Traps, Dilemmas and Snags

There are certain ways of thinking and acting that do not achieve what we want but which are hard to change. When Tony Ryle was meeting with patients he began to recognise three main patterns of problems that kept people stuck and unable to change their ideas or behaviour. He called these Traps, Dilemmas and Snags and they are included in the ‘Psychotherapy File’ which is often used at the beginning of therapy as a way of helping a person begin to think about their problems. Examples of each are given below: 


Traps are things we cannot escape from. Certain kinds of thinking and acting result in a ‘vicious circle’ when, however hard we try, things seem to get worse instead of better. Trying to deal with feeling bad about ourselves, we think and act in ways that tend to confirm our badness.

2. DILEMMAS (False choices and narrow options)

We often act as we do, even when we are not completely happy with it, because the only other ways we can imagine, seem as bad or even worse. Sometimes we assume connections that are not necessarily the case - as in “If I do ‘x’ then ‘y’ will follow”. These false choices can be described as either/or, or, if/then dilemmas. We often don’t realise that we see things like this, but we act as if these were the only possible choices. Recognising them is the first step to changing them.


Snags are what is happening when we say ‘I want to have a better life, or I want to change my behaviour but......’ Sometimes this comes from how we or our families thought about us when we were young; such as ‘she was always the good child’, or ‘in our family we never...’ Sometimes the snags come from the important people in our lives not wanting us to change, or not able to cope with what our changing means to them. Often the resistance is more indirect, as when a parent, husband or wife becomes ill or depressed when we begin to get better.

In other cases we seem to ‘arrange’ to avoid pleasure or success, or if they come, we have to pay in some way, by depression, or by spoiling things. Often this is because, as children, we came to feel guilty if things went well for us, or felt that we were envied for good luck or success. Sometimes we have come to feel responsible, unreasonably, for things that went wrong in the family, although we may not be aware that this is so. It is helpful to learn to recognise how this sort of pattern is stopping you getting on with your life, for only then can you learn to accept your right to a better life and begin to claim it.

ACAT Calendar for September
1111th September 2017
CAT Introductory Event: Two day Introduction to Cognitive Analytic Therapy - offered by Collaborate
1515th September 2017
CAT Introductory Event: ACAT: Two Day Introduction to CAT
CPD Event: A CAT Approach to Organisational Dynamics - offered by Catalyse
Training Committee, Final date for submission of TC agenda Items
2020th September 2017
ACAT International Conference: 7th International CAT Conference
2121st September 2017
CPD Event: Mindfulness Retreat offered by Catalyst East Anglia
University of Nottingham
2222nd September 2017
ACAT AGM: ACAT Annual General Meeting 2017
University of Nottingham
Exam Board, Final Accreditation Submission Date
Trustees, Final Date for submission of Agenda Items
2323rd September 2017
University of Nottingham

Contact Details

ACAT Administration Manager:Susan Van Baars

Administrators:Maria Cross
Alison Marfell

Postal Address:ACAT
PO Box 6793
United Kingdom

Phone:+44(0) 1305 263 511

Office Hours:Monday to Thursday
9am to 5pm

News from ACAT

The Clinician's Guide to Forensic Music Therapy by Dr Stella Compton Dickinson and Dr Laurien Hakvoort - press release Press Release: The Clinician's Guide to Forensic Music Therapy – first book to offer clear, evidence-based manuals for forensic music therapists treating psychiatric patients and prisoners....

New Conference Audio Library for ACAT Members ACAT Members can now listen to a collection of audio recordings from ACAT's National Conferences from 2009 - 2015....

Both CAT Practitioners and CAT Psychotherapists count as Psychological Therapists in the Centre for Workforce Intelligence Review The Centre for Workforce Intelligence (CfWI) have recently completed a Department of Health commissioned review of adult psychological therapies to improve workforce planning. Please take the time and opportunity to read the report, and to ensure tha...

Click to read all news

Please help us by completing our NEW visitor survey... it will only take 5 minutes. Thanks!