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 a book 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 “nobody should be blamed for anything!”).

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 included 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, and is aided and supported by feeling states!

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.

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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