Reflections on my professional development

Blog post: 11th June 2019

Growing and changing as a counsellor/ psychotherapist

An amazing journey

By Dr Jim Byrne

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Introduction

MensGroup2In this blog I want to write about the ways in which counselling practice may evolve, in the hands of a counsellor who has learning as their top value in action, as I have.  In the process I will reflect briefly on my journey through Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). I will also look at the kind of body-mind-environment approach to counselling that came out of my progression.  And I will look at the impact of diet, exercise and sleep on emotional well-being and mental health.

It seems to me that a counsellor could spend their whole career doing pretty much the same thing, in slightly different ways, with a host of clients.  Or they could change and grow on an almost daily basis, ass a result of feedback from their clients; from reading; from detective-ing; and from reflecting on their practice.

My journey began like the former, static model; and then broke apart under several pressures and stresses, into a dynamic journey of innovation and growth.

The change-inducing factors

Call-out 1, REBT fantasyI began to study Rational therapy (REBT) in 1992, during a career crisis; kept up that study; and then set up in private practice as an REBT coach/counsellors, in November 1998.  At that time I was convinced that REBT was a complete system of therapy, which lacked nothing, and had superseded all other systems of counselling and therapy. (How deluded we can be, even after studying for a Master’s degree!)

But cracks began to appear almost at once.  One of my first three clients could not abide the Disputing process of REBT; and so I always used Gestalt therapy combined with Transactional Analysis (TA) with him.  Another was mainly in need of help with his relationship with his wife – and so I mainly used ideas from Werner Erhard’s Relationship’s Course, and ideas from Dr John Gottman’s system.  And another was mainly interested in business coaching.

However, from time to time, I had a pure REBT client, who I treated to a relatively pure REBT approach.  But not often.

Then, in 2001, I began to study (post-masters) a diploma in counselling, psychology and psychotherapy, involving 13 different systems of counselling and therapy, including Freud and Jung; Rogers and Perls; the existentialists and the behaviourists; the cognitivists and Multimodal therapy; and many more besides.

Many of the fascinating ideas from those systems of therapy crept into my daily counselling practice; diluting my REBT commitment enormously.

Call-out 2, non-mental disturbancesBut it was not any of this that caused me to begin to move dramatically away from REBT.  No.  It was the fact that I often had clients who seemed to be very depressed, or very anxious, but who could not come up with any real or symbolic losses, failures, threats or dangers, to account for their psychological symptoms.  But they had one thing in common; a swollen belly; red eyes and white tongues; or a tendency to scratch at their crotches.  They each had a problem of gut disbiosis, called Candidiasis, or systemic overgrowth of Candida Albicans in their large intestine.  I recognized these symptoms, because I had wrestled with this condition myself, for a couple of decades by that time.  So I helped them to address their problems with Candida, and their depression and/or anxiety cleared up.  (Recent research suggests that Candida Albicans [and gluten; and stress] can cause a condition called ‘leaky gut’, which allows who molecules of food, or toxic wastes, to pass through the gut wall, and into the bloodstream. This also causes [or co-occurs with] ‘leaky brain’, whereby the blood-brain barrier becomes porous, allowing toxins into the brain, and affecting mood and emotions!)

The body-mind connection

Body-brain-mindThe human body and mind have always been connected; and understood by some like this: The mind is a function of the body-brain, shaped by cumulative-interpretive social experience.  But it is, of course, also influenced by whatever affects the bodily component: like diet, exercise, sleep, physical illness, etc.

I began to get clients who were stressed, and some of their stress was coming from the actual pressures in their lives.  But some was also coming from their diets.  So I developed a stress and anxiety diet; taught it to some clients; and their stress symptoms cleared up.

Of course, at the same time, I was also attempting various elements of talk therapy; but paying increasing attention to the need to check out the client’s diet; the state of their guts; their use of alcohol and recreational drugs; and so on.  This took me a little beyond the insights of Arnie Lazarus, the creator of Multimodal Therapy, who, strangely – whilst spotting the importance of drugs/biology – overlooked the role of diet and exercise in emotional functioning.

Beyond REBT

Front cover of reissued REBT bookEventually, all of my accumulated learning became combined with a disillusionment with REBT, especially after 2005-2007, when the Albert Ellis Institute melted into infighting between two factions, the larger of which (rationally/irrationally???) ousted Albert Ellis.

And then I began to reflect more critically on the underlying theory of REBT, and it fell apart in my hands. 

I wrote all of this up in a book, which has now been replaced by a reissued critique of REBT, titled A Major Critique of REBT: Revealing the many errors in the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy.***

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Creating E-CENT

I then began to write papers on various aspects of counselling and therapy, which built up into the theory of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy.

Front cover Holistic Couns reissuedThe first book on this subject was titled Holistic Counselling in Practice.***

This book contained two appendices by my wife and professional partner, Renata Taylor-Byrne, and we came to realize that those two pieces of desktop research should not be hidden away in the back of a book; but deserved to be published in their own right.

So we rewrote those two documents, and they became Parts 1 and 2 of a new book.

Part 1 is titled, Diet, nutrition and the implications for anger, anxiety and depression management.

Part 2 is titled, Physical exercise and common emotional problems.

Those two parts help the reader to know how to use diet and exercise to tackle their own anger, anxiety and/or depression; or to help others to do so.

Part 3 is Dr Jim’s Stress and Anxiety Diet, which consists of fifteen pages of advice on specific foods and drinks to avoid, or to consume.

Part 4 looks at the scientific research which looked at the links between nutritional deficiencies and emotional disorders.

Part 5 consists of fifteen pages on how to change any dietary or exercise habit.

The book’s title is this: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression: Using nutrition and physical exercise.***

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Lifestyle counselling and coaching

The next move was to try to figure out how to help counsellors who wanted to move in the direction of adding back the body to their counselling clients’ minds.

Cover, full, revised 7- Feb 13 2018We already had a lot of material on diet and exercise; and so Renata began to research sleep science, books and papers.  And we generated a preliminary book chapter on sleep in relation to emotional stability from that work.

Front cover Lifestyle CounsellingWe also had a lot of material on the various historical approaches to understanding the human mind and emotions.  So we began to collate the materials which might make a compatible range of book chapters. We included or approach to re-framing problems, derived from moderate Buddhism and moderate Stoicism; but excluding all extreme elements. We then compiled a chapter on the use of the E-CENT models for a counselling session, shaped by the Jungian standard structure.  And then, in Chapter 9, we presented a set of guidelines on how to incorporate lifestyle and health coaching into any system of talk therapy.  The resulting book was titled Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person: Or how to integrate nutritional insights, exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy.***

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The emergence of the Sleep Book

By this stage, Renata was so engrossed in sleep science research that she could not stop.

She spent at least eighteen months, and probably more, reviewing 108 books and articles, and wrestling with the material to shape it into an elegant and useful resource for self-help enthusiasts with sleep problems; and also for counsellors and therapists who get a lot of clients with sleep problems, like insomnia.

Full cover JPEG, 21 April 2019

This is how the preface of her book begins:

“Arianna Huffington had lost her understanding of the need for sleep when, in 2017, she fainted with physical exhaustion at work, causing her head to crash down on her desk as she was working. She broke her cheekbone, had to have stiches in her right eye, and it was a massive shock to her.

“A taxi driver who was suffering from a serious sleep disorder, and who was seriously sleep deprived, nearly caused the death of William Dement, one of the pioneers in sleep medicine. The driver had undiagnosed sleep apnoea (see later, or see the Glossary for definition), and had micro-sleeps (or moments of unconsciousness) as a result, when he was driving. He fell asleep at the wheel of the taxi, and Dement managed to grab the wheel of the car, as it careered into the opposite lane of the motorway.

“When Dement (2000) questioned the driver afterwards, the driver said he’d been to several doctors without any cure being offered for his sleep apnoea, high blood pressure, snoring and constant fatigue.

“’If my driver had crashed into the Columbia River gorge, the accident would have been blamed on brake failure or some other nonsense. That my death was sleep related, let alone that it was caused by obstructive sleep apnoea, would never be known.”

“With the evidence from sleep scientists becoming increasingly available to the public, we now have a chance to see how lack of sleep ravages the body, and compromises the mind, in so many different ways. One good example is this research result: When research participants had their sleep restricted to four to five hours, for just one night, the natural killer cells in their immune system were reduced by 70%!

“And there is a lot of research to show that lack of sleep makes us angrier, less happy, and prone to serious physical and mental diseases.

Front cover, sleep book, Feb 2019“People who are deprived of sleep have been shown, in laboratory experiments, to be unable to accurately assess the emotional messages on photographs of people’s faces, ranging from happy to angry.  This is because sleep-deprivation reduces our emotional intelligence. This has implications for many people working in the emergency and security services, where highly skilled assessment of human behaviour is needed, and people can be working without sufficient sleep to meet the demands of the job.

“But we live in a culture which is increasingly denying the importance of sleep. In the past Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and now Donald Trump, have denied the importance of sleep. Thatcher and Reagan paid a very high price for their denial of this physical necessity in the form of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Trump may well do too, unless he changes his lifestyle very quickly.”

Cover image for selling page, Sleep bookRenata’s book, which was published three weeks ago, is titled: Safeguard Your Sleep and Reap the Rewards: Better health, happiness and resilience.***

Clearly, sleep science, and how it relates to mental health issues, and emotional well-being, is a subject that every counsellor and psychotherapist, psychologist and social worker should be interested in reading about, for the sake of their clients.

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That’s all for now.  I hope you found this information helpful.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services***; the Institute for E-CENT Publications***; and the ABC Bookstore Online.***

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Albert Ellis’s childhood shaped REBT

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services, Hebden Bridge

Blog Post No.117

Posted on 13th March 2017 – (Originally posted on 5th February 2015).

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: A counsellor blogs about John Reinhard’s misquoting of Dr Byrne’s book about the childhood of Albert Ellis…

Copyright ©Jim Byrne, 2015/2017

Introduction

It is not easy being me!

(It’s not easy being anybody – but I mostly know about me!)

rebt-whats-wrongI wrote a book on the childhood of Albert Ellis, with the intention of correcting the mistakes that persist in REBT (and presumably in derived forms of CBT), which arose out of the psychological trauma inflicted upon Little Albert Ellis by his neglectful parents.  My hope was that followers of REBT would take this critique seriously, and set about reforming REBT to make it less distorted by Ellis’s unresolved neuroses – mainly avoidance of emotion, and his (largely successful) attempts to suppress all thought of childhood trauma, in…

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On the problems of changing our habits

Dr Jim’s Blog: On the problems of changing our habits. Why we resist positive change

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 3rd May 2016

Background

According to Julia Cameron, and Dr James Pennebaker, there are great cognitive and emotional gains to be made from spending a few minutes each morning writing out our stream of consciousness – our thoughts, feelings, reflections, plans for the day, worries and goals and so on.

Many years ago, Renata and I discovered this process, and we both decided to try it out.  We found it very helpful in being more creative; more on top of our daily lives; and we believe it does promote physical and emotional wellbeing.

But over the years, Renata has kept up the practice – ‘religiously’.  But with me, it has come and gone.  And when I am not in the habit of writing my Daily Pages every morning, my mind becomes silted, and clogged up with undigested bits and bats, and I fail to resolve perfectly resolvable worries or strains for days and weeks at a time. Then I go back to writing my Daily Pages.

Recent resolve

I recently resolved to make the Daily Pages a daily habit for the rest of my life, because of the obvious advantages. On 20th April I constructed a list of the Benefits of writing my Daily Pages – three pages of stream of consciousness – and the Costs of not writing those pages.

I reviewed those lists on 20th April. I then wrote three pages reflective thoughts.

I forgot to review them on 21st – and also failed to write my pages on that day!

I resumed reviewing the Benefits and Costs on 22nd April, and I have kept it up since then – right up to this morning!

However: I almost forgot to write my Daily Pages this morning, so keen was I to get on with checking online developments on various websites; and updating my page about the launch of my Holistic Counselling book.***

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Book-cover-frontThen I wrote four lines of my pages, and went back online!  Why?  Do I have a self-sabotaging part of myself that wants to fail?  Wants to disrupt my 30 day experiment?

I certainly hope not.

So now I have to get back into the groove.

Here’s the drill:

Today is the 12th consecutive day of writing my Daily Pages, and the 13th day in the current series.

I will now review the Benefits of writing Daily Pages, and the Costs of not writing them, from my typed list:

Done √

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Reflections on this experience

It is really hard to learn new ideas, and to change old habits.  We have to review them over and over and over again.  This most likely results from what I call ‘frozen schemas’: packets of knowledge or information from the past which are resistant to change.  The best illustration I can think of is the resistance of a racist’s schemas for race-related information.  No amount of positive information about a minority ethnic person seems to dissolve the prejudices of a racist. A similar phenomenon is found with nationalism, tribalism, sexism, religious intolerance, homophobia, etc.So if we want to change and grow, we have to keep reviewing our habitual behaviours (which reveal [by implication or inference] our habitual thoughts-feelings-attitudes). Then we have to work very hard, and intelligently, to change those behaviours-thoughts-feelings-attitudes.

How we are wired up

Our socially and emotionally significant thoughts-feelings-attitudes, are most likely memorized and stored in – or managed from – our left and right orbitofrontal cortices (OFCs).  (Damasio, 1998 – Descartes Error; and Hill, 2015 – Affect Regulation).

When we try to rethink our social-emotional situations, we most likely activate schemas (or ‘control patterns’) in our left frontal lobe and the upper region of our left orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), which were originally shaped by our social experiences; and those social experiences were at least partly linguistic, or were derived from language-based communications; or were understood by us in an (at least) partially language-based way.

An illustration of this left OFC type of schema, or frame, would be this: Watching [as a child] how my mother deals with my father, verbally and non-verbally; and how he responds, verbally and non-verbally.  Listening to her words, and relating them to earlier words of hers; earlier actions of hers; including how she thinks-feels-acts in relation to me.  But my right OFC would be offering up strong feeling states about what I am seeing; feelings that come from the past about my mother and father; how they both related to each other in the past; how each of them related to me in the past; and those right OFC feeling states would be completely non-verbal, but nevertheless drivers of my thinking-feeling-action potential in the present moment.  And the struggle between the (strong) right OFC (representing the habitual ways of the past) and the (weaker) left OFC (representing my desire for change today) is probably normally loaded in favour of the emotional-rigidity of the right.

Further reflection

Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245When I decided to construct a list of the Benefits of writing my daily pages, every day, I was using the language and logic based functions of my left frontal lobe.  When I sit down each morning, and review those lists of Benefits and Costs, I am operating from my wilful, intentional, left frontal lobe, and the upper region of my left OFC.  And slowly, slowly, the upper region of my left OFC is influencing the lower, more emotional region of my left OFC.

But (I infer) there is some kind of resistance in the lower regions of my left OFC, and perhaps in my right OFC, to keeping up this practice of writing my Daily Pages.  Hence my strange behaviour this morning, of going online, and working at busy stuff, instead of writing my pages.

However, since I cannot see inside my own brain-mind, in order to corroborate any of these conclusions, I must also ask: Is there any other possible explanation for my strange (apparently self-sabotaging) behaviour this morning, after 12 days of success?

And I have to admit that there is:

  1. Firstly, I skipped taking my multivitamins and minerals before coming to my office this morning to write my pages; and although we should get most of our vitamins from our food, there is little doubt that everything that I put into my stomach has some effect on my total body-mind functioning! (See my new book on Holistic Counselling in Practice.***)
  2. I did not have to get up early this morning, and so I started writing my pages at least three hours later today than on the previous 12 days; hence it is obvious that my blood-sugar level must be very much lower today than it has been on previous days; and my blood sugar level is important to my brain-mind functioning. (See my new book on Holistic Counselling in Practice.***)

So, I will check again tomorrow, earlier in the day, and with my vitamins and minerals in my stomach, and more stable blood sugar levels, to see how easy or how difficult it is to write my Daily Pages.

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Why am I writing this?

MensGroup2Because I want you to understand how hard it is – how difficult – to change any human behaviour.  I want you to understand just how intentional and determined you have to be if you want to change yourself and your life!  The right limbic system, the right OFC, and the lower regions of the left OFC will all resist the brave and determined actions of your left frontal lobe and the upper region of your left OFC!

You can change your habits, but it will take a lot of effort.  And it will involve your whole body-mind.  Get some support in this process from somebody who understands the process!

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Executive Director

The Institute for Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT)

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Updates to the E-CENT Institute website

I have today made a few updates to this website.

Firstly, I have fixed a few problems with the E-CENT articles and papers page.

I have also fixed some problems with images.

This website is going through some teething problems at the moment, but thse should be fixed very soon.

I hope you enjoy the content.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne