Way back, the British wanted to reduce the amount of cobras in colonial Delhi, so they decided to start a bounty on those snakes. And they expected this would solve the problem. All of a sudden, they were getting many cobra skins as evidence to claim their bounty for killing the snake.
The people in Delhi were smart. They began to farm cobras. But as soon as the scheme was rescind, the cobra farmers didn’t know what to do with these snakes. so what do you do when there’s no market? You release them.
Instead of solving a problem, you end up amplifying the existing concern or worse, creating a new one. Thus, the law of unintended consequence was born. (Also known as the “Cobra effect”).
The Cobra effect is not just a phenomena in India. The law of unintended consequence was observed in Hanoi when the French tried to eradicate rats in the city (same deal with what happened in Delhi with snakes), and in Columbia, Mexico and Bejing when they tried to reduce the heavy traffic by restricting cars entering into the city (people got a second car to avoid the same license plate being detected on the road).
What is one of the cobra effects to watch out for in the field of psychotherapy?”
Focusing too much on what we are “taking” by conducting a thorough intake clinical assessment and in turn, losing sight on what we are “giving” from the perspective of our clients. As many as 20-30% of clients attend 1 session and do not continue with therapy. (I spent an entire book addressing this issue, on how to undo the way we are trained and provide doors of alternative possibilities).
For more, check out a series of blogposts on how to improve your first sessions.
In theory, a sound intake is good advice. In practice, you end up with a client who might say, “I don’t understand why I’m paying this person for answering all her questions…I don’t see where this is going. And all she said at the end was, ‘We have ran out time. I’d see you next week…’
Erm, maybe not.”
YOUR TURN: What other cobra effects—the law of unintended consequences—do you see in our practice of psychotherapy? I love to hear from you.
 I first learned about the cobra effect from this excellent episode of Freakonomics podcast