Can counsellors become truly holistic and polymathic?

Dr Jim’s Blog Post

22nd April 2020

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Can counsellors become truly holistic – truly polymathic – or are they permanently stuck in the ruts created by Sigmund Freud and Carl Rogers?  

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Introduction

Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow, by Bern Schwartz - NPG P1256In 1959, Charles Percy Snow declared that there was a serious gulf of incomprehension between scientists and humanists; and this has only got worse over the years. On January 11th, 2020, writing in The Lancet Correspondence section – Michael Araki declared that, “We have been in the age of the two cultures for too long – the losses, as Snow foreshadowed 60 years ago, are taking their toll. To face today’s daunting problems, our institutions must go beyond their old, crippling strategies, and design novel structures that leverage the power of polymathy. By allowing polymathic thinking to flourish, society will be in a much better position to reach the innovation required to tackle our most pressing challenges”. (Page 114).

CAuses of emotional disturbanceAnd the problems that I am most concerned with have to do with the fact that, while economic policy and environmental stresses and strains (as well as lifestyle factors) affect mental health, happiness and emotional well-being, most counsellors and psychotherapists are still ignoring those aspects of their client’s situation; and focussing on such narrow issues as: “What are you telling yourself?” and “How did your mother treat you?” – to the exclusion of diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation, housing conditions, economic circumstances, current relationships, personality adaptations, and a whole host of stressors coming from growing inequality and insecurity of employment.

Some of those factors are beyond the control of the counsellor and the client; but the lifestyle factors can, to at least some extent, be brought under the control of the client, if the counsellor would only address their importance.

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Adding back the body to the disembodied mind

Body-mindsAs early as 1948, Merleau-Ponty was drawing attention to the disastrous way in which the followers of Descartes (rather than Descartes himself) had misled us into dumping the body, and focusing exclusively on the mind (as if it was not a function of a body-brain, linked to an inescapable space-time environment).

This is what he wrote on that subject:

“We are once more learning to see the world around us, the same world which had turned away from in the conviction that our senses had nothing worthwhile to tell us, sure as we were that only strictly objective knowledge was worth holding onto.  We are rediscovering our interest in the space in which we are situated. Though we see it only from a limited perspective – our perspective – this space is nevertheless where we reside and we relate to it through our bodies”. (Page 53, The World of Perception, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1948; republished in London in 2008 by Routledge.

But there is very little evidence today that most counsellors and therapists have discovered “an interest in the space in which we are situated”. (Gestalt therapists are the obvious exception!)

The frequently overlooked fact is this: We relate to the world in which we live, through our bodies; or, as we say in E-CENT; we relate to our social and physical environment through our body-brain-mind (as sustained or undermined by our diet, exercise, sleep, self-talk, relaxation, and our historic and current relationships; the state of the economy and society in which we live; and so on).

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Emotions are embodied realities, with positive functions

We have, yesterday, released our latest book, which is built upon our comprehensive, polymathic approach to human biology and culture.  The subject is how to control your anxiety; but it is a far cry from the trite ‘ABC’s of anxiety’ promoted by the CBT/REBT community.  Here is how we announced it:

Foreword

By Dr Jim Byrne

Preamble

Front cover 2Many people live lives which are tied up in knots of worry, anxiety, fear, apprehension and dread.  They can hardly remember what it was like to feel relaxed, happy and at ease.  This book will teach you how to cut through these kinds of emotional knots, from various angles, one at a time, to produce a state of greatly improved relaxation and ease.

This book will show you how to tackle one thing at a time; one aspect of your anxiety problem(s) at a time; so you do not become overloaded or overwhelmed.

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We have all heard of a ‘Gordian knot’, which is a very difficult or intractable problem.  Many of our problems consist of getting ourselves tied up in knots, trying to avoid the unavoidable difficulties of life.  We also tend to tie ourselves in knots trying to avoid the necessity to take responsibility for our own lives. And we weave some knotty, tangled webs when we fail to be scrupulously honest with ourselves.  (But, of course, our early childhood, which is normally something of a nightmare, tends to throw us into a tangle of knots, which are not of our own making!)

And all of this tangling and knotting goes on as we sleepwalk through our lives.  The important thing is to wake up, and to address the knots in our emotions, and to begin to untangle them, one by one.

Most people would agree that anxiety is a state of feeling fear, fright, alarm, or intense worry[1].  It is an intense emotion, which pains us in a way which is comparable to a physical pain.  It is not easy to ignore or brush off.  It can tighten our breathing, and make us tremble and become clammy. We often feel we are out of control, and in great danger.

Get your paperback copy today, from one of the following Amazon outlets:

Amazon US and worldwide Amazon UK and Ireland
   
Amazon Canada Amazon France
   
Amazon Germany Amazon Italy
   
Amazon Spain Amazon Japan
   

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Or you can buy a Kindle eBook version of this book from one of the following Amazon outlets:

Amazon.com, US+ Amazon UK + Ireland Amazon Germany
 
Amazon Spain Amazon Italy Amazon Nether-lands
 
Amazon Japan Amazon Brazil Amazon Canada
 
Amazon Mexico Amazon Australia Amazon India

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We go on to elaborate as follows:

Anxiety is not a disease; not a mental illness. Anxiety – at its best – is part of our normal, innate, mental signalling system which tells us what is happening to us, and what to do about it.  That is to say, it is part of our emotional wiring. Our emotional intelligence.  (For an official definition of anxiety, please see this endnote)[2]. But – at its worst – anxiety, in the body-brain-mind of an individual human being, often proves to be a complex knot of non-conscious self-mismanagement!

Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245

Trying to get rid of anxiety with drugs is like hanging two overcoats and a duvet over your burglar alarm bell when it goes off.  The burglar alarm is designed to give you helpful information, which you can then use to guide your action. Should you check to see if a burglar has got into your house? Or call the police? Or realize that you’ve mismanaged your alarm system, producing a false alarm, and that you should therefore switch it off?

Getting rid of the alarm signal, by dampening it down, defeats the whole object of having it in the first place!

Once you understand anxiety correctly, it becomes as useful as a burglar alarm; and you can learn how to manage it correctly.  (It’s just the exaggerated knotting of strands of anxiety, worry and stress that you need to cut through!)

When you buy a burglar alarm, it comes with a little Instruction Book about how to set it; calibrate it; monitor it; reset it; and switch it on and off.

cropped-e-cent-logo-1-red-lineYou should have got just such an Instruction Book about your anxiety alarm, from your parents, when you were very young – and some people did.  But if your alarm goes off at all times of day and night, in unhelpful ways, then I guess you were one of the unlucky ones who did not get your Instruction Book.  This current book contains your Instruction Book, plus lots of other backup information, which will help to make you the master of your anxiety, instead of its quaking slave.

Don’t let your burglar alarm make your life a misery. Learn how to use it properly!  (Learn how to cut the inappropriately alarming connections that do not serve you well).

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You can read some more on this subject here: https://abc-bookstore.com/how-to-reduce-and-control-your-anxiety/

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Jim and the Buddha, 2That’s all for now.

Sincere best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Joint Director, the Institute for E-CENT

Joint Director, the ABC Bookstore Online UK.

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Lifestyle self-management: Diet, exercise, sleep

E-CENT Blog Post

14th September 2018

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

Dr Jim’s Blog: Mental health is not just about childhood experiences;

Or about current stressors; or badly managed thoughts…

Mental health is related to diet and nutrition, inner dialogue, physical exercise, re-framing of experience, and sleep science…

Introduction

Revised-front-coverIn science as well as popular culture, the body and mind have long been pulled apart, and treated as separate entities.  And when they are treated as being connected – as in the modern psychiatric theory of ‘brain chemistry imbalances’ causing negative moods and emotions, the ‘brain chemistry’ in question is taken to be unrelated to how you use your body; what you eat; how well you sleep.  It is assumed to be ‘special brain chemistry’ – separate and apart from Lifestyle Factors – which can only be fixed by consuming dangerous drugs!

If you are interested in the impact of lifestyle practices on mental health and emotional states, then you will enjoy our page of information about how all of the ideas above are presented in our book about Lifestyle Counselling.  We see this as the core of most holistic healing practices of the future.

The way ahead

Body-brain-mindIn the immediate future, lifestyle counselling practice will be a novel service offering for counselling and psychotherapy clients who have realized that:

# the body and mind are intimately connected;

# that the body-mind is an open system, permeated by a whole range of lifestyle factors which can be managed well, or mismanaged,

# which results in excellent or poor mental health, physical health, and personal happiness.

In the pages of our popular book on lifestyle counselling, we have presented:

– a summary of our previous book about the impact of diet and exercise on mental health and emotional well-being;

– a chapter which integrates psychological theories of emotion with physical sources of distress – for the emotions of anger, anxiety and depression – and recommends treatment strategies;

– a chapter on the negative effects of sleep insufficiency on our thinking, feeling and behaviour;

– a chapter on how to re-frame any problem, using our Six Windows Model (which includes some perspectives from moderate Buddhism and moderate Stoicism) – but excludes the extreme forms of those philosophies of life!);

The SOR Model, Fig 1

  • a chapter on how to divine and assess the counselling client’s multiple sources of emotional disturbance, using our Holistic-SOR Model;

– and a chapter on how to set about teaching lifestyle change to counselling and therapy clients.

For a page of information about this book’s contents, including extracts, and the contents pages and index pages, please click the following link: *Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person… by Jim Byrne***

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

E-CENT Institute

Email: dr.byrne@ecent-institute.org

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Counselling tasks and relationships…

Blog Post No.132

Reposted on 1st June 2016 (Originally posted on Monday 12th October 2015)

Updated on 9th May 2020

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Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2015-2020

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Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: A counsellor blogs about three processes commonly found in E-CENT counselling…

Introduction

Courage-and-counselling.JPGCounselling and therapy, with a good therapist, offers a wonderful chance to have a better, happier, more meaningful life.  But people pass by this opportunity all too easily, on the way to the pub; the cake shop; the sweet shop; or one thousand and one other distractions and diversions.

I have often discussed with Renata the barriers that people put in the way of doing their therapy – of cleaning up their childhood history – and of learning to relate in the present moment in a loving and enjoyable way.  Here is one of the biggest barriers to entering counselling and therapy, as outlined by M. Scott Peck[1]:

“Entering psychotherapy is an act of the greatest courage.  The primary reason people do not undergo psychotherapy is not that they lack the money but that they lack the courage.  This even includes many (counsellors/ psychotherapists and) psychiatrists themselves, who somehow never quite seem to find it convenient to enter their own therapy…”  In general, psychotherapy clients are much stronger and healthier than the average.

My aim in this blog post is to help you to get a flavour of what it would be like to engage in E-CENT counselling, coaching or psychotherapy.

Revised-front-coverEmotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT), and E-CENT counselling and coaching, do not follow a rigid session structure.

We tailor our guidance, support and teaching to the needs of the individual client.

We do have a range of classic models that we use, and an equally extensive range of guiding principles.

But it often happens that a particular format emerges in our sessions (say, somewhat more than fifty percent of the time); which has the following three major elements:

 

  1. Affirmation of the client’s perceptions and feelings

Counselling-empahty.JPGWhen a new client arrives with an emotionally disturbing problem, we do not try to talk the client out of their perceptions and feelings.  We take it as read that their reactions are proportionate to the problem as they see it.  We look at them and their problems with the eyes of emotional empathy and understanding.  We engage in non-possessive caring, like many client-centred counsellors do.  But we go further in affirming the client as an emotional being.  We follow the guidance of Dr Robert Hobson in that we speak to our clients in a ‘feeling language’.

“The language of the world of things is literal and discursive (or cool and logical) whereas person-talk calls for a ‘language of the heart’, which I term feeling-language.  In order to ‘disclose’ to someone what I mean … I would have to tell stories … first one story, then another story … until ‘the penny drops’.  … (This) calls for a language which is more akin to an art form…:  A language not of ‘facts’ but of feeling”.[2]

We seek to re-parent and befriend our clients, in a specific, professional way; again as influenced by Robert Hobson:

Forms of Feeling By Robert F. Hobson“Ian Suttie … regarded psychotherapy as a quest for a ‘companionship’ with the client.  He drew attention to the embarrassed ‘taboo on tenderness’ which scares us all, especially ‘scientific’ psychotherapists.  There is no more effective barrier to treatment (in counselling and therapy).  Tenderness is akin to that of the loving relationship between the child and mother which is formed ‘with the intention of severance’.  The therapist needs to be a ‘mother’ (and a ‘father’), but s/he must move towards ‘friendship’, a more equal personal relationship”.  (Page 212).

By affirming our clients as they are, we create trust and hope and we often stimulate their capacity to love, which they apply in their relationships back home.  This is discussed by Hobson like this:

“The infant has potentialities to develop complex modes of experience and diverse patterns of behaviour.  These inborn tendencies need to be activated (made ‘actual’) by people and things in his environment.  Of crucial importance is the capacity to form rewarding attachments to particular persons, first to the mother and then to other people.  The success of psychotherapy, the well-being of any society, and perhaps the future of mankind, depends upon whether or not, and under what conditions, love can grow”. (Page 151).

Image result for cover of attachment in psychotherapyAs pointed out by Dr David Wallin, if this does not happen in the client’s actual childhood, then the develop insecure attachment style; but their brain-mind remains malleable, and they can get this missing ‘secure base’ in counselling and therapy relationships, during their adult lives:

“Very much as the original attachment relationship(s) (with mother and father) allowed the child to develop, it is ultimately the new relationship of attachment with the (counsellor) that allows the (client) to change. To paraphrase Bowlby (1988), such a relationship provides a secure base that enables the (client) to take the risk of feeling what s/he is not supposed to feel and knowing what s/he is not supposed to know”. (Wallin, page 3)[3].

E-CENT counselling and therapy provide a relationship within which to explore problems of personal relationships. Again, we have been influenced by the views of Robert Hobson:

ABC Bookstore Maximal Charles 2019“Problems in personal relationships cannot be solved by talking about them, by explaining them from outside.  They can only be explored and tackled effectively in the experience of being within a relationship”. (Hobson, Page 183).

The counsellor’s role is to provide a ‘secure space’, and also to promote autonomy of the client.

See more on our ABC Bookstore.***

So we work at developing our relationships with our clients; to become a secure base for them; to affirm them; and to help them to develop a secure attachment to us.  But at some point, sooner or later, we move on to exploring a range of ways of looking at the client’s problems.

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  1. Exploring a range of different interpretations

Naive-realismFolk-psychology (or ‘common sense’) misleads counselling clients into thinking that ‘what they see is all there is’; and that they have the capacity to see ‘reality’ directly.  This is not how philosophers and psychologists understand the world.

I have written about this in the introduction to one of my articles on how to look at any problem from several different perspectives.  This is what I wrote: “We do not see with our eyes so much as with our brains.  Eyes are part of the machinery of perception, but the decisions (or judgement) about ‘what it is’ that we see are not made by our eyes.

Those decisions are made by our ‘stored experiences’ driving our ‘judgements’.  We do not see ‘external events’ so much with our eyes, then, as we see them through ‘frames of reference and interpretation’ which were created in the past, and which we now implement as habit-based stimulus-response pairings.  Or we could call these responses ‘pattern matching’ processes.  We non-consciously conclude: ‘I’ve seen this stimulus (or ‘external event’) before.  This (particular interpretation) is the sense I made of it last time.  So that is how I have to relate to it this time’.”[4]

So, when our clients come to see us, we know they will have their own interpretations of their experiences, and some of those interpretations will be unhelpful, and actually emotionally disturbing for them.

See more on our ABC Bookstore.***

Picture 1 of 1E-CENT counselling teaches that there are many helpful perspectives on life, some of which come from Buddhism and some from Stoic philosophyOne of those perspectives was popularized in the 1980s by M. Scott Peck.  This is it: “Life is difficult.  This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.  It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.  Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult.  Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters”. (Scott Peck, 1990, page 13).

So we teach that life is difficult, and that it has to be faced.  We try to help our clients to loosen their interpretations; to explore their stories; to create new narrative.  This can be seen to be a ‘playful’ process, as described by Robert Hobson, who writes that:

“Donald Winnicott speaks of (counselling and) psychotherapy as a means of bringing someone into a state of being able to play, when previously this had been impossible.  In play, there is a childlike (but yet also adult) dissolution, reconstruction, and re-organization of memories, experiences, and events”. (Hobson, page 243).

In the playfulness of exploring narratives of your earlier life, you may have the startling but gratifying experience of creating a new life for yourself (because it is newly interpreted).

But it is rare that you can do this without facing up to some buried pain from the past.  Some pain that hurts, but does not kill!

See more on our ABC Bookstore.***

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  1. Helping the client to digest previously undigested experiences

Deferred-workFreud knew that we need to put some problems on one side, when we are young, because we do not feel strong enough to process them.  But we need to return to those problems when we are older.  We have to eventually digest them, chew them up, so we can be rid of their negative effects on our non-conscious functioning in the here and now.

E-CENT counselling teaches that life is difficult, but that you have to face up to the difficulty – to both experience it and reframe it – in order to make it ‘go away’.  According to Scott Peck:  “What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one.  Problems, depending upon their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger, or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair.  These are uncomfortable feelings, often very uncomfortable, often as painful as any kind of physical pain, sometimes equalling the very worst kind of physical pain.  Indeed, it is because of the pain that events or conflicts engender in us that we call them problems.  And since life poses an endless series of problems, life is always difficult and is full of pain as well as joy”.  (Page 14).

E-CENT counselling advocates ‘completing our experience’ of difficulties in our lives. The sooner we face up to the pain in our lives – the difficult parts, that involve some suffering – and process it, and digest it, the sooner we can get on with the pleasant and enjoyable parts:

In 2011, I wrote a paper on the importance of not just reframing your experience, so it look less threatening or frustrating or depressing; but also of completing your experience, by ‘allowing it to be’; ‘facing up to it’; ‘digesting it’; and feeling the pain.  This is how that paper began:

Preface

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life”.  Virginia Woolf

“Whatever you resist persists”.  Werner Erhard

The core of the theory and practice of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) is built around the concept of “reframing your experience” of life, so that it will show up in a more tolerable and bearable way than if you frame it illogically and unreasonably.  Normally the client knows what the problem is.  It is available to their conscious awareness.  And the E-CENT counsellor encourages them to look at it through a variety of ‘lenses’ or ‘windows’, so they can see it differently. (Byrne, 2009b).

On the other hand, sometimes a client may have a problem buried in their past, about which they know nothing, and this buried problem – this ‘denied pain’ – is the main driver of their current depression, anxiety, panic, or anger.  With these kinds of archaic problems of repression, we use techniques related to the concept of “digging up” and “completing” that archaic experience; of “digesting it”; so it can be filed away in an inactive file, in the background of their life, where it cannot cause them any more psychological problems.[5]

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See more on our ABC Bookstore.***

When we are vulnerable children, a certain amount of denial of pain is helpful for survival; but this strategy of denial has to be abandoned in adulthood, and we have to face up to the truth of where we began, and what we experienced, and how it hurt or harmed us at that time.  Only then can we burn it up in the glare of consciousness; and file it away in inactive files in long-term memory; where it will no longer bother us.

Picture 1 of 1As M. Scott Peck argues: “…Let us teach ourselves and our children the necessity for suffering and the value thereof; the need to face problems directly and to experience the pain involved.  I have stated that discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. It will become clear that these tools are techniques of suffering, means by which we experience the pain of problems in such a way as to work them through and solve them successfully, learning and growing in the process.  When we teach ourselves and our children discipline, we are teaching them and ourselves how to suffer and also how to grow”. (Page 15).

When we try to resist unavoidable pain – necessary pain, such as the pain of an actual loss – we get stuck with it.  When we face up to it, and fully experience it – digest it – it can then dissolve and disappear over time.

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So, it clearly takes courage to come to counselling and therapy.  It can be a bit like going to the dentist.  But you would not let your teeth rot to avoid the pain of the dental exam; so why let your heart and mind rot because of your fear of facing up to legitimate emotional grief, or hurt, or sadness?

See more on our ABC Bookstore.***

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If you are ready to do your therapy now, and you want to explore what Renata and I have to offer, then please take a look at:

Division 1: Jim’s counselling and psychotherapy services.***

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Division 2: Renata’s coaching and counselling services.***

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I hope you find this blog post helpful.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

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[1] M. Scott Peck (1990) The Road Less Travelled: The new psychology of love, traditional values and spiritual growth.  Pages 55-56. (112)

[2] Robert F. Hobson, Forms of Feeling: The heart of psychotherapy, Page 20. (25)

[3] Dr David Wallin, Attachment in Psychotherapy, 2007, page 3.

[4] Dr Jim Byrne, An Introduction to the Windows Model of E-CENT, http://www.abc-counselling.com/id174.html

[5] Dr Jim Byrne (2011) E-CENT Paper No.13: Completing your past experience of difficult events, perceptions, and painful emotions. http://www.abc-counselling.com/id356.html

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