Carl Rogers and person-centred counselling and therapy

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Counselling Blog Post: Sunday 8th December 2019

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Carl Rogers and Person-Centred Counselling: Some critical reflections

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2019

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Introduction

Carl RogersThis is the second blog post, in a series of posts, about systems of counselling and psychotherapy.  Last week I wrote about Freud’s system of psychoanalysis****; and today I want to reflect upon a few key elements of Carl Rogers’ system of Person-centred counselling.

At first glance, there could not be anything more wholesome than something called ‘person-centred counselling’.  Being ‘person centred’ sounds laudable, and beyond the need for any kind of reflection or inspection.

Although my first experience of counselling and therapy involved primarily the neo-Freudian approach to psychoanalysis (in 1968), I also had a couple of encounters with Carl Rogers’ person-centred, or client-centred approach.  My first experience of the person-centred approach was working with two individuals, in Bangladesh, who had been through some training and therapy at Big Sur, California, in the mid-1970’s. They had worked with Carl Rogers, and I picked up a flavour of their ‘non-directive, humanistic approach’ to life by osmosis.

On becoming a personThen, in 1979, back in the UK, I stumbled upon Roger’s book, ‘On Becoming a Person’, which I enjoyed enormously.  (Later, I realized that it was somewhat amoral – or lacking in moral sense – in that it elevated the needs of the individual above the social relationships found in a situation, in every case, as a matter of principle; whereas, in my moral judgement, social commitments and responsibilities are also important, and have to be balanced against the needs of the individual, on a case by case basis).

My third experience of Rogers’ system was when I studied for my Diploma in Counselling Psychology and Psychotherapy. During that period, I studied a range of counselling systems, including the person-centred approach (at a time when I was more involved with the rational/cognitive approach – as distinct from my current system of emotive-cognitive embodied narrative therapy).

In this blog, I want to review a couple of elements of the person-centred counselling approach, and to clarify where I differ from that approach.

Carl Rogers and the client’s ‘self-conception’

According to Richard Nelson-Jones[1], person-centred counselling gives first priority to the idea of the client as the possessor of something called “a subjective self-concept”. This is equivalent to the ‘ego’ (or the ‘I’, or ‘sense of self’) in Freudian and neo-Freudian psychotherapy.

Nelson-Jones, Theory and practice of counselling and therapyFor Carl Rogers, the creator of person-centred counselling, the subjective self-concept, when it’s psychologically healthy, is a result of the ways in which the individual perceives and defines themselves. By contrast, when they internalize the values of others, this is seen by Rogers as a ‘distorted sense of self’, which is psychologically unhealthy. This perspective of Rogers’ is reminiscent of Jean Piaget’s view of the individual as essentially capable of autonomous activity from birth, with an urge (which Rogers calls the ‘actualizing tendency’) to explore the world.  But this is completely unrealistic, which is why Piaget’s perspective was eventually replaced (for most educational psychologists) by that of Vygotsky, who recognized the role of ‘instruction’, and other socializing influences, upon the shape taken by the developing child.

Rogers’ mistake was to think that a child could be independent of its parents’ influences – which it cannot be. Every child comes into existence, mentally, as a result of having parents (or parent substitutes) who relate to it and educate/socialize it.  In E-CENT[2] counselling, we see the emergence of the ‘individual self’ as a dialectical (or interactional) process of relationship between the ‘cultural mother’ (initially) and the ‘biological baby’, out of which comes a sense of socialized identity. (See my eBook on The Emergent Individual).

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The Emergent Social Individual:

Or how social experience shapes the human body-brain-mind

The emergent social individual, jim byrneBy Dr Jim Byrne

Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2009-2019

The E-CENT perspective sees the relationship of mother-baby as a dialectical (or interactional) one of mutual influence, in which the baby is ‘colonized’ by the mother/carer, and enrolled over time into the mother/carer’s culture, including language and beliefs, scripts, stories, etc.  This dialectic is one between the innate urges of the baby and the cultural and innate and culturally shaped behaviours of the mother.  The overlap between mother and baby gives rise to the ‘ego space’ in which the identity and habits of the baby take shape.  And in that ego space, a self-identity appears as an emergent phenomenon, based on our felt sense of being a body (the core self) and also on our conscious and non-conscious stories about who we are and where we have been, who has related to us, and how: (the autobiographical self).

Learn more about this book.***

E-Book version only available at the moment.***

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The baby is always a social-baby

For Rogers – unrealistically – the baby has a capacity to engage in ‘the organism’s own valuing system’, which can produce elements of self-conception, which are independent of the values of mother and father and others.  But this proves to be a completely unrealistic idea. Every baby is shaped by its early social environment.

Of course there is a back and forth exchange between the child and the parents, but the parents have a huge power to influence and control the baby and its emerging values and behaviours; while the baby has a limited capacity to influence the parents’ values and behaviours.

And, of course the child does go through a set of biologized stages of development – such as the ‘terrible-twos’; moving towards peer influence and away from parent influences; then puberty; and eventually leaving home; etc.  But the social environment bears down heavily upon all of those developments, and produces a ‘synthesis’ of ‘individual/social being’, or ‘socialized selfhood’.

The individual is always connected to a social environment, both internally (in memory) and externally, in present time relationships (at home and in work, business, etc.), and in terms of cultural rules, expectations and social possibilities.

There is no place for a ‘pure individual’ (or pure ‘self-conception’) to emerge or to stand in the real world. We are social beings from first to last.  From soon after birth until the last breath is drawn! We live inside of social stories.

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Processing Client Stories in Counselling and Psychotherapy:

How to think about and analyze client narratives

Processing client stories in counselling and therapy, jim byrne.JPGDr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

The Institute for E-CENT Publications – 2019

Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2019. All rights reserved.

Of all the systems of counselling and therapy, the main ones that pay attention to the body of the client include Gestalt Therapy, and my own system of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (or E-CENT for short).

In E-CENT counselling, when a client arrives to see us, we see a body-brain-mind-environment-whole enter our room.  We agree that this person will begin by telling us a story about their current difficulties; but we recognize that this story is affected, for better or worse, by the quality and duration of their recent sleep patterns; their diet (including caffeine, alcohol, sugary foods, and trans-fats in junk food); and whether or not they do regular physical exercise; and other bodily factors.

However, in this book, we will mainly focus upon the client’s story or narrative; and perhaps remind ourselves occasionally that this story is being told by a physical body-brain-mind which is dependent for optimal functioning upon such factors as diet, exercise, sleep, and so on. We will focus upon the question of the status of autobiographical narratives; and how to analyze the stories our clients tell us.

Available as an eBook only.***

Learn more about this book.***

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Forcing the client to therapize themselves

Right-brain communicationBecause Carl Rogers didn’t understand the inescapably social nature of the so-called ‘individual’, he created a system of counselling in which the client is left to ‘self-manage’ their therapeutic journey, with the counsellor providing nothing but a ‘mirror’ and ‘sounding board’, both of which provide essentially or primarily non-verbal feedback under the false banner of being ‘a facilitating environment’!

What was Rogers’ justification for creating and practicing such a passive form of counselling? According to Richard Nelson-Jones[3], Rogers believed that it was the quality of the interpersonal encounter with the client that was the really important element in producing a healing/growing/liberating effect on the client.  However, the nature of the interpersonal environment produced by person-centred counselling is largely right-brain to right-brain nonverbal communication.  This is helpful, and potentially healing, up to a point. (See Daniel Hill’s book on Affect Regulation Theory)[4]. However, human relational encounters normally rely upon both left-brain (language-based) communication and right-brain (non-verbal) communication.  And Rogers discounts the value of left-brain, language based communication, because, back in 1940, he had a bee in his bonnet about how mainstream counselling was ‘too directive’!  (It seems to me that Rogers system is too passive, and Albert Ellis’s system is too directive; which is why we have developed a ‘middle way’, in the form of E-CENT counselling.***)

The power of social pressure

Carl RogersParadoxically, Rogers did understand the power of social pressures and influences upon the individual, outside of the therapy room. Indeed, in an article in 1940, he pointed out that if an individual was facing too many adverse social factors (pressures and restraints), then therapy was unlikely to work, because what the person needed was “a radical change of conditions”. (Cohen, 1997, pages 93-94)[5]. (There is, of course, a lot of truth in this insight, as we have seen in the huge increase in mental illness – depression, anxiety and more extreme conditions – since the advent of neoliberal economic policies, introduced by Thatcher and Reagan, produced huge social and economic problems based on inequality and insecurity[6].)

However, the fact that some (or perhaps most) of my clients may be facing intractable social pressures outside of the counselling room, in their daily lives, does not justify me in declining to engage my left-brain, and linguistic communication, during my counselling sessions with them. It is, after all, normal for human beings to utilize both their left and right brains: their language and their feelings, in all forms of human communication. So it seems perverse for person-centred counsellors to exclude meaningful, language-based, left-brain communications when dealing with their clients.

The E-CENT approach to counselling communication

ecent logos 3The model of communication that I utilize in my emotive-cognitive, embodied narrative therapy work is similar to that described by Stephen Covey[7] as follows:

Habit No.5: “First seek to understand (the other person); and then to be understood (by them)”.

Carl Rogers includes the first part of this habit or principle; but he excludes the second; and thus it is not true or full communication that he advocates or uses with his clients.

Here is a little more detail about Covey’s Habit 5:

5 – Seek first to understand, then to be understood

Use empathic listening to genuinely understand a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem solving.

The Habit 5 is greatly embraced in the Greek philosophy represented by 3 words:

1) Ethos – your personal credibility. It’s the trust that you inspire, your Emotional Bank Account.

2) Pathos is the empathic side — it’s the alignment with the emotional trust of another person’s communication.

3) Logos is the logic — the reasoning part of the presentation.

The order is important: ethos, pathos, logos — your character, and your relationships, and then the logic of your case or argument.

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What Rogers omits, from this model, is the Logos, or Logic; the reasoning process.

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The centrality of two-way communication

When a client seeks my help, I put a lot of time and energy into understanding their understanding of their problem.

Then I put a lot of effort into helping them to understand my understanding of their understanding (of the nature of their problem[s]).

None of this is about hard-and-fast concrete facts; but rather of my story about their story about their experiences.

And out of this dialogue, it often happens that I influence them more than they influence me – which is the right way around for a therapy encounter. Since they are very often struggling with problems of which they have only recently become conscious; and since I’ve been studying and consciously wrestling with similar problems for decades, it would be perverse of me not to seek to influence their undeveloped understanding with my tried, tested and developed understanding.

Rogers reason for non-directive counsellingRogers thought that therapy was ‘too directive’ and, as a reaction against it, he developed a completely non-directive system of therapy (which does not involve fully-human communication – as explained above). But he was wrong to think that a non-directive form of therapy would ‘liberate’ the ‘inner self’ of the client, because the ‘inner self’ of the client is precisely the ‘socialized self’ which carries the wounds that need to be healed.

Non-directive therapy neglects the responsibility of the therapist to re-parent, or re-educate, the client, using left and right brain engagement. (See Hill, 2015).

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The E-CENT approach to therapy

So what does Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) offer instead of the non-directive listening of Person-centred therapy?Front cover Lifestyle Counselling

In my book on Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person***, I describe my perceptions or anticipations of every new client as follows:

  1. I do not know who this client will turn out to be; or how complex their case might be; or how I should begin to think about them. I have to wipe my mind as clear as possible of preconceptions, which, of course, is an impossibility for a human being. (Our preconceptions reside at the non-conscious level, and we most often do not know what they are! And without our preconceptions we would be gaga! We would literally not know what anything was).
  2. This client will be a body-brain-mind, linked to a familial social environment (in the past) and a set of relationships (in the present).
  3. They will be subject to a range of stressors in their daily life, and those stressors will be managed by a set of coping strategies (good and bad – resulting from the degree to which their emotions are habitually regulated or dysregulated [where dysregulated means over-aroused or under-aroused).
  4. This client will have been on a long journey through space-time, sometimes learning something new, and often repeating the habitual patterns of their past experience/conditioning. They will be aware of some of their emotional pain, and unaware of much of it.
  5. This client will have some kind of problem, or problems, for which I have been identified as an aid to the solution.
  6. This client will come in and tell me a story; and another story; and another; and will want me to make sense of those stories; so they can escape from some pain or other. And that is part of my job. But a more immediate, and important part may be to be a ‘secure base’for them[8] – to re-parent them.
  7. This client may or may not be aware that their body and mind are one: a body-mind. They may not realize that, to have a calm and happy mind, they need to eat a healthy, balanced diet; exercise regularly; manage their sleep cycle; drink enough water; process their daily experiences consciously (and especially the difficult bits [preferably in writing, in a journal]); have a good balance of work, rest and play; be assertive in their communications with their significant others; have good quality social connections; and so on.
  8. This client may have heard of ‘the talking cure’, and believe that all we have to do is exchange some statements, and then I will say ‘Take up thy bed and walk!’ And they will be healed.

They may not know that the solution to their problems is most likely going to involve them taking more responsibility for the state of their life; being more self-disciplined; learning to manage the ‘shadow side’ of their mind (or ‘bad wolf’ state); learning to manage their own emotions; manage their own relationships better; manage their physical health, in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation, stress, and so on; and to manage their minds also. Clearly, they are not going to realize any of these necessary developmental challenges if all I do is LISTEN!

For more information about this radically new approach to helping people with bio-psycho-social problems of everyday living, please see my book on Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person***.

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Finale

Dr Jim's office2Clearly, Carl Rogers had a very simplistic model of the human body-brain-mind-environment which we call ‘a counselling client’. To help a client to resolve their emotional, behavioural and relationship problems is normally going to take a whole lot more than listening, listening, listening!

The bottom line of my approach to counselling, therapy and coaching is this: I occupy the central ground between the extremes of Carl Rogers’ non-directive approach, and Albert Ellis’s Extreme Stoical and overly-directive REBT.***

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That’s all for now.

cropped-abc-coaching-counselling-charles-2019.jpgBest wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

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Endnotes

[1] Nelson-Jones, R. (2001) Theory and Practice of Counselling and Therapy.  Third edition.  London: Continuum.

[2] E-CENT = Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy, developed by Jim Byrne, with the support of Renata Taylor-Byrne.

[3] Nelson Jones (2001); page 98.

[4] Hill, D. (2015) Affect Regulation Theory: A clinical model.  New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.

[5] Cohen, D. (1997) Carl Rogers: A critical biography. London: Constable.

[6] Wilkinson, R. and Pickett, K. (2010) The Spirit Level: Why equality is better for everybody.  London: Penguin Books.

And, as explained by Dr Oliver James:

“Nearly ten years ago, in my book Britain on the Couch, I pointed out that a twenty-five-year-old American is (depending on which studies you believe) between three and ten times more likely to be suffering depression today than in 1950. … In the case of British people, nearly one-quarter suffered from emotional distress … in the past twelve months, and there is strong evidence that a further one-quarter of us are on the verge thereof.  … (M)uch of this increase in angst occurred after the 1970’s and in English-speaking nations”.  People’s beliefs have not changed so much over that time.  This is evidence of the social-economic impact of the post-Thatcher/Reagan neo-liberal economic policies!

Oliver James (2007) Affluenza: How to be successful and stay sane.  Page xvi-xvii.

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[7] Covey, S.R. (1999) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the character ethic. London: Simon and Schuster.

[8] In attachment theory, a child is seen to use his/her mother (or main carer) as a secure base from which to explore its environment, and to play.  If the child’s stress level rises, or s/he becomes anxious, s/he can scurry back to mother for a feeling of being in a sensitive and responsive relationship of care and reassurance.  This reassurance can also be sought and given nonverbally from a distance.  And in counselling and therapy, that role of being sensitive and caring, and reassuring the client, is also seen as providing a new form of secure base from which the client can explore difficult and challenging memories and feelings.

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Freud, sex, literature, Descartes, and the body-brain-mind-environment-complexity

Blog Post No. 170

By Dr Jim Byrne

23rd July 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: Freud, sex, literature, Descartes, and the body-brain-mind-environment-complexity!

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Part Two: More on ‘What are the linkages between psychology and psychotherapy, on the one hand, and literature, on the other’?

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2018

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Introduction

Books on emotional intelligence.JPGRecently, I’ve been blogging about some of the important linkages, or overlaps, between psychology, on the one hand, and literature, on the other.

For examples: I have written about:

(1) Some of the books that helped to grow my emotional intelligence; or to help me to ‘complete’ (or process) some early, traumatic experience;

(2) My own semi-autobiographical novel/story about the life of Daniel O’Beeve – and how this is legitimate psychotherapy for the reader, as well as the writer;

(3) How to “write a new life for yourself” – in the form of a new paperback book about a system of psychotherapy, which I have developed over a number of years.

(4) How psychological insights seep into literature; and how literature in turn influences, or humanizes, psychology and psychotherapy.

Today, I want to describe some experiences with literature that I’ve had over the past couple of days.

Visiting bookshops in Bradford

Julian Barnes, Through the WindowTwo days ago – on Saturday 21st July – Renata and I took some time out and went to Bradford for lunch, and to take a look around the shops, including two bookshops and the main DVD/movie outlet (HMV, in the new arcade).

In Waterstones’ bookshop, towards the end of our visit, I was looking for something which would help me to reflect some more upon the linkages between psychology and literature.

There was nothing of any relevance in the Psychology section.

Then I went looking for a Literature section.  The best I could find were two adjacent book cases, one on Poetry, and one on Drama.  (Bradford is not a particularly big city).

In the drama section, there were a few books on literature, including one by Julian Barnes: Through the Window – Seventeen essays (and one short story); London; Vintage Books; 2012.

The blurb on the back of this book suggested it was exactly what I was seeking.  It began like this: “Novels tell us the most truth about life…”

I bought it, and brought it home, and dived into the Preface, which describes ‘a Sempé cartoon’, which shows three sections of a bookshop.  On the left, the Philosophy section; on the right, the History section; and in the middle, a window that looks out at a man and a woman who are approaching each other from roughly the locations of those two sections, and who are inevitably (and accidentally) going to meet in front of the middle section, which is the Fiction section.

For Julian Barnes, this cartoon describes his own beliefs about the central role of fiction in our lives.

“Fiction, more than any other written form, explains and expands life”, he writes, with great assurance.  “Biology, of course, also explains life; so do biography and biochemistry and biophysics and biomechanics and biopsychology.  But all the biosciences yield no biofiction.  Novels tell us the most truth about life: what it is, how we live it, what it might be for, how we enjoy and value it, how it goes wrong, and how we lose it.  Novels speak to and from the mind, the heart, the eye, the genitals, the skin; the conscious and the subconscious.  What it is to be an individual, what it means to be part of a society. What it means to be alone.  …” Etcetera.

However, it could be objected that, while the various sciences instruct, and suggest what must be done and not done, the literary arts merely create visceral and emotive sensations, which must link up with our socialization in general – that is to say, our previous learning – to help us to decide what to do with this new literary information; these insights; or newly forming feelings and thoughts.

Indeed, it seems to me that if all we had was literature, then we would be “weaving without weft” – or trying to make a fabric without those long strings, from one end of the loom to the other, through which the shuttle passes.  We would be trying to make sense of fictions in the absence of the insights we gain from the various sciences, and the ruminations of the various philosophers.

However, the reverse is also true.  Without literature and art, the sciences would provide us with long strings of facts, set up on our mental looms, but with no means of weaving a living fabric of warmth and depth and emotional meaning.

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An example from fiction

John-Fowles-MantissaWhat I omitted from my story above is this: Before going to Waterstones’, we had visited the Oxfam shop, which has a vast floor dedicated to second-hand books, included the abandoned books of waves of undergraduates and postgraduates from the local universities: yards of books on Psychology, philosophy, health studies, and so on.  And then there’s History, and lots of novels – many of the pulp variety – and some classics.

During this visit, I did look at psychology, and health studies, and personal development; but I began by looking for a novel which might help me to elucidate some of the points I’ve been exploring in these blog posts.  And I did find one.

I found Mantissa, by John Fowles. This author’s name jumped out at me because I have read five of his nine books – but I had never come across Mantissa.

So I opened it, and what should leap off the page at me, but a quotation by René Descartes.  This had an electrifying effect upon me, because I have been arguing – in earlier blog posts in this series – that philosophies, like Descartes’ misleading ‘cogito’ (“I think therefore I am”), got into psychology; and that, whatever arises within, or gets into, psychology, inevitably finds its way into literature.  And here was a living proof of my assertions.  The particular quote from Descartes, promulgated by John Fowles, on page 5 of Mantissa, included the following conclusion:

“…this I, that is to say the soul by which I am what I am, is entirely distinct from the body, is even easier to know than the body, and furthermore would not stop being what it is, even if the body did not exist”.

We know from previous considerations of this ‘cogito’-philosophy of Descartes by generations of philosophers, that it is impossible to sustain his beliefs about the body-mind split.

But the more important consideration is this: Why is John Fowles beginning his novel with this quotation?

Is it his intention to argue that we are souls, separate and apart from our bodies?

Or is he going to try to undermine Descartes’ belief?

Part I (of IV) begins with the suggestion of ‘a consciousness’ surrounded by “a luminous and infinite haze”. And out of this connectivity comes an individual consciousness – a male person, in a bed, looking up at two women; one of whom claims to be his wife, and the other a doctor (of neurology); and the suggestion emerges of ‘loss of personal memory’.  The ‘wife’ departs, and a nurse arrives to join the doctor, and it unfolds that the treatment for this poor man (Mr Green’s) mental problem is a physical therapy.  (The theory, explicitly stated by the doctor, is that there is a link between the genitals and the personal sense of remembered self!)

At this point, we can say that Fowles seems to be setting out to refute Descartes view of a separation between mind and body, by treating memory loss via the genitals. (Crazy theory, I know!  But it proves to owe a lot to Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages of human development!)

Fowles’ intention to undermine Descartes seems likely, especially given that the doctor in this story is a neurologist: a specialist in understanding brain-mind functioning. Or the physical brain as the substrate of mind.

Mr Green proves to be resistant to the sexual activities to which he is subjected by the doctor and the nurse, until, at the start of Part II, it emerges that no such reality exists.  There are no physical bodies present! It is all going on in the mind of Mr Green – (who is obviously, ultimately, Mr Fowles!) – who is essentially writing (in his mind) some scenes of pornography.

This is an echo of one of Descartes’ meditations, in which he wonders if he might be just a brain suspended in a vat by an evil demon, and that his brain imagines that it is attached to a body in an external environment.  (I know!  Descartes was a nut!)

(But think about today’s counsellors and psychiatrists.  Most counsellors think of the client as a floating mind!  And most psychiatrists think of the mind-brain as a chemical unit separate and apart from the stresses and strains of its social environment, its philosophy of life, and its personal history of experience!)

Towards the end of Part IV, it becomes obvious that all of the action being described within this narrative, is not actual action, but narrative within narrative; with a magical edge, provide by the presence of the Greek goddess, Erato: (originally introduced as the doctor of neurology!); and the pornographic ravings of a juvenile author (Fowles!)

There is a nod backwards towards Freud in this book; not alone by reducing all human activity to a sexual nightmare; but also these nuggets:

“Now listen closely, Mr Green”. (This is said by the doctor of neurology; who we later learn is the goddess Erato!) “I will try to explain one last time.  Memory is strongly attached to ego”. (NB: Ego is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the I’.)  “Your ego has lost in a conflict with your super-ego”, – (Super-ego is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the Over-I’ [the first instantiation of which is every baby’s mother]).  – “which has decided to repress it – to censor it”. (The concept of repression comes from Freud!) “All nurse and I wish to do is to enlist the aid of the third component of your psyche, the id”. (‘The id’ is the English-psychoanalyst rendering of Freud’s concept of ‘the It’; the ‘thing’ that we are at birth! The ‘whole thing’, body-brain-and-embryonic-mind). “Your id” writes Fowles, through the ethereal person of the doctor/goddess, “is that flaccid member pressed against my posterior.  It is potentially your best friend. And mine as your doctor.  Do you understand what I am saying?” (Page 31 of Mantissa).

So, I think some of my points are being ‘firmed up’ here (if you will pardon my inability to refrain from making a pun at the expense of Fowles and Freud!)  In particular, I think it is safe to say that ideas pass freely between philosophy, psychology and literature.  Each feeds off the other. There are no impermeable boundaries between those domains of thought!

And we have to be awake to this reality for various reasons which I will look at later.  The most obvious one being that fictions find their way into philosophy; and philosophical fictions find their way into psychology; and fictitious aspects of psychology inform counselling and psychotherapy!  And round and round!

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Back to Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes © Alan Edwards
Julian Barnes

Earlier I quoted a very strong argument by Julian Barnes, from the Preface of his book, Through the Window; in which he said: “Novels tell us the most truth about life…”.

However, if you read your texts closely, you will often be rewarded with insights like this: Barnes was inconsistent.

Really? In what way?

Well, just 45 words after the end of his strong claims about novels telling the most truth, we read this statement; the final statement of the Preface:

“The best fiction rarely provides answers; but it does formulate the questions exceptionally well”. (Emphasis added, JWB).

So, if we put his two main ideas together, we get this:

Novels tell us the most truth, but not in the form of answers; only in the form of questions!

Does that make any sense?  No.

Why not?

Because the novel actually presents imaginary scenarios as history. Reading those scenarios – and taking them at face value – the reader finds that certain questions automatically form within their body-brain-mind, based on their socialization; their past experiences; and their current circumstances.

The author cannot control which questions will form in the mind of the reader.

But what is the value of the questions that are thus formed by fictional writing?

The value is huge!  Why?  Because questions are the first and most essential part of what some people call ‘thinking’, but which I call ‘overt, conscious perfinking’ – where ‘perfinking’ means perceiving- feeling- thinking, all in one grasp of the mind.

So, novels impact us, by bringing up new thoughts, and especially questions, which, if we pursue them, may produce dramatic answers that shunt us out of a current reality into a range of new possibilities! In this sense, novels are potentially hugely therapeutic!

For this reason, I recommend novels – the very best novels – my counselling clients; and to my supervisees – counsellors who need to keep growing their hearts and minds; and improving thereby their body-brain-mind-environment-complexity!

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How did the body get into the previous statement?

Heckler-Anatomy-of-change.jpgIt might have been difficult to answer the question – ‘What does the body have to do with reading and/or writing novels?’

Except, while I was scanning the pages of John Fowles’ Mantissa, Renata came over to me and showed me a book she had found: ‘The Anatomy of Change: A way to move through life’s transitions’. This book was written by Richard Strozzi Heckler (1993), a teacher of Aikido (which is a system of Japanese unarmed combat – which I studied briefly at the Dublin Judo Club, in 1991-’62). Heckler’s philosophy of life can be summed up like this:

Renata pointed me at a section on Living in the Body; in which Heckler describes how he was once hired by a juvenile detention centre, where he was to work with difficult juveniles who were violent offenders.  He worked with one, physically huge, and very angry young man who expressed the desire to kill somebody, because he was so angry. Heckler, intuitively, and pragmatically, told this youth that he could show him precisely how to kill somebody.  The youth was hooked, and they began to work on the Aikido pressure points.  But this youth’s physical energies prevented him easily learning what needed to be learned; and so Heckler began to work on his body, to get him to the state where he could master the Aikido pressure points that he wanted to learn. However, through the process of focusing his attention on his own body, and learning to release tensions, this youth lost his interest in killing anybody. He was beginning to live in his body; and he realized it was more interesting to find out about himself than to kill anybody.

Moving a muscle can change a thought, and/or an emotion.  Physical training is profoundly stress reducing.  It teaches physical self-confidence.  And, the softening of ‘body armouring’ can release the person’s feelings, intuitions, and compassion, and, according to Heckler, it can heal our physical and emotional wounds.  (That certainly lines up with my own experience at the Dublin Judo Club [which was actually called the Irish Judo Association at the point when I joined]).  Our experiences shape our body-brain-mind; and we can begin to loosen and reframe our most troubling experiences by working from the body-side of our body-brain-mind, or from the mind-side of our body-brain-mind.

Conclusion

honetpie
Dr Jim Byrne

Reading a novel on the way to and from your equivalent of the Judo Club will double your progress in healing your body-brain-mind; and seeing a good, wise, broadminded counsellor, at some point each week, will also help!

~~~

PS: If you want to see the kind of range of ideas that I write about, please go to Books about Emotive-Cognitive Therapy (E-CENT).***

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

~~~

Treat your body to heal your mind, and vice versa

Blog Post No. 167

By Dr Jim Byrne

31st  March 2018

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Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: Treat your body to heal your mind, and vice versa

The body, the brain and the mind are integrated with each other and with an external, social environment…

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

~~~

Introduction

Descartes-erorr-DamasioFor decades, we have had medical systems that largely ignore the mind (and the social/emotional environment); and counselling and therapy systems that largely ignore the body (including sleep, diet, exercise, and many environmental stressors [such as the economy and political context of the client]).

We have begun to change that.  Here is a brief extract from Chapter 2 of our new book on the emotive-cognitive, whole-body-brain-mind-environment approach to counselling, coaching and psychotherapy.

2.4: The importance of emotion

Allan Schore PsychotherapyIn E-CENT counselling, we deal with the client’s emotions. We offer them a ‘safe harbour’, and a ‘secure base’ from which to explore their life.

We look at the connection between their lifestyle and their feelings; their relationships and their moods; their thinking and their emotions; their physical state (in terms of diet, exercise, sleep, etc.); their experiences and their emotions; their meanings and their emotions; the links between emotions, goals and behaviours; and the emotional stories within which they live their lives.

We encourage them to change their self-talk; their habitual behaviours; to work on their bodily health (through diet and exercise; relaxation, sleep and meditation; vitamin and mineral supplementation); and to work on the story of their lives.

We try to provide the best possible analysis of the potential reasons, in the basement of their minds, for their current dysfunctional thoughts-feelings-behaviours.  But we do not offer ‘definitive analyses’ characteristic of the Freudian approach.

New-header-JimandNataFrameless

We provide each client with ‘a secure base’, to re-grow or re-train their attachment style, from insecure to secure.

We work on their emotional intelligence by helping them to understand their own emotions, the emotions of those with whom they normally relate, and how to communicate their emotions to others.

The Lifestyle Counselling Book
The Lifestyle Counselling Book

And when we consider that diet may be a feature of their emotional problem, we refer them to information packs on some educational approaches to diet and nutrition.  One of those was compiled by Renata Taylor-Byrne, my wife, who has a diploma in nutrition, and who has done a lot of research on this subject.  (Please see Taylor-Byrne and Byrne, 2017, in the References list).  Jim also have a lot of experience of managing his own diet, in order to control Candida Albicans, which is widely known to cause feelings of anxiety and depression.  So this is not ‘medical counselling’ so much as it is coaching in wellbeing!  And we always advise our clients to see a nutritional therapist before they make any significant changes to their diets.  We also teach the importance of adequate sleep; and regular physical exercise.

~~~

To find out more about this system, please go to the Lifestyle Counselling Book page.***

~~~

Jim & Renata's logo
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

That’s all for today!

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

01422 843 629

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

~~~

 

Coaching and counselling in hebden bridge

Blog Post No. 165

By Dr Jim Byrne

30th March 2018

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

What is coaching, counselling or psychotherapy, and why might you benefit from it?

~~~

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

~~~

Introduction

natajim-coaching-counsellingCoaching, counselling and psychotherapy can be life-changing experiences.  Renata and I certainly have had lots of such experiences ourselves, through various processes; and we have each helped lots of individuals to change their lives for the better.

But many people have no idea what these kinds of help involve.  So here is what Renata says about her work:

About Renata Taylor-Byrne’s coaching/counselling work

“My main function is life is to be a ‘people grower’, and a healer of the body-brain mind.

“If you’re struggling with problems to do with…

* handling unexpected or demanding changes in your life circumstances

* changing one of your habits, or starting a new one

* reducing your feelings of being under pressure and stress

* clarifying your thinking or feelings

* achieving important goals; or:

* working to change a difficult emotional or relationship problem…

…then I can help you with these and similar challenges.

Counselling-room1001“I offer a safe space in which to talk about your problems, to get advice and guidance, to learn some new knowledge, techniques or models, and generally to work out a way forward that suits you.

You can contact me by email at renata@abc-counselling.org, or you can find out more about my services here: https://abc-counselling.org/life-coaching-hebden-bridge/

~~~

But how, exactly, would Renata help you?  This is what she writes:

“I practice a form of coaching/counselling called Lifestyle Coaching and Holistic Counselling.

nature-and-health31“This overlaps all other forms of talk-therapy and coaching guidance, but it also significantly includes the latest research on the connection between the brain and the guts, and the role that gut health plays in sound emotional wellbeing (which some people call good ‘mental health’). It also includes insights from research on diet, physical exercise, sleep patterns, and stress.  It is often said that an army ‘marches on its stomach’, and it is true that successful individuals, in every walk of life, manage their lifestyle in such a way as to maintain healthy diet, guts, muscles, sleep patterns, and so on.  And when they don’t, they don’t have much staying power, and they under-perform in an unhappy life-space!”

Why not give Renata a chance to help you with your apparently intractable problems?  Telephone: 01422 843 629

~~~

About Dr Jim Byrne’s Counselling and Psychotherapy Division

And now, here is what Jim say’s about his own service:

DrJimCounselling002“I have helped more than one thousand individuals to overcome distressing problems of anger, anxiety, depression, stress, panic, traumatic experience, couple conflict, insecure attachment, and so on.

I do that work via conversation, which is warm and friendly, and helpful, and insightful, and exploratory, and designed to help you to straighten out your story in your head, and to straighten out your feelings in your heart and your guts.

I also give advice on how to manage your body-brain-mind, and your environment, for optimum functioning.

As indicated on the main homepage, we at ABC Coaching, practice the most up to the minute form of emotive-cognitive therapy and coaching.  It’s called Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT), and it integrates the best elements of all the pre-existing systems of counselling and therapy.  And it includes a strong focus upon lifestyle factors, like diet, exercise and sleep patterns.”

And if you want to find out what individuals gained from consulting Jim in the past, then please take a look at the Unsolicited Client Testimonials page.*** Here: https://abc-counselling.org/counselling-client-testimonials/

Or take a look at Dr Jim’s Counselling Division.***

~~~

Coaching, counselling and/or psychotherapy, with Renata or Jim, could transform your current life into a happier, healthier more enjoyable life-space!

That’s all for today!

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Jim & Renata's logo
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

01422 843 629

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

~~~

Couples Therapy Books

Blog Post No. 166

By Dr Jim Byrne

30th March 2018

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

THE NEW WRITING PROJECT: A TRILOGY ON COUPLES THERAPY AND HAPPY RELATIONSHIPS

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

~~~

Introduction

In this blog post, I want to introduce you to my writing project – which involves three new books on couples therapy.

Couples therapy book, blog 166Writing is in my blood.  I have been writing since I was 19 years old, when I used to have to construct routine notices for military noticeboards!  (Who would have guessed it?!) But it took 11 years before I published my first two books.  Then another 39 years to figure out how not only to write meaningful and engaging material – (which I could edit adequately; and which I could publish and promote) – before I could claim to be a relatively successful author/editor/publisher.

But all of that is just too conscious, and agent-centred.  Perhaps it should not be seen in those terms.  Indeed, my current situation supports that view.  This is it:

A, Front cover,1Somewhere in the past 48+ hours, I began to write a three volume series on couples therapy, based on my twenty years of experience of helping many couples to improve their marriages, or marriage-like relationships.

But there I go again, expressing the viewpoint of ‘the agent’.  In practice, it might be more accurate to write that “a three volume series on couples therapy began to write me; or began to write itself, through me!”

You can see a page of information about the first volume of my Couples therapy insights, here.***

~~~

The project begins

DrJimCounselling002Anyway, whether I, or my Muse, are responsible, the writing work has begun.  Not that you could call what I have done so far “writing a book”.  Why?  Because there is such a huge amount of material to be organized into three volumes.

The main reason for the three volumes is the sheer mass of helpful insights, techniques, models, experiences and processes that I want to share with fellow counsellors, therapists, counselling students, and self-help enthusiasts.

But if I have learned one thing in the process of trying to write books that sell, it is this: Readers want to read a digestible chunk of material which is clear, relatively simple (in so far as that is achievable), and not too broad in scope.  And my main motivation in writing, from the beginning, has been to serve the reader; to make their journey enjoyable, and as effortless as possible.

And that is why I have also produced a Quick Fix Guide to couple relationship problems, here.***

When I briefly reviewed the material on couples therapy that I have on hand, I found it was like being a gardener who has only three window boxes (the three ‘volumes’), but into those three containers s/he has to place the most important parts of a huge lawn, some colourful flower beds, a rockery, and a huge shrubbery.

How to narrow down the material to fit the boxes?

Volumes of 3 books

I had no idea! So, I slept on that problem, overnight, and the next day (yesterday) I had evolved a viable division.  (Again, the ‘agent’! Perhaps I should write: “’It’ had evolved itself into a more manageable shape, which has an internal consistency!”)

Over the weeks ahead, I will publish bits and pieces of Volume 1, so that interested individuals can get a sense of what is ‘coming down the (turn)pike’.

~~~

The challenge of writing

The Lifestyle Counselling Book
The Lifestyle Counselling Book

Writing in general is a hugely challenging proposition.  I enjoy it enormously.  And it can be rewarding when the books begin to sell as well as our recent book is doing.  Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person is the first major breakthrough we have had in our publishing activities so far.  In the month of March to date, it has brought in about 40% of my gross income.

But please remember, it took me 50 years to get to this point, and the world will never be able to pay me enough for all the hours of ‘apprenticeship’ that I have spent on my loving care of the written word!  (Individuals who want to get help with their own writing projects can always tap into my writing experience, here: Authorship Coaching.***)

~~~

And if you have an interest in couples therapy, for yourself, your clients, or whatever, I hope my new project will prove interesting to you.

PS: I also offer Couples Therapy and Marriage Guidance.***

~~~

That’s all for today!

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Jim & Renata's logo
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

01422 843 629

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

~~~

Stories and bodies in narrative therapy

Blog Post No. 163

By Dr Jim Byrne

29th March 2018 (Updated on 7th April 2020)

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

Human stories are based in bodies…

The state of the body profoundly affects the story…

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 29th March 2018

Image result for embodied storytellingFar too often, professional helpers relate to their clients as ‘free floating heads’ – or ‘belief machines’ – or ‘interpretation machines’.  However, human beings are ’emotive bodies’ first, and ‘socialized-cultural-beings’ second!

What do I mean?  Here’s an illustration from our (2018) book on Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching:

1.9 Narratives and stories

“(Counselling) Clients … come in and, one way or another, tell their story and discover or construct new stories to tell.  Therapists do not usually disclose stories of their own personal troubles, but instead offer their clients more general, almost mythic stories of how people change or what life can be like. Implicit in the therapist’s story is an image of the ‘good life’.” (McLeod, 1997/2006).

Image result for john mcleod on narrative therapyE-CENT counselling is interested in the stories of our clients, and we have helpful stories to share with them; and also ways of helping them to explore and re-write their stories. Some of this is described in Chapter 8, where I introduce the Jigsaw story model, which is a guide to focusing on the client’s stories, and to remember to relate the various bits of their stories to each other, and to look for patterns and inconsistencies.

But first, let us review the ‘narrative’ approach of E-CENT, by comparing and contrasting it to some of the more traditional approaches.

(i) Similarities: E-CENT accepts that human beings are immersed in social narratives, and that they apprehend their environments in terms of narrative elements of characters, plots, dramas, stories, cause and effect imputations, etc.  (See: Perry, 2012, pages 71-88.  And McLeod, 1997/2006). I believe humans function largely non-consciously, and view the world – non-consciously – through frames of reference derived (interpretively and automatically) from their past (social) experiences. And these narratives are emotive or feeling stories, which provide meaning and structure to the life of the social-individual.

Draft-cover-3(ii) Differences: E-CENT does not subscribe to the White and Epston (1990) strategy for dealing with narrative disturbances[i].  Instead I have created my own processes of narrative therapy.  I also avoid using McLeod’s commitment to postmodern perspectives.  The E-CENT perspective on narrative is grounded in our conception of the human being as a socialized body-mind-environment-whole.  So there is a real, physical ‘me’, and a real physical environment in which I am embedded.  We do not advocate the view which says “all there is is story!”  And the stories I tell myself are dependent upon not only my physical existence in a physical/social world, but also upon how well I slept last night; how well I have eaten today; how much physical exercise I have done recently; how hydrated my body-brain-mind is today; how well connected I am to people in significant relationships; how much pressure I am under (actually and experientially) – and what my coping resources are (or seem to me to be); and so on.

So E-CENT theory only deals with grounded narratives: or embodied-narratives.

~~~

For more on this theme, please go to the page of information about Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching.***

~~~

That’s all for today!

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

01422 843 629

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

~~~

[i] White, M. and Epston, D. (1990) Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends.  New York: Norton.

Exercise cures major depression

Blog Post No. 163

By Dr Jim Byrne

6th March 2018

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

Exercise is better than antidepressants for major depression!

The science behind mental health

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

~~~

Introduction

Blumenthal exercise depressionIn a recent blog post regarding hype about antidepressants, I quoted Dr Joanna Moncrieff as saying this: “Calling for antidepressants to be more widely prescribed will do nothing to address the problem of depression and will only increase the harms these drugs produce. …”  This is so because the drugs are not significantly more effective than a sugar pill, but they have huge side effects.  They also distract attention from some of the real solutions to depression, which involve changes in significant areas of social policy, and the promotion of healthy lifestyles, including healthy diet and adequate amounts of daily physical activity (exercise).

You can read that blog post here: https://abc-counselling.org/2018/02/27/hype-about-antidepressants/

And in her latest blog post, Renata Taylor-Byrne presents some interesting information about the use of Chinese exercises in connection with promoting good mental health (in the form of resilience in the face of life’s stressors).

You can read Renata’s blog post here: https://abc-counselling.org/2018/03/02/build-resilience-with-chinese-exercise/

~~~

In today’s blog post, I want to present some evidence which shows that there is good scientific evidence that physical exercise is much more effective than antidepressants for eliminating major, clinical depression!

We do not need antidepressants, and indeed, they cause harm through numerous negative side effects.

~~~

Research evidence

Front cover, 8In our book about how to control your anger, anxiety and depression; in a section which specifically addresses the value of physical exercise, Renata Taylor-Byrne and I make this point:

A key research study was undertaken by Blumenthal et al. (1999 and 2012)[1].

The goal of the research project was to compare the effectiveness of exercise against an anti-depressant called Sertraline (which is called Lustral in the UK and Zoloft in the US). Sertraline is one of a group of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s).

Three groups of participants (156 people in total) were randomly assigned to three different research conditions.

– Group 1 received Zoloft for their depression.

– The second group were given exercise activities to do.

– And Group 3 was given a combination of Zoloft and exercise.

The results showed that all of the three groups showed a distinct lowering of their depression, and approximately half of each group had recovered from their depression by the time the research project had finished. (Thirteen percent had reduced symptoms but didn’t completely recover).

Then six months later Blumenthal and colleagues examined the health of the research participants and found that, over the long haul:

#1.  30% of the exercise group remained depressed,

#2. 52% on medication remained depressed,

#3. while 55% in the combined treatment group remained depressed.

This means the 70% of the exercise group got over their symptoms of depression, compared with only 48% of the medication group, and 45% of the combined group).

Let us repeat that result:

70% of participants got over major depression through exercise alone!

A year later there was a second study, identical to the first one, and when the participants were reassessed a year later (by Hoffman and his colleagues), they found that, regardless of the treatment group the participants had been in, the participants who described doing regular exercise, after the research project had finished, were the least likely to be depressed a year later. And this study was about major depression – not mild depression!

The NHS in the UK, on their website, support the view that exercise is good for mild or moderate depression, but they don’t clarify that it can also be invaluable for major depression, which was demonstrated by Blumenthal’s 1999 and 2012 research findings.

In a very interesting book, ‘Spark’, (2009) – on the science of exercise and the brain – the authors, Ratey and Hagerman, comment upon the findings of Blumenthal’s and Hoffman’s research, like this:

“The results (of this research, showing the effectiveness of exercise in reducing depression) should be taught in medical schools and driven home with health insurance companies and posted on the bulletin boards of every nursing home in the country, where nearly half of the residents have depression” (page 122).

However, this is not currently done, because big drug companies dominate the medical profession, with their delusion that antidepressants are highly effective, which they are not!  Indeed, there is research evidence to support the view that most antidepressants tested against placebos are no more effective than the placebo (or sugary pill!)

~~~

You can find out more about the book in which we have produced these results, here: How to control your anger, anxiety and depression.***

https://abc-bookstore.com/diet-exercise-mental-health/

~~~

This book shows you, in fine detail, how to change your habits in relation to physical exercise!  And describes the benefits you will gain!

That’s all for today!

Best wishes,

Jim

 

Jim & Renata's logo
ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

ABC Bookstore Online UK

01422 843 629

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

~~~

[1] Blumenthal, J.A., Smith, P.J., and Hoffman, B.M. (2012) Is exercise a viable treatment for depression? American College of Sports Medicine Health & Fitness Journal. July/August; Vol.16(4): Pages 14–21.

Cited in: Ratey, J., and Hagerman, E. (2009) Spark: The revolutionary new science of exercise and the brain. London: Quercus.

~~~

 

Hype about antidepressants

Blog Post No. 163

By Dr Jim Byrne

27th February 2018

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

Regarding some announcements about depression and medication

Some research results that should be known by all counsellors and psychotherapists, as well as their clients

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

~~~

Context

Moncrieff on antidepressants.JPGWe wanted to post a blog about the new hype about antidepressants, which has been generated by a new report, which will be mentioned below; and which has been wildly hyped in the British newspapers over the past few days.

Then the magazine, What Doctors Don’t Tell You, produced an article which we liked, and we posted a link to that article, on Facebook, as follows:

“Antidepressants are a family of drugs that are bad and dangerous to know – and now researchers have named Effexor (venlafaxine) as the baddest of the bad. Patients are much more likely to attempt suicide while taking Effexor than any of the other antidepressants, a new study has found.

“The news comes as no surprise to those who’ve already been exposed to the drug. It’s considered to be one of the most powerful antidepressants, and one of the hardest to tolerate. In fact, around 19 per cent of patients stop taking the drug early because they can’t stand the side effects, which include anxiety, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, high blood pressure and thyroid depression. One patient even reported a sudden change of hair colour.

“They are the lucky ones. Once over the initial hurdles of life-destroying side effects, withdrawal symptoms are so severe that it’s almost impossible to stop taking the drug.

Antidepressants are a family of drugs that are bad and dangerous to know – and now researchers have named Effexor (venlafaxine) as the baddest of the bad…
WDDTY.COM

~~~

Some time later, there was a response.

A statement in defence of antidepressants!

A contact on a major social media platform posted this piece:

Unnamed Person: “…”  (The statement made by Unnamed Person has been removed, at their request, and is now replaced by a simple statement of the objections they made to my post above.) This was the substance of their objection:

1. It is ridiculous to post my post, because it is based on just ONE study!.

2. It seemed to Unnamed Person that there is a rigorous 6-year study of antidepressants and talking therapy which I should have posted alongside my post, for the sake of balance. And for the sake of acting responsibly.

I (Jim Byrne) responded like this:

Jim Byrne Hi Unnamed Person,
DrJimCounselling002Thanks for your message. So I looked up the study to which you refer, and this is what I found:

“The international study – an analysis pooling results of 522 trials covering 21 commonly-used antidepressants and almost 120,000 patients – found that all such drugs were more effective than placebos.” (Source, SBS News, Australia: https://www.sbs.com.au/…/antidepressants-really-do-work…).

What could possibly be wrong with the design of that study?

Well, look! They “…pooled the results of 522 studies…”.

What could be wrong with that?

Well, *how many* studies were *conducted* by drug companies, where they *refused* to release the results? It could be that they hide the almost half of studies which show *no benefit*, and publish the just over 50% that show *modest benefits*. (And they try very hard to *hide* the very widespread and *very serious* negative side effects of all of these ‘medicines’. (See this report in The Sydney Morning Herald – an equally well known Australian news outlet: https://www.smh.com.au/…/2008/03/02/1204402265828.html)

Here are some extracts from that Sydney Morning Herald source:

“The key issue is simple. In any situation, to make any kind of sensible decision about which treatment is best, a doctor must be able to take into account all of the available information. But drug companies have repeatedly been shown to bury unflattering data.”

“Sometimes they bury data that shows drugs to be actively harmful. This happened in the case of Vioxx and heart attacks, and SSRIs and suicidal thoughts. Such stories feel, intuitively, like cover-ups. But there are also more subtle issues at stake in the burying of results showing minimal efficacy, and these have only been revealed through the investigations of medical academics.”

“In January a paper in the New England Journal Of Medicine dug out a list of all trials on SSRIs that had ever been registered with the US Food and Drug Administration and then went to look for those same trials in the academic literature. There were 37 studies which were assessed by the regulator as positive and, with a single exception, every one of those positive trials was written up, proudly, and published in full.”

“But there were also 33 studies which had negative or iffy results and, of those, 22 were simply not published at all – they were buried – while 11 were written up and published in a way that portrayed them as having a positive outcome.”

I (Jim) then commented:

So, Unnamed Person, let me sum up. You cannot evaluate the effectiveness of drugs when the companies producing those drugs are allowed to selectively publish the results they want you to hear; and to hide the results they do not want you to hear.

And if some idiot, or charlatan, does a meta-analysis of the studies published by the drug companies, and their patsies, and says this proves those drugs are safe and effective, I have just one thing to say to them: This is not science! This is not good academic work! This is propaganda for the drug companies!

So, Unnamed Person. Who is being ridiculous? Think again about the flag you were flying under: “There is a *rigorous* 6-year study of antidepressants”. That flag is a pirate rag! There is no possibility of rigorous studies of all of the data on antidepressants so long as drug companies are allowed to hide bad data, and to publish what they choose to show us! 

~~~

Unnamed Person‘s response

Later, Unnamed Person, got back to me:

Unnamed Person: OK – if you batter me about what has been omitted, what ignored, what privileged by Pharma, money generally, academic status, medical ranking… then who am i to make such a foolish, academically unfounded post? Goodness, i will not use the word rigorous again. I similarly hope that your posted promulgations are way beyond the deeply adulterated processes they used. Mea culpa – and i look forward to hearing more about external academic critiquing of your claims to efficacy as well.
Jim Byrne Hi Unnamed Person, I did not mean to batter your about. You came out batting for Big Pharma – without realizing that that was what you were doing. You thought you were citing irrefutable evidence of a high quality against my paltry single study. The point about my single study is that it adds a little to the body of knowledge we are building up about the effects of food on mood. People who eat junk foods, or a diet high in carbohydrate are likely to get inadequate amounts of the amino acid studied – argenine. As such, they may be vulnerable to major depression. They should be informed of that risk, and not told that they can eat any kind of diet they like – including high carbs, high sugar, and junk – and then Big Pharma will fix them up with ‘Medicine’. But most of the antidepressants being prescribed for depression should not be in use at all, because the *proportion* of patients who take them, who will develop serious side effects – like sexual dysfunction or suicidal ideation – is well above the 10% safety line – often as high as 40%, or 50% or more than 60%. It is *unethical* for physicians to cause so much predictable *harm*! But they continue to do it, and studies of the kind you cited earlier do help to keep their consciences quiet! PS: I did not mean to beat you up. But if you call my attempts to educate the public – about self-care – ‘ridiculous’, I guess I will normally come out fighting! 🙂
~~~
Some thoughts from Mad in America
PS: Since Unnamed Person was interested in how well or how badly my position on antidepressants might be supported by scientific studies and expert support, I was pleased to see that Dr Joanna Moncrieff has published a piece on the latest hype in the Mad in America online blog – here: https://www.madinamerica.com/2018/02/challenging-new-hype-antidepressants/

Here is an extract from the opening of Dr Moncrieff’s piece:

Challenging the New Hype About Antidepressants

By

Joanna Moncrieff, MD

February 24, 2018

Joanna Moncrieff, MDThe extraordinary media hype over the latest meta-analysis of antidepressants puts the discussion of these drugs back years. Despite the fact that 9% of the UK population are taking antidepressants,1 and rates of prescribing have doubled over the last decade,2 the authors of the analysis are calling for yet more prescribing. John Geddes suggested in The Sun newspaper that only 1 in 6 people are receiving adequate treatment for depression in high income countries. In The Guardian he estimates that 1 million more people require treatment with antidepressants in the UK, but by my maths, if 9% are already taking them and they only represent 1 in 6 of those who need them, then 54% of the population should be taking them. I make that another 27 million people!

The coverage was almost universally uncritical, and said little about the terrible adverse effects that some people can suffer while taking antidepressants, or while trying to get off them. The Guardian even claimed that the new “groundbreaking” study will “put to rest doubts” about antidepressants.

But there is nothing ground-breaking about this latest meta-analysis. It simply repeats the errors of previous analyses. Although I have written about these many times before, I will quickly summarise relevant points.

The analysis consists of comparing ‘response’ rates between people on antidepressants and those on placebo. But ‘response’ is an artificial category that has been arbitrarily constructed out of the data actually collected, which consists of scores on depression rating scales, like the commonly used Hamilton rating Scale for Depression (HRSD). Analysing categories inflates differences.3 When the actual scores are compared, differences are trivial, amounting to around 2 points on the HRSD which has a maximum score of 54. These differences are unlikely to be clinically relevant, as I have explained before. Research comparing HRSD scores with scores on a global rating of improvement suggest that such a difference would not even be noticed, and you would need a difference of at least 8 points to register ‘mild improvement’.

Moreover, even these small differences are easily accounted for by the fact that antidepressants produce more or less subtle mental and physical alterations (e.g. nausea, dry mouth, drowsiness and emotional blunting) irrespective of whether or not they treat depression. These alterations enable participants to guess whether they have been allocated to antidepressant or placebo better than would be expected by chance.4 Participants receiving the active drugs may therefore experience amplified placebo effects by virtue of knowing they are taking an active drug rather than an inactive placebo. This may explain why antidepressants that cause the most noticeable alterations, such as amitriptyline, appeared to be the most effective in the recent analysis.

Antidepressant trials often include people who are already on antidepressants. Such people may experience withdrawal symptoms if they are randomised to placebo, which, given that almost no antidepressant trial pays the slightest attention to the problems of dependence on antidepressants, are highly likely to be classified as relapse.

The analysis only looks at data for eight weeks of treatment, whereas in real life people often take antidepressants for months or even years. Few randomised, placebo-controlled trials have investigated long-term effects, but ‘real world’ studies of people treated with antidepressants show that the proportion of people who stick to recommended treatment, recover and don’t relapse within a year is staggeringly low (108 out of the 3110 people who enrolled in the STAR-D study and satisfied inclusion criteria).5 Moreover, several studies have found that the outcomes of people treated with antidepressants are worse than the outcomes of people with depression who are not treated with antidepressants,67 even in one case after controlling for the severity of the depression (as far as possible).8 The huge increase in prescribing of antidepressants over the last three decades has been accompanied by a substantial rise in the numbers of people who are in receipt of long-term disability benefits due to depression and related disorders in the UK, and this is at a time when benefits for other disorders, like back pain, have been reducing.9

Calling for antidepressants to be more widely prescribed will do nothing to address the problem of depression and will only increase the harms these drugs produce. …

…For more, please click the link that follows: https://www.madinamerica.com/2018/02/challenging-new-hype-antidepressants/

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  1. Lewer D, O’Reilly C, Mojtabai R, Evans-Lacko S. Antidepressant use in 27 European countries: associations with sociodemographic, cultural and economic factors. Br J Psychiatry 2015 Sep;207(3):221-6.
  2. NHS Digital. Antidepressants were the area with largest increase in prescription items in 2016. Cited 2018 Feb 23; Available from: URL: http://content.digital.nhs.uk/article/7756/Antidepressants-were-the-area-with-largest-increase-in-prescription-items-in-2016
  3. Kirsch I, Moncrieff J. Clinical trials and the response rate illusion. Contemp Clin Trials2007;28:348-51.
  4. Fisher S, Greenberg RP. How sound is the double-blind design for evaluating psychotropic drugs? J Nerv Ment Dis1993 Jun;181(6):345-50.
  5. Pigott HE, Leventhal AM, Alter GS, Boren JJ. Efficacy and effectiveness of antidepressants: current status of research. Psychother Psychosom 2010;79(5):267-79.
  6. Ronalds C, Creed F, Stone K, Webb S, Tomenson B. Outcome of anxiety and depressive disorders in primary care. Br J Psychiatry1997 Nov;171:427-33.
  7. Dewa CS, Hoch JS, Lin E, Paterson M, Goering P. Pattern of antidepressant use and duration of depression-related absence from work. Br J Psychiatry2003 Dec;183:507-13.
  8. Brugha TS, Bebbington PE, MacCarthy B, Sturt E, Wykes T. Antidepressants may not assist recovery in practice: a naturalistic prospective survey. Acta Psychiatr Scand1992 Jul;86(1):5-11.
  9. Viola S, Moncrieff J. Claims for sickness and disability benefits owing to mental disorders in the UK: trends from 1995 to 2014. BJPsych Open 2016;2:18-24.
  10. Farnsworth KD, Dinsmore WW. Persistent sexual dysfunction in genitourinary medicine clinic attendees induced by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Int J STD AIDS2009 Jan;20(1):68-9.
  11. Sharma T, Guski LS, Freund N, Gotzsche PC. Suicidality and aggression during antidepressant treatment: systematic review and meta-analyses based on clinical study reports. BMJ2016 Jan 27;352:i65.
  12. Fava GA, Gatti A, Belaise C, Guidi J, Offidani E. Withdrawal Symptoms after Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor Discontinuation: A Systematic Review. Psychother Psychosom2015 Feb 21;84(2):72-81.
  13. Reefhuis J, Devine O, Friedman JM, Louik C, Honein MA. Specific SSRIs and birth defects: Bayesian analysis to interpret new data in the context of previous reports. BMJ2015;351:h3190.

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Anger, anxiety, depression, and nutrition and physical exercise, imagePostscript

In November 2017, we (Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne) published a book on How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, Using nutrition and physical exercise.  There is a lot of evidence, and a growing evidence base, that the major mood disorders (which Big Pharma wants to treat with hard drugs with nasty side effects) can better be managed by healthy diet and regular physical exercise (and a good night’s sleep!)

Here is a brief extract from one of the main sections that deal with diet and depression:

(ii) Treating depression

There are many different views about how to treat depression, and here is a summary of some of the most recent explanations of what is happening to us when we are depressed.

Firstly, the views of Dr Kelly Brogan will be summarised, as she has a unique explanation, which she has described in her recent book, titled ‘A Mind of Your Own’ (2016)[i]. She is a practising psychiatrist in America, with training as a medical doctor, and a degree in cognitive neuroscience, including clinical training from the NYU School of Medicine. She uses holistic methods of treating her patients and describes her work as ‘lifestyle medicine’.  In this approach, she uses the techniques of meditation, nutrition and physical activity as crucial daily habits with which to treat her depressed patients (and this approach overlaps, but is not co-extensive with, the E-CENT approach [Byrne, 2016]).

Dr Brogan’s view is that depression is a symptom or sign:  “…that something is off-balance or ill in the body that needs to be remedied”.

She considers that mental illness symptoms aren’t entirely psychological or solely neurochemical. And she points out in her book that there is no single study which has produced evidence that depression is caused by a lack of chemical equilibrium in the brain.

She considers depression to be a grossly misidentified state and in particular for women who, in the US, are being medicated at the rate of one in seven. Also, one in four women in their 40’s and fifties use psychiatric drugs.

She states: “We owe most of our mental illnesses – including their kissing cousins such as chronic worry, fogginess and crankiness – to lifestyle factors and undiagnosed physiological conditions that develop in places far away from the brain, such as the gut and the thyroid”, and she goes on to state that:

“You might owe your gloominess and unremitting unease to an imbalance that is only indirectly related to your brain’s internal chemistry. Indeed, what you eat for breakfast … and how you deal with that high cholesterol and afternoon headache (think Lipitor[ii] and Advil[iii]) could have everything to do with the causes and symptoms of depression.”

Her opinion of the foolishness of applying chemical solutions to people’s problems is very clear. In her view: “… if you think a chemical pill can save, cure or ‘correct’ you, you’re dead wrong. That is about as misguided as taking aspirin for a nail stuck in your foot.”

Her approach is to get a medical and personal history of her clients, their manner of birth (natural or section), whether breast fed or not; and she orders lab tests to ascertain the whole picture of their biological make-up.

She focusses on the information from their cellular analysis and the workings of the immune system, and points out to the reader of her book that, over the last twenty years, medical research has identified the significant part that inflammation plays in the creation of mental illness.

She also focuses on the client’s lifestyle, dietary habits e.g. sugar consumption, the condition of their guts, and microbe balance (in their guts), hormone levels – e.g. thyroid and cortisol – and genetic variations in their DNA, which could affect their susceptibility to depression. And finally, their beliefs about their own health can also play a role, she says.

So Dr Kelly Brogan shares the same conviction as Dr Perlmutter (2015): that the state of our guts is a very important determinant of our emotional well-being.

Dr Perlmutter (2015) states: “Depression can no longer be viewed as a disorder rooted solely in the brain. Some of the studies have been downright eye-opening. For example when scientists give people with no signs of depression an infusion of a substance to trigger inflammation (in the body), classic depression symptoms develop almost instantly”. (Page 76)

Perlmutter is a board-certified neurologist and Fellow of the American College of Nutrition. He is also president of the Perlmutter Health Centre in Naples, Florida. Dr Perlmutter considers that our mental health and physical wellness are totally affected by the internal systems of bacteria that operate in the gut.

But what exactly is going on in our guts? Apparently, we’ve all got millions of microbes in our body and most of them live in our digestive tract (10,000 species!). And each of the microbes have their own DNA, and that means that for every human gene in our body, there are at least 360 microbial genes. These organisms include fungi, bacteria and viruses.  In a healthy gut, most of these microorganisms are ‘friendly’, with a few ‘bad’ bacteria which are controlled by the ‘good’ stuff.

These tiny microbes: (1) strongly influence our immune system; (2) affect absorption of nutrients; (3) signal to us whether our stomach is empty or full; (4) and determine our level of inflammation and/or detoxification (which are directly related to disease and health).   They also affect our moods.

Apparently our guts contain 70-80% of our immune system, and so our gut bacteria participate in maintaining our immunity.

They can also keep cortisol and adrenaline in check. These are the two major hormones of the stress response, which can cause havoc in the body when they are continually triggered and flowing.

And our gut microbes influence whether we get any or all of the following conditions: Allergies, ADHD, asthma, dementia, cancer and diabetes, a good night’s sleep; or whether we quickly fall prey to disease-causing germs. And there is increasing evidence of a link to anxiety and depression.

Dr Perlmutter makes recommendations for changes in people’s diet which he says will:

(1) treat and prevent brain disorders;

(2) alleviate moodiness, anxiety and depression;

(3) bolster the immune system and reduce autoimmunity problems; and

(4) improve metabolic disorders, including diabetes and obesity, which are all linked to overall brain and body health.

He makes recommendations which are very practical, including…

…end of extract…

~~~ 

Endnotes

[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] Lipitor is a drug commonly prescribed for reducing high cholesterol.

[iii] Advil (ibuprofen) is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). Ibuprofen works by reducing hormones that cause inflammation and pain in the body.

For more about this book, please go to: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, Using nutrition and physical exercise.

~~~

Emotionally Intelligent Resilience

Blog Post No. 162

By Dr Jim Byrne

11th February 2018

Updated: Sunday 25th February 2018 – (See Postscript No.2 at the end of this blog)

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog:

Contrasting moderate stoicism against extreme stoicism in dealing with life’s adversities…

A personal blog story…

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Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, 2018

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Story at a glance:

  • I recently faced a serious adversity involving the crashing of a piece of written work – (a digital index in a Word document,  for a new book) – which had taken weeks to construct; and which will now (it seems) take weeks of work to restore!
  • I felt very bad when I realized how serious the problem was.
  • I instinctively used a system of coping which I have described as the ‘wounded cat’ position – which involves allowing the passage of time; and staying with the bad feelings; and not trying to jump over them.
  • In order to illustrate this ‘wounded cat’ process, I present a case study of a former client who had a serious loss to deal with, and to whom I recommended this process.  It was highly effective in allowing the client to process and integrate his sense of loss.
  • I have also clarified that there are two other processes that have to be in place before the ‘wounded cat’ process can be used: (1) Work on family-of-origin fragility; and (2) development of  moderate stoical re-framing skills.

Context

Why people become upsetWhen important things go wrong in a person’s life, that person predictably and understandably becomes emotionally upset.  This was a common-sense perspective until rational and cognitive therapy resuscitated an ancient Roman slave’s perspective which asserts (wrongly) that people are not upset by what happens to them!

And that is precisely the problem.  Epictetus was a slave in ancient Rome.  Not only was he a slave, but his mother, before him, was also a slave; and he was born into slavery.  Imagine how low his expectations of life would be – the slavish son of a slavish woman!  And then he was released by his slave-owner, to preach Extreme Stoicism to the masses.

For a time, I was taken in by Stoicism, and subscribed not only to moderate Stoicism (which is realistic resilience), but also to extreme Stoicism (which is an unrealistic and unhealthy tendency to try to tolerate the intolerable!).

Today I want to present you with a little story of a recent adversity that I had to face – (which I am still having to face) – as a way of teaching a particular point about philosophy of life, and how it fits into emotional self-management. Needless to say, I will be trying to avoid Extreme Stoicism, while at the same time showing some resilience in the face of adversity.

The adversity is actually more than a ‘little’ problem.  Basically, I was getting close to publishing my next book – Counselling the Whole Person – and I had produced two or three new sections of the index, at the back of the book.

Cover, full, revised 5-10th Feb

The rest of the index had been borrowed from an earlier version of parts of this book (published as Holistic Counselling in Practice, in 2016), and the complete index seemed to be working well electronically (in that the automatic page numbering changed correctly, every time I inserted new pages, or extracted deleted pages).  Then, all of a sudden, I noticed some of the entries in the index did not correspond to the content of the pages to which they referred.  They were out by exactly 8 pages.  Always the same scale of error. I checked four, five, seven, nine, entries, and every single one was incorrect.  So I checked eight or ten more.  Each one was inaccurate.  The index had become corrupted somehow, and was now useless, because it was misleading and inaccurate.  I could not see any way to fix this, and so I had to decide to delete the whole index, including the extensive entries for two or three new chapters that I had recently completed, (which had involved about two or three weeks’ work altogether).  I am now faced with constructing a whole new index, which may take a month, or six weeks.  Who can say?

Coping with adversity

Sleep section of indexThis is a significant adversity, for me.  It involves a lot of wasted labour constructing a useless index, which had to be dumped.  It involves having to do a lot of days and days and days of reconstructing this index, which prevents me from engaging in other areas of important and urgent work.

A moderate stoical way of seeing this, which is the E-CENT approach, goes like this: “This is awful – but I am determined to cope with it!” (It is awful in the sense of being very bad; and very unpleasant.) And my commitment to cope with it is in the context that there are some things I can control, and some I cannot control.  And so I will try to control those aspects of this problem which are controllable by me!

By contrast, an extreme stoical way of seeing this same problem – which comes to us from rational and cognitive therapy – would be: “This isn’t awful.  I certainly can stand it.  And it should be the way it indubitably is”.

The problem with this extreme stoical approach is this:

  1. It’s completely unsympathetic to the suffering individual who is facing the adversity.
  2. It encourages the victim of adversity to jump over their emotional response, and to deny that they have any right to feel upset about this. (In practice, the extreme stoic often sails under a false flag, [which may actually be non-conscious!], which claims that they only want the victim of adversity to avoid overly-upset emotions, and to keep their reasonably upset emotions! But in practice, there is no space in an REBT session [based on extreme stoicism] for the client to articulate their reasonable upsets, and to have them acknowledged!  And they had better not expect any sympathy, because they sure as hell are not going to get it!)

So, given that I have moved away from extreme stoicism (in all its forms, including REBT and CBT), and now only practice moderate stoicism, how have I managed my adversity involving my crashed and burned index?

My moderate stoical approach to coping with adversity

Firstly, I no longer use the ABC model of REBT/CBT, because those systems are based on the false belief expressed by Epictetus like this: “People are not upset by what happens to them, but rather, by their attitude towards what has happened to them”.  And the only aspect of their ‘attitude’ that is taken into account by modern rational and emotive therapies is this: The thinking component of their attitude!  But our attitudes have three components, which are all interrelated and bound up together – the thinking component; the feeling component; and the behavioural component.

I reject the Epictetan view, that I am upset by my attitude, and not by the crashing of my index. I know I am upset by the crashing of my index, and the negative train of events which flowed from that happening.  If my index had not crashed, I could not possibly be upset about a non-existent event!

And I reject the modern cognitive/rational perspective, that the only thing that intervenes between my experience of my crashed index and my upset emotions is my Beliefs or Thoughts about the experience.

Firstly, it is not possible to separate out my so-called thinking from my so-called feeling, and my so-called behavioural response.  In our E-CENT model – the Holistic SOR model – there is only this:

S – Stimulus = I notice that my index has crashed

O = Organism = My whole body-brain-mind identifies (or matches) this adversity with a historically shaped response, linked to similar experiences in the past.

R = Response = My emotional and behavioural response is outputted, or expressed, into the world.

PS: I will write some more about what goes on inside the ‘O’ (or Organism) tomorrow!

Cover444

Epictetus was a slave, with low expectations of life, and his writings were discovered by 19 year old Albert Ellis who had low expectations of social connection, love, and affection, because he was seriously neglected by his parents from the beginning of his life.  Ellis has tried to teach all of us to join him and Epictetus in having exceedingly low expectations of life.  Ellis calls this “High Frustration Tolerance” – but I have called it “Tolerating the Intolerable“; or “Putting up with the changeable and fixable aspects of adversity!”

Resilience as defined by Albert Ellis and Epictetus is way too far from what I now see as necessary or reasonable expectations of a human being.    I have reviewed a lot of literature on modern views of resilience, and I have summarized that work in my book on REBT.  Here’s a brief extract:

“In this spirit, I want to make the following points.  Perhaps we should abandon any reference to Stoicism in counselling and therapy, and replace them with advice on how to become more resilient in the face of unavoidable life difficulties.  Southwick and Charney (2012)[i] – two medical doctors – suggest that a useful curriculum for the development of greater resilience would include: Developing optimism (and overcoming learned pessimism); Facing up to our fears (or being courageous); Developing a moral compass (or learning to always do what is the right thing, rather than what is opportunistically advantageous); Developing a spiritual, faith, or community connection that is bigger than the self; Connecting to others for social support; Finding and following resilient role models; Practising regular physical exercise; Working on brain-mind fitness, including mindfulness and cognitive training – (but Southwick and Charney overlooked the impact of food and gut flora on the brain-mind, so that needs to be considered also); Developing flexibility in our thinking-feeling-behaviour (including acceptance and reappraisal); Focusing on the meaning of your life, the purpose of your life, and on desired areas of personal growth.”

“Perhaps a consideration of these ideas could take us beyond the ‘wishful thinking’ about impossible goals set by Zeno, Marcus and Epictetus (and Albert Ellis, and some other CBT theorists).”  (Extracted from my book on REBT. )

Footnote [i] Southwick, S.M. and Dennis S. Charney (2013) Resilience: The science of mastering life’s greatest challenges.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

If you have been enrolled into the Extreme Stoicism of REBT, and you want to think your way out again, so you can be fully human, living from your innate emotional wiring, as socialized by moderate stoical resilience, instead of trying to live like a block of stone, or a lump of wood, then you have to read this book: Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes: the case against RE&CBT***)

~~~

Anger, anxiety, depression, and nutrition and physical exercise, imageUnlike the rational and cognitive therapists, I accept that I am an emotional being first and last, with some degree of capacity to think and reason – though my so called thinking and reasoning can never be separated from my perceiving and feeling.  So I am not so much a ‘thinking being’ as I am a ‘perfinking being’ – where perfinking involves perceiving-feeling-thinking all in one grasp of the brain-mind. (And I am a body-brain-mind in a social environment, and my approach to diet and exercise is just as important as my approach to philosophy.  See How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, using nutrition and physical exercise.***)

New ways of coping with adversity

In dealing with my own adversity, involving the ‘death’ of my book-index, I think, (meaning, I now assume that), without any conscious awareness of what I was doing, I followed a pattern that I had used with a male client who had been betrayed by his lover/partner, who had had an affair with a near neighbour.

Let me now review that case, so we can understand my moderate stoical approach.

Instead of telling this client, regarding his partner’s infidelity:

  1. “It should be the way it is!” (This is the REBT – Extreme Stoical – approach! Think how insensitive that is!)

I also avoided telling him:

  1. “It isn’t awful!” – (Because it obviously was awful, according to any reasonable dictionary definition! And also, that was precisely what it felt like to him – awful! And the dictionary definitions that I’ve consulted say that ‘awful’ means ‘very bad’ or ‘very unpleasant’ – which this experience undoubtedly was!)

And I did not resort to telling him:

  1. “You certainly can stand this kind of abuse!” (Enough already!)

Instead, I listened sympathetically.  I knew he was suffering, and in a stressed state.  I knew he was locked into a deep grieving process.  And grief is not pathological!  It’s not inappropriate!  It serves a very important function; and the way to manage grief is to stay with it; to feel it fully; and to let it take it’s course.  (See Chapter 5 [Sections 5.10 and 5.11] of Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes.***)

Grief is an innate ‘affect’, or basic emotion, which is further refined in the family of origin.  Grief is implicated in the attachment process between mother and baby; and is clearly related to the map/territory problem.  We humans build up a map of our social experience; and every significant person and thing is represented on our inner map of our social/emotional world.  When somebody to whom we are close either abandons us, or dies (which comes to the same thing!) there is now a serious discrepancy between the map and the territory.  The inner reality and the outer reality. And it takes a long time to bring our inner maps up to date.  In my experience, it will most often take up to eighteen months for a healthy updating of a person’s inner map when they lose their partner through divorce or death. (But bear in mind that the Berkeley Growth Study showed that “…ego-resilient adults come from homes with loving, patient, intelligent, competent, integrated mothers, where there is free interchange of problems and feelings (Seligman et al., 1970…” And “ego-brittle persons, by contrast, come from homes that are conflictual, discordant, and lack any philosophical or intellectual emphasis…” (Cook, 1993, Levels of Personality).

Knowing what I know about grief – that it requires time: I did not try to send any ‘solutions’ to this client!  There are none, in this kind of grief about loss situation.

I did not offer any advice, for at least three-quarters of the session.

I showed that I felt for my client; so visibly that he would ‘feel felt’! 

I also communicated non-verbally that it is okay to grieve; it’s normal to grieve when we have lost a significant other person, or even a significant possession, like a career, a home, or whatever.

Wounded cat 2Right near the end of the session, I told him:

“Imagine you are a wounded cat.  Take yourself off somewhere quiet, and rest, and recuperate.  And lick your wounds (metaphorically).  And take very good care of your needs, for food, and rest, sleep, and withdrawal from the world for a while. And allow time to pass, like a wounded cat would!”

This man did exactly what I suggested, and three weeks later he was back in a more resilient state. He had found a way to ‘square the circle’ – while resting and sleeping.  He had got over the worst of his grief, though he was still understandably raw. He and his ex-partner had been the best of friends for many years; and he had eventually found a way to forgive her; and to preserve the friendship.  The sex-love aspect of their relationship was at an end, but they were able to be friends, and that was a great comfort to him.

I congratulated him on finding his own solution to a difficult problem, and I commiserated with him about his loss of his love object.  But I also celebrated with him the fact that he had salvaged an important friendship.

(What this client was doing, while licking his wounds, like a wounded cat, was what I call ‘completing his experience’, instead of jumping over it.  In this case, he was ‘completing his feelings of grief’. I have written a paper on Completing Traumatic Experiences, which anybody can acquire via PayPal.***)

~~~

If you want to get a feeling for this  concept of ‘completion’ – accepting – or ‘allowing to be’ – I could do a lot worse than to quote a famous statement by the American playwright, Arthur Miller.  Miller was just 23 when the second world war broke out, and 25 when the Americans joined the war.  My understanding is that he was sent to Europe to fight, and that his experiences of war in Europe wounded him deeply.  He may also have been carrying other kinds of ‘existential wounds’, or psychological problems from his family of origin.  Anyway, in this quotation, he is talking about the impossibility of finding salvation outside of oneself, and about the way in which life suddenly shifts from safe and secure known territory, to something horrendous:

“I think it is a mistake”, he wrote, “to ever look for hope outside of one’s self.  One day the house smells of fresh bread, the next of smoke and blood.  One day you faint because the gardener cuts his finger off, within a week you’re climbing over corpses of children bombed in a subway. What hope can there be if that is so? I tried to die near the  end of the war.  The same dream returned each night until I dared not go to sleep and grew quite ill.  I dreamed I had a child, and even in the dream I saw it was my life, and it was an idiot, and I ran away.  But it always crept onto my lap again, clutched at my clothes.  Until I thought,  If I could kiss it, whatever in it was my own, perhaps I could sleep.  And I bent to its broken face, and it was horrible … but I kissed it.  I think one must finally take one’s life in one’s arms”. (Arthur Miller, quoted in Baran, 2003: 365 Nirvana Here and Now, page 307).

And that is what ‘completion’ is: taking your life in your arms; accepting reality as it is; allowing the unchangeable to be!

This can also be expressed like this:

“When we truly hate what’s happening, our instinct is to flee from it like a house on fire.  But if we can learn to turn around and enter that fire, to let it burn all our resistance away, then we find ourselves arising from the ashes with a new sense of power and freedom”.  (Raphael Cushnir, quoted in Josh Baran, 2003, page 14).

But already we are heading into problems here, since these two quotations can be interpreted in both moderate and extreme forms.  A moderate interpretation would say, if you cannot change your life, you will benefit from accepting it exactly the way it is.  An extreme way will simply opt for saying you should accept it the way it is, disregarding the potential for changing it for the better.  There is a core of realistic acceptance to the moderate approach, and a core of sado-masochistic dehumanization to the extreme interpretation.

The other problem here is that there is a difference between a philosophy of life which is normally passed on through an oral tradition, to initiates who are readied for the new insight.  That is to say, they are ready morally, and in terms of character development, for the new revelation.  For example, take this quotation from Native American wisdom:

“Every struggle, whether won or lost, strengthens us for the next to come.  It is not good for people to have an easy life.  They become weak and inefficient when they cease to struggle.  Some need a series of defeats before developing the strength and courage to win a victory”.  (Victorio, Mimbres Apache: Quoted in Helen Exley, The Song of Life).

Quite clearly, this quotation could be used to justify political oppression.  “We’re doing the poor and downtrodden a favour”, the neo-liberals could say, all over the world today.  “We’re helping to strengthen them by defeating and crushing them!”  Indeed, versions of this kind of argumentation have already been used by right-wing ideologues; and this very quotation by Victorio could be used to defend the expropriation of the Native American tribes’ traditional tribal lands, and their confinement to ‘reservations’ (or ‘Bantustans’).

People should, clearly, not allow themselves to be tricked into feeling they have to be more Stoical than they absolutely need to be. And we should all hold on to the right to be morally outraged and politically active in the face of oppression and exploitation!

Furthermore, we have to ask this question: Is Victorio right to say people are strengthened by struggle?  It seems they might be, if they have a ‘learned optimism’ perspective.  But if they have a ‘learned helplessness’ perspective, from previous defeats, then they are only going to become more defeatist and passive as a result of being subjected to more oppression or difficulty. (See Martin Seligman on Learned Helplessness).

~~~

Back to my cuckolded client:

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that I could not have asked this client – let’s call him Harry – to go away and process his grief in private; to complete his experience of loss, over and over and over again – unless I had already taught him a moderately stoical philosophy of life, combined with a sense of optimism and hope – of self-efficacy, and the possibility of positive change.  And that I had done, about two years earlier, when he was struggling with problems of social conflict.  At that time, I introduced Harry to my Six Windows Model, which is derived from moderate Stoicism and moderate Buddhism.

And it should also be noted that, resilience is linked to family of origin.  Some families produce children who are resilient and some produce children who are fragile.  So I had to deal with Harry’s family of origin problems, about a year before I taught him the Six Windows Model.  At that earlier time, I focused on my relationship with him; how to provide him with a secure base; how to re-parent him, so he could feel secure in his relationship with me, so he could then generalize that feeling to his valued, close relationships.

~~~

Conscious processing of traumatic events

Of course, it is not possible to make much progress in terms of personal development, or recovery from childhood trauma, unless we engage in some form of talk therapy (or writing therapy). The ‘wounded cat’ process will only take us so far. And especially if you want to accelerate the healing process, you need to work on your traumatic memories, and to process and digest them.

I did just that, in a couple of early pieces of writing therapy that I completed; one about my story of origins; and one about my relationship with my mother. I have since packaged those two stories, with some introductory and commentary material, in the form of an eBook. The title is this: Healing the Heart and Mind: Two examples of writing therapy stories, plus relective analysis. You can find out some more about those stories here: https://ecent-institute.org/writing-therapeutic-stories/

~~~

My crashed index

So how does this relate to my adverse experience of having my book-index crash and have to be written off; and having to start all over again, from scratch?

Firstly, I was numbed by the experience: for minutes, or even hours.  It was a significant, symbolic loss.  A loss of face.  A loss of my self-concept as a highly efficient and effective author/ editor/ publisher.  It was also a significant material loss, of labour-time that was now down the drain!  And I had to face to discomfort anxiety of contemplating starting all over again, from scratch, to do this long, boring, tedious task of rebuilding this index, word by word, phrase by phrase, page number by page number.

Cover444Secondly, I wanted to jump over the experience, and to get right on to starting to construct a new index. (I was, after all, just like Albert Ellis – (the creator of REBT [as a form of Extreme Stoicism]) – raised in a family that showed no sympathy for my pain and suffering (in this case, my sense of loss of face, and loss of my sense of self-efficacy, and discomfort anxiety about starting over).  But that desire, to jump over my feelings, was cruel and insensitive, and neglectful of my sensibilities.

And I can now see that my family script fitted very sell with REBT, when I first encountered it, in 1992, when I was going through a painful career crisis! That is to say, REBT fitted well with my extremely stoical family script!  REBT taught me to jump over my feelings about my career crisis – and to rationalize them away, so I would not have to deal with them!

However, thirdly, I jumped track from the appeal of an extreme Stoical denial of my pain, and moved to a ‘wounded cat’ position.  I stopped any attempt to immediately switch to constructing a new index.  I stayed with the sense of shock; of frustration; of loss and failure!

I allowed time for some non-conscious adjustment.  (This most likely involved some low-level grief work.  [Meaning the processing of feelings of loss]. I had lost something meaningful; valuable; and I had inherited a painful challenge up ahead: namely, the building of a new index, where the old one had ‘died’!)

It would take time for my inner map to be brought up to date; to come in line with the external reality.

And I found a way to salvage some good from this bad situation, by writing this blog post to help others to be moderately stoical when things go wrong in their lives; and not to buy into the extreme stoicism of REBT and much of CBT, which demands that we should jump over our negative experiences; we should dump the experience; and thereby to fail to learn from it; and to live our lives in a kind of anaesthetized state, instead of feeling the full range of positive and negative emotions which are the lot of a sensitive human being.

~~~

Conclusion

DrJimCounselling002Some of our day-to-day experiences are awful – in the sense of being ‘very bad’, or ‘very unpleasant’.  It takes time to process such adversities, and we owe it to ourselves to take the time to process our emotions (like grief about losses, failures; anxiety about threats, dangers; anger about insults and threats to our self-esteem; and so on).

Extreme Stoicism demands that we pretend to be stones, or lumps of wood. That we pretend that we are not hurt by the things that hurt us!

It demands that we should deny that we are fleshy beings with feelings and needs.

But if we allow ourselves to be enrolled into such an unfeeling philosophy of life, we will miss the opportunity to heal our wounds – like a cat or other animal would.  We will end up denying our pain; failing to process it; and becoming deniers of other people’s pain – since we ‘cannot stand’ to hear of the pain of others, if we have unresolved pains of our own!

Unlike the extreme Stoicism of REBT, we in Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) practice a much gentler form of moderate Stoicism and moderate Buddhism.  For example, to help myself deal with the crashed index adversity, I can use my own Six Windows Model, which begins like this:

  1. Life is difficult for all human beings, at least some of the time; and often much of the time; so why must it not be difficult for me today, with this crashed index? Quite clearly, this is ‘my karma’, and I will have to adjust to it (but not necessarily today; or tomorrow; but one day soon). I can allow myself to take the time to process this difficulty, as an inevitability, and to gradually adjust to it; and then, and only then, will I bounce back!
  2. Life is going to be much less difficult if I pick and choose sensibly and realistically. Therefore, I should not choose to have my old index be magically fixed; and the problem to disappear! Instead, I choose to take a break; to rest and recover. After all, it happened on Friday, and it is now just Sunday!  And most people take Saturday and Sunday off anyway!  So even if it takes another couple of days to adjust and recover, I am going to choose sensibly.  I will be ready to re-start this uphill climb when I am ready.  Two days; three; four or five?  Who knows?  But I am going to take my time, and allow myself to feel whatever I feel in the meantime.

That is just a sample of the first two windows of E-CENT. To find out about the other 4 windows of the six windows model, you can get a copy via PayPal:

Re-framing problems, 6 windows modelE2 (Paper 3) The 6 Windows Model…  Available from PayPal, for just £3.99 GBP. Please send me my copy of  The 6 Windows Model pamphlet.***)

This (Six Windows model philosophy) is a million miles from the insensitivity of REBT – which is most often practised in an Extreme Stoical way.

This is also a few thousand miles from mainstream CBT, which would insist that my ‘problem’ is caused by my ‘thoughts’ about it.

This is not true.

The loss of my index is a real adversity, which any sane human being would lament and feel the loss of; feel the pain of its loss; feel the adversity of having to start all over again, or just feel like giving up and quitting!

My problem is not caused by my feeling.  My feelings are mainly caused by my experience.

Or, to be more precise:

The primary cause of my upset feelings right now is the failure of my IT package, which screwed up the digital links between actual page numbers, on the one hand, and the page numbers listed in the index entries, on the other.

The secondary cause is my need to get that book out sooner rather than later; which is also a real need, dictated by something other than my ‘mere thoughts’.

The tertiary cause of my feelings, is the history of my experiences of dealing with adversities. That history is recorded in my body-brain-mind.

And so on.

So please do not jump over your own feelings.  Stay with them.  Digest and complete them, and watch them disappear, leaving a stronger, more sensitive, and more human ‘You’ behind! 🙂

That’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

01422 843 629

drjwbyrne@gmail.com

~~~

Postscript: Monday morning, 12th February 2018

I decided last night to adopt the ‘wounded cat’ position regarding the stress arising out of my sense of loss of my book index (involving weeks of work lost; and weeks of recovery work to engage in! And some loss of self-esteem around self-efficacy and productivity!)  I clocked off work at 7.00 pm last evening; and I made an omelette salad for tea; and we sat down to watch a cop show (‘Endeavour’) on TV at 8.00 pm.  We went to bed about 10.30, and I decided to have a lie-in in the morning, in keeping with my ‘wounded cat’ position.

I got up late this morning, had chunky vegetable soup (or stew) for breakfast – homemade (which I created at 4.30 am, when I was up briefly). Then I read three quotations from a book of Zen quotes; and meditated for 30 minutes.

Then I stood up to do my Chi Kung exercises (which normally take 20 minutes to complete).  At that point in time, I had the thought, which just bubbled up from my (rested) non-conscious mind: “Perhaps I can salvage the Index, if I can find out what went wrong with the page numbering, and go back to an earlier draft, and fix the page numbering!”

This seemed like a long shot, but it paid off!  I went to my office – at the end of exercising time – and investigated the possibilities.

And I have now salvaged the index, and saved myself weeks of work in rebuilding it from scratch.

And this was only possible because I acted like a ‘wounded cat’ for a few hours, instead of ‘jumping over the problem’, as advised by Albert Ellis and Epictetus and many CBT theorists!

Long live the ‘wounded cat’ position! (But do not try to use it with somebody who has not yet learned a moderate Stoic form of coping – like the Six Windows Model.  And also investigate whether there are family of origin problems leading to fragility, which have to be fixed before the windows model can be usefully taught).

Best wishes,

Jim

~~~

Postscript No.2: It never rains…

But my relief from stress did not last long…

Of course, it was a great relief to realize that I could salvage my book index, and it seemed likely that it would not take many days to fix it up and make it good enough for purpose.

Then it just so happened that I needed to look up some concept in our recently published book – How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, using nutrition and physical activity.  I went to the index, looked up the page reference, and went to that page.  It was not there.  So I did some checking, and, nightmare of nightmares, that index was also corrupted.

This was a huge shock, because I had worked so hard on that index, and talked it up as a significant aspect of the book – the usefulness of the index!

So, to say the least, I was embarrassed.  And anxious that this situation might undermine my credibility with future potential buyers of my (our) books. These two emotional states – and especially my desire to be free of them, when I was not free of them – was very stressful.

Part of me wanted to respond with the complaint that “It never rains but it pours!”  But that would be too bleak a viewpoint – comparable to Werner Erhard’s view that “Life is just one goddamned thing after another!”  The problem with these two statements is this: they could be taken in a defeatist way to mean it’s all too much; too difficult; and therefore demoralizing and defeating.

And part of my problem was this: I wanted to be over the embarrassment; beyond the anxiety; clear of the problem.  But it is patently impossible to be “over the embarrassment” when one is embarrassed!  And it is equally impossible to be “beyond the anxiety” when on is immersed in it!

So now I was floundering, and spinning out of control.  I reached for a Zen quote, from Gay Hendricks, which talks about ‘giving up hope’.  Perhaps that was the solution: to give up any hope of being beyond the anxiety, and free from the embarrassment?!?  This is what Gay Hendricks writes:

“If you give up hope, you will likely find your life is infinitely richer. Here’s why: When you live in hope, it’s usually because you’re avoiding reality.  If you hope your partner will stop drinking, aren’t you really afraid he or she won’t?  Aren’t you really afraid to take decisive action to change the situation?  If you keep hoping the drinking will stop, you get to avoid the rally hard work of actually handling the situation effectively…” (Gay Hendricks, in Josh Baran (2003) – 365 Nirvana Here and Now: Living every moment in enlightenment).

For me to hope that this problem would go away – or resolve itself – would be even crazier than somebody hoping their partner would give up drinking alcohol.  Why? Because this published index is a fixed reality, which has no capacity to correct itself!  And nobody else has the power or need or responsibility to correct it.

This caused me to revert to the ‘wounded cat’ position, in terms of living in the embarrassment and anxiety; and not trying to get rid of it.  I stayed with the bad feelings, not knowing what to do about it.  This also allowed me to non-consciously process the problem, and about 36 hours later I came up with an action plan to revise the index for the Diet and Exercise book, and post it online so it can be downloaded by people who have already bought the book.  So I set about doing that, and it is now posted online

at: https://abc-counselling.org/revised-index-for-diet-and-exercise-book/

in the following format, online:

Revised index – downloadable 

Final corrected Index 14XXX001

In November 2017, we published a new book titled,

How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression, Using nutrition and physical activity

by Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne.

Unfortunately, an error crept into the index, after it had had its final proof-reading.  This resulted in all the page references in the index being exactly 8 pages lower than they should have been.

We have now tracked this error down and corrected it, and, if you bought a copy of that first edition of the book, then please download a revised index from the link below, and print it off.  We are deeply sorry for this technical error, and we are willing to make appropriate amends by providing the corrected, downloadable index.

Download the corrected index by clicking this link.***

PS: And if you feel aggrieved by the error in the original copy of the book, and you bought it in paperback from Amazon, then we are willing to send you a free gift – of a PDF document on the science of sleep – if you email dr.byrne@ecent-institute.org with the receipt number which you received from Amazon.

Thanking you for your understanding.

Sincerely,

 

Jim

 

Dr Jim Byrne – Director – E-CENT Publications – February 2018

~~~

 

Albert Ellis and REBT ten years later

Blog Post No. 156

21st July 2017 (Updated on 22nd April 2020)

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2017

Dr Jim’s Counselling Blog: The tenth anniversary of the death of Albert Ellis…

~~~

Introduction

Ellis-video-imageAlbert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), which is sometimes called Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (RE&CBT), died on 24th July 2007.  So we are very close to the tenth anniversary.

Since that event, Renata and I have posted something on each anniversary about Albert Ellis and REBT.  Initially, those posts were very positive about the man and his theory of therapy.  But as time passed, and we found more and more problems with the man (from his autobiography, All Out!) and from our reflective analyses of his theoretical propositions, our posts became more and more distant, and more and more critical.

Books about Ellis and REBT

Wounded psychotherapistIn 2013, I published a book on the childhood of Albert Ellis, which was an analysis of the ways in which he was mistreated and virtually abandoned at times by his parents, and the effect of these early negative experiences on his psychological development.  Here are the basic details:

A Wounded Psychotherapist: Albert Ellis’s childhood and the strengths and limitations of REBT, by Dr Jim Byrne

A critical review of the childhood of Albert Ellis and the impact of his suffering on the shape of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT)

‘A Wounded psychotherapist’ is a critical enquiry by Dr Jim Byrne.  It is an analysis of both the childhood of Dr Albert Ellis (the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy [REBT]), and how some of those childhood experiences most likely gave rise to certain features of his later philosophy of psychotherapy.  If you have ever wondered what the roots of REBT might have been, then this is the book for you.  it explores the childhood difficulties of Albert Ellis, and links those difficulties forward to the ways in which REBT was eventually shaped.  It also identified the strengths and weaknesses of REBT, and proposes an agenda for reform of this radical system of psychotherapy. Available now from Amazon, in two formats:

***This book is currently out of print.  I do intend to rewrite it, when I get the time, and to re-issue it.  In the meantime, here is a relevant extract, for your information:

~~~

The aim of this book

“I’ve become a sort of accidental advocate for attachment parenting, which is a style of parenting that basically is the way mammals parent and the way people have parented for pretty much all of human history, except perhaps the last 200 years or so”.  Mayim Bialik

Jim and the Buddha, 2In this book I want to pursue a thesis of my own: That Dr Albert Ellis was a ‘wounded soldier’ – or psychologically injured person – from a very young age; and that he brought some of his psycho-logical wounds into the process of developing his system of therapy.  I want to explore his childhood for the roots of those wounds, and to show how they then track through to the development of his mature philosophy some years later.  In the process, I hope to rescue what is good about his philosophy from what is clearly untenable in a moral world – or in a society which necessarily must strive to maintain some kind of legal and moral system of rules of social behaviour, if it is to survive.

The main resource that I will use to produce this book is Albert Ellis’s autobiography – All Out! An autobiography, by Albert Ellis with Debbie Joffe-Ellis. New York: Prometheus Books – which was published in 2010.  In addition, I will use the Sage Publications’ biography of Albert Ellis, by Yankura and Dryden (1994)[i].  Plus two or three online sources of information about Albert Ellis’s childhood; and any other sources of general psychological or philosophical thinking – such as attachment theory, or health studies – which throws any light on the subject under review; which is: the impact of childhood neglect on Albert Ellis’s later theories of human behaviour and his principles of emotional self-management.

~~~

The problem of the status of autobiographical narratives

Of course, an autobiography is just that: a story by the author about the author.  In Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (CENT)[ii], because we explicitly deal with our clients’ narratives and stories, we have to have an understanding of the ‘status’ of autobiographical narratives – meaning ‘the truth’ (or ‘ontological status’), or veracity or accuracy of self-narratives.  This is explored in CENT Paper No.5[iii]: and a six page extract from that paper is attached as Appendix B, below.  It turns out that human memory (or rather, recall) is much more fragile and imperfect than most people imagine.  It also involves reconstructing memories, rather than playing them back like videos or audio recordings.  Human memory is also not like a photograph album.  Here is a metaphor which is closer to the truth:

“If any metaphor is going to capture memory, then it is more like a compost heap in a constant state of re-organization”.  (Hood, 2011, page 59).

I will now present a couple of indicative extracts from Appendix B.  They are meant to help the reader to make a personal judge-ment about the reliability of Albert Ellis’s memories of his own childhood.

The first one is based upon a description, (from Eysenck and Keane, 2000)[iv], of audio recorded conversations between President Richard Nixon and John Dean, which are contrasted with Dean’s recollection (before he was confronted with the taped evidence!)

“Our autobiographical memories are sometimes less truthful than has been suggested so far.  Dean’s memory for the conversations with the President gave Dean too active and significant a role.  It is as if Dean remembered the conversations as he wished them to have been.” (Cf: Chancellor, 2007[v]). “Perhaps people have a self-schema (or organized body of knowledge about themselves) that influences how they perceive and remember personal information.  Someone as ambitious and egotistical as Dean might have focussed mainly on those aspects of conversations in which he played a dominant role, and this selective attention may then have affected his later recall. As Haberlandt (1999, p.226)[vi] argued, ‘The auto-biographical narrative…does preserve essential events as they were experienced, but it is not a factual report; rather, the account seems to make a certain point, to unify events, or to justify them’.”

This shows clearly that autobiographical memory is unreliable.  (Because it is unreliable, we, in CENT, have developed a multi-stranded process for conducting an analysis of autobiographical narratives).[vii]

I discovered this problem of the unreliability of autobiographical memory when I was conducting my own doctoral research, back in 2004 or 2005; when I was proposing to interview doctoral students about their own memories of learning the subject of ‘research ethics’. The problem here was this: if human memory is as fragile as suggested above, then how can I trust the word of anybody, including research participants?  What follows is an expression of my attempt to move forward:

“…the premise upon which I have returned to ask questions of some postgraduate students and one tutor (is this): that their accounts will preserve some essential events as they were experienced by them, but they will not be giving me a factual report, in the sense in which ‘factual’ is used in the natural sciences.  However, even in the natural sciences, facts are records of events which are no better and no worse than the person or device registering the event. (Source: Novak and Gowin, 1984[viii]).  And inevitably, scientific facts are ‘transformed’ by a process of imperfect human interpretation.”

In CENT Paper No.5 (Byrne, 2009e), I then go on to talk about the autobiographical stories and narratives of my counselling clients:

“And this is also how I will understand my own narrative in CENT Paper No.4; and the stories that my CENT clients present to me.  They are stories that conform to the felt recollections and meaning-making activities of individuals who, as humans, have imperfect, mood dependent, recon-stitutive memory systems (Bartlett, 1932[ix]).”

And all of the above applies to the mood-dependent, recons-titutive reconstructions of Dr Albert Ellis’s story of his own life.  (See further detail in Appendix B).

~~~

Did young Albert develop an insecure attachment to his parents?

“Albert Ellis … had a very distant emotional relationship with his parents, and described his mother as a self-centred woman who struggled with bipolar disorder. After (his) raising his younger brother and sister and dealing with many personal health issues, Ellis left his family to study at the City University of New York”.  Good Therapy website[x]

Long before his autobiography appeared, in 2010, Dr Ellis had revealed certain facts (or claims) about his childhood – certainly as early as 1991[xi].  From memory they included the following points: That he had been a sickly boy, frequently hospitalized with nephritis, sometimes for months at a time[xii]; That he had grappled with serious problems of shyness and social anxiety; That his mother and father neglected him – rarely visiting him during his hospital stays; That his mother (who was an egotistical, manic-depressive and severe woman of German Jewish origin) would often be away playing cards with her friends, or visiting her temple, when he got home from school with his two younger siblings; That she was so neglectful that he had to acquire an alarm clock himself, when he was about eight years old, which he used to get himself and his siblings up in the morning (while she lay in bed); That he fed them and got them ready, and took them to school; That his father worked away from home most of each week, seeing his children only at the weekends (and then only briefly!) – and divorced Ellis’s mother when young Albert was just twelve years of age (and entering puberty!); That young Albert enjoyed school so much more than home life that he wished school would open at the weekends; And so on.

(Please note the lack of mother-bashing in the list of problems above.  I am saying that Albert Ellis was neglected by his parents – his mother and his father, in roughly equal proportions.  I do not go along with any residual tendency of attachment theorists to over-emphasize the role of the mother.  The father is equally important to the emotional development of the children. [See Macrae, 2013, in the Reference list near the end of this book])[xiii].

How severe was the degree of childhood neglect that Little Albert Ellis experienced?  According to Yankura and Dryden (1994):

“…Albert and siblings were exposed to a degree of parental neglect that, in this day and age, might have prompted a phone call to Child Protective Services by some concerned school teacher or neighbour…” (Page 3)[xiv].

What I intend to do in this book is to review the first 162 pages of Dr Ellis’s autobiography, to try to put some flesh on these bare bones of his childhood. Part of my argument will be that Little Albert was so neglected by his parents that he developed avoidant attachments to them, and that this predisposed him to a lifetime of insecure, unsatisfactory relationships with significant others.  Because this is central to my argument, I must now present some contextual material on the subject of attachment theory.

[i] Yankura, J. and Dryden, W. (1994) Albert Ellis.  London: Sage Publications.

[ii] See my CENT Paper No.2(a), which describes the theory of CENT, in Byrne (2009/2013), in the Reference list, above.

[iii] Byrne, J. (2009e) The status of autobiographical narratives and stories.  CENT Paper No.5.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy (I-CENT).  Available online: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id167.html

[iv] Eysenck, M.W. and Keane, M.T. (2000) Cognitive Psychology: A student’s Handbook. Fourth edition.  East Sussex: Psychology Press.

[v] Chancellor, A. (2007) It’s a strangely human foible – we all rewrite history to make our roles in it more interesting.  The Guardian, Friday April 6th 2007.  Available online:       http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,329770492-103390,00.html

[vi] Haberlandt, K. (1999) Human Memory: Exploration and application.  Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

[vii] Byrne, J. (2009f) How to analyze autobiographical narratives in Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy.  CENT Paper No.6.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT. Available online: http://www.abc-counselling.com/id173.html

[viii] Novak, J.D. and Gowin, B. (1984) Learning How to Learn.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[ix] Bartlett, F.C. (1932) Remembering. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[x] From: Good Therapy Org: Available online at: http://www.goodtherapy.org/famous-psychologists/albert-ellis.html

[xi] Ellis, A. (1991) My life in clinical psychology.  In C.E. Walker (ed): The History of Clinical Psychology in Autobiography, Vol.1.  Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

[xii] Ellis was hospitalized about eight times between the ages of five and seven years of age, once for about ten months!

[xiii] It seems to me that the reason early attachment theorists emphasized the role of the mother in establishing a secure base for the child was this: Capitalism promotes a ‘division of labour’ between men and women, making women responsible for reproduction and home life, and men for industrial and commercial work, business activities, etc.  But nature was not consulted about this deal; and children continue to need the loving attention of both of their parents, and are disadvantaged if they do not get it. (See Macrae, 2013, in the Reference list).

[xiv] Yankura, J. and Dryden, W. (1994) Albert Ellis.  London: Sage Publications.

~~~

honetpieHowever, in that book, I was still very soft on some of Ellis’s major errors, such as his false definition of ‘awfulizing’, and his mistaken assumption that, just because ‘demandingness’ is often a ‘sufficient condition’ for human disturbance, therefore it is also a ‘necessary condition’, which, the Buddha’s followers would argue, it is not.  Any significant degree of desiring that the present be different from how it is, could, in theory, cause significant levels of negative affect.

Also, when I wrote about the childhood of Ellis, I had not yet developed my understanding of him as an Extreme Stoic – that is to say, somebody who exaggerates the degree to which a human being can live their life as if they were a lump of wood!

This was corrected in my current critique of REBT, which is described below.

~~~

Tenth Anniversary of the Death of Albert Ellis:

On this anniversary, I have today posted some feedback from Dr Meredith Nisbet of my book on the childhood of Albert Ellis.  This is what she wrote:

Book Review – by Dr Meredith Nisbet:

“I learned so much about human nature reading your book (Jim) about (Albert) Ellis. I also learned from your book about Jim Byrne. The similarities are obvious. The differences are where most of the learning comes. You overcame your childhood experiences; he lived with his experiences, but the differences were that he needed help to conquer his experiences, but he never was able to “normalize” as you did. I’d like to hear your comments on what made the difference for you  – something within you or the people who helped you? Was his problem something he missed or didn’t think he needed? I think it was more the latter. What do you think?”

To see my response to her questions, please go here: https://abc-counselling.org/albert-ellis-a-wounded-psychotherapist/

~~~

Since 2013, my thinking about Albert Ellis and REBT has moved on again, into a more detailed critique of the foundational ideas underpinning his basic conclusions about human disturbance.  This work of mine is described in my latest boon on Ellis and REBT:

A Major Critique of REBT:

Revealing the many errors in the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy

Front cover3 of reissued REBT book

Also, we have added a reference to the research which shows that emotional pain and physical pain are both mediated and processed through significantly overlapping neural networks, which contradicts Dr Ellis’s claim that nobody could hurt you, except by hitting you with a baseball bat or a brick.

This is a comprehensive, scientific and philosophical  critique of the foundations of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, as developed by Dr Albert Ellis; including the dismantling of the philosophical foundations of the ABC model; and a decimating critique of the concept of unconditional self-acceptance. Almost nothing is left of REBT when the dust settles, apart from the system called Rational Emotive Imagery, which Dr Ellis borrowed from Maxi Maultsby.

Available in paperback and eBook formats.

Learn more.***

Price: £23.58 GBP (Paperback) and £6.99 GBP (Kindle eBook).

~~~

Front cover3 of reissued REBT book

Albert Ellis was a man of his time, which was a long time ago.  He modelled his philosophy of psychotherapy[y on the idealistic notions of a Roman slave, instead of on modern theories of social psychology, developmental psychology, neuroscience, and so on. He grossly oversimplified the nature of human disturbance; blamed the client for ‘choosing’ to upset themselves; and denied the value of moral language.

We no longer need to reflect upon the contribution of Dr Ellis.  It was very small.

His contribution is evaluated in the book above: A Major Critique of REBT.

~~~

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: drjwbyrne@gmail.com

~~~