, there's no 100% panacea that will fix everyone--often, the treatment needs to be every bit as complex and varied as the problem.

Looking for researchers...

I totally agree about the next step being research. I see dramatic impacts with these techniques when I bring in Dale Pettereson to do them with my clients. At the same time, I would love to see these techniques tested in a more standardized research format.

I would love to hear from and work with any researchers who would be willing to take on this project.

The challenge is that I am a clinician, not a researcher. I need a researcher to buddy with.

cause of reversal

Interesting article, but I wonder is it really necessary to uncover the biographical source/trigger/cause of the reversal? Should it not be sufficient to correct the polarity on the energy level, as suggested in TFT training manuals.

Or will the polarity keep switching back to reversal unless the original trauma is "healed"?

I thought the whole point of these meridian therapies was to treat problems, dysfunctions as they present energetically in the presence instead of looking for triggers in the past.

I am confused.

Cost vs Reward

Interesting Article. I love how I can always count on Psychology Today for compelling articles, insights and perspectives.

I do believe in a subconscious act of self-sabotage. I've done this myself (being late, procrastinating, over-extending myself etc...) What I've come to believe or am still pondering about this human condition is as follows

Assumption: Every situation in life, whether intentionally pursued or happenstance brings with it both desired "rewards" and feared "costs." There is no total reward or total cost (not even in death). ie: a promotion brings recognition and higher pay, but also more effort and hostility amongst coworkers. A new client = potential $, but also costs more time. Etc. I can't think of anything that is either all good or all bad. I think we learn this and are aware of this via experience so we are continuously in an operating state of expecting to be rewarded or disappointed. ***The lag between experiencing either the reward or the disappointment, is when we are striving to control the outcome and represents the subconscious safe state because it is neutral and gives room for oscillating hope and fear, and conforms to the belief that we can still correct course***

Assumption: If our past efforts seemed only to deliver close to 50/50 success/failure odds, we passively surrender to it being "fate." The more we rely on "fate" the less we strive and "forget" that by not choosing to make efforts to control the outcome, we are still in fact choosing - to let outside forces determine our outcomes.Rather than see a 50/50 outcome (or even survival) as a win in itself, we are disappointed only if we perceive our peers achieving better odds (a 50/50 or survival outcome may be experienced as tremendous good fortune for one who is living in and impoverished community in Africa, India etc....

Question: So is it our outcomes or context (comparing to what could have been) that determines our happiness?

I think about this sort of thing a lot. This is why I believe pre-envisioning small wins along the way can help - to serve as "signals" that while the journey comes with its bumps and setbacks, there are rewards to be had along the way. (Looking at life as though it were a video game journey - collect points, but expect life to throw a few punches. This may be why our hobbies bring joy and R&R - we deliberately choose activities where we can experience more wins.

It seems to me the most successful people actually experiment and fail more than status quo. Perhaps their small wins along the way are seeing each disappointment as a clue/lesson that offers to make them better at reaping future rewards. Your thoughts?

Wishing you small wins along the way...

Lots of thinking....

Lots of interesting thoughts here...I'll respond to my favorite:

"It seems to me the most successful people actually experiment and fail more than status quo. "

Yes, this is true. The more tries, in general, them more likely that eventually a try will score. And you are right that the more learning there is from each unsuccessful try, the more likely that eventually some of the tries will hit their mark.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is the author of many books, including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two. She is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University.


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