Method of levels

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The method of levels (MOL) is a cognitive approach to psychotherapy (or an approach to cognitive behavioral therapy) based on perceptual control theory (PCT). Using MOL, the therapist aims to help the patient shift his or her awareness to higher levels of perception in order to resolve conflicts and allow reorganization to take place.[1]


Psychotherapy has generally focused on pathology, although there have been exceptions such as Carl Rogers' emphasis on the actualizing tendency. PCT contributes a useful perspective on psychological disorders by providing a model of satisfactory psychological functioning as successful control. Dysfunction then is understood as disruption of successful control, and distress as the experience that results from a person's inability to control important experiences.[2] No attempt is made to treat the symptoms of distress as though they were in themselves the problem. The PCT perspective is that restoring the ability to control eliminates the source of distress. Internal conflict has the effect of denying control to both systems that are in conflict with each other. Conflict is usually transitory. When conflict becomes chronic, then symptoms of psychological disorder may appear.


The core process is to redirect attention to the higher level control systems by recognizing "background thoughts", bringing them into the foreground, and then being alert for more background thoughts while the new foreground thoughts are explored. When the level-climbing process reaches an end state without encountering any conflicts, the need for therapy may have ended. When, however, this "up-a-level" process bogs down, a conflict has probably surfaced, and the exploration can be turned to finding the systems responsible for generating the conflict—and away from a preoccupation with the symptoms and efforts immediately associated with the conflict.

See also[edit]



  • Carey, Timothy A (2006). The method of levels: how to do psychotherapy without getting in the way. Hayward, CA: Living Control Systems Publishing. ISBN 9780974015545. OCLC 63193390.
  • Mansell, Warren (June 2005). "Control theory and psychopathology: an integrative approach". Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. 78 (2): 141–178. doi:10.1348/147608304X21400. PMID 16004696.
  • Mansell, Warren; Carey, Timothy A; Tai, Sara (2012). A transdiagnostic approach to CBT using method of levels therapy: distinctive features. The CBT distinctive features series. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203081334. ISBN 9780415507639. OCLC 774499959.

Further reading[edit]