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Judo Logic in Therapy

(Change without Opposition)

Human change can happen forcefully or without force. I prefer the non-force methods because they’re more creative, more respectful of my clients, and actually require less effort. A story will illustrate:

I recently visited some close family friends (I’ll call them the Nakamuras) after not seeing them for a few years. We caught up and they showed me around their beautiful forested home to update me on all the cool projects they had been working on.

It struck me how the Nakamuras could use “negative” forces of nature for their good. It reminded me of how good therapy can be done—instead of opposing everything clients are doing or thinking, why not just use it? (Use the momentum they have already built up to go in a more useful direction?) Throughout the tour, our friends kept saying this wonderful phrase:

“We just used Judo!”

This is a common principle in many martial arts, including Judo. Don’t be a brick wall to your opponent’s kicks or punches; use the momentum to your advantage!

Woodpeckers (Judo'd!)

For example, woodpeckers started pecking their wooden house siding. I know a lot of people in Northwest Arkansas who have the same issue, and many try to shoot, trap, scare, or poison them in an effort to save the owner’s houses. However, the Nakamuras used a different tactic—they found some of the tastiest woodpecker food on the market and then stocked it on two major feeders on opposite sides of the house.

Since woodpeckers are territorial, the two biggest, meanest woodpeckers found these gold mines and claimed opposite sides of the house as their territory. Within weeks, they had driven every other woodpecker in the area out! And since these two giant woodpeckers had the best thing around already, house siding was no longer appealing, and they stayed off the house. With a smile, Mr. Nakamura said:

“We have the best security guards in the world, and they’re on duty 24/7 for the small cost of refilling their food!”

What a great solution. And that’s what I find in therapy; most often the solutions are already in motion or on the scene, they just need a little coaxing to become allies instead of pests.

Waterfalls (Judo'd!)

Two other short examples stood out to me: First, the previous house owners pumped some water uphill to build a small waterfall. However, with time, it began eroding the natural limestone on the property and so the Nakamuras decided to shift gears to preserve the beautiful rock. They turned the upper holding pool into a peaceful koi pond and dried out the bottom landing pool so they could use it for a fire pit. So nice!

Deer (Judo'd!)

Second, they planted a garden, but small families of deer would show up and eat all of the yummy fresh veggies. So, they used Judo logic. They provided a tastier deer treat (corn) a few yards from the garden and also planted marigolds along the edge of the short garden fence because they heard that deer avoid them. Lastly, to take care of the gap in the fence they used as an entrance, they placed wind chimes, which the deer couldn’t pass without making them ring, in turn scaring them away.

“We just used judo!” The Nakamuras knew that there were beautiful and natural ways to use both the momentum and characters already on scene to their advantage. This non-oppositional approach is dynamite in therapy as well. Instead of blocking, stopping, or negating my clients’ patterns, I find small, yet meaningful shifts that can make their patterns work for them.

Milton Erickson—Father of Modern Hypnotherapy

Lastly, a story of one of my therapy heroes comes to mind. Milton Erickson grew up in the early 1900s on a farm. One day his dad was tugging desperately on a rope tied to a calf’s neck in an effort to drag it forward into the barn. But the calf dug in his hoofs and wouldn’t budge. Milton came up to his father and asked if he could try a different tactic. He walked behind the calf and started pulling on the calf’s tail, and since the calf was in an oppositional mood, he dug in his heels the other way and started pushing forward to oppose Milton’s pulling backward. Milton gradually began “letting him win” (taking steps forward), and within a few moments the calf was safe in the barn, and Milton avoided the sweat and sore hands his father now had.

Pushing against things is exhausting and frustrating.

It seems to make enemies, and things we try to actively push away seem to come back with double force. That’s why “using Judo” is so effective—it embraces what’s already going on and shifts it slightly to give desired results!


Case Examples

Here are a few clinical examples from people I’ve seen in my office (identifying details have been changed):


had an “ADD mind” and would “race back and forth all day,” so he told me he “couldn’t go into hypnosis” even though he said he’d really like to. Since hypnosis is more about meeting your mind where it’s at and being unified in a certain way, I used his “ADD pace” to enter trance with him instead of making him slow down for trance.

His racing thoughts were the perfect feedback to track into a deep trance. He did great work in trance and expressed feeling great after the session, saying he could finally “really relax” after weeks of restlessness.


said that she wanted to stop being so impulsive so that she would stop eating extra calories and end up bingeing. I figured that telling her to “STOP BEING IMPULSIVE!” would’ve been the opposite of Judo (and more like a brick wall), so I instead offered her a slightly different interpretation of her impulses.

She had many impulses and scattered thoughts outside of the food realm, and I saw these as a prerequisite to focus. Being impulsive was like working a hard day’s work in order to really rest at the end, with her “rest” being completely present and focused without distraction (which she was very gifted at, after a dose of impulsivity). She absorbed it and made sense of impulsivity in a new way.

Once she was no longer oppositional to her impulsivity, but saw how its momentum was paramount to her focus, it had no hold on her, and she reported the next week that she ate next to zero extra snacking and candy calories. “In fact,” she said, “now when I look back I don’t think it even crossed my mind, for some reason or another.” (Yep! Judo.)


was a young boy with severe phobias. In fact, he’d been clinically diagnosed before coming to see me and endured “exposure therapy” to help him. It didn’t seem to help him, so when he showed up in my office, I explored just how he knew which things to be afraid of.

He described intense, vivid, scary possibilities, like “what if your chair leg snaps off and you fall to the ground and your arm hits that flower pot and flies into the ceiling fan, sending shards of it into all of our eyes?” This imagined possibility takes quite a mind to create, no? So I highlighted the unique gift a mind like his has to transfer an ordinary situation into a surprising, fantastical one (and sometimes scary).

Once this heightened imagination was framed as a gift for both good and ill, Jedd started noticing just how often he saw the world in unique ways—some of which were actually delightful—and soon he had way fewer scary imaginations and lots more delightful ones (or at least began noticing the delightful ones again). He even made it a game that he could play anywhere: “I wonder what things I’ll notice about this experience that no one else will…” His phobias plummeted and his creativity soared.


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