What is E-CENT Counselling?

What is Emotive-Cognitive Embodied-Narrative Therapy (E-CENT)?

By Dr Jim Byrne

Copyright (c) 2009-2016, Jim Byrne

Posted here on 4th June 2017. Checked on 12th October 2018. Updated on 31st March 2020.

This was one of the first papers I wrote about Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT).  I wrote it to try to clarify how the various elements of E-CENT, which had emerged by 2009, fitted together.



In this 22 page paper, the author describes the nature of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied-Narrative Therapy (E-CENT).  He introduces some of the E-CENT models of the human mind; outlines the foundations of the basic theory of E-CENT counselling, by summarising eight of the nineteen key features, or principles, which characterise this integrative system; lists a small number of the main models that are used to structure E-CENT counselling sessions; and ends by describing the E-CENT therapist’s style.

1. Introduction

The following quotation provides a concise flavour of the E-CENT approach to counselling and therapy:

“E-CENT sees humans as essentially (emotional) story tellers, to ourselves and others, and storytellers who live in a world of narratives and scripts, which include reasonable and unreasonable elements, logical and illogical elements, and defensible and indefensible elements.  Humans often tend to push away (or repress) unpleasant experiences, to fail to process them, and to then become the (unconscious) victims of those repressed, undigested experiences.  E-CENT also sees adult relationships as being the acting out of childhood experiences with parents and siblings, because some part of those earlier relationships have not been properly digested and completed”.

Extract from E-CENT Counselling: How to apply Emotive-Cognitive Embodied-Narrative Therapy in counselling and self-help, By Dr Jim Byrne.***

Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245 (1)Emotive-Cognitive Embodied-Narrative Therapy (E-CENT) is a system of counselling and psychotherapy which helps clients to work on their brain-mind-body-and-relationships in order to reduce and control negative or painful emotions and behaviours, like anger, anxiety, depression, stress, self confidence and couple conflict.

E-CENT integrates elements of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT), Transactional Analysis (TA), Attachment theory, moderate Zen Buddhist philosophy, moderate Stoicism, Gestalt therapy, moral philosophy, and some other cognitive, narrative and dynamic therapies. And E-CENT goes beyond those systems, to create some original emotive-cognitive techniques, models and perspectives.

ecent logos 3.jpgE-CENT is not an eclectic system which has merely bolted elements of different counselling systems together.  It is a truly integrative system which began by revisiting the basic model of the human personality developed by Sigmund Freud and asking:

How does this model link up with the ABC model (of REBT/CBT?)

What are the necessary implications of assuming that there is substantial truth in both models?

The same process was conducted with Transactional Analysis and cognitive science.  The resulting model was then compared with the implications of the Object Relations School.  Moral philosophy and Zen Buddhism were also interrogated in this process of model building.  That work of model building is described in Papers No.1(a)[1] and No.9[2].

Before that system of integration of models was begun, I had studied thirteen different systems of counselling and therapy, including: Freud and Jung, Rogers and Perles, Behaviour Therapy theory and practice, Cognitive Therapy and Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, Reality Therapy and Transactional Analysis, Existential Therapy and Logotherapy, Multimodal Therapy and Cognitive-Humanistic Therapy; and also committed myself to the proposition that all systems of counselling and therapy that are designed to be therapeutic are broadly equivalent in terms of the outcomes achieved for the client, as argued by Wampold (2001)[3], and Messer and Wampold (2000)[4].

And I had begun to teach that diet, exercise and relationship-connection; and family history; are important elements of what makes us emotionally well or emotionally distressed.


Holistic Counselling in Practice:

An introduction to the theory and practice of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied-Narrative Therapy

front cover holistic couns reissued

By Jim Byrne DCoun FISPC

With Renata Taylor-Byrne BSc (Hons) Psychol

This book was the original introduction to Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT), which was created by Dr Jim Byrne in the period 2009-2014, building upon earlier work from 2003.  It is of historic importance, but it has been superseded by Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Persson, above.

Prices from: £5.83p GBP (Kindle) and £15.18p (Paperback)

Paperback and eBook versions

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E-CENT evolved in phases.  1968 to 1980 was a kind of incubation of some core ideas, triggered by a partial Freudian analysis, combined with art therapy, music therapy, relaxation therapy, group therapy, and some others.  And 1980 to 1998 involved active exploration of various systems of therapy and self development (including Gestalt and Psychosynthesis, and autogenic training).  Then, 1999 to 2007 saw an intensification of thinking and learning about the core elements of the thirteen systems mentioned above.  And finally, over the past seven and more years (from 2007) – of developing and applying the emerging E-CENT model – a basic theory of human personality and psychological disturbance emerged.

Although Dr Albert Ellis and Dr Tim Beck argued that our emotional distress is caused by our own thoughts and beliefs, in E-CENT counselling we argue that emotional disturbances are multi-causal phenomena.  Some of the causal factors determining our emotional state include diet, exercise, gut bacteria, self-talk (or self-story), environmental re-stimulation of feelings from the past, relaxation, meditation, current relationships, historic relationships, and general environmental stressors, etc.  Here is a brief insight into the gut-brain-emotion axis:

“Anyone who has ever felt nauseous or lost their appetite because of grief, fear or shock, knows that stress has an impact on the gut.  It has been more than a decade since animal studies began making the correlation between stress and changes in gut microbes.  The connection between stress, depression and anxiety is well established, and dozens of studies are now looking at how these conditions affect bugs in the gut.  The big questions – such as which comes first, the microbe shift or the depression – have yet to be answered. Because it’s a two-way street, though, it looks as if correcting the gut microbiome (or gut bacteria population, variety and balance JWB) could be a new way to treat depression”.  (Footnote: Dinan, T.G. and Cryan, J.F. 2013, Sept; 25(9): Pages 713-719: Melancholic microbes: a link between gut microbiota and depression?  Available online).

Quotation from: Celeste McGovern (2017) Bugs in the system. What Doctors Don’t Tell You, Jan 2017, Pages 28-36).

Comment: Our way of understanding this new research is this: After sleep! Food is probably going to prove to be the best medicine for emotional distress (all other things being equal – including general stress level, current relationships, historic relationships, regular physical exercise, sleep pattern, and so on.  Holistic. Holistic. Holistic!)  And supplementation with friendly gut bacteria, combined with eating the right kinds of foods will prove to be important.  Big Pharma’s drugs for emotional distress have proved to be a social disaster!


2. Brief introduction to the E-CENT models of mind

After more than fifteen years of studying, exploring and developing models of the human mind (between 2001 and 2016), we concluded that tripartite (or three-part) models have more explanatory power than ‘binary (two-part) models’; and that both are preferable to the ‘black box’ model of behaviourism (and behaviour therapy).

Of course, the human brain-mind is the most complex entity in the known universe, and therefore any attempt to sum it up – to ‘simplify it’ – is fraught with difficulty and danger.  However, in the interest of making the management of mind accessible to counselling clients, we have to take some risks in summing up what we have learned about the human brain-mind.


Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person:

Or how to integrate nutritional insights, exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy.

The Lifestyle Counselling BookBy Dr Jim Byrne, with Renata Taylor-Byrne

Because diet, exercise and sleep are increasingly seen to be important determinants of mental health and emotional well-being, it is now necessary to rethink our models of counselling and therapy. This book will show counsellors how to incorporate lifestyle coaching and counselling into their system of talk therapy.  It will also help self-help enthusiasts to take better care of their own mental and physical health, and emotional well-being.

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The most important tripartite models seem to have come from Plato, Freud and Eric Berne.  (However, the Hindu/Buddhist binary model – of the Elephant and Rider – is also helpful, up to a point.  [It seems the Elephant and Rider model was first mentioned by Lord Krishna in the Maharabhata].  And Freud’s other model, [the binary distinction between the Life urge {Eros} and the Death urge {Thanatos}] also needs to be taken into account –which we do in our theory of the Good and Bad Wolf sides of human character).

From the main elements of the tripartite models of Plato, Freud and Eric Berne, we infer that:

1. The most basic E-CENT model of the dialectical interaction of the mother and baby is the best way to conceptualize the origin of the child’s ‘personality’ or ‘self’.

In this view, the body-mind of the new-born baby interacts with the caring role of the mother, and in the process, the brain-mind of the child becomes wired up in terms of feelings-related-to-experiences.

This is also the best way to conceptualize the social nature of the child (and later adult).

This is how I presented it originally (as presented in Byrne, 2009a)[5] and in Byrne (2009b)[6]:


The most basic model of E-CENT – The dialectical nature of the individual/social ego.  The ego is a product of relationship, and cannot exist without (external and/or internalized) relationship

The (normal, ‘good enough’) mother has no real choice but to ‘colonize’ the new born baby, as it is totally helpless.  She must ‘march in’, take over, and run the baby’s life for ‘it’, otherwise (unless it is colonized by a mother substitute) it will surely die.  The neonate, or baby, is also most likely wired up by evolutionary forces to ‘seek’ a connection with what must seem (physically, emotionally) to be “another part” of itself: thus creating a ‘natural symbiosis’ which satisfies some innate needs of the baby, and some innate and socially shaped needs of the new mother. (The urge to seek a breast and suckle seems to be innate to all mammals).


How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression:

Using nutrition and physical activity.

Diet,exercise book cover
Cover design by Charles Saul

By Renata Taylor-Byrne, and Jim Byrne

This book argues that talk therapy is insufficient on its own. Changing your philosophy of life will not control your emotions, unless you also attend to your diet and exercise needs.

It is now increasingly being argued, by cutting edge scientists, that the root cause of physical and mental health problems is inflammation in the body, especially in the guts.  The concept of leaky gut giving rise to leaky brain is increasingly being verified; and very often the causes of anxiety, depression and anger are to be found in the client’s diet; or their lack of physical exercise.  Of course, sometimes the main cause of human disturbance is that stress levels are too high; or coping resources are too low; or the individual has an unrealistic or unhelpful philosophy of life.  Or the individual did not get a good experience of how to manage their emotions in their family of origin.  But it is also true that sometimes, the main problem is lack of physical exercise, or sugary diet, or caffeine, or inflammation in the guts and brain.


By Renata Taylor-Byrne and Jim Byrne

Prices: from £3.10 (Kindle) to £9.93 GBP (paperback)

Paperback and eBook versions.

Learn more.***

2. The best way to understand the structures of the mind is to use another of the models I developed in 2009 (in Byrne 2009b), as follows:


How the ten elements of the PAC model – (4 Ps, 4Cs, 2 As) – emerge within the dialectical ego space between the mother and child

This shows the way in which the overlapping psychic space where the mind of the mother and child meet is divided into:

(a) A good side and a bad side;

(b) A Parent component; an Adult component; and a Child component.  (See Byrne 2009b for a full explanation of this model).


3. And the best way to understand the process of counselling and therapy is that, in the majority of cases, the client has most likely got one or more of the following four problems. (There may be some problems which cannot be subsumed under one of the following headings, but not many).

(a) Their (emotive) ‘appetitive part’ (or ‘id’ [Freud], or Child ego state [Berne]) is too powerful relative to the other two parts: (which are, the Parent [or super-ego] and the Adult [or ego]).

(b) Their (emotive) ‘Parent ego state’ [or super-ego] is too punitive in relation to the Child ego state [or id], resulting in excessive and inappropriate guilt, shame and ego weaknesses.

(c) The individual’s (emotive, cognitive and behavioural) coping resources may be inadequate to cope with the various, and very real, external pressures bearing down upon them in their daily lives.

(d) They had a maladaptive relationship to mum and/or dad when they were a baby/infant/child, and this has not yet been fully corrected through subsequent corrective relationships.

(Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy seems to make the mistake of believing that all psychological problems derive from items (a) or (b) above; and they overlook (c) and (d).

The role of the counsellor (from an E-CENT perspective) is then, either:

(a) To help the client to correct the power imbalance between its appetitive part, on the one hand, and its more Adult and/or Parent parts, on the other hand[7]; or:

(b) To help the client to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate guilt and shame.  To help them to grow their Adult, and to find ways of ‘cutting the ties’ from destructive Parent figures.

(c) To help the client to either: (i) reduce the stresses in their life; and/or (ii) to increase their coping resources; or:

(d) To act as a ‘secure base’ – or temporary, ‘good enough’ mother/ carer substitute – for the client; so they can learn to feel ‘securely attached’ to the counsellor.  Once this secure attachment has been achieved – which is called ‘earned security’ – the client can generalize this new way of relating to include the significant other people in their life.


The Bamboo Paradox: The limits of human flexibility in a cruel world – and how to protect, defend and strengthen yourself

Finding the Golden Mean that leads to strength and viable flexibility, in order to be happy, healthy and realistically successful

A, Front cover-2By Dr Jim Byrne.

With contributed chapters by Renata Taylor-Byrne


The Institute for E-CENT Publications: 2020


Are human beings like bamboo?  Are we designed to withstand unlimited pressure, stress and strain? Is our destiny to be sacrificed on the altar of other-directed ‘flexible working arrangements’?

We live in a world in which there are dark forces that wish us to forget that we are fleshy bodies, with physical and mental needs; and physical and mental limitations; and to be willing to function like mere cogs in the wheels of somebody else’s financial or technological empire.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) has played into this narrative, and given it philosophical support, by promoting a form of Extreme Stoicism in the name of therapy and wisdom, which it patently is not. (General Cognitive Behaviour Therapy [CBT] also supports this agenda, but to a lesser degree, or in a less obvious way! And some forms of Extreme Buddhism also advocate ‘detachment’ from material concerns, such as the need for a balanced life!)

In this book, I review the research that we have done on the limits of human endurance, and the determinants of that endurance – as well as identifying a viable philosophy of life – which will help you to optimize your strength and flexibility, while at the same time taking care of your health and happiness.

If you want to take good care of yourself in the modern mad-market, you could benefit from studying this book. It will provide you with both a compass and a suit of armour which will support you with the challenges and battles you will inevitably face.

Click for more information.***

Paperback copy: £14.99 GBP***

Kindle eBook: £5.99 GBP.***


3. The basic theory of E-CENT 

In a broader sense than that above, E-CENT was developed by this author over many years of study and application, in private practice with more than 850 clients.  As a result, we have developed nineteen principles (by January 2016).

Here are the first eight of the key features of E-CENT:

Firstly, we do not make the mistake of extrapolating from adult functioning in order to understand the psychology of human nature.  Instead, we begin with the baby in the mother’s womb (where the mother may be more or less stressed, and more or less well nourished, depending upon the actual circumstances of her life).  We then move on to the baby post-birth, which is colonized by a carer (normally mother) who may be more or less sensitive to the baby’s signals of comfort and discomfort; more or less responsive to the baby’s needs; and more or less caring.  And we also take account of how stressed the mother was, by her life circumstances, even before the baby was conceived.  These are the foundations of human psychological functioning.

Secondly, we accept the Attachment theory proposition, that the baby is born with an innate attachment drive, which causes it (after some period of weeks of development) to seek to attach itself to a main carer.  That attachment becomes either secure or insecure, depending upon whether the mother is “good enough” – meaning sensitive, responsive, and caring enough to soothe the affective states of the baby.  Later father and siblings become important attachment figures for the baby. And the baby forms a set of internal working model of relationship based upon those earliest relationships.

Third, the first five or six years of life are taken to be determinants of what kind of life the individual will live.  Very largely, the narratives, scripts and frames that the child learns and forms during this period – which manifests in the form of moods and emotional states, expectations, beliefs and habitual patterns of behaviour – will determine its trajectory through life, all other things being equal.  There is, of course, some degree of malleability of the human mind, and so what was once shaped badly (by relationship experiences) can to some extent be reshaped into a better form by subsequent ‘curative experiences’, with a love partner or with a counsellor or psychotherapist.

Fourth: With regard to the narratives, stories, schemas, scripts and frames that the individual learns and/or creates: these are, as Bruner said, enactive (or experiences of doing), iconic (or experiences of seeing) and semantic (or language based abstractions and interpretations of events and objects).  In cognitive psychology, the development of the child and later adult is mapped through studies of attention, perception, memory, language and thinking; and emotion only gets a brief mention at the end of standard textbooks – as an afterthought.  However, in E-CENT, we teach that it is an emotional being that pays attention; it is an emotional being that perceives; it is an emotional beingthat forms memories; it is an emotional being which uses language; it is an emotional being that thinks.  And even the most abstract of academic thinking cannot be totally separated from the emotionality of the person engaging in it.  In other words, the brain-mind is an emotional brain-mind.  Human beings are emotional beings, at their very foundations, and they can also think. They are not ‘cognitive beings’, if by cognitive beings we mean ‘computer like’.  Computers do not have emotions.  And humans are not computers!  (This is why we developed cognitive-emotive therapy, because cognition and emotion cannot ever be separated!)  Indeed, we could say that human beings are not thinking beings at all.  They are actually perfinking beings: beings who perceive-feel-and-think all in one grasp of the mind.  And the feeling component never sleeps!  You cannot leave it at the door on your way into school or work.

Fifth: We accept that temperamental differences are detectable in new born babies; that an individual may be born with a tendency towards introversion or extraversion; and that the new born baby may also be more emotionally disturbable, or less emotionally disturbable.  We accept that there are fundamental differences (emotionally and behaviourally) between boys and girls.  We accept that the innate nature of the baby will influence and impact the mother in how she relates to the baby; and the mother’s personality and character and temperament will also influence and impact the baby.  (But in general the mother has more influence than the baby.  “Genetic determinism” has been replaced by “epigenetics”, which accepts that genes have to be “switched on” by an environment, and that the genes of identical twins can be changed – as often as not – by placing them in two different home environments). This dialectical cross-influence between mother and baby will eventually settle down into a stable pattern of relating, which will be experienced by the baby (and the mother) as more, or less, satisfactory. Depending upon whether or not the mother can function as a ‘good enough’ mother (in terms of being sensitive, caring, responsive and in good communication with her baby), the child may develop a secure or insecure ‘attachment style’.

Sixth: Throughout the whole of the life of the individual, the external environment will continue to exert an impact on the moods and emotions of the individual. Only the most highly trained and committed Stoic or Zen practitioner could ever come close to ignoring (or being largely unaffected by) their external environment!  Indeed, only a rock, or lump of wood, or other inanimate object, ever achieves complete indifference to its environment.

Seventh, (1). E-CENT theory takes into account that we are bodies as well as minds, and so diet, exercise, sleep, relaxation/ medi-tation, relationships, social and economic circumstances, drugs and other physical inputs and stimuli are seen as important factors in determining the emotional state of the individual client.  That is to say we have needs!

Seventh, (2). We have physical and emotional needs.

Seventh, (3). For example, we need to be loved, liked and accepted by some significant others.  (This need is very strong when we are babies, and it continues to be strong throughout our lives.  How-ever, it is not as strong as our need for oxygen or food.  If we fail to get oxygen, we will die in seconds; if we feel to get food, we will die within days; and if we fail to (give and) get love, we will wither and die more quickly than those individuals who do learn to give and get love.

Eighth: E-CENT starts from the assumption that we are primarily social animals, and not solitary individuals. We are social to our very roots, especially from the moment of parturition, when we are handed into the arms of our mothers. Everything that happens from that point onwards – and also including the original birth trauma – is significant for the development of the so-called ‘individual’ (who is really an amalgam of significant other ‘individuals’ with whom we are related from birth onwards, and who we ‘internalise’ as ‘models’).  In particular, our mothers and fathers are braided into the very foundations of our personality and character.

…For more, please go to the Institute for E-CENT.***

Or take a look at the range of E-CENT Institute publications at the ABC Bookstore Online UK.***