fractals, chaos and psychotherapy


fractals, like the one here, and one of its associated disciplines, chaos theory, have long fascinated me. according to wikipedia

Fractals can be most simply defined as images that can be divided into parts, each of which is similar to the original object. Fractals are said to possess infinite detail.

fractals in an of themselves are a thing of beauty. i also think that, like poetry, they can illustrate the vast complexity, dynamics and beauty of the human experience.

anytime we engage in repetitions or experience patterns in our lives, we can see it as an example of a fractal. for example, writing is something that i have engaged in all my life, starting from my first attempt to write a mystery novel at age 11. if my life was an abstract painting, and writing was a particular shape, you could see this shape, or something similar to this shape, repeated over and over in my life.

other life patterns that are widely known are being attracted to men who are like our fathers, switching addictions (e.g. from alcoholic to workaholic) , any kind of habits – from brushing our teeth in the morning to sitting on a specific chair at the dinner table, not being able/willing to engage in certain emotions (e.g. not grieving), etc.

when we look at the fractal above, all the shapes and “sub-shapes” in various shades of mauve, we can see how they change and shift, for example, from a hexagon to a triangle to a trapeze – always similar (e.g. the hexagon isn’t suddenly followed by a totally different shape, say, a bubble) but always different.

however, while there are definitely patterns, these patterns are not preordained and are highly sensitive to being influenced by even small changes, or the introduction of a a new item, however small. for example, the colours above are obviously very different – there’s green, there’s mauve.

just like in fractals, our life patterns can shift and change, and we can introduce new patterns. for example, a person who is workaholic can channel that pattern into something that serves her and/or the people around her (e.g., go from being a 14-hour-a-day lawyer to shifting some of her drive to provide legal help for people on welfare). that’s a bit like the dark mauve pattern above turning into a lighter mauve pattern.

or a new “colour” could suddenly appear in a person’s life – a new person, a new job, a special experience. this could give this person’s life a new twist, and perhaps one for the better.

that’s where i see the connection between fractals (or chaos theory) and psychotherapy. my job is to help people stay true to themselves while changing the colours and shapes of their lives to a pattern that works better for them.

if you’re interested in reading a bit more about this, here are a few links

– a seaman and boater talks about the changing patterns of water and life
– a great book by john briggs and david peat, seven life lessons of chaos – spiritual wisdom from the science of change
– and, if you like it academic, a great book on chaos and psychology by michael buetz

btw, i designed the fractal above with xaos, a great little free piece of fractal software.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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