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!

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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

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Psychology and literature, the connection

Blog Post No. 169

By Dr Jim Byrne

20th July 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: What are the linkages between psychology and psychotherapy, on the one hand, and literature, on the other…?

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2018

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Introduction

Cover image of young O'BeeveI recently posted some comments on LinkedIn on the connections between psychology and literature, and the effects of literature upon my own therapeutic journey.

Sometimes my second thoughts are better than my first; and on this occasion I think there is certainly a need to clarify some of my positions:

Second thoughts

The good story, Kurtz and CoetzeeFirstly:  When I wrote that I had learned more from literature than I had ever learned from my academic studies, I think this was only true of my life in my twenties and up to the age of 33 years.

In my teens, I had looked at the tens of thousands of books that were stacked from floor to ceiling in some of the book shops along Aston Quay, in Dublin City, and I despaired of ever being able to read even a tiny fraction of that mountain of literary and pulp fiction wordage.  So I veered towards reading non-fiction for several years.  Indeed, in the main bookshop I used on the quays, I began to buy second-hand books that looked at psychology subjects, and I was very interested in hypnosis, and the inferiority complex.

From about the age of 22 years, I read a lot of economic and politics.

But, around that time, I did find some significant fiction books that had a huge effect upon my emotional development.  And, when I was 27 years old, i read Dostoevsky’s ‘The Idiot’.

Secondly: Beyond the age of 33 years, I began to take seriously the study of psychology, beginning with person-centred counselling; and then Transactional Analysis; and then Gestalt therapy. And eventually studied 13 different systems of counselling and psychotherapy.

Achieving-Emotional-LiteracyYears later I studied Claude Steiner’s ‘Achieving Emotional Literacy’, which I found to be very effective teaching of emotional intelligence, including the development of empathy.  However, nobody who has read any novels by Charles Dickens would try to deny that Dickens teaches empathy by evoking it, while Steiner teaches empathy by delineating it.

Carl Rogers’ writings call for empathy, but I learned how to feel it from reading Dickens, Donna Tartt, Ursula Le Guin, Kurt Vonnegut, and many others; including Dostoevsky and Graham Green.

Thirdly: Here is the bit that I missed in my earlier posts.  The discipline of ‘literature creation’ is always informed (in my view) by the leakage of psychological theory into the public domain.

How can I support this claim?

sigmund-freud7.jpgOne way to do so is to look at D. H. Lawrence’s novel, Sons and Lovers, which suggested that the main character had an ‘Oedipus complex’ about his mother.  I wrote about this in my own semi-autobiographical novel like this:

‘When Sigmund Freud saw the play, Oedipus Rex, in Vienna, in the late 1890’s, he found himself believing that he, personally, had lusted after his own mother.  He then subsequently inferred that this must be a universal law of sexual development, which applies to all sons – which it is not.

‘Because D.H. Lawrence adopted this idea of Freud’s, in his semi-autobiographical novel, Sons and Lovers, the idea has become generalized that young men commonly suffer from an Oedipus complex.  But Lawrence did not get this idea from reflecting upon his actual relationship with his mother.  He got it from his wife Frieda, who had got it from Otto Gross, “an early disciple of Freud’s”.[1]  And he misleadingly inserted it into the heads of his readers, thus distorting their understanding of the most fundamental relationship in human society.”

So let us wash this psychobabble out of English/Irish/World literature for all time.  A young boy is perfectly capable of pure feelings of love for his mother; and a mother is perfectly capable of feeling pure love for her son – provided she is emotionally well, with a secure attachment style.

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In this case, the psychologist – Freud – misleads us, because he was influenced by his misreading of *Greek Literature* into believing in the universal lusting of sons for their mothers. (The Greek myth does not claim that this is a universal tendency, but that it was a most unfortunate accident which befell Oedipus,which was facilitated because he had been misled by his servants into thinking his mother was dead).

Donna_Tartt_The_GoldfinchOn the other hand, I got a much better sense of guidance on healthy love between a mother and her son from Donna Tartt’s novel, The Goldfinch.  And, again, I wrote about this in my own semi-autobiographical novel (or story), like this:

‘The most extreme pain arising out of my (Jim’s) sense of loss of a loving connection to my mother came when I was reading The Goldfinch, an extraordinary novel by Donna Tart, just a few months ago.  Theo Decker, the main character, is a twelve year old boy, who is in trouble at school, for being associated with another boy who was caught smoking.  Theo and his mother have been called in for a meeting with the school staff.  It’s raining heavily as they leave their apartment building, in Manhattan, so they take a cab, but have to abandon it near the New York Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), because the cab seats smell foul.  Then, because it is still raining hard, and they are running early for their school appointment, they decide to shelter in the MOMA, and look at some of Theo’s mothers’ (and his) favourite paintings.

‘Throughout this process, Theo describes how handsome/ beautiful his mother looks; her fashion sense; her art appreciation; and how she speaks to him – and has often spoken to him – respectfully, playfully, joyfully, artfully, maternally but also increasingly as though he were an equal adult; or an increasingly equal person. And he describes all the wonderful moments of shared experience they have had.  I begin to get the feeling of an intense sense of love for his mother – which is reciprocated – and which has nothing in common with Freud’s ‘Oedipus Complex’ twaddle.

‘This is just plain ordinary liking and loving of a type which I never experienced with my mother – (and not even with Ramira, my first wife, who hurt me and insulted and offended me for the six years of our marriage). Theo Decker loves his mother, and she loves him; and that was like a blow to my solar plexus, which brought tears to my eyes: the realization that my mother never showed any such love for me; and often treated me worse than I would treat a stray dog!’

Fourth: I suspect that most of the influences of psychology that seep into literature, and from literature, into the public imagination, are more positive than negative. Perhaps it would be correct, and helpful, to say that literature popularizes and humanizes psychological theories, but we do need psychology as a discipline to inform all of us. Common sense cannot substitute for psychological research.  But we should never forget that psychology owes its origins to *philosophers* like Plato, Aristotle, Locke and Hume; as well as Freud and Klein; Skinner and Watson; Ellis and Beck; John Bowlby; and today, Allan Schore, Daniel Siegel, and many others.

And psychological theory is just that: theory, which has to be applied and revised; over and over and over again; from generation to generation; and to be reformed and rejigged to take account of insights coming from other disciplines; like sport psychology; nutritional psychiatry; neuroscience; sleep science; and on and on.

Fifth: I did not invent the idea that there is a link or affinity between psychotherapy and fictional literature.  Indeed, Arabella Kurtz (a British psychotherapist) and J.M. Coetzee (a South African novelist) co-authored a book of exchanges, titled “The Good Story: Exchanges on truth, fiction and psychotherapy”, London: Harvill Secker: 2015.  Here is the briefest of extracts, to make an important point:

Arabella Kurtz: “The stories we tell about our lives may not be an accurate reflection of what really happened, indeed they may be more remarkable for their inaccuracies than anything else …” This truth applies as much to the stories our clients tell us (counsellors) as it does to the stories we make up about who we are, and what we do with our clients in sessions.  “But they (these stories) are simply all we have to work with, or all that we know we have; and we can do a great deal with these stories, particularly if we take the view that there are truths, of the subjective or intersubjective kind, to be revealed in the manner of telling”. (Page 63).

I believe we are story-tellers in a sea of stories.  We benefit, as humans, by reading the stories of our fellow humans, and telling our own stories; and not just by reading the theories that come out of the psychology lab, or the ‘sanitized reports’ that some therapists produce as ‘clinical research’!

Common sense cannot substitute for psychology and psychotherapy research and development; but neither can third-person, passive voice reports of abstract numerical quantification substitute for stories that warm and move the human heart!

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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

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[1] Dr Howard J. Booth, School of English, University of Kent.  In the Introduction to D.H. Lawrence (1913/1999) Sons and Lovers. Ware, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Classics.  Pages XII-XIII.

Reading, writing, literature and self-healing

Blog Post No. 168

By Dr Jim Byrne

15th July 2018

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Dr Jim’s Blog: Literature, personal writing of fiction, and therapeutic healing of the heart and mind

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne, July 2018

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Introduction

Call out about LiteratureIndividual Life is a gift, bestowed by Collective Life, upon fragments of Living Stuff.  Life is a rolling floor-show of life living itself!

We come into existence knowing nothing; and guessing what life might be about.  We stumble through childhood, suffering the blows of negative treatment, and savouring the kiss of good fortune.  We float into adolescence with the naiveté of a baby encountering its first crocodile! And, if we are fortunate, we encounter love in our late twenties, or our early thirties, and feel the full range of emotions: from ecstatic and sweet joy, to fearful and angry insecurity.

Often, we need to encounter the possibility of love in more than one relationship before we can make sense of this ennobling and devastating emotion.  We seek words for our experiences of love and hate, joy and devastation, only to fall back again and again into the void of unknowing: the wordless pit of unconsciousness.

If we are fortunate, we will discover some aspects of the great literature of those who traversed these trackless voids of human beginnings and developments before us; and we may feel in our hearts and guts the pains and pleasures, the defeats and victories, that those who went before us felt and described.

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On being human

DrJimCounselling002The highest calling of a human being is to make sense of our own life, as moral beings, and to share that understanding with those who follow along behind us, so that they might avoid – or traverse more smoothly – the swamps and volcanoes that we had to endure.

Whether we are born in the smallest village in Ireland, or the largest suburb of the largest city in the United States of America; or somewhere in South America; or South Asia, or Central Africa; there is nothing to say that we may not have the latest parable of human suffering and divine love on the tip of our tongues!

Full cover 3

So speak to the world of your journey, that you might know where you have been; and that others might benefit from your journey!

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Regarding literature

Donna_Tartt_The_GoldfinchThe reading of good quality literature – from any and every era of the novel and the stage play – is emotionally educating, and healing of traumatic past experiences.  You can recover from sadness and depression; anger towards the world; and defeatist timidity: Just by exposing your mind and heart to the stories of others who went before you.

The writing of semi-autobiographical stories – with some, little emotional distance from direct, personal experience – is a great way to indirectly digest past traumatic or difficult experiences.

A good semi-autobiographical story, built on fragments learned from the insights of generations of novelists and other authors, is a great way to pass on personal healing examples and therapeutic gifts.  And that is what I have tried to do in my story about Daniel O’Beeve.***

I would like to encourage readers to begin to write short pieces, stories – in semi-autobiographical form – about their own difficulties in the past.  It will help you enormously to grow your emotional literacy (or EQ).

Please take a look at my story if you need a template, or some guidance on how to fictionalise a life story.  Link to Daniel O’Beeve’s story.***

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PS: About an hour after I posted this blog, Daniel’s story became available on Amazon, here: Daniel O’Beeve’s story at Amazon.co.uk.***

And here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1722816821/

And here: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/1722816821/

For more links, please go here: https://abc-counselling.org/2018/07/15/reading-writing-literature-and-self-healing/

That’s all for the moment.  I hope you try this therapeutic writing approach, and gain enormously from using it!

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

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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

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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.

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

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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

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Stories and bodies in narrative therapy

Blog Post No. 163

By Dr Jim Byrne

29th March 2018

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.

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

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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

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

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.***)

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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

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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

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Albert Ellis and REBT ten years later

Blog Post No. 156

21st July 2017

Copyright (c) Dr Jim Byrne, 2017

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

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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:

Paperback: for as little as £6.66 GBP

Kindle: for as little as £6.89 GBP

Buy it now: A Wounded Psychotherapist: The childhood of Albert Ellis, and the limitations of REBT/CBT

Amazon in the US Amazon in UK (and Ireland)
Amazon in Canada Amazon in Italy
Amazon in Germany Amazon in France
Amazon in Japan Amazon in Australia

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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.

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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:

Cover444REBT Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes

The book that reveals the fundamental falsehoods at the heart of REBT/CBT

At a moment in history when thousands of counsellors and therapists are being coerced and cajoled into using the ‘flavour of the month’ therapy – CBT – in order to keep their jobs and incomes, everything is changed by one action! Dr Jim Byrne has produced a devastating critique of the original form of CBT: known as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT).

Many of his criticisms of REBT apply equally to all forms of CBT which utilize the ABC model of human disturbance.

Dr Byrne begins by showing that Dr Ellis was wrong to claim that he had evidence that people are upset by their thinking, plus their thinking about their thinking.  In a line by line analysis of the relevant text from Dr Ellis, Dr Byrne destroys the basis of this false claim.

He then explores the value and veracity of some of the core principles of Stoicism , which are built into REBT/CBT, and find that they do not stand up to scrutiny!

There are at least seven key errors in the foundations of REBT, many of which overlap CBT practice.

For anybody to practice these forms of therapy, without taking Dr Byrne’s critique into account, would be a grave error and a serious miscalculation.  These systems of therapy are enjoying a short-lived popularity which will end in tears.  If you are being forced on to this particular bus, now is the time to object – to present a strong counter argument against this madness.

This madness which denies the impact of the social environment upon the body-brain-mind of the client.  This madness which blames the client for their emotional disturbances.  This madness which copies the delusions of a first century Roman slave, instead of the research evidence of modern social psychology, neuroscience, and interpersonal neurobiology!

Get this book today, if you want to retrieve your right to work for the client; to feel with the client; to champion the rights of the client; and to refuse to go along with the idea that helping the client to repress their feelings, in the name of Stoical bravery, is an adequate ‘therapeutic solution’.

Get the book here, now:

Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon Canada
Amazon Australia Amazon Netherlands Amazon Germany
Amazon Italy Amazon India Amazon France
Amazon Spain Amazon Brazil Amazon Japan

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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: Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

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