Post Traumatic Stress Solutions

Blog Post No.155 (was 119)

Posted on 4th May 2017 (Originally posted on Saturday 21st February 2015)

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: A counsellor blogs about ‘Living in the Present’… And Processing the Past!

Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2015

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A fly in my ointment

drjim-counsellor9About one week ago, I got up, ate my breakfast, meditated and did my physical exercise, as normal.  But something went wrong.

Just before I mediate, I am in the habit of reading some ‘thought for the day’ from a Zen source.  On that occasion, I read a quote from Chögyam Trungpa.[1]

This is what it said:

“…Once you begin to deal with a person’s whole case history, trying to make it relevant to the present, the person begins to feel that he has no escape, that his situation is hopeless, because he cannot undo his past.  He feels trapped by his past with no way out.  This kind of treatment is extremely unskilled.  It is destructive because it hinders involvement with the creative aspect of what is happening now, what is here, right now…”

This quotation was concerning for me, because it seems to support Dr Albert Ellis’s advice to “forget the god-awful past” – which I have rejected several times in recent years, in various pieces of my writing.

Dealing with tensions and contradictions

As a principled practitioner and researcher, I therefore felt obliged to address this statement by Trungpa; to investigate it; to see how it is constructed; and to come to some kind of resolution of the tension between Trungpa/Ellis, on the one hand, and myself on the other.

front-cover7I was very busy during that period, for perhaps the past two weeks – with much of my time going into editing my revised autobiographical novel.  (See Metal Dog – Long Road Home***)

Yesterday, I completed the current editing task, and today I wrote a little 29-page paper on the question of which is supportable: the suggestion of ‘forgetting the past’; or the suggestion of ‘processing the past’.

Please see: Personal history and the mind of the individual counselling client. The (frequent) importance of processing the past in counselling and therapy.***  

In this little blog post, I want to take Trungpa’s quote apart to see what it is made of.  Let us begin with the first element:

“…Once you begin to deal with a person’s whole case history, trying to make it relevant to the present, the person begins to feel that he has no escape, that his situation is hopeless, because he cannot undo his past. …”

This statement is:

(a) Not in line with my clinical experience. I could, given the time, write up lots of my client cases to show that many of my clients experienced dramatic levels of relief once they had finished processing some past, traumatic experience.

(b) Misleading.  The second clause – “…trying to make (the past) relevant to the present…” – is not a therapeutic task that has ever been proposed by any of the major therapists that I have studied.  This is either a misunderstanding or a red herring presented by Trungpa.

(c) Unsupported.  Which person “begins to feel that he has no escape”?  Certainly not any of the many individuals that I have helped to process their old traumas.  They have a very specific form of escape.

(1) They find and confront the troublesome past experience; and, simultaneously:

(2) They find a way to re-frame that old experience, so it does not seem so daunting; painful; impossible to bear.

(3) Once they have digested/re-framed the old, troublesome experience, they can let it go, and move on with the rest of their lives.

See my paper on ‘Completing your experience of difficult events, perceptions and painful emotions’.[2]

(d) Unclear.  Who is this person who “feels trapped by his past with no way out”?  Certainly not me.  (See my papers on processing my own childhood traumas, in Byrne [2009][3] and Byrne [2010][4]).

(e) Not about any known therapy.  The process which Trungpa describes, which he says “is destructive” is not a process that corresponds to any form of psychotherapy that I have ever encountered.  There is nothing to stop any client in CENT counselling from being in touch with the present moment, immediately before, and immediately after, their attempt to complete and re-frame an old experience.

An additional argument…

Trungpa goes on, in the next paragraph, to say: “As soon as we try to unravel the past, then we are involved with ambition and struggle in the present, not being able to accept the present moment as it is”.

Again, this does not correspond to my experience.  Whenever I have worked on processing old childhood traumas, I was perfectly able to accept the present moment as it was.  (I have been meditating since 1980, and striving to ‘live in the present’).

Let us look at one of my recent cases.  It should be of interest to Trungpa that I worked with one woman who had a hugely traumatic family problem dating from her childhood (when aged about seven years onwards), which we reviewed, processed, and I helped her to reframe it – in just three sessions of 45 minutes of counselling.  At the end of this process, she declared that she was ‘done’ – but that she would join a Meditation Group and continue to develop her sense of having been ‘washed clean’ by our therapy work together!

Certainly it is true (as Trungpa says) that processing the past involves struggles, but they are struggles that are well worth undertaking and completing, because they allow you to live more fully in the present when you have burned out the old hurts and pains in the (largely non-conscious) basement of your mind.

I have written an eBook on how to face up to traumatic memories of past experiences, and to process them, digest them, and burn them out, so they can be filed away in an inert file in long-term memory, from which they can cause you no further disturbance.  Her are the details:

NTS eBook No.5 – Facing and Defeating your Emotional Dragons: How to process and eliminate undigested pain from your past, by Jim Byrne

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Finale

It may well be that every philosophy of life contains its strengths and weaknesses.  Trungpa and Ellis are illustrations of that hybrid nature of philosophies of life.

So, by all means, try to live in the present moment; try to engage in ongoing mindfulness as you go about your day.  But if you are troubled by emotional (or physical) symptoms which may be connected to childhood, or early adult life trauma, then by all means engage in the struggle that is required to process and re-frame those traumas, so you can free your energies for a more enjoyable life in the present moment.

~~~

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Jim Byrne – Doctor of Counselling

ABC Counselling and Psychotherapy Division

Email: drjwbyrne@gmail.com

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[1] Chögyam Trungpa, The situation of nowness, in: Josh Baran, 365 Nirvana: Here and Now.  Element/HarperColins.  2003.

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

[3] Byrne, J. (2009) A journey through models of mind.  The story of my personal origins.  CENT Paper No.4.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT. Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

[4] Byrne, J. (2010) The Story of Relationship: Or coming to terms with my mother (and father).  CENT Paper No.10.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT.  Available online: https://ecent-institute.org/e-cent-articles-and-papers/

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Hebden Bridge Counselling Books

Hebden Bridge Counsellor Writes and Publishes Books

6th April 2016

honetpieWe live in an era of information overload, so much so that you could live next door to a published author and not know about it!

You might we interested in what they wrote and published, if only you could find out that this work exists.

For this reason, I have decided to draw attention to the fact that I am a Hebden Bridge based counsellor/psychotherapist who also writes and edits and publishes books, such as the following:

♣  Paperback books.***

♣  eBooks on Narrative Therapy and Therapeutic Writing.***

♣  Dr Jim’s autobiographical novel: Metal Dog – Long Road Home.***

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Books-on-counsellingI hope you find this information interesting and helpful.  I am also happy to advise aspiring authors of similar books regarding the writing and editing processes involved, and the process of publication.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

~~~

 

Link between nutrition and mental health – Part Two

Blog Post No.153

4th April 2017

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2017

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: The link between nutrition and ‘mental health’ (or emotional wellbeing) – Part 2

Introduction

honetpieIn Part 1 of this blog post series, I reviewed the scientific evidence, presented by Professor Bonnie Kaplan, that nutritional deficiencies can and do result in mental health or emotional wellbeing problems.

In particular, we saw that single nutrient deficiencies – like vitamins B1, B3, B12, and iodine, resulted in psychiatric disorders, or mental health difficulties.

At the end of her presentation of the scientific evidence of the importance of nutrition for mental health, Dr Kaplan raises this question: What happened next?

And her answer?  Nothing! 

Or: 50+ years of virtual silence on the role of nutrition in mental health in the realm of psychiatry or clinical medicine.

Bonnie KaplanShe then wonders: ‘Why?’

Her first inference is that this was the era of the development of pharmaceuticals!  (Which we now know to be little better than a placebo, but with hugely damaging side effects! [More on that later in this series!])

And she also mentions that psychologists and mental health workers were taught that nutrition was not important!

But that claim is spurious, and contradicts the scientific evidence presented by Dr Kaplan.

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And here’s Julia Rucklidge’s Tedx talk on nutrition and mental health:

Evidence from the Minnesota Starvation Experiment

In an effort to keep a tight focus upon the research on single nutrient deficiencies, in my previous blog post, I skipped Dr Kaplan’s presentation on the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.  I now want to return to that subject:

The results of the Minnesota Starvation Experiment have been summarised as follows, by two authors at the American Psychological Association:

“Amid the privations of World War II, 36 men voluntarily starved themselves so that researchers and relief workers could learn about how to help people recover from starvation.

“They reported fatigue, irritability, depression and apathy. Interestingly, the men also reported decreases in mental ability, although mental testing of the men did not support this belief.”  And their sex urge disappeared completely.” (Professor Bonnie Kaplan, who has studied the reports carefully, expands this list as follows: “Depression, hysteria, irritability, self-mutilation, apathy/lethargy, social withdrawal and inability to concentrate”[3].)

Given the insights of this research, why should anybody feel any sense of stigma about ‘mental health issues’?  What if all of their problems could be cleared up by working on their diet, their gut health, and their general level of stress?  (And perhaps re-writing or re-thinking their personal and family history?)

“The Minnesota Starvation Experiment … reminds us that in psychology studies of mind and body, science and practice can converge to deal with real problems in the real world.”[4]

Despite the fact that the American Psychological Association knows of this research, in which semi-starvation, or extreme nutrient deficiency, resulted in fatigue, irritability, depression and apathy, no significant evidence exists that counsellors and psychotherapists normally take the diet of their clients into account.  (A junk food diet is a form of semi-starvation from the point of view of nutrient-deficiency! And there is now evidence that trans-fats and high sugar content results in emotional disturbances, such as angry outbursts and depression).

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Conclusion

Bonnie Kaplan has presented a range of evidences that nutritional deficiencies affect mental health.  I am very careful to eat a balanced diet – but, also in line with her thinking – to use a range of good quality micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) to compensate for the poor quality of much agricultural soil today; and also to compensate for the fact that I do not know for sure how to compile a day’s menu which will give me adequate amounts of all the essential nutrients I need for my physical and mental functioning.

I would recommend that you follow this pattern.  Follow a good guide to nutritious eating – probably something like the Mediterranean Diet; and/or the Paleo Diet; with plenty of water (about two litres per day); plus a good strong multivitamin and mineral supplement; a strong (and preferably yeast free) vitamin B complex; a good quality digestive enzyme supplement (especially if you are over the age of forty years, when you digestive enzymes show a marked decline); and perhaps talk to a good nutritional therapist who can advise you on other supplements you might benefit from.  We also try to eat at least 50% organic; and we currently exclude all grains and dairy products (well 95% or so).

We also learn a lot of useful health tips from What Doctors Don’t Tell You.***

In her appendix on nutrition (Diet, nutrition and the body-brain-mind), in our book on Holistic Counselling***, Renata also recommends avoidance of caffeine, sugar, and gluten; and the taking of vitamin D3 supplements (but also getting vitamin D from sunlight); and getting omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish (and/or from supplements, like cod liver oil, or krill oil); and avoiding trans-fats (commonly found in junk food), which ‘rot your brain’.  You can also get support from a good holistic health practitioner, nutritionist or your regular healthcare practitioner.

But most important of all, do you own research.  Find out for yourself.  Become your own physician!  And remember, this is educational information, and not medical advice!

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That’s all for today.

More later…

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

~~~

End Notes

[2] Keys, A., Brozek, J., Henshel, A., Mickelson, O., & Taylor, H.L. (1950). The biology of human starvation, (Vols. 1–2). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

[3] Kaplan, B.J., Julia J. Rucklidge, Amy Romijn, and Kevin Flood (2015) The emerging field of nutritional mental health: Inflammation, the microbiome, oxidative stress, and mitochondrial function.  Clinical Psychological Science, Vol.3(6): 964-980.

[4] American Psychological Association: The psychology of hunger. By Dr David Baker and Natacha Keramidas, October 2013, Vol 44, No. 9. Online: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/10/hunger.aspx

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Diet, nutrition and mental health

Blog Post No.152

3rd April 2017

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2017

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: The link between nutrition and ‘mental health’ (or emotional wellbeing) – Part 1

Introduction

Dr-Jim-Self-AcceptanceThere is now a growing consensus that there is a significant link between diet/nutrition – on the one hand – and ‘mental health’ or emotional wellbeing – on the other. (For example, see Mental Health Foundation; and  Mind UK.

I first began to take this emerging insight into account in dealing with my clients, perhaps twelve or more years ago.  Out of my curiosity about this link, I created what I called my Stress and Anxiety Diet.***

Last year, Renata wrote a substantial document on the link between diet and emotional disturbances.  This we published as Appendix E to our book on Holistic Counselling: (Please see Holistic Counselling in Practice.***)

Bonnie-KaplanMoving on: I recently reviewed Part 1 of a three part webinar on ‘Nutrition and Mental Health’, by Dr Bonnie Kaplan, a professor in the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada[1].

In her webinar, Dr Kaplan reviews 2,600 years of folklore and modern science to explore the link between nutrition and mental health.

The science of nutritional deficiency

In the realm of science, she presents evidence that, just as deficiencies in single nutrients can cause physical diseases (e.g. scurvy), they can also cause psychological/psychiatric symptoms.

She begins her science section with a look at the dire consequences of citrus deficiency: the development of a disease called scurvy, which killed 40% of the crews of ships that sailed without lemon juice.  In 1774, citrus was shown, in a randomized control trial of six potential treatments, to be superior.  But it took 264 years before citrus was made routinely available to all sailors.

Subsequent studies showed that single nutrient deficiencies could, and would, cause psychiatric symptoms, of which Kaplan mentions four:

# Thiamine/B1 deficiency causes Wernicke’s encephalopathy[2].  Korsakoff’s psychosis[3].

# Cyanocobalamin/B12 deficiency causes Psychosis of pernicious anaemia[4].

# Iodine deficiency causes ‘Myxedema madness’[5]. And:

# Niacin/B3 causes Pellagra[6].

The widespread recognition that these psychiatric conditions can be caused by single nutrient deficiencies is beyond dispute.  As Dr Kaplan points out, the DSM acknowledges that niacin deficiency can cause neurocognitive disorders.

How do we know that most so called psychiatric symptoms are not a result of single or multiple vitamin or mineral deficiencies?  Or a result of nutritional deficiencies plus dehydration?  Or nutritional deficiencies, sugar overload, and inflammation due to grain allergies?  The answer is: We Don’t!

But there is a growing field of nutritional medicine emerging which seems to cohere around one central theme: Food is the best medicine!  (Brogan, 2016[i]; Perlmutter, 2015[ii]; Ross, 2002[iii]; Enders, 2015[iv]).

[i] Brogan, K. (2016) A mind of your own: The truth about depression and how women can heal their bodies to reclaim their lives. London: Thorsons.

[ii] Perlmutter, D. (2015) Brain Maker: The power of gut microbes to heal and protect your brain – for life. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

[iii] Ross, J. (2002) The Mood Cure: Take charge of your emotions in 24 hours using food and supplements. London: Thorsons.

[iv] Enders, G. (2015) Gut: The inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ.  Scribe Publications.

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 Vitamin B3 deficiency and the disease of Pellagra

Pellagra_NIH_manThe most obvious symptom of Pellagra is rough skin, or dermatitis of an extreme form.  According to Dr Kaplan, this disease was first described in 1735 in Spain.  But it was not until 1914 that Dr Joseph Goldberger realised that Pellagra was not an infectious disease, but that it was in fact linked to diet.  By 1937, it was precisely linked to niacin (or Vitamin B3) deficiency.  As a result, some governments began to fortify food with vitamin B3, to prevent this disease.

However, as mentioned earlier, Pellagra symptoms were not restricted to the skin, but also affected the brain-mind of the victim, causing mental disturbances sufficiently sever for sufferers to be admitted to psychiatric hospitals.  And Dr Kaplan cites one American hospital which estimated that 1 in 5 admissions from 1930-32 were solely due to Pellagra psychosis.

Much of this psychosis was caused by over-reliance on maize as the staple of the ‘poor man’s diet’.

What does this tell us about the stigma of ‘mental illness’?  Are we misrepresenting nutritional deficiencies as ‘madness’?

My own mother was hospitalized for depression when I was about twelve years old.  The one thing I know for sure about those years is this: We were all seriously malnourished!  (Of course, we must not get into the trap of swapping one ‘single cause’ of emotional distress for another.  We subscribe to a holistic model, in which diet, exercise, self-talk, relaxation, meditation, sleep pattern, family of origin, current relationships, environmental stressors, economic circumstances, housing circumstances, and so on, all play a role in determining the individual’s capacity to regulate their emotions; and certainly there were a lot of stressors [financial and relational] in my mother’s life at that time!)

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Nutritional treatment of emotional problems

Dr Kaplan, in 2007, co-authored a paper on Vitamins, Minerals and Mood[7].  This is what the abstract said:

“In this article, the authors explore the breadth and depth of published research linking dietary vitamins and minerals (micronutrients) to mood. Since the 1920’s, there have been many studies on individual vitamins (especially B vitamins and Vitamins C, D, and E), minerals (calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium), and vitamin-like compounds (choline). Recent investigations with multi-ingredient formulas are especially promising. However, without a reasonable conceptual framework for understanding mechanisms by which micronutrients might influence mood, the published literature is too readily dismissed. Consequently, 4 explanatory models are presented, …. These models provide possible explanations for why micronutrient supplementation could ameliorate some mental symptoms[8].”

Dr Kaplan next moves on to present the result of the Minnesota Starvation Experiments, from 1950, which demonstrated that, when a group of normal, healthy students were deprived of a nutritious diet, and placed on 50% of normal nutritional levels, they developed symptoms of depression, hysteria, irritability, self-mutilation, apathy and lethargy, social withdrawal, and inability to concentrate. (Keys, et al, 1950)[9].

The link between nutrition and mental health is therefore, quite clearly, beyond dispute.

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End of Part 1.  To be continued in Part 2.

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PS: Soon after posting this blog, I got this response on Facebook:

Shannon Joy Glasser “I changed to a vegan diet about a year and a half ago, and I have experienced SIGNIFICANT improvements in my health, depression and anxiety. I’m a firm believer!”

PPS: And there are now randomized controlled trials (RCTs) which demonstrate dietary changes are more effective than social support interventions for reducing and eliminating the symptoms of depression:

https://www.madinamerica.com/2017/04/healthier-diet-reduces-depressive-symptoms/

https://www.thecounsellorscafe.co.uk/single-post/2017/03/15/Adding-back-the-body-to-the-counselling-client

PPPS: Finally, just in case you naively believe that ‘antidepressants’ can cure depression, please take an eye-opening look at The Emperor’s New Drugs.***

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That’s all for today.  More soon.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

~~~

Endnotes

[1] Here’s one online address where you can watch the video: https://www.hardynutritionals.com/videos/36-continuing-medical-education-series-nutrition-and-mental-health-part-1

To study this material for CE credits, then please go to the Mad in America site, here: https://app.ruzuku.com/courses/

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[2] Wernicke’s encephalopathy (or Wernicke’s disease) is the presence of neurological symptoms caused by biochemical lesions of the central nervous system after exhaustion of B-vitamin reserves, in particular thiamine (vitamin B1).

[3] Korsakoff syndrome is a chronic memory disorder caused by severe deficiency of thiamine (vitamin B-1). Korsakoffsyndrome is most commonly caused by alcohol misuse, but certain other conditions also can cause the syndrome.

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[4] Psychiatric manifestations of vitamin B12 deficiency: a case report.

Abstract

Psychiatric manifestations are frequently associated with pernicious anemia including depression, mania, psychosis, dementia. We report a case of a patient with vitamin B12 deficiency, who has presented severe depression with delusion and Capgras* syndrome, delusion with lability of mood and hypomania successively, during a period of two Months.  Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15029091

(*Capgras Syndrome, also known as Capgras Delusion, is the irrational belief that a familiar person or place has been replaced with an exact duplicate — an imposter (Ellis, 2001, Hirstein, and Ramachandran, 1997).)

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[5] Myxoedema psychosis, more colloquially known as myxoedema madness, is a relatively uncommon consequence of hypothyroidism, such as in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or in patients who have had the thyroid surgically removed and are not taking thyroxine.  Source.***

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[6] pellagra (pɛˈlaɡrə,pɛˈleɪɡrə/) noun:

  1. A deficiency disease caused by a lack of nicotinic acid* or its precursor tryptophan in the diet. It is characterized by dermatitis, diarrhoea, and mental disturbance, and is often linked to over-dependence on maize as a staple food. ***

(* nicotinic acid noun BIOCHEMISTRY: A vitamin of the B complex which is widely distributed in foods such as milk, wheat germ, and meat, and can be synthesized in the body from tryptophan. Its deficiency causes pellagra.)

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[7] Kaplan, B.J., Susan G. Crawford, Catherine J. Field and J. Steven A. Simpson (2007) Vitamins, minerals, and mood. Psychological Bulletin, Sept; 133(5): Pages 747-760.

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[8] Source: Available online at NCBI: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17723028

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[9] Keys, A., Brozek, J., Henshel, A., Mickelson, O., & Taylor, H.L. (1950). The biology of human starvation, (Vols. 1–2). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

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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.

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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/).

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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).

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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?)

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  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”!

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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!”)

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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

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[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!)

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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.)

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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.

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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!***

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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

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