Albert Ellis’s childhood shaped REBT

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 himself or anybody else.

In three earlier posts, I have addressed some of the ways in which one of Ellis’s followers – one John Reinhard – has failed to engage with my critique.

Today I went back to see how selectively Reinhard had dealt with my criticism of the inadequacies of REBT therapists when it comes to the question of empathy for the client.

I was appalled at how little attention he’s paid to my actual arguments.  Here is the whole of the relevant section of my book.  Tell me if you consider that I have said “REBT therapists skip all forms of empathy”.  Tell me if I’ve in any way misrepresented the actual position that Ellisian REBTers take on the subject of empathy in psychotherapy:

Foreword

“If it was never possible for us to relive on a conscious level the rejection we experienced in our own childhood and to work it through, then we in turn will pass this rejection on to our children”.  Dr Alice Miller[1]

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisThis book represents an attempt to deconstruct Dr Albert Ellis’s story of his childhood, with a view to rescuing ‘Little Albert’, who has been ignored and discounted by Older Albert, just as he was ignored and discounted by his own parents.  It also seeks to evaluate his theory of therapy (REBT), and to try to identify links between his major childhood experiences and his adult theories of human behaviour.

Why do I want to do this?  What is my goal?

I am doing this because, as it stands, Albert Ellis’s system of therapy – called Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) – and those therapies which have been inspired by him, which includes most of the cognitive behavioural therapies – ignores the childhood pain of counselling and therapy clients; and recommends that they “forget the god-awful past”.  In the process, those rational counsellors and therapists unknowingly promote an unnecessarily callous attitude towards client suffering, and an indifference towards childhood suffering in general.

On the other hand, I suffered emotionally as a child, and only managed to recover from that seriously damaging experience by processing it – making it conscious; feeling the previously denied or repressed feelings; and moving on.[2] I resolutely refused to try to “forget the god-awful past” – partly because it’s actually the non-remembered bits that do the most harm; and we have to remember them first, process them, and file them away, before we can healthily forget them!

Cognitive empathy versus emotional empathy

I am not saying that REBT/CBT therapists show no empathy for their clients whatsoever: they do.  But their empathy seems to be mainly ‘cognitive’ – or cool ‘understanding’ – instead of also including some ‘felt affinity’ with the suffering client.  (Of course there are exceptions to this rule, and Janet Wolfe is the main one I have seen on video, warmly empathizing with a client who she judged to be “in need of tender loving care [TLC])”. That felt sense of affinity with the client – when it occurs – is experienced by the client as both caring for them, and also legitimating their sense of having been wronged or short-changed by life.  An REBT /CBT therapist might be concerned that this kind of emotional affinity could encourage the client to ‘catastrophize’ about their childhood suffering, but this is not a necessary outcome from emotional empathy.

For example, in both the therapy work of Milton Erickson[3] and the coaching work of Stephen Covey[4], the emphasis is on, firstly, understanding and empathizing with the client – and showing a sense of fellow feeling; and then, secondarily, trying to show the client some potentially better ways of thinking-feeling-acting in their problem situation.  Why does the REBT/CBT therapist have to urgently skip that first essential step?  Why not bide their time until the client feels understood, before presenting their proposed solutions and improved ways of thinking, feeling and acting?

And even in the case of offering cognitive empathy, the REBT/ CBT therapist (who follows Ellis’s lead) is likely to only empathize with those aspects of life’s difficulties which are seen as ‘legitimate’.  And that tends to exclude childhood suffering.  (Albert Ellis has been shown – in some video clips of his therapy work – to empathize with people who feel guilt or shame, [presumably because he thinks nobody should ever have to feel guilt or shame – which I will show to be an unhelpful approach when it comes to moral issues].  But he does not empathize with:

(a) individuals who feel they need a loving partner, (presumably because he does not believe anybody needs to be loved);

(b) people who suffered in their childhood, (presumably because he believes they have a duty to ‘forget the god-awful past’ – like he did!)

(c) people who complain of being treated unfairly, (presumably because he foolishly thinks that this is always and only beyond the control of the client – which it [very often] most definitely is not!)

In this book, I am seeking to help children, and the inner child of adult clients, by promoting empathy for victims of childhood suffering. This empathic understanding is a necessary precedent to the process of completing those painful experiences, reframing them, and then letting them go[5].  In addition, I also want to rescue what is good about REBT, while dumping what is un-helpful.

It is my belief that Little Albert Ellis suffered enormously, but that Older Albert Ellis was in denial about that suffering.  As such, Older Albert was never able to become a self-actualized individual, in the fullest sense: especially in relation to his capacity to love and to relate warmly and intimately to others (although he began to make apparent improvements with Debbie Joffe-Ellis, after the age of 88 years!)  And as a therapist, he was unable to fully, emotionally, empathize with the childhood suffering of his clients.

If you think you ‘already know’ Albert Ellis and REBT, then prepare for a shock.  You are about to be introduced to their normally ignored ‘shadow sides’.

And if you think there is only one way to relate to Albert Ellis – to love him or hate him – prepare to be introduced to the ‘middle way’.

~~~

End of extract… From The Childhood of Albert Ellis…***

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

~~~

Footnotes

[1] Miller, A. (1983) For Your own Good: Hidden cruelty in child-rearing and the roots of violence.  London: Faber and Faber.  Pages 3-4.

[2] See my Story of Origins and my Story of Relationship – two ‘training analyses’ – here: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

[3] See the book, My Voice will Go with You: The teaching tales of Milton H. Erickson.  Edited and with commentary by Sidney Rosen.  1982.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.  Erickson is quoted as saying: “First you model the patient’s world” – which means understanding it – “Then you role-model the patient’s world” – meaning you provide a new and better model for the client to consider adopting.

[4] The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  A book by Stephen Covey (1989), in which his fifth principle is: Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.  An REBT therapist could apply this principle to first allow the client to have their thoughts and feelings; to accept them; validate them; and then to look at whether it might be better for the client if they were moderated or modified in some way.  But jumping to that second stage immediately is probably often felt to be insensitive and discounting by the client.

[5] Byrne, J. (2011a) Completing your experience of difficult events, perceptions and painful emotions.  E-CENT Paper No.13.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy.  Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

Family conflict and violence at Christmas time

Blog Post No.150

By Dr Jim Byrne

Posted on 27th December 2016 (Originally posted on 6th December 2015)

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

Principles of couples counselling: The importance of negotiation and fairness between marriage and cohabiting partners

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2015-2016

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Introduction

domestic-violence-at-christmasEvery Christmas, the incidence of domestic violence increases significantly, because of the stresses and strains of the Christmas and Winter Holiday madness, whipped up by marketing gurus, to promote sales of unnecessary ‘stuff’. But also because of the lack of commitment to equality in relationships (which most often involves male domination, except when it involves female domination!)

But the underlying weaknesses, which allows domestic violence to emerge, is cultural conditioning, or the lack thereof.  A fully functioning democratic and humanistic culture would outlaw any form of the use of violence to settle our differences, at home, at work or in international relations.

In this blog post, I set out to review two principles that are important to happy and healthy couple relationships.

Those two principles come from the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project[1].

However, because of pressure of time and space, I had to settle for reviewing just one principle this time. (I’ll review the second one next week!)

duluth-model-and-fairnessThe principle that I am reviewing is one of eight from the Equality ‘wheel’, and this is it: The importance of negotiation and fairness between marriage and co-habiting partners.

I review this principle in the context of the fact that Dr Michael Edelstein, a former colleague from the world of Rational therapy (REBT) refuses to discuss fairness issues with his couples therapy clients because (he says) he cannot identify any objective criteria for judging what is fair and what is unfair. 

However, in the process of reviewing the principle of negotiation and fairness, below, I will outline some very obvious criteria for assessing the presence or absence of fairness in couple disputes.

Elaboration

Just over a year ago, I introduced the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, and I said I would return to that subject, and explore the two wheels which they use to teach the distinction between unhelpful and unjustifiable ‘Power and control’ approaches to couple relationships, on the one hand, and civilized and indispensable ‘Equality’ approaches, on the other hand.

equal-status-within-couplesEach wheel contains eight principles, and the Duluth project advocates the use of the eight ‘equality principles’, and rejects the use of any of the eight principles of ‘power and control’.  In brief, this means that the appropriate way for a couple to relate to each other is from a basis of equal status, and an immoral and illegal way to relate is through the abuse of power to control the other person.

It seemed to make most sense for me to tackle this distinction by reviewing pairs of principles, one from each wheel.  However, in practice I have found that, because of space constraints, I cannot review two principles in one blog post – so I will review one ‘equality’ principle this week, and one ‘power and control’ principle next week.

~~~

Equality 1: The principle of negotiation and fairness

This week I want to begin by reviewing the ‘equality principle’ of ‘negotiation and fairness’.

michael-edelsteinMy way of going about this, to begin with, is to refer back to the debate I had, in 2010, with Dr Michael Edelstein, a former colleague of mine in the world of Rational therapy (REBT).  Michael is a clinical psychologist who lives in San Francisco, practices REBT, was born in Brooklyn, NY, completed his academic psychology training in New York City, attended the REBT Institute from its physical inception in 1965, associated with Albert Ellis beginning in 1963, authored three books on REBT, trains therapists in REBT, and so can be assumed to know his REBT very well.  (Michael is also known as ‘The 3 Minute Therapist’, whose website can be found at: http://www.threeminutetherapy.com/).

~~~

On the importance of fairness, justice and morality

At the time when I was preparing to post my paper on ‘Fairness, Justice and Morality’[2] (back in 2010), Michael wrote to me to say that:

“Everyone has their own subjective view about what is fair. My preferences and hedonic calculi differ from that of others. Since there’s no cosmic or absolute criterion for evaluating fairness, I have not come up with a useful way to view it. Consequently, I advise my clients to jettison the entire concept”.

I was pretty sure Michael was overlooking something here about fairness.  So I argued the point with him, but I could not persuade him to take the concept of fairness seriously.

Today I would argue my case differently.  This is what I would say:

the-golden-ruleThere is a huge objective criterion of fairness which has been around since ancient Chinese civilization: the Golden Rule.  The Golden rule can be expressed like this: You morally must not treat another person less well than you would like them to treat you, if your roles were reversed.

And you must treat your marriage partner at least as well as you would like them to treat you in identical circumstances!

Contrary to Michael’s viewpoint, this principle is very easy to apply in situations of conflict with couples in therapy.  Each member of a couple either is, or is not, willing to treat their partner at least as well as they expect to be treated.

This couldn’t be clearer, and (in my opinion) the most likely potential explanations for Michael Edelstein’s inability to see this point, back in 2010, were: (1) that he was influenced by the amoral philosophy of Albert Ellis[3]; and/or (2) the nonsensical philosophy of Logical Positivism; and/or (3) the useless system of Act Utilitarianism (which is much less usable than Rule Utilitarianism); and/or (4) the ubiquitous philosophies of neo-liberalism and post-modern moral relativity! (Because of lack of space, I will have to defer further clarification of the distinction between Act and Rule Utilitarianism until next week).

The debate in 2010

Back to what I wrote to Michael in 2010:

drjim-counsellor9“I’m pretty sure most people would agree on this principle of fairness, no matter how subjective the concept of fairness might seem to be in some other cases.  In other words, although we humans sometimes have problems defining what we mean by fairness, from case to case, we (reasonable people) nevertheless find the concept of fairness indispensable, and we more often than not do find ways to define it which are ‘socially agreed’ (by some group or community, some society or country, some continent, or some strata of some culture, etc.).  In negotiations between individuals, we often find that the idea of what is fair is ‘inter-subjective’ (meaning, shared between several individuals; or common to a whole group of people), and not just ‘merely subjective’ (meaning – when used pejoratively – locked in the mind of one isolated, unrepresentative individual).

~~~

At one point, Dr Edelstein got back to me to clarify that his problem with the principle of fairness was a practical one:  How can it be used in couples therapy with squabbling couples?  Surely this is not possible since there do not seem to be any objective criteria by which to define fairness.

Today, I want to test Michael’s perspective against one of the two wheels of the Duluth Domestic Abuse Intervention Project[4].

Objective criteria in couple conflict

non-violent-partnershipThe equality wheel: The equality wheel is segmented into eight subdivisions, each containing one principle.  All eight principles are subsumed under two headings: either ‘Equality’ or ‘Power and control’.

In the remainder of this blog post, I will take a look at just one of the equality/non-violence principles: Negotiation and fairness.

Under this principle (which emphasizes the importance of negotiating outcomes, and doing so fairly), there are three ‘guidelines’, or ‘key points’, as follows:

# Seeking mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict;

# Accepting change; and:

# Being willing to compromise.

My response to Michael would be that, in my relationship with my partner, I can demonstrate fairness by (1) negotiating satisfying resolutions to conflicts; (2) accepting that changes are inevitable, and showing that I am willing to change when (reasonably) necessary; and (3) being willing to compromise when we have conflicting goals or desires.

To apply the ‘principle of generosity’ to Michael Edelstein’s argument, let us focus on his alternative to using the concept of fairness.

“As far as I can tell in working with squabbling couples, both justifying their own position with what’s ‘fair’, I have not arrived at any objective criteria to settle the fairness argument. I tell them, ‘Discussing what is fair is a dead end and often toxic to relationships. Discuss what works for both of you, instead’.”

What could this mean to a couple: (‘What works for both of you’)?

Here are my attempted answers:

  1. If they have a ‘mutual problem’, as defined by Helen Hall Clinard[5], then nothing works for both of them; because what Partner 1 wants is the very opposite of what Partner 2 wants and vice versa; or, at the very least, the two goals are mutually exclusive! (So Michael could study Chapter 4 of Helen’s book, and introduce his couple clients to the process of ‘turning conflict into cooperation’. That would provide him with some practical approaches to building fairness in practice, based on objective criteria.

But there is an immediate, and, I suspect, an insurmountable problem here for Michael, because of his rigid conformity to Albert Ellis’s belief system.  Let me explain:

In the opening paragraph of Chapter 4, Helen Clinard writes this: “Sometimes it is not easy for a person who is causing you a problem to change in the way that you want.  People who work or live together often have conflicting needs”. (Page 109).

But according to (Extreme) REBT theory, people do not have any needs at all (in the interpersonal area)![6]  Apart from air, water and basic food, everything else is treated as a ‘want’ or a ‘desire’ in Extreme REBT.[7] In other words, for Albert Ellis and his extreme stoical followers, ‘need’ is a synonym for the dreaded words – ‘should’ and/or ‘must’ – which “have to be” totally outlawed (and replaced with mere preferences)!

  1. If any of Michael’s couples lack clarity about how to compromise, Michael could teach them how to do that. For example, he could teach them the example used in Getting to Yes, by Fisher and Ury[8] – about sharing an orange – not by arbitrarily cutting it down the middle, but by finding out ‘the reason’ each partner wants the orange, and (perhaps) discovering that one mainly wants the peel (to put in a cake mix) and the other mainly wants the fruit (to squeeze as juice). But, to go down this route, Michael would have to believe that people have rights and needs, and that does not seem to be part of his belief system.
  2. If Michael studied Fisher and Ury, he could then teach his couple clients their basis system, which is:

(a) Separate the people from the problem. (Michael is officially good at this, since REBT theory teaches clients to distinguish between their partner, on the one hand, and their partner’s behaviours on the other).

(b) Talk in terms of interests rather than positions. (This is harder for Michael, because he has been trained to fit the whole phenomenal world into just two boxes – [1] Reality [which Must exist exactly as it is], and [2] Your Preferences [which do not have to exist at all!] Can he make the challenging shift towards considering that clients have real-life interests, {arising out of felt needs} which harden into positions?])

(c) Generate a variety of possibilities before deciding what to do. (This approach fits better into the Egan Model[9] than it would into Michael’s simple ABC model).

(d) Insist that the results be based on some objective standard. (Like the Golden Rule; or mutual influence.  But, would Michael be willing to use the Golden Rule?)

~~~

  1. Michael could also teach his couple clients the three ‘key points’ I extracted from the Equality wheel of the Duluth project, as follows:

# 1 Seek mutually satisfying resolutions to conflict;

# 2 Accept change; and:

# 3 Be willing to compromise.

He could cover #1 above with either the Golden Rule, or Helen Clinard’s Mutual Problem Solving process.  Point #3 is covered by Fisher and Ury’s negotiation process; and, again, by the Golden Rule. And point #2 is an expression of the Buddhist principle that “change is the law of life” (and the [moderate] Stoic principle of ‘accepting the things you cannot change’).  Point 2 is also subject to the principle (from Professor John Gottman) that we should “let our partner influence us” – and my refinement, which is this: “Let your partner influence you, up to, but not beyond, the degree to which they are willing to allow you to influence them”!

~~~

Moving on…

justice-and-fairnessIf a couple comes to see me, and Partner 1 says that Partner 2 is acting unfairly, I will explore that complaint in terms of how it fits within my understanding of how the Golden Rule – (of treating other people the way we would ideally like to be treated in our turn) – would apply to their situation. I would encourage the partners to compromise, and to seek mutually satisfying resolution to their conflict.

I will try to teach Partner 2 the costs (in the medium to longer term) of acting unfairly; of not compromising; and of not seeking mutually acceptable outcomes (on average). (The cost to the oppressive partner is the ultimate loss of the relationship. The second cost is gaining a reputation for oppressive behaviour and immoral and often illegal action against their partner).

I will teach each partner the absolute necessity to allow their partner to influence them (up to, but not exceeding approximately 50% of the time, on average), and to expect to be able to influence their partner (up to, but not exceeding, about 50% of the time, on average).

If the partners insist on bickering about the precise percentages that each of them gives, or takes, I will conclude one of two things:

  1. Either, one (or both) of them is stuck in exploitation mode; and they are not trusted by their partner; or:
  2. This is a ‘presenting problem’, and the ‘real problem’ is hidden; perhaps a deep, emerging incompatibility, or a serious lack of satisfaction with the love or sex or romance in the relationship. (When a couple is deeply satisfied with the level of love and passion and romance and comfort in their relationship, they both seem to be able to ‘cut their partner some slack’ in their partner’s areas of deficiency!)

My experience

jim-renata-counsellors-hebden-bridgeBut eight or nine times out of ten, when I work with unfairness issues in couples’ therapy, I can help the couple to resolve their problems, by teaching them to operate from The Golden Rule. And by allowing their partner to influence them, on a completely egalitarian basis – give and take.  (“If I do this for you [today], what will you do for me [tomorrow]?”)

I teach them that playing ‘Top-Dog/Under-Dog’ will lead to the dissolution of their marriage or relationship, normally after a protracted period of completely avoidable misery! Or, sometimes, all of a sudden, and without any possibility of fixing it after the fact! (“You had your chance, mate!”)

~~~

That’s all for this week.

Part 2 will look at a power and control issue!

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne – Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

~~~

 

[1] Source: http://www.theduluthmodel.org/about/

[2] Byrne, J. (2010b) Fairness, Justice and Morality Issues in REBT and E-CENT. E-CENT Paper No.2(b).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Studies. Available online: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id203.html

[3] Byrne, J. (2013) A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood, and the strengths and limitations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT). Hebden Bridge: CreateSpace/I-CENT Publications.  For more information on this book, please go to http://www.abc-counselling.com/id432.html.

[4] See pages 244-245 of Manhood: An action plan for changing men’s lives, by Steve Biddulph: the 1994/98 edition.

[5] Clinard, H.H. (1985) Winning Ways to Succeed With people.  Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing.

[6] Miller, T. (1993) Self-Discipline and Emotional Control: How to stay calm and productive under pressure.  A CareerTrack audio program.

[7] Miller, T. (1983) So, You Secretly Suspect You’re Worthless, Well You’re Not A Shit and I Can Prove It.  New York: Lakeside Printing.

[8] Fisher and Ury (1990) Getting to Yes: negotiating agreement without giving in. London, Hutchinson Business.

[9] The Egan Model, developed by Gerard Egan, asks three core questions: (1) Where are you now?  (2) Where do you want to get to? And (3) What actions could you take to build a bridge from (1) to (2)?  For more information on this model, go here: http://www.gp-training.net/training/communication_skills/mentoring/egan.htm

The ABC model asks only (or mainly) this: “What are you telling yourself to make yourself so upset at point C (Consequence) about point A (the noxious stimulus, or Activating Event)?” For more on the ABC model, please go to http://www.abc-counselling.com/id126.html (In other words, for a classic REBT therapist, the client is NOT upset (by definition) by their partner’s unfairness (or any other feature of their partner’s way of being), but rather by their (the client’s) own beliefs about their partner’s behaviour! This is an expression of the extremist stoicism of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. (Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius also developed more moderate positions, such as the principle that its best to accept the things you cannot change, and only try to change the things you can).

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Happy Christmas for suffering souls…

Blog Post 149

8th December 2016

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: So here it is, Christmas madness…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2016

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Introduction

hollySo, Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat – (and the marketeers are hoping to make a killing in our mad rush to get the best gifts for our loved ones, and the best booze, cake and other unhealthy foods for ourselves!)

Of course, I am not opposed to moderate celebration of the Christmas/Winter/Yuletide/Hanukkah celebration, religious or secular.  Indeed, I will enjoy my own moderate celebration in my own way.

However: I dislike the cynical way in which commercial interests hook into the escapist tendencies of many humans, who, year after year, are persuaded that “…this time, this will be the magical turning point of your life.  All your problems will be resolved this Christmas – if you only buy this, drink that, and go here, there and everywhere”.

The mass psychosis of “Christmas fun” is beginning to swing into full gear.  All memories of last year’s “Christmas suffering” have been swept under the carpet.  “This time it will be perfect”, say the fantasists.  “This time it will be magic.  This time, all my problems will be dissolved by the Christmas magic”.  These are the non-conscious delusions that drive the Christmas madness.

marketing-false-hopeExpectations are being cranked up to unachievable heights.  Disappointment will, predictably, follow for those people who are duped by the hype.  To protect ourselves from upsets and disappointments, It is important to keep our expectations in line with reality.  In that way, our disappointments are likely to be less frequent and less severe.

But disappointments will come to us over Christmas, no matter who we are; and when they do, we can either get overly-upset about them, or we can learn to ‘reframe’ them, so they don’t look too unbearable.

Delusional frames and hyped expectations

As we enter the Christmas holiday period, many people will be (non-consciously) looking through one or more of these delusional frames: “It’s going to be great when (X) happens!”  “It’s going to be wonderful going to the (Y) event!”  “It’s going to be wonderful when (person’s name) turns up – which I’m sure they will – even though they said they might not be able!” And so on.

These ways of ‘framing’ your expectations are almost certainly going to lead to some disappointments, and often huge disappointments.

One way to clarify the concept of frames and framing of experiences is to revisit a problem I was addressing several years back, at Christmas time.  My concern was that many people would disturb themselves over Christmas, because (1) somebody had not come to visit them; and/or (2) because they did not get the present they desired; and/or (3) because they could not afford to give impressive presents to their loved ones.  Or – the “really big, horrible one” – (4) because they were “alone” at Christmas.  And on and on.  So this is how I addressed that problem:

The first thing I decided to do was to teach people the Mind Hut model.  It begins like this:

mind-hutThe Mind Hut model of E-CENT counselling

Imagine you are standing outside a garden shed – the Mind Hut – on a piece of lawn.  You are looking at some upset about Christmas – either in the run-up to the holiday, or during the festivities, or after it’s all over.  You think you are looking out through your eyes at “the reality”; “the truth”; but in fact you are looking through a non-conscious ‘filter’, ‘lens’, or ‘interpreting frame’.  So your upset about Christmas is really a distorted interpretation; but you cannot see that, because you, like all humans, mistake your interpretations for “reality”.

The windows in the Mind Hut

So now, come with me into the Mind Hut, and let me walk you, one by one, through the six windows, or frames, through which you had better learn to view your upset.

The Mind Hut has six windows, one in each wall, plus two in the sloping roof: one on each side.  Each window frame has a ‘view of life’ written around it.  Each view of life is like a slogan which claims to be true.  Here are the slogans from the six windows:

window1Window No.1 has a frame that says: Life is pretty difficult and frustrating for all people much of the time.

(It does not matter how wealthy or famous a person becomes, they still suffer; indeed wealthy and famous people may often suffer even more than most!)

Take a look through Window No.1 at your Christmas problem of unhappiness – imagining that your problem (or a representation of your problem) is just outside – and recognise that it is happening in the context that life is pretty difficult and frustrating for all humans much of the time.

Does that make your problems seem any smaller?  Any less distressing?  (Normally it will! If it does not, then you are most likely looking at this window frame through another (non-conscious) frame that says: ‘Life should not be this way!’  But this window frame is telling you the truth – (life really is difficult for humans, because we are humans); and your ‘should’ is completely unreasonable, unrealistic, and ultimately unachievable!)

Indeed, all of us do suffer somewhat, much of the time.  And this applies whether it is “Christmas time” or not.  “Christmas time” is a “cultural creation”, after all, which mainly has commercial drivers these days.  (And consider this: In December 1978, in the days before 24th and 25th, I was living in Bangkok.  I was eating crabs legs – or was it frogs’ legs? – and drinking Chinese beer.  I was looking forward to Chinese New Year.  It was not Christmas there!  “Christmas” is a social construct!  It is no more “real” than “Micky Mouse” or “the Tooth Fairy”!  Can you “feel it in your bones” when Chinese New Year arrives, or is arriving?  No?  Well in Bangkok the locals can!  Because they have been trained to think and feel that way).

If you realise that it is perfectly possible to suffer at “Christmas time”, just as it is at any other time of year, then what is so wrong with the fact that you are suffering (somewhat) “this Christmas time”?  Why must it not be happening, if it is?  Since all people suffer somewhat much of the time, why exactly must you not be suffering somewhat this Christmas?  It would be nice if it could be different, but is there a law of the universe that says you must get what is nice?  (Clue: No!)

~~~

window2

Window No.2 has a frame with this slogan: Life is without difficulty provided you give up picking and choosing.

In other words, if you look out through Window 2 at your problem (or a mental representation of your problem), and you feel there is any difficulty involved here, then you need to know that this is because you are picking and choosing how it should be!  If you give up choosing that it be the way you would like it to be, does it seem any better?  (Normally it will!)

If you are seriously emotionally upset because you did not like the present you got, you are (non-consciously) choosing (or electing) to have got a different problem; or at least to not have got ‘than one’!)  You are (non-consciously) choosing (or electing) to have got a different present – the one you did not get.  Is that sensible?
If you are upset because you ended up in the company of somebody other than the person you would have preferred, aren’t you (non-consciously, automatically) choosing (or electing) to have been with the one you were not with?  Aren’t you (non-consciously) choosing (or desiring) that it be Sunday on Monday, or evening time in the morning!  Aren’t you non-verbally and non-consciously implying: “What is happening should not be happening; and what is not happening definitely should be!”?

And if are seriously emotionally upset that you could not afford to buy the presents you would like to have bought, aren’t you really non-consciously and non-verbally implying that: “I live in this reality, but I should be living in another reality”.  How realistic is that?

To be really kind and accepting towards yourself, I would encourage you to think of this coping statement:

‘If this is the way things are this Christmas, then this is the way things are this Christmas’.  (This is a form of realistic acceptance of the unalterable aspects of reality!)

Or try this coping statement:

‘It’s tough stuff that my life happens to be the way it happens to be!’  (This is an implicit acceptance that the situation is tough, but not 100% tough.  It is tolerable! Not the worst thing imaginable).

Try these phrases out, and see if it helps you to feel better.  (It normally will!  But you might have to repeat them many times, day after day, until you get your strong negative emotions under control.)

~~~

window3

Window No.3 has this slogan: Life is both difficult and non-difficult.

When you look out through this window at (your imaginary representation of) your Christmas problem, do you notice anything?  Where in this vista are the non-difficult bits of your Christmas?  Isn’t it the case that you have filtered them out of the picture?

In other words: although your single-pointed angle of orientation towards your problem makes it look as if the world is “all bad”, there are lots of really good things about your life right now that you are filtering out of your awareness.  Choose to see the balance in your life, or choose to moan and groan about your distorted perception of your life.  But know this: It is you who is choosing your angle of orientation; especially now I have woken you up!

Another useful technique

Try “negative visualisation”.  This is a Stoic technique which involves imagining all of your current ‘possessions’, things and people alike, have been taken from you, including your own health, wealth and sustenance.

crossroadsEventually life will take everything from us, in death.  So think of all the things you will lose in the future which you are actually able to enjoy today.  Normally you do not even notice these ‘blessings’, because of a psychological phenomenon called ‘hedonic adjustment’, whereby, once we have something that we once valued getting, we now downgrade its significance to us, and we ask the world/life: “What else ya got for me?”  And then we feel bad if there is not much ‘new stuff’ (or ‘special stuff’) coming our way!  Negative visualisation is a way to wake up to all the ‘goodies’ we have in our lives, and to enjoy them now.

Gratitude list: Try to think of three things you can be grateful for, in the midst of your disappointment!  Write them down, and go over them many times, to remind yourself to be grateful for your blessings; and to enjoy what you have, right now.

Suppose you burned the turkey; the person you were hoping would turn up for the festivities decided not to come; you got crummy presents; and somebody did not like the present you gave to them.  So what?  Were there any good moments?  Did you eat anything that was nice?  Did you drink anything you appreciated?  Did you have any little conversation with anybody that was positive?  Did you meet, or notice, anybody who was worse off than yourself.  (We worry about the quality and quantity of our shoes until we meet somebody who has no feet!) Make a list of the things you can appreciate about this Christmas (including the fact that you have feet and can walk around in the world! Or that you have a wheelchair and can wheel yourself around in the world. Or that the pain has subsided again, for a while!), and then go over it many times until you overbalance your pessimistic ‘frame’ of mind.

…End of extract.

~~~

Conclusion

drjim-counsellor9Perhaps you have always been very sane about Christmas and the other major holidays.  In which case, you will be fine.  If not: Has this blog post changed your views in any way? If so, you might want to find out more. These are really valuable insights which can save you massive amounts of emotional and psychological energy! And there’s more…

Although this is the end of this extract from my 32 page pamphlet – How to Have a Happy Christmas – Despite the disappointments and frustrations of lifethere is more to learn.

You can find Windows 4, 5 and 6 – which are really helpful – in the pages of that pamphlet, which is available here: Happy Christmas Secrets – the pamphlet!***

There is also a good introduction to the psychology of human perception in this pamphlet, which clarifies how we very often misperceive our social situations through false interpretations. You will come to understand better how you are framing your life, and how to re-frame it so that it shows up as much more manageable and must less emotionally distressing.

And the pamphlet ends with a case illustration of how I used this model with a woman called Rita, and what she learned as a result.

The Happy Christmas Secrets pamphlet is available here: Happy Christmas Secrets – the pamphlet!***

~~~

Best wishes for a moderately nice Christmas and a realistically peaceful New Year.  (And please remember to keep your expectations in line with reality!)

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne – Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

~~~

 

Self discipline and therapeutic writing

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Diary of a counsellor – Self-discipline and Writing Daily Pages

by Jim Byrne (c) 2014-2016

Posted on Friday 2nd December 2016 (Originally posted on Saturday 12th April 2014)

Introduction
Man-writing3I am currently (2nd December 2016) working my way through a three month course in ‘creative recovery’, based on Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way.

For this reason, I thought it would be instructive to re-post a piece I wrote about this process a couple of years ago.

~~~

What I wrote…

Today I want to share with you some insights into my own life; my own struggles with self-discipline; in order to help you to think about your own life, your own self-discipline; and to help you to become your own counsellor in this area.

In the past, I have posted about Julia Cameron’s wonderful system of Morning Pages (from her book, The Artist’s Way) – a writing activity involving stream of consciousness writing, designed to clear the clutter out of your mind, and to improve your creativity.

Of course, I have tended to advocate this system as a form of writing therapy, or being your own counsellor, using a process of self-reflection and emotional processing.

The problem is that we all have busy lives, and it is very easy to lose good habits, and to form bad habits.  So, even though I know the value of my daily pages as a writing activity (whereby I write two to three pages about whatever is on my mind) I do have a tendency to let this habit slip, especially when I am very busy.

CoverBut that is probably the time I need it most; being a counsellor who has to do a lot of very challenging emotional labour with my clients.

So sometimes I skip my pages; sometimes for days, or weeks, or even months.  This is like Popeye failing to eat his spinach!  Or Superman playing with Kryptonite.  It’s a good way to weaken myself; and to fail to take advantage of a good way to strengthen myself!

When I notice that I have let my pages slip, or drop completely, I sometimes try using ‘lines’ as punishment for skipping the writing of my pages.  Lines which include:

“I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages”.

~~~

Why is the writing of pages so important?

But why not?  Why must I not skip the writing of my Daily Pages?

Because, as shown by the quote I recently put on my homepage:

Writing about your problems, in a diary or journal, can help you to process them and resolve them: “Diarists reported better moods and fewer moments of distress than non-diarists.  Those, in the same study, who kept a journal following trauma or bereavement also reported fewer flashbacks, nightmares and unexpected difficult memories.  Writing can itself be an act of emotional processing so it can help in many situations of danger, extremity and loss of control.  People who keep diaries are admitted to hospital less often and spend fewer days there than those who do not (keep a journal)…”

Philippa Perry, How to Stay Sane (2012). (3b)

~~~

So, if I return to writing my Daily Pages:

I will get better moods – automatically!  I will have fewer moments of distress than non-diarists (including about my business indicators, income, health, etc.!!!)

I will have fewer unexpected difficult memories, when I run into traumatic events.  By writing my pages every morning, I will be engaging in emotional processing, which will help me to stay emotionally healthy; to be happier; and to enjoy my work and my leisure; rest time, etc.

It will also help my physical health – thereby avoiding the GP and the hospital.

~~~

the-artists-way“I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages.  I must not skip my pages”.

~~~

How to use penalties to keep up your good habits

Given what I know about the value of daily pages, of journaling, of keeping a diary, it would be a stupid act of self-sabotage to skip my daily pages.

So therefore, I must apply the “£2 down the drain” penalty to:

  1. My daily physical exercise (5 days per week);
  2. My daily meditation (5 days per week);
  3. AND MY DAILY PAGES WRITING (5 days per week).

If I fail to do any of these activities, by bedtime (on Monday to Friday), then I will either make up the deficit before retiring, or I will go outside, right there and then, and drop two £1 coins down the nearest drain.

That is to say:

£2 for my physical exercise (if I have not done it that day); and/or:

£2 for my meditation (if I have not done it that day); and/or:

£2 for my Daily Pages (if I have not written them that day).

This is now ‘carved in stone’.  From Monday to Friday each week I will do my meditation; do 20-30 minutes of physical exercise; and also write 2-3 pages of Daily Pages.

Make a commitment and then keep it!

This is my commitment.  I will apply the penalties shown above to keep myself on track.  I will also have a system of rewards.

If I do my meditation and my exercise and my daily pages today, I can go out for lunch in a café tomorrow, and also have a large Americano, and read the Guardian.

If I do not do my meditation and my exercise and my daily pages today, I cannot go out for lunch tomorrow, and I cannot have any coffee either.  Nor can I read the Guardian.

These three processes stand me in good stead.  When I have 3 or 4 clients to see in one day, I find I need to do all four of my exercise systems, in order to feel resilient in the face of my clients’ difficulties.  So this week, which was very busy, I did all four of my exercise systems every morning (taking about 30 minutes each time):

Warm-up exercises;

Zham Zhong (Standing like a tree)[1];

Press-ups and sit-backs; and:

Chi Kung (or Qi Gong).

~~~

If you want to learn how to use these kinds of writing therapy approaches, then please see my book on Writing therapy: How to do it.***

 

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

[1] See Lam Kam Chuen’s book ‘The Way of Energy’, http://www.amazon.co.uk/Chi-Kung-The-Way-Energy/dp/1856752151

~~~

Good counsellor – bad counsellor – how to choose!

Blog Post No. 148

By Dr Jim Byrne

16th October 2016

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: How to choose a potent (and safe) counsellor or psychotherapist to help with your problems…

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2016

~~~

Introduction

choosing-counsellorsIf you are thinking of using counselling, coaching or psychotherapy, as a way to tackle one of your current problems, then you will have to decide how to choose a counsellor.

The best approach is probably to go off ‘word of mouth’ recommendations.  If you have a friend or relative who recently went through a course of counselling or therapy, or lifestyle coaching, who wants to recommend their coach, counsellor, or therapist to you, then that is normally a reliable guide to what you can expect in your turn from that professional person.

However, since many people who use counsellors, and other helping professionals, feel somewhat shy about revealing that fact to their friends and/or relatives, it is often difficult or impossible to get a personal recommendation.  In such circumstances, you have to have some way to evaluate the available counsellors, to determine who would be best for you.

Some common approaches

In a blog on Goodtherapy.org – http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/how-to-find-a-therapist/ –  you will find the following list of criteria for choosing a counsellor or therapist:

1. What does it feel like for you to sit with the therapist?

checklist-palmerThis is the wrong place to start.  If you are already sitting with the counsellor, then you have already made some kind of choice, even if it is only to try one session with them.  A better starting point is this: A checklist for clients interested in receiving counselling, psychotherapy or hypnosis, By Dr Stephen Palmer & Kasia Szymanska.

However, this checklist is primarily interested in finding a safe counsellor; but you also need to consider their competence!

~~~

2. What’s the counsellor’s general philosophy and approach to helping?

This could be a helpful guide.  And you may often find clues on the counsellor’s website.

~~~

3. Can the counsellor clearly define how he or she can help you to solve whatever issue or concern has brought you to therapy?

This might not be so helpful, since the counsellor could tell you anything they liked, and you would not have much idea how to assess its veracity or reasonableness.

~~~

4. Does the counsellor seek regular peer consultation?

This is important, but it does not determine the effectiveness nor the morality of the therapist.  Anybody can go through supervision (or peer consultation), and hide what they are like in practice with their clients!

~~~

feedback5. Can your counsellor accept feedback and admit mistakes?

This is not much help, since you would have to engage with them for quite some time to find out the answer, and you might be with the wrong counsellor!

~~~

6. Does the counsellor encourage dependence or independence?

This is a very important principle.  A good counsellor should begin as a ‘nurturing parent’ type (if appropriate) and allow the counselling relationship to evolve into one of equal adults (companions!)  But again, you would have to consult them many times before you knew the answer to this question, and then it might be too late!

~~~

7. Has your counsellor done his or her own therapy?

This is a hugely important point.  Many counsellors go through the motions of doing their own therapy, because it is a requirement of their training for a diploma in counselling in the UK; but they often do not really resolve their childhood problems in the process.

cover-imageI have done my own therapy exhaustively, and resolved my childhood developmental problems.  See:

NTS eBook No.2 – Healing the Heart and Mind: Two examples of writing therapy stories, plus reflective analysis, by Jim Byrne

NTS eBook No.3 – Daniel’s Devilish Daydreams (which is a fictionalized autobiography of the first 35 years of my life), by Jim Byrne.

~~~

8. Does the therapist have experience helping others with the particular issues for which you are seeking therapy?

This is difficult to determine.  Anybody can claim to have helped anybody with anything.  Who would know if that claim is true or not?

~~~

9. Does the counsellor make guarantees or promises?

This does not help much.  If the counsellor makes guarantees or promises, this might be because they are trying to generate hope in the client – but it is better not to create false hope!  A counsellor might also insist they cannot make any guarantees or promises – and this might be a sign of realism, or a sign that they know they will not be much help!  How would you know which it is?

~~~

tim-bond-ethics10. Does your counsellor adhere to ethical principles in regard to issues such as boundaries, dual relationships, and confidentiality?

This guideline only helps once you are involved with the counsellor.  If they show signs of breaching their declared ethical principles, you should end the relationship immediately, and depart.  And consider making an ethics complaint to their accrediting body.  But this principle will not help you to choose a counsellor in the first place.

~~~

11. Is the counsellor licensed?

Harold Shipman, MD, was a fully licenced GP in the UK, who murdered several of his patients!  Licence means licence!  It tells you nothing in terms of the morality or safety of the practitioner.  Anybody who tells you a licence is a guarantee of safety is lulling you into a false sense of security!  The current system of registration in the UK is guilty of this serious sin!  A registered counsellor is just that: registered!  Registration does not guarantee that they are ethical in their moment to moment practice!  It also cannot guarantee either that they are normally competent, or that they would be reliably competent with you!

~~~

12. Does the counsellor have a graduate degree?

Graduate degrees are great (and I have a couple!)  But they do not guarantee the competence, morality or safety of the practitioner.  And some voluntary counsellors produce outcomes for their clients which are on a par with the best of the postgraduate practitioners!

~~~

graduate-qualification13. Does the counsellor have postgraduate training?

Same problem as number 12 above.  Postgraduate training does not guarantee morality or competence!

~~~

14. Have any complaints been filed with the (accrediting body)?

No complaints had been filed against Dr Harold Shipman (as far as I recall) before he was arrested and charged with killing many of his patients!  And before any wayward professional is found guilty of their first instance of professional misconduct, it can be proudly announced that (in most cases) “No complaint has been filed against this individual!”  This is a useless criterion for self-protection!  Only a fool would consult a counsellor against whom a serious complaint had already been made (but you cannot always know about such complaints!).  But only a worse fool would conclude that, because no complaint has yet been made against a particular counsellor, therefore they are pure as the driven snow!  Keep your wits about you! 

Don’t let bureaucratic systems of registration and regulation lull you into a false sense of security!  You are responsible for keeping yourself safe at all times!

What does this mean?  To be quite specific and blunt: If you do not know how to be assertive in relationships – to defend yourself against exploitation – and are prone to passively going along with others, it would be unsafe to enter into any kind of counselling or psychotherapy relationships, before you work on your self-assertiveness!

lillian-glass-toxic-peopleHere’s a list of book recommendations on developing self-assertiveness (at Amazon.co.uk): https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=assertiveness

~~~

How to think about individual counsellors

In ancient China, long before Confucius and Lao Tzu, people were classified into four groups, or classes.  These were:

‘Scholars’, who studied the ‘way of the world’;

‘traders’ who bought and sold goods;

‘cultivators’ of agriculture, including tea and cotton;

and ‘handicrafts people’, who manufactured those items that existed at that time.

Of those four classes, today, we could say that counsellors should model themselves upon the scholars rather than the traders, cultivators or handicrafts people.  They should study philosophy, psychology, biology, nutrition, exercise, and all those disciplines which support the healthy functioning of the body-brain-mind. (See Holistic Counselling in Practice***)

Book-cover-front(Of course, it is also important to note that there was also another ten-part classification of ‘men’ in ancient China, given by the King of Ts’u, which was based upon a hierarchy of power relations, undifferentiated by skill or ability, other than the ability to hold on to power!  And power, including abuse of power, continues to be a problem for society today – including relations in counselling and therapy.  Therefore, you should seek a counsellor who is an egalitarian rather than an authoritarian!)

~~~

Different kinds of people

A counsellor or psychotherapist is a ‘person’, with a family history, and a track record of dealing with the challenges of life.  It therefore makes sense for a potential client to ask their potential counsellor(s):

  1. What is your family history?
  2. What went wrong, and how did you adapt to those challenges?
  3. How did you resolve the problems presented to you by your family of origin?
  4. And where are you up to with your family of origin today?

These kinds of questions would be particularly important to ask if you (the potential client) have unresolved problems from your family of origin, and want to know that you will be guided through that work by somebody who has done that kind work on their own family of origin.  You can find out about my family of origin, and how I dealt with various developmental challenges, here:

daniels-daydreams-cover-imageNTS eBook No.2 – Healing the Heart and Mind: Two examples of writing therapy stories, plus reflective analysis, by Jim Byrne

NTS eBook No.3 – Daniel’s Devilish Daydreams (which is a fictionalized autobiography of the first 35 years of my life), by Jim Byrne.

~~~

There is an ancient Arab saying which classifies human beings into four types:

  1. Those who know not, and know not that they know not. They are fools, shun them.
  2. Those who know not, but know they know not. They are ignorant, teach them.
  3. Those who know, and know not that they know. They are asleep, wake them!
  4. And those who know, and know that they know. They are wise, follow them.

Of these four classifications of persons, only No.4 qualifies as a ‘good counsellor’.  Make sure you choose a wise person as your counsellor, since a fool, an ignorant person or an unconscious person will mislead you.

In order to know whether a person is wise or not:

  1. Look at the qualities of their own life, to the degree that those are visible.
  2. Find out about them from people who know them, or know of them.
  3. Read what they write – but read it critically, since anybody can write ‘for effect’!

~~~

That’s all for now.

I hope you find this helpful.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Email: jim dot byrne at abc-counselling dot com

Telephone: 01422 843 629

~~~

Freud, sex, celibacy and homesexuality

Blog Post No.91 

Published on 16th September 2016 (Previously posted on Monday 14th July 2014)

Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne

A counsellor’s blog: Was Sigmund Freud a celibate and repressed homosexual?

Introduction

In this blog post, I want to look at some reflections upon my own approach to managing my own health; plus managing my enquiries into human knowledge, using the example of books about Freud.

Key_Sarah_BodyInAction.jpgAs we approached last weekend, Renata and I decided we needed a break and so we decided to visit Manchester on Saturday 12th July.

On Saturday morning, I pulled my back out, and was in pain and unable to even dress myself.

I was in enormous pain, and our outing to Manchester seemed to be hopelessly compromised.

However, I remembered what I had learned from Sarah Key’s wonderful book (Body in Action), on previous occasions, and so:

  1. I did not take any pain killers; (all painkillers cause stomach damage!)
  2. I did not call a physician; (physician heal thyself!);
  3. But I did get an exercise mat out and began to do Sarah Key’s exercises for back problems.

Thirty minutes later, I was ready to take the train to Manchester, taking care not to jar my back by sudden movements.

On the train I dipped into one of Renata’s books on nutrition, and realized that one of my client’s might be helped by omega 3 supplements (for early waking – which is normally attributed to depression).  Indeed, the author went on to suggest that other symptoms of omega 3 deficiency included emotional sensitivity (depression, anxiety, mood swings).  This is all part of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy – the treatment of the individual holistically.  Instead of psychiatric drugs, many individuals could benefit from omega 3 supplements – like krill oil!  Or a significant change of diet, especially the elimination of grains, dairy and legumes, which all seem to cause inflammation in the body which necessarily affects all aspects of the body-mind.

In the bookshop!

Bays-theorem.jpgOn Saturday, in Waterstone’s bookshop, on Deansgate, Manchester, I found a book on Bayes Theorem – which seems to boil down to the idea that in any scientific enquiry, we should start with a ‘guess’ and then collect evidence or data to modify our beliefs arising out of that guess.  In theory, we will continually refine our approximations to reality.

I think I have worked like this for a long time: having a hunch, and then trying to stand it up or knock it down, or to allow it to be modified by ongoing experience.

Recently I picked up this piece of information: From the age of 40 years, Sigmund Freud was celibate!  Yes, celibate.  The man who sexualized the whole of human psychology and personality was not (it seems) actively sexual from the age of forty years onwards!

This caused me to wonder, and ponder.  How does this fit with the rest of what I know about Freud; which, admittedly, is not a great deal.  I have probably read more Freud than most non-psychodynamic counsellors, but I am far from being expert in understanding the man or his works.  (See my writings on Freud’s work on New Writing on CENT theory.***)

The sexualizer of children was celibate

sigmund-freud7.jpgToday, I looked up Freud’s date of birth.  Here it is: May 6, 1856.

So he was forty in 1896, at which time his main theory of the source of hysteria in his clients, male and female, was early childhood sexual abuse by family members, or premature sexual excitement (too early initiation into sexual passion).

One year later, when he had been celibate for at least one year, he abandoned that theory, and proposed instead that children were sexual beings, who projected their (non-conscious) sexual phantasies into the physical world, and mistook their phantasy for reality. A parallel here is with celibate Catholic priests, who often ‘discover’ that children ‘want’ to have sex wit them, which is really a projection of their own dammed up sexuality onto the child!

If you want to get a sense of how horrible and extreme is the emotional damage done to the child victims of ‘priestly’ sexual, emotional and physical abuse, then you must read Hanya Yanagihara’s harrowing novel, A Little Life.  This story follows the life of Jude St. Francis, a very damaged person, who was thrown on the rubbish by his mother, when he was a little baby, and then ‘rescued’ by a group of monks (and at least one priest), who systematically abused him, sexually, physically and emotionally, for fifteen years.  The long-term consequences on the life of Jude are unbelievably horrible.  Every man who contemplates celibacy should be forced to read this book, and write an essay on the horrors of male celibacy, and the very idea of ‘sexualizing’ children!

So, here is a celibate man (Freud), attributing to children a sexuality that we (non-Freudians) do not normally believe to be real.  (Humans are subject to age-related developmental stages; and sexuality comes along quite late in the day; at puberty).  And I have argued elsewhere, in one of my longer papers, that in order to make his theory plausible, Freud had to redefine ‘sexuality’ to include everything that we would normally think of as love or friendship.

So what do we know about Freud’s reason, or motive, or cause of his celibacy?  I did an online search and found this:

“Freud held the opinion (based on personal experience and observation) that sexual activity was incompatible with the accomplishing of any great work. Since he felt that the great work of creating and establishing psychotherapy was his destiny, he told his wife that they could no longer engage in sexual relations. Indeed from about the age of forty until his death Freud was absolutely celibate “in order to sublimate the libido for creative purposes,” according to his biographer Ernest Jones.”  (Sigmund Freud biography, a webpage at http://www.wien-vienna.com/freud.php).

Schimmel-on-Freud.jpgWas Freud an adulterer or a homosexual?

There were rumours (not least from Carl Jung) that the reason for Freud abandoning sexual relations with his wife was that he was having an affair with his sister in law.  However, the two activities (of sexual relations with his wife and his sister in law) would not be totally incompatible, and as such this seems to me to be an unlikely explanation.

On Saturday, I was reading about Bays theorem for a while  When I went to join Renata, she drew my attention to a relatively new book on Freud, titled: Sigmund Freud’s Discovery of Psychoanalysis, by Paul Schimmel (2014), published by Routledge.

I read the blurb on the back cover, which suggested that Schimmel had identified a parallel between Freud’s personal life and his theory of psychoanalysis.  This was interesting for me, because, in my own research, I had found a strong parallel between the childhood experiences of Dr Albert Ellis and his later theory of Rational Therapy.  (And this morning, I stumbled over a statement in a book on the common factors approach to counselling and therapy in which the author says: “the therapist has nothing to offer but him (or her) self”.  Too true!  Therapist do what therapists are!)

I dipped into Schimmel’s book, and found a statement in which he is analysing some of Freud’s correspondence with Fliess, with whom Freud had a passionate, fifteen year correspondence.  Schimmel quotes Freud as saying that his own (that is, Freud’s) letters suggest a romantic homosexual attachment to Fliess.  Now that, I suddenly realized, is a much better explanation of Freud’s celibacy – his lack of interest in heterosexual love.

I then realized it would take me months to track down the details of this case, and that I have much more urgent priorities to deal with, so we left Schimmel’s book on the shelf, and headed for the Eight Day for lunch.  (Aubergine and tofu bake, with salsa verde; and a big mug of organic coffee!  Yummy!)

~~~

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

~~~

Stress management and love for counsellors and others…

Blog Post No.90 

Posted on 25th August 2016 (Originally published on Saturday 28th June 2014)

Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne

A counsellor’s blog: Stress counselling; Ellis on love; and to hell with Socrates…

Introduction

Chill Out, coverEarlier today, I was discussing with Renata what I could write about this week.  She thought it would be good to write about stress.  But I have written a lot on the subject of stress, including a published book on the subject. However, Renata wondered if perhaps some of my readers often missed the point about the crucial importance of learning stress management skills, in the sense of this being a life and death issue.  I asked her what she meant, and she said she could write out two statements which would alternately make readers’ hair stand on end – regarding the importance of stress management, and the dire consequences of ignoring their own stress warnings – and another piece that would fundamentally reassure them that they could resolve all their stress problems satisfactorily.  So I said, “Okay; please show me what you mean”.  She then sat down and wrote the two following statements:

Today’s bad news:

Jim-Renata7.jpgAccording to The Times – Body and Soul supplement, page 4 – today, 28th June 2014, there was an interesting study on stress conducted two years ago by University College, London. It looked at the relationship between men in demanding jobs and heart disease.

This study tracked the health of 200,000 people.  The findings were these: The men most at risk of developing stress-related heart disease had two characteristics:

Firstly, they were in demanding jobs.

Secondly, they felt that they had no power in their job role to control the stressors around them.

How can we handle massive pressures at work if the job gives us no power to manage them?  What if we’ve got to keep working to pay the mortgage (or rent), to feed the kids, etc.?

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Today’s good news:

Human-heart.jpgYou can immediately drop your stress level by deciding to take your control back.  You can’t (very often) change your job – but you can change yourself!  If you get a professional ally – a counsellor, psychologist, psychotherapist – they will work with you to give you real, sustained backing as you learn to manage yourself, and learn to control what you can control.

This will have an immediate beneficial effect on your health.  Do you remember the Zeebrugger ferry disaster?  Research conducted in 1991 found that there was a 50% reduction in stress levels in survivors of that and other disasters, after they had talked to trained helpers, and had just eight weeks of help, one hour per week.

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Thanks, Renata.  You made your point very well.  Stress is a hugely important topic for everybody to address, for the sake of their physical and mental health; and it is indeed possible to address it, at relatively small financial cost.

My expertise

Jims-counselling-div2I (Jim) have been studying stress management as a discipline for at least twenty years, and in that time I have developed about eighteen main strategies for reducing physical and mental stress and strain.  I have taught those strategies to hundreds of clients who have improved their physical and emotional health as a result.

See:

My introductory page on stress management.***

My book on stress management.***

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Albert Ellis on Love

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisTo summarise my conclusions (presented on 7th anniversary of Dr Ellis’s death, on 24th July 2014): Albert Ellis was damaged as a small boy by the neglect he experienced at the hands of his mother and father.  He was not actively loved, nor sensitively cared for.  Indeed, he had to become a little mother to his younger brother and sister, when he was about seven years old, and onward from that point.

As a result of his parents neglect of him, he did not understand what it meant to love and be loved.  This was clear from his description of his attempt to establish a relationship with his first potential girlfriend, Karyl, as told by himself, in his autobiography, All Out!

See my biographical sketch of Ellis’s life, and how it impacted the development of REBT: A Wounded Psychotherapist.***

Because he did not learn to love and be loved, he developed an avoidant attachment style, and related to significant others at a considerable, cool distance.  From this stance, it was important to him to invert Karen Horney’s principle, that we all need to be loved, and to thus arrive at his “Irrational Belief No.1”, which claims that “…virtually all humans demand that they absolutely must be loved by somebody, and often they demand that they must be loved by everybody”.  In my post on 24th July, I will demonstrate that, at most, about 20% of the population (of western cultures) may tend to have this sense of an absolute need to be loved.  For most other humans, the need for love is much less anxious and ambivalent; much less insecure.  Watch this space: Albert Ellis on Love.***

Love is hugely important.  Here’s my niece, Jenni, singing a song she composed for her sister (Ruth’s) wedding to Linval.  Love is a potent force in the world:

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To hell with Socrates

SocratesI have done quite a bit of work on the subject of Socratic Questioning, and certainly enough to satisfy myself that Socrates should never be used as a role model by counsellors, psychologists, psychotherapists, etc.

In my first study of Socratic Questioning, I concluded, in line with Dr Edward De Bono, that Plato’s-Socrates – (who is the only substantial Socrates known to the modern world) – held the beliefs that:

  1. Most people do not know how to think straight;
  2. That they tend to hold contradictory beliefs;
  3. That, in order to learn some better ideas – or perhaps to learn that they know nothing and are incapable of knowing anything – the first step is to demonstrate to them that they do not know what they are talking about.

How could these three beliefs form the foundation of the questioning strategies of counsellors or psychotherapists?  I do not believe they could.  I think it would be a dreadful abuse of clients to approach them with those three beliefs in mind. Not because those three ideas are necessarily wholly false, but because challenging people on that basis has the predictable effect of making them feel wrong, or stupid!

Socrates’ dialogues (in Plato’s dialogues) show a lack of sensitivity to the person to whom he is speaking – their vulnerability to feeling bad about themselves.  In Buddhism, there is the concept of ‘upaya’ – or ‘skillful means’ – which suggests that, when a Zen master is dealing with a student, they should aim to be skillful.  (Not that the approaches of Zen masters form a good model for counsellors: Remember it is not okay to throw your fan at a client; or to whack them over the head with your bamboo pole! :-))

And yet, when I challenged the idea of using Socratic Questioning in Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Albert Ellis told me that, while he could see some merit in some of my critique of Socrates, nevertheless, REBT is “…substantially Socratic”.

Nierenberg-negotiations-book.jpgMy own argument, following Nierenberg’s ‘Complete Negotiator’ approach, is to consider that questioning in counselling and therapy has certain instrumental functions, as follows:

1. To cause the client to focus upon a particular point (event, or object);

2. To cause their thinking to start up;

3. To ask them for some information;

4. To pass some information to them (rhetorically); and:

5. To cause their thinking to come to a conclusion.

Nierenberg also argues that you can arrange those five questions in a grid, like this:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.
1.  Combined Qs 1 & 3
2.
3.
4
5.

Dr Jim's photoUsing this grid, we can see that a question can be in two parts; e.g., 1+3 – To cause the client’s attention to focus on a specific event/experience, and to ask them for some information about that event/experience.

The great beauty of this system is that it gets rid of the “Socratic smart-arse” aspect of questioning the client.

The problems with classic Socratic Questioning include:

  1. That the client may interpret the therapist as ‘picking a fight’ with them;
  2. That the client may become anxious when asked particular kinds of right/wrong questions (perhaps because of re-stimulation of the humiliating experience of being at school and being subjected to interrogations, the aim of which was to find a reason to punish the client as a child).
  3. That the client may (as suggested by Asch, Milgram, Zimbardo) simply go along with the therapist’s inferences, as a form of obedience or conformity to authority.
  4. That the therapist never gets to *know* the client, because s/he (the therapist) is always tilting at the windmills of ‘innate irrational beliefs’ – or ‘negative automatic thoughts’).

And on and on.

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That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

 

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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Blog Post No.89 

Posted on 25th August 2016 (Previously published on Saturday 14th June 2014)

Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne

The Counselling Blog: A counsellor writes about “The importance of love…”

Kate-Atkinson-Life-After-Life.jpgI recently mentioned that I had acquired a copy of Kate Atkinson’s new novel. My intention was to read fiction for some part of each day – say 30 to 60 minutes – as a way to have a mental break from my tendency towards overworking.

I have now finished reading that book, at an average of three to six pages per day.  In a review, by ‘Bron’, at Amazon.co.uk, we get the following insight into the fundamental theme of Kate Atkinson’s new book:

“A seemingly small event can change the direction of a life completely: a chance encounter with a stranger who harms you or a conversation that detains you which means you miss bumping into the person, a meeting with the German you fall in love with and marry or being helped up from a fall by an Englishman. Life is full of moments which change the direction a person travels in and we have all wished we could go back and change something, or do it over again in a different way. And Life after Life explores this theme intricately, with sympathy, compassion and superb writing and plotting.”

Domestic-violence.jpgI was deeply moved by the emotional tone of Kate’s book, but I was never able to express what I was ‘getting’ from the experience.  It rattled some skeletons in the non-conscious basement of my mind, and sensitised me to some aspects of human suffering which were not previously in my range of experience – such as being a young woman, in her twenties, who is the victim of wife-beating and emotional abuse.  (Reading Kate’s vivid descriptions of wife-beatings, and eventual murder, happened on top of recently learning that one woman in three will be beaten by her partner.  What a world!)

I suppose a lot of my feelings were of being able to identify with a woman in a predominantly man’s world.  And, in addition, there were lots of descriptions of war and its horrors.

Soon after finishing reading this book, I sat down and wrote the following statement, which must have been, to some extent, inspired by reading Kate Atkinson’s narrative:

In CENT counselling, we are sometimes asked: ‘What is the purpose of life?  What’s it all about?’  This is our attempt at an answer: “We are born and we die.  We come into the world alone and with nothing in our hands, and very little in our hearts and minds.  And we leave this world alone and empty-handed.  The purpose of life, then, cannot be to get; to acquire; to want and desire.  The purpose of life must be to leave this world knowing we have made a difference (a positive difference!) to the lives of those people we met and knew and left behind.  The purpose of life must be to love; to give; to make a contribution to life on earth for our family, community and the people we love”.

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Love-matters-Gerhardt.jpgSue Gerhardt’s book – Why Love Matters – is a wonderful analysis of how affection shapes a baby’s brain, and the long-term implications of childhood experiences in relationships with early carers.  She “…explores how the earliest relationship shapes the baby’s nervous sytem.  She shows how the development of the brain determines future emotional well being, and goes on to look at specific early ‘pathways’ that can affect the way we respond to stress, and can contribute to conditions such as anorexia, addiction, and anti-social behaviour”.

And she presents an easy to understand analysis of the emergence of attachment styles – secure and insecure.

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This brings me to the problem of teaching my counselling clients – who often have insecure attachments to their parents – about love: its importance, what it is, and what it feels and looks like.  This is how I sometimes express it:

Teaching the client about the nature of love is one of the most difficult challenges a counsellor faces:  “There are no short-cuts to understanding what love is.  If someone has been deprived of the crudest infantile experience of love then he might be permanently crippled or, at least, have great difficulty in learning later what the word can mean.  In learning what it symbolises, I need to re-write my autobiography over and over again.  To grow is to re-organise the past now and to move into the future”.

Robert F. Hobson, Forms of Feeling: The heart of psychotherapy, Page 212. (25)

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road-less-travelledI like to teach my clients M. Scott Peck’s definition of love: That love is a process of ‘extending yourself in the service of another person’.  It is not primarily about ‘nice feelings’, although nice feelings normally flow from the process, especially for the love object.  But, of course, what goes around also comes around – so ‘cast thy bread upon the waters, for it shall return after many days’.  Or, as Albert Ellis would say, “The best way to get love is to sincerely offer it”.

But this statement by Ellis is an anachronism.  He is right; but he most likely did not implement that policy in his own life, based upon the research I have been able to do on the subject.

Dr Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) was greatly emotionally deprived as a child – on one occasion spending almost ten months in hospital, around the age of five or six years, during which time he just one or two visits from his mother, and none from his father.

Wounded-psychotherapist-ellisHe failed to understand how wounded he was, and went on to make a virtue of his insecure attachment style – trying to teach emotional coldness to his clients as a ‘superior, rational form of functioning’ –relative to having feelings of need to give and get love.

To those who told him they needed love, he objected, and insisted that nobody needs to be loved, and that they were ‘love slobs’ for thinking they did need love.  I wrote some more on this subject in time for the seventh anniversary of his death, here: About Dr Albert Ellis.***

If you want to find out more about Ellis’s childhood, and how his emotional deprivations affected the eventual shape of REBT, then please take a look at A Wounded Psychotherapist.***

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That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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