Why is PCT Different?

  •  It is based on scientific evidence

Perceptual Control Theory is a psychology that is supported by solid scientific evidence that explains human behaviour. While many other psychological techniques appear to provide meaningful strategies (sets of questions) they only work to a certain extent. But what happens when the questions don’t “work”?

Strategies, processes or questions are designed to provide stepping stones to help a client/user to move forward. When there is no solid theory to support the strategies they tend fall apart and the user has nowhere to go.

Having theoretical foundation makes a profound difference because the user is more creative and confident in the use of the questioning process. Getting unstuck when using the questions is so much easier when the user understands why and how the questions are effective.

(See end for the link to the Control Systems Group for research and for Booklist.)

  • Control is Within

The core philosphy that distinguishes Perceptual Control Theory from many other theories of behaviour is that we are internally motivated. In other words anything external to you does not cause or make you behave.

The belief in external control is based on Pavlov’s theory of the world operating according to a stimulus-response model. A simple question can prove this inaccurate…

“If a telephone rings what “causes” you to answer it (or not)?” Your first reaction may be “it’s the ringing of the phone that “makes” me answer it.” However on deeper analysis it is quite evident that you have the choice whether to answer it, allow it to go to messagebank, ignore it or rip it out of the wall! How you respond to the phone ringing will depend on your mood, if you are busy, asleep, deaf or not home!

The origin of your behaviour is internal even though it appears from the outside that the ringing of the phone causes you to behave. Actually it is your (internal) decision about the ringing that is reponsible for your action.

  • It’s about BEing not DOing

The usual advice we receive is about doing - what we should do, say or think to fix an issue. Advice from others (or even from the self) is well intentioned and possibly helpful however there is step before DOing and that is to ask “Who do I want to BE in this situation?”

If we are being the person we want to BE (strong, in control, happy, independant, free, having a good relationship, playful) we can figure out what we need to DO pretty easily and quickly.

The important bit is shifting our point of view (perception) in order to get a clearer understanding and better grip on the situation.

  • Proven track record

It is a theory and practice that has been developed and widely used for over 80 years. In fact it continues to be researched and is evolving every day with new applications of the theory.

Successful applications include Education, Counselling, Natural Therapies, Social Work/Community Services, the Corporate Sector in Management Practices, Team Building, Change Management, Personal Development.

  • The History - in the beginning…

Many people over the years have attempted to explain human behaviour, both the Why and the How. It’s a fascinating topic. Mostly, some very perceptive and talented person has thought deeply about what goes on inside them, and checked it out with others to see if their explanation fits with what seems to happen for others.Control Theory truly is different.

Its origin is in the field of engineering and science, when during the Industrial Revolution at the end of the 19th century, physicists, engineers and other scientists began looking for ways to make machines that would behave like people – the key aspect of the new machine would be that it would be able to complete a particular task, EVEN IF in some way what it had to deal with didn’t remain the same.

So the challenge was to create a machine that could still be in control in a changing environment.

William Powers, in the 1930’s, took an intuitive look at what was happening. It had become possible to design a machine that could control; he then asked himself, “If this information allows us to build a machine that can control a particular variable in a changing environment (i.e., behave like a person), what can we learn about how the person behaves? He took the control theory diagram, and tested the hypothesis that people might run similar circuits, and behave to control their perception of what was happening so that it would match a reference (i.e. an idea of what they wanted) that they had stored in their brain.

This is not a new idea to an engineer! An air conditioner, for example, works on this principle. We give it a reference (the temperature it is to control for), and its job is then to compare the temperature it senses in the environment with that reference temperature. If there is a difference between the two, it gets a signal to behave – and it turns the heating/cooling off or on to reduce the difference (error) to zero. It is controlling its perception of the environment to match its reference.

Powers found that he could prove that people operate the same way – of course, people are nowhere near as simple as the air conditioner controller, but his Control Systems Group, by setting up experiments and hypothesising about how people would behave in particular situations, has been able to demonstrate the accuracy of his theory. He now refers to the theory as Perceptual Control Theory because of the importance of perception in behaviour.

His book, “Making Sense of Behaviour” (see Books) is thought provoking and contains many stimulating ideas.

A visit to the Control Systems Group website will take you more deeply into Perceptual Control Theory.