Method of Levels – a cognitive therapy based on Perceptual Control Theory (PCT)

Interesting – another new application of systems thinkig I hadn’t heard about today, despite having spent a few years at this game!

Method of Levels (MOL), is a cognitive therapy based on Perceptual Control Theory (PCT).

It is a person-centredmetacognitive, and transdiagnostic approach to therapy, based on active listening and questioning. Clients are assisted in generating solutions and gaining control over their distress, emphasising focus on process rather than content.

MOL can be used to enhance the effectiveness of treatments for specific problems and mental disorders, and also to address issues in the delivery of treatment such as lack of engagement, poor motivation, and resistance.

What Sort of Therapy is MOL?

MOL is a flexible and powerfully effective and efficient transdiagnostic cognitive therapy. MOL engages each person’s internal resources to promote their own recovery in an enduring and generative way. The starting point for MOL is the subjective experience of the individual and, by assisting people to expand their awareness and increase the interconnectedness of their internal worlds, they are able to make different sense of their difficulties and forge new and more contented lives. By providing treatment from the individual’s perspective. As a transdiagnostic therapeutic approach MOL is well suited to complex cases as well as addressing some of the more difficult problems in therapy  such as noncompliance, lack of engagement, and poor motivation.

Using MOL

MOL has been used in the UK and Australia in primary care, secondary care, and private practice with good results. MOL focusses on the distress underlying symptom presentations rather than the symptoms themselves so, instead of helping people overcome symptoms, MOL helps people understand and resolve psychological distress.

The Theory Behind MOL

MOL is based on an understanding that the neurocircuitry of the brain is organised according to control system architecture. This architecture is described in a theory called Perceptual Control Theory (PCT). PCT suggests that these hierarchically arranged negative feedback loops ensure that the world is experienced as the individual intends it to be. Control is fundamental to satisfactory and contented day-to-day living. People experience psychological distress when their neural control systems work in opposition to each other. One control system might try to create a sense of safety, for example, while another is striving for excitement and risk. Or one control system might seek social approval at the same time that another is pushing for autonomy and independence.

MOL Therapists

MOL therapists recognise that they can’t ever really “walk a mile” in another person’s shoes so they don’t even try. Instead, they spend all of their time helping the other person examine in detail the shoes they are wearing, and finding out about the miles the person would like to walk in them. How do they fit? Do they have the right shoes for the job? Where do they plan to walk? What might be up ahead? MOL therapists understand that, fundamentally, people get themselves better when they are psychologically distressed and they work hard at being therapeutically useful by facilitating the “getting better process”. (pdf)

An Introduction to Using the Method of Levels (MOL) Therapy to Work with People Experiencing Psychosis

Sara J. Tai, BA (Hons), MSc, D.ClinPsy, CPsycholPublished Online:30 Apr 2018


This paper provides a basic introduction to using method of levels (MOL) therapy with people experiencing psychosis. As MOL is a direct application of perceptual control theory (PCT), a brief overview of the three main theoretical principles of this theory—control, conflict, and reorganization will be outlined in relation to understanding psychosis. In particular, how these principles form the basis of problem conceptualisation and determine what an MOL therapist is required to do during therapy will be illustrated. A practical description of MOL will be given, using case examples and short excerpts of therapeutic interactions. Some direct contrasts will also be made with cognitive behaviour therapy for psychosis (CBTp) and psychodynamic approaches (PA) in order to help illustrate the theory and practice of MOL.