Thinking about thinking and feelings

Blog Post

Let’s talk about the concept of Thinking!

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

13th January 2021

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Introduction

This is my belated New Year gift to you!

For years I’ve been strongly attracted to particular subjects. In particular:

– 1. Thinking… (more effectively, or creatively, or intelligently, etc.)…

– 2. Wisdom… (As in Eastern wisdom; De Bono’s book of wisdom; how to live well)…

– 3. Wealth creation… (Not considered in this blog post…)

– 4. Personal and professional success, leading to happiness…

The thinkerIn the bookshops of the world, these four subjects tend to be filed under Self-help; Psychology; Mind, Body, Spirit; or Smart Thinking; in the main.

But it is in the area of counselling and psychotherapy that subjects 1 and 2 (thinking and wisdom) now interest me the most. This is partly because of the recent ascendency of Cognitive Therapy and Rational Therapy (CBT/REBT); and their subsequently being leap-frogged by Affect Regulation Theory; Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB); and Polyvagal Theory.

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Regarding the concept of thinking

Edward de BonoDr Edward de Bono (who has four doctoral degrees) once wrote that, We learn what to think long before we learn how to think.[1]

My original response to that statement was to lament the fact that I was not taught how to think when I was a child (or when I was any age, for that matter!)

My second response was this: If we assume De Bono is correct about this, than we have to acknowledge that this situation has both negative and positive consequences.  The negative consequence would be that we have missed out on the development of a skill; but a more importance consequence is this: We learn to be moral beings long before we are consulted about whether to be good or evil!

My third response arose when I read about chapter on the teaching of critical thinking skills in secondary schools, in a book on Educational Research[2].  The point that stood out in that particular chapter was this: Secondary school pupils have proved quite skillful at piggy-backing immoral conclusions on the back of a critical thinking argument.  (Some therapists have also done this.  for example, Dr Albert Ellis’s famous [though spurious] arguments to the effect that there are no valid moral arguments (just preferences); and that therefore “life does not have to be fair”).

And my eventual response today is this: Dr (x4) Edward De Bono learned his language from his parents; who learned their language from their parents; and all the way back to the plains of the Serengeti – (if indeed that is where we began!)  The language Little Edward learned from his parents including the concept of “thinking”.  In his work on the idea of thinking, and “thinking as a skill set”, he failed to stop and ask himself: “Is ‘thinking’ a valid concept?  To what does it refer? How do we know that anybody engages in something called ‘thinking’, as distinct from ‘Perceiving-Feeling-Thinking’?

Ernst von glasersfeld, radical constructivismI got this idea, of the integrated nature of perceiving-feeling-thinking from Ernst von Glasersfeld[3], who argued that, rather than engaging in logical reasoning, children (in schools) engage in ‘perfinking’ (which is shorthand for perceiving-feeling-thinking).

Even Albert Ellis – who eventually evolved the most simplistic model of the human mind and behaviour in the history of psychotherapy (the simple ABC model) – started out, in 1954-62 with an understanding that we humans have interactional processes called thinking, feeling and behaviour, and that they each influence each other reciprocally.  However, because Ellis would not focus on the ontogeny of an individual child – but preferred to infer psychological processes from adult functioning, and ancient philosophy – he failed to note that this is not a chicken and egg situation (in which we can never determine which came first). When we focus on the ontogeny of an individual baby, and follow its childhood development, we know for sure that affects and emotions are primary, and what we call thinking/reasoning comes much later!

The Emotive-Cognitive-Embodied approach

Front cover, Lifestyle Counselling, 2020In my approach to counselling and therapy, summarized in my book, Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person***, I agree with Allan Schore, as summarized by Daniel Hill (2015), the limbic system (or emotional centres of the mid-brain) is placed at the centre of a network, and integrates: the body; the upper brain; and the sensed social environment.

Siegel’s (2015) argument is that the baby’s ‘primary feelings’ – (which can be expressed by us as ‘this is good’; ‘this is bad’; or ‘this feels good’; ‘this feels bad’) – are elaborated over time into (categorical) emotions (of anger, sadness, joy, fear, etc.).

Furthermore, babies need external regulation (soothing), and it’s the quality, quantity and timeliness of that soothing that shapes the baby’s dominant mood and habitual emotional profile. (Siegel, 2015, page 183).

As we grow and develop, interact with our care-givers, learn to read their nonverbal emotional states, and increasingly acquire language, we also evolve/ acquire higher cognitive emotions (like guilt, shame, pride, love, embarrassment, elevation, envy, and jealousy, etc.): and the flow of basic emotions, and socially-shaped emotions, is what creates meaning in our lives, and allows us to appraise our situations in life. According to Siegel (2015): Emotions do not follow from thinking.  Thinking (or, preferably, reasoning, in conscious language) follows from socialized-emotion.  Attention and perception are also modulated by emotion. Emotions are basic to who we are and who we become.  And the central features of emotion are (non-conscious) appraisal and (non-conscious) arousal.  (Siegel, 2015. Pages 184-185).

Our ability to manage our emotions, to “regulate our affects”, is a function of our history of attachment with our primary carers and subsequent significant others. (Bowlby, 1988/2005; Schore, 2015; Siegel, 2015; Wallin, 2007[4]).

The E-CENT perspective

brick-man-headIn E-CENT theory, we see that slightly differently.  Firstly, innate feelings precede, and are the foundation for, subsequent socialized perfinking (perceiving-feeling-thinking).  What we call ‘thinking’ never was a separate function of the brain-mind.  It is one of our delusions (Gray, 2003) that we are thinking beings; that we think; that we have thoughts; that we can reason, separately and apart from feelings and automatic perceptions!

To an E-CENT counsellor, a client has two major aspects:

First, s/he is:

(1) A physical/cultural organism, with all of his/her cumulative, interpretive (perfinked) experiences, stored in long-term memory, below the level of conscious awareness, and permanently beyond conscious inspection: (Byrne 2009b).  But the client is also:

(2) A subjective, felt-being, and feeling-being, a virtual self which feels like a concrete reality in the world.  (Erwin, 1997)[5].

I do not think it ethical – or perfink it to be ethical – that we relate to the client exclusively on the basis of aspect (1) above.  We must always recognize aspect (2) as the dominant reality for the client; while aspect (1) is the dominant reality for science.

But although E-CENT counsellors use science to find our way through the swamp of social and individual psychology, we are not primarily scientists.

We are primarily healers and feeling – perfinking – beings.  We not only show our clients cognitive empathy (like all other systems of counselling and therapy) but also emotive empathy. We feel for the client; and with the client: (as do ‘affect regulation’ therapists – Hill, 2015).

And our obvious pain upon learning of the client’s suffering is part of what heals them!  (Because they ‘feel felt’!)

We do not overly emphasize the client’s so-called thinking, though we do engage in talk therapy, but a form of talk therapy which recognizes that the client is a body-brain-mind who engages in perceiving-feeling-thinking.

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I hope you found this little reflection exercise to be stimulating and helpful.

Best wishes,

Jim

Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

The ABC Bookstore Online

The E-CENT Institute

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

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Email: Dr Jim’s Email Address***

Telephone: 01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

Or: 44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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Footnotes

[1] De Bono, E. (1995) Teach Yourself to Think.  London: Viking/ Penguin.

[2] Cohen, L., Manion, L. and Morrison, K. (2007) Research Methods in Education.  Sixth edition.  London: Routledge – Taylor & Francis Group.

[3] Glasersfeld, E. von (1989) ‘Learning as a constructive activity’. In Murphy, P. and Moon, B. (eds) Developments in Learning and Assessment.  London: Hodder and Stoughton.

[4] Wallin, D.A. (2007) Attachment in Psychotherapy.  New York: Guildford Press.

[5] Erwin, E. (1997) Philosophy and Psychotherapy: Razing the troubles of the brain, London, Sage.

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Byrne, J.W. (2020) Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching of the Whole Person (2): Or how to incorporate nutrition insights, physical exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy. Updated and Expanded Edition.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

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