Jane Terris, one of our UK Reverse Therapy practitioners (her picture on the right), also appears.
You can watch this news item here
Here is a television appearance by me on the Chicago Channel – Never Not Here. Interviewed by Richard Miller.
Despite the title I talk a about a lot more than Reverse Therapy: resilience, stress, how people get ill, the changing conditions of modern society, emotional intelligence and how it works, and the difference between Bodymind and the Conscious Mind.
This is the third in a series of articles that teach you a new method on how abolish worry, anxiety, obsessions, OCD, and addictive thinking patterns. In fact, any kind of repetitive, boring, disturbing thought pattern that keeps you enslaved to the Chatterbox inside your Head.
To recap: the four steps in this new method are:
I have before written a similar article on this subject called Do You Control Your Mind Or Does It Control You?
In this post I am focusing on Step 1 in the four steps: Change Position
In this step your job is to distance yourself from your thoughts. However ‘real’ they might seem negative thoughts do not in fact belong to you. They have their origin somewhere else – in the conscious mind – ‘Headmind’ – in fact. And Headmind is stuffed full of ideas it has adopted fron other, mostly, dysfunctional, people as well as from mistakes it makes about everyday life and past experiences which it refuses to relearn.
I covered most of these mistakes in my previous article in this series: How to Stop Worrying. But the basic mistake Headmind makes when faced with any challenging situation is to replay old, unhelpful, stories from the past which give you the idea that you are a complete mess. These ‘Headmind tapes’ are like a record stuck on the groove that tell you over and over again that you are facing disaster.
The Change Position step encourages you to see that the tapes are coming from IT rather from you. YOU are not your MIND. Instead, YOU are a sentient, living, emotional person grounded in the moment who needs have no fear of what your mind is trying to do to you.
To make this step work you first need to identify the content of the Headmind tape and I refer you to the previous article in this series in order to get some more help on this. Once you have identified some destructive thinking patterns you are in a good position to identify the tape contents.
These ‘tapes’ are repetitive, conscious, or semi-conscious, ideas which trigger anxiety. You will know they are running because you will suddenly notice that you are getting uptight, frightened, obsessed, panicky or worried. Your job now is to analyse the tape.
This may take some practice and the fourth step, which relates to practising Awareness, is crucial here. I will elaborate more on that step when I get to it but here is a previous article on the subject here. Be aware that these ‘ideas’ may not be thoughts as such. Instead they might take the form of images or self-dialogue which you hadn’t realised (until you practised Awareness) were there at all.
Some common ‘tapes’ include:
Once you have identified the crap that Headmind is relaying on to you the next step is simple. And that is change position; to distance yourself from it, treating as something alien to you. A good way to do that is to engage in some self-dialogue:
This step is immediately followed by the next step: Change Attitude, which is closely linked. More on that in the next article.
The first month of 2011 has come and gone and the statistics show that January is the most ‘depressing’ month, in that more people will seek help for depression than at any other time of the year. As it happens, I have been more than usually busy with depressed clients since the New Year came on; a fact which prompts me to write this article.
First, lets be clear about what clinical depression really is.
In my view, many of the people who are diagnosed by their GP as having depression are not, in fact, clinically depressed at all. Instead, they could be sad, fed up with life, or unhappy. This is one reason why anti-depressants don’t work for the majority. Anti-depressant drugs such as the SSRIs – which increase the amount of serotonin in circulation in the brain – will only work, obviously, if the patient has serotonin depletion, which will only be the case if they actually have clinical depression.
Whether you are depressed, sad, fed up, or unhappy, this article will still apply to you.
Here are the four main causes:
1. Prolonged anxiety caused by negative Headmind thinking.
If you are a habitual worrier, perfectionist, or guilt-tripper then, on a daily basis, your body will become accustomed to very high anxiety levels. Since Bodymind cannot tolerate over-arousal for too long, it will seek to reduce the problem by damping down the system. Typically, this means reducing serotonin (which elevates mood), which leads to the symptoms of clinical depression. In this respect it has been estimated that over 70% of depressed people also have high anxiety levels.
The solution is to change the way Headmind works.
2. The person has developed a ‘hopeless’ mind-set
This problem is typically developed by over-conscientious people who have not learnt how to say ‘No’ or recognise their limitations. The result is that they take on far too many burdens, obligations and responsibilities. Or else they forget to take time out for themselves and keep that crucial work-life balance. One result is burnout.
Depression occurs when personal Headmind reacts to overload by just giving up (a slightly weird response, given that it was faulty thinking that gave rise to the problem in the first place). A common outcome is that the person turns into a victim of some kind.
The most common Headmind defect here is ‘Failure thinking’, which ignores realistic solutions on what to do about overload and, instead, magnifies problems, concludes that there is nothing that can be done about them, and triggers anxiety with the thought that disaster is inevitable. This leads to first anxiety and then to the ‘damping down’ response I described in the previous item.
The solution is to develop a solution-focused, or problem-solving approach to problems. I am in the middle of writing a series on this so please check back for articles on ‘success thinking’.
3. The person has lost her passion for life.
People who have become disillusioned do so as a result of trauma of some kind: the death of someone close, break-up, or departure. Or betrayal, or rejection, by someone they once trusted. Or the usual disasters which befall all of us from time to time but which setbacks the ego will not accept.
In other cases, the depressed person has simply got confused and lost his way. This could be because he has become addicted to trivialities – newspapers, games, television, the social round, internet-surfing, etc. Or is stuck in routine in which one day is more or less like the next, and which becomes a kind of living death. Once Bodymind sees what is happening here it starts to release copious amounts of the emotions known as boredom and frustration. But here is what is strange: when some people notice they are bored they don’t do anything about it. Instead, they read boredom as another sign that life is hopeless. So they stagnate, more and more.
The solution is to reconnect to Bodymind and your passion.
4. Headmind is blocking the release of strong emotions, such as anger and sadness.
A build-up of unexpressed or unresolved emotion leads to a similar effect as chronic anxiety: a dangerous level of over-arousal. Once again, Bodymind tends to counter-act this problem by reducing serotonin.
The solution is to find a way to release those emotions.
If you are not depressed right now but you think you might be going that way, then you can find out more about how to stay out of depression here.
Contrary to common belief many people do find a way to improve their mental health without needing to consult a psychotherapist and some of my articles show you how to do just that. But if you do need assistance then you can contact me over on the psychotherapy website.
Image by pinksherbet
I received this report from a regular reader of this blog the other week who would like to share his experience of Reverse Therapy with other readers:
“Everyone likes a scratch but on the evening of December 18th 2008, my scratching became so bad my legs started to bleed.
Like many busy people stuck in Headmind I put off dealing with my health problems and hoped they would go away of their own accord. I left the next day for a two-week vacation in the Middle East but when I got back the itching had spread and my legs were covered in sores. I went to the GP who informed me that I had Psoriasis. I had heard of it but did not know much about it. He explained that it was caused by the body replacing the skin cells in days rather than weeks, leaving red sores and silvery skin flakes behind. He gave me a prescription for some cream but it was not effective and, over the next few months, the psoriasis spread to other parts of my body.
I went back to the doctor and explained that the condition was worse and he prescribed a stronger cream. Over the four months I had been unwell I had made some notes which I relayed on to him. I said: ‘I notice that when I am barefoot at home at the weekends the problem is not as bad’. The GP said: ‘Yes, try leaving your feet exposed to the fresh air’. I said: ‘I also notice that using the sun bed helps’. He said: ‘Yes, even though we normally don’t recommend use of sun beds in your case it could help’. I said: ‘I also notice that when I exercise on a regular basis it tends to be less of a problem’. He said: ‘Yes, exercise is a good idea’. I sat there for a few seconds and my first thought was: ‘why is he just repeating my ideas back to me?’ My second thought was: ‘And if this is correct, then why didn’t he tell me four months ago?’. At any rate, I paid no further visits to that quarter.
The new cream failed to work and, by now, the psoriasis was visible to other people. It showed on my hands, my arms, my upper body and even on my face. It was so bad I was having difficulty sleeping because it itched so much, and then it bled so badly that it became ugly to look at. It created piles of white, flakey, dust; the dead skin that was being shed at an ever-faster rate each day. I felt terrible about having this illness and it made me quite depressed. The worse it got the more worried I became and when I read reports on the internet about people who had had it all their lives I started to despair that I would never get rid of it.
I had been familiar with Reverse Therapy for a few years, as I had studied it under John Eaton in 2006, although I have never practiced. Neither had I connected my knowledge of Bodymind to the causes of my own condition. And nor had I realised that the cure had been in my own hands all the time.
A good friend of mine, a practitioner of Reverse Therapy, gave me the wake-up call, when she told me:
‘Have you worked out, yet, what your body is trying to warn you about when it creates those symptoms in your skin?’
In that moment, I instantly knew the answer to that question. But it was not an answer I particularly liked admitting to myself.
Two years before I formed a relationship with what I thought was a very sweet woman with a beautiful 2-year old daughter. I quickly fell in love with her and formed a very strong connection with the child.
My partner told me that she was separated and awaiting a divorce. Later on, I found out that this was not true; that her husband was, in fact, away working in the United States and she was in regular contact with him and there were no real plans to get a divorce. Later, I was told that he had ‘not been nice to her’ and had deserted her and the baby.
I was reluctant to get involved in such a complex situation but found myself drawn in. I felt great compassion for the woman and her little girl, who seemed to be the innocent parties in this, and set about helping them. Her economic situation was very bad, as she was effectively a single mother and had no job, with the additional burden of looking after a child on her own, without help or financial support from anyone. For a while we were happy and my partner and the little girl lived with with me for part of the week.
All this came to a sudden end when her husband came back from the United States and told her he wanted to resume the marriage. She decided to go back to him. The main reason, she told me, was that the little girl needed to be with her father. This was very distressing for me, as I learnt, also, that I would be unable to have contact with her daughter any more. I told her that, under those conditions, it was too painful for me to have any further contact with her and I should be left in peace to get on with my life.
From there on, I received regular emails, texts and phone calls from her pleading for money. It turned out the husband was out of work (I discovered this had been the case for years) and was, in fact a kind of play-boy. She would beg me for money for food, gas, electricity, petrol, baby clothes and, even, spending money. Feeling sorry for her and the child, I regularly gave in although I knew, at some level, that much of that money was going into her husband’s pockets.
During all the months that this went on my Psoriasis appeared. I had failed to connect to my emotions over the way in which I was being used, and my frustration at being caught in a trap: feeling responsible for the child and yet being manipulated.
The Psoriasis symptoms were my body’s way of alerting me to the fact that I needed to disengage from the banana about having to be a martyr; re-assert the boundaries around me; and change the way in which I was helping the child. But my personal Headmind had ignored these emotions and possibilities because it was over-involved with the ego-position of ‘powerful man’ and ‘helper’ (I am an Enneagram 8 doing quite a lot of work on the 2 position).
Once I gave up communicating from the ego, relinquished the banana about having to be a saviour, and stopped being a victim, things started to change for the better. I told my ex-partner not to contact me any more. I told her I would pay for the child’s nursery fees and this would come direct from my bank account. The money she saved on nursery fees she could use to feed and clothe her. But I would not be responsible for either her or her husband.
Within days the pain had gone and, slowly, my skin went back to normal; without any medication whatever. But, just as I was thinking I was over the worse, a test of my new-found integrity came the following week when my ex-partner called to ask if she could borrow my car as she wanted to take her husband on holiday. I refused point blank.
Seven days after that the psoriasis disappeared completely. My close family and friends were astounded at the speed at which it disappeared knowing, as they did, the history of my condition and how I was using an alternative to medicine to treat it.
If it were not for Reverse Therapy I would still be suffering from this terrible disease. It is possible that my personal Bodymind might have used yet more symptoms in order to force me to change. In looking back at the temporary relief I experienced when I used the cream or the sun-bed I now realise that this was the equivalent of painting over a crack in the ceiling when water was gushing in from upstairs. It was only when I addressed the deeper cause, saw through the Headmind camouflage about my motives, dared to connect to my emotions, and acted on the symptom-message that I achieved the break-through. In doing so I felt, intuitively, that Bodymind was relieved that I had ‘gotten it’ and, with one small exception (see below) I have not received any further symptoms over the past two years.
A few weeks ago I again ran into my ex-partner by chance in the street. I was polite and chatty and must have given her the wrong impression as she started texting me again, giving out heavy hints that she would soon be needing more ‘help’. A few days after digesting these messages, I noticed that my legs had started itching again: a signal for me to tell her (politely) not to text me any more. Bodymind is ever vigilant and will be quick to remind me to protect myself against people who seek to take advantage of my generosity. Naturally, this experience has taught me a lot more about how Bodymind works, and how Headmind and the Ego lead me astray. I am very fortunate that Reverse Therapy saved me from years of pain and I tell this story in order to help other people avoid the same fate.”
That book is: Teach Us To Sit Still by Tim Parks.
Not only is this book written with great power and emotion (I came close to tears at some points; it also echoes most of the work we are doing in Reverse Therapy.
Tim Parks is an award-winning English novelist who lives in Verona. But this book is not a novel. It is a personal story with the subtitle: ‘A sceptic’s search for health and healing’.
Tim Parks suffered excruciating pain in the pelvis, as well as a urinary disorder, for twenty years, for a problem which none of his doctors were able to diagnose accurately, or to provide a cure. Sometimes his problem was called Prostatitis; at other times Pelvic Floor Pain Syndrome. Whatever it was, Tim Parks spent years in pain and embarrassment, slowly getting more and more frustrated and demoralised by the failure of medical science to solve the problem. At one point he was offered drastic surgery for removal of the prostate gland: an option he wisely refused since, as it turned out, this would have achieved absolutely nothing except mutilation and the loss of his sex drive.
Tim Parks is funny, sad, highly intelligent, and ruthlessly honest. He describes himself as something of a Headmind-dominated person: ‘a worrisome, dissatisfied individual’: intellectual, sceptical and a control-freak, living most of his life spinning around words in his head.
After years of pain and useless advice (two doctors advised him to masturbate twice a day in order to relieve congestion in the prostate gland) Tim Parks turned to alternative medicine. He consulted an Ayurvedic practitioner in Delhi who shocked him:
‘This is a problem you will never get over, Mr Parks, until you confront the profound contradictions in your character.’
This is the clue which leads him to seek a non-medical solution. Interestingly, he describes how he resisted what he saw as a ‘psychosomatic’ explanation for his pain before coming to realise that the term ‘psychosomatic’ is nonsensical; the mind is not separate from the body and people can suffer from real, painful, symptoms (as in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, M.E, and Fibromyalgia) simply because the connection between the conscious mind and Bodymind has broken down. Or, to use my terminology, because Bodymind is at war with Headmind.
Incidentally, it is high time that we replaced the term ‘psychosomatic’ with the phrase ‘HPA Disorder’ (or something similar), as I have written before in other articles and in some of my books.
The solution Tim Parks discovered came from reading A Headache in your Pelvis, by David Wise and Rodney Anderson, in which he learnt how to use Paradoxical Relaxation. In this technique he learned not to resist the pain but to exercise Awareness on it. Simply, to let the pain be, without trying to interfere with it. Doing this twice a day he discovered that the pain simply disappeared. As Bodymind noticed that he was paying attention the pain switched off. Within months he was ‘cured’.
I have written about Awareness elsewhere on this blog and in Reverse Therapy we have long noticed the effect of exercising awareness, not resisting them, just letting them be, and simply ‘listening to them’. It is surprising, in this respect, how many of my clients have told me that just doing this can banish fatigue, pain, tension, and many other symptoms besides.
And the fundamental point of Zen, it seems to me, is that Headmind over-complicates life. With worries, self-pity, guilt, unsatisfied expectations, perfectionism, inertia, over-analysis, as well as a variety of bananas. And, in doing so, it creates unhappiness and prevents us from seeing things as they really are, in the moment.
In the sermon on the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha (Gautama) refers to the human tendency to view reality as ‘Dukka’. In the original Pali (the language spoken by Gautama) ‘dukka’ means a bent, or incomplete, wheel (see the Buddhist picture on the right). In English ‘dukka; is usually translated as suffering, but it doesn’t really mean that. What it means is the way in which Headmind is constantly looking for the perfect wheel: but disastified, discontented, worried and oppressed by actual experience. That is is always looking for things to be ‘just right’: contented, happy, and at peace. But never finding peace of mind because – even when glimpsed – Headmind always looks for something more.
There is a story told by the Buddha (Gautama) meant as an analogy for the human condition. It concerns a man who is shot by an arrow who, instead of seeing his pain and doing something about it in the moment, insists on talking about the arrow – where it came from, who shot it, why it had to be him of all people, etc etc. Thinking doesn’t make you aware and it sometimes just makes you stupid. In the Four Noble Truths, the Buddha encourages us to release Dukka by seeing through this Headmind tendency.
Zen Buddhism is a systematic attempt to get back to the original teachings of the Buddha, using a variety of exercises and meditational forms on the path to enlightenment. One such form is to meditate on a koan. A koan is an impossible question; one that can never be answered by ordinary ways of thinking. For example:
(The correct answer: The Zen monk kicks over the vase with his foot and walks out).
Zen koans are designed to help people bypass Headmind. When you see that there is no answer to the absurd question ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping’ you are enlightened in that moment because you have seen through the tricks that language (and Headmind) plays on you. You have realised that stupid thoughts get you nowhere. By implication, you may also realise that Headmind perceptions are not reality. And, if you get that, you sometimes also get a glimpse of what reality looks like when you are not thinking about it.
I once, briefly, had such an experience a few years ago while I was looking at my back garden on a glorious sunny day. Maybe because I was surprised by the beauty of what I saw, my intellectual mind stopped chattering for a couple of minutes. And I caught a glimpse of just how ok the world was when left to itself: without words, without worries, and without instant judgments about the way things ‘ought’ to look like. Absent of dukka, in fact.
Because Reverse Therapy favours Bodymind over Headmind (because that is the route through which the person begins to understand the meaning of symptoms instead of resisting them) we spend quite a bit of time teaching our clients what Zen teachers call ‘zazen’ (mindfulness) – just sitting quietly, focusing attention on what goes on in the hera and now, in the body. And, on the way, letting Headmind chatter die down.