You Can Only See What You Can See

July 17th, 2011 | Posted by Michael Taleff in Uncategorized

I was struck be a recent TV program. It was about an isolated tribe in the mountains of Borneo who were impacted by WWII. Airplanes of the period landed in their region.

After the airplanes left, the tribe was so impressed with the airplanes and their ability to fly that they made replicates made of wood frames covered with leaves expecting that such a gesture would lure the WWII planes back. Part of the narrative indicated that the tribe thought they had figured out the mechanics of the WWII planes, but with only wood at their disposal did the best with what they had.

What does that have to do with addition counseling blog you say? Well, as college instructor and workshop presenter, I sometimes see the same thing in my students. I will present an innovative idea or research finding, and some in the class or audience cannot grasp the concept. They can only see through the lens of what they know. Often what they know are the old outdated counseling structures.

What’s so unusual about that? Introducing novel ideas in a classroom is what education is supposed to be all about, and I agree.

The problem is that some participants just really don’t get the innovative ideas. They continue to build old wooden frameworks out of some thing that requires the use of titanium or a space age polymer.

When it comes to addiction education, I want to introduce something that is beyond the “mechanics” of a wooden frame because that beyond space is where were the field has evolved these days.

For those who insist on using wood, the concern is that they are not giving their clients the latest greatest treatment innovations. That is a shame.

Some might say that the onus of teaching such ideas lies in my hands. For am I not the instructor? Am I not supposed to get students to open their minds to new education? That has always been the challenge for instructors. Yet, as a teacher I know I cannot force someone to expand their mind, anymore than I can get a client to change their life. I don’t have that power.

Yet, a persistent push of new ideas sometimes pays off. I have watched students work hard and then it happens, something clicks. You can see it in their eyes that jolt of deep understanding.

We are limited by the knowledge and vocabulary we have (Hawton). Whatever the present level of education, whatever the present volume of information an addiction professional has is a shortcoming to that professional’s craft. It makes it tough to see things that lay beyond.


Hawton, H. (1956). Philosophy for pleasure. New York: Fawcett Primer.

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