7 things they don’t teach you at therapy school

When I graduated as a psychotherapist in 1990 I had been taught a lot of things that were never any use in therapy – watching out for ‘transference issues’ was one of them. I had also not been taught a lot of things that I really needed to know but only found out later. So like most therapists I had to make it up as I went along. But now I have been doing it for 23 years I have learnt a few things I am going to share with you.

Here is my list of seven things that really do work.

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Removing traumatic memories from the brain

Do you have a troublesome or traumatic memory? Or so-called Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome – PTSD?

A common belief is that once you have one of these ‘memories’ then you are stuck with it for life and little can be done about it.

New research confirms that this is not true. if you interfere with the way in which people access these memories you can neutralize them. This is the basis for the EMDR technique which disrupts access to traumatic memories by asking subjects to keep their eyes on a moving finger while trying to recall the trauma at the same time. I must have used this technique countless times and have never yet seen it fail.

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Mind control

Mind parasites

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:

  1. Change Position
  2. Change Attitude
  3. Change Focus
  4. Practice Mindfulness

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:

  1. An image of something terrible happening to you
  2. The thought that you cannot bear what is ‘about’ to happen
  3. The idea that you are going to ‘pay’ for past mistakes
  4. Self-talk that you are useless, worthless or otherwise fucked-up
  5. Flash-backs to past traumas
  6. Injunctions to ‘get it right or else…’

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:

  1. The Chatterbox is working overtime today…
  2. Those stupid tapes are playing up…
  3. The Control freak is off on one…
  4. There it goes again…

This step is immediately followed by the next step: Change Attitude, which is closely linked. More on that in the next article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to make that breakthrough

Breakthrough

My good friend and collaborator Mark McGuinness recently alerted me to a stimulating new book by Steven Pressfield called Do The Work which is about a subject dear to my heart: how to overcome Headmind when it is messing your life up.

I was doubly intrigued because Steven Pressfield once wrote a powerful historical novel about the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae called Gates of Fire – one of the very few books of that kind which had me (and my wife) in tears by the end.

Taking time off from writing fiction Steven’s new, very short, book is about how to achieve your goals when you don’t think you can.

The premise is simple: whenever you work on a project that is really important to you, but which is going to take time, hard work, and personal sacrifice then you are going to hit a wave of resistance. And that resistance comes not from outside but from within;  your own personal version of Headmind in fact: doubts, excuses, distractions, worries, whinges, procrastination, or so-called ‘low self-esteem’ – in which Headmind keeps on repeating the mantra that there is no point in your doing anything very much because it is bound to end in failure.

The solution is also simple: just do it. Once you have decided that the project really is important to you then you ignore Headmind when it is trying to do you down and sabotage your goals. Specifically, you ignore the Chatterbox. Or just tell it to shut the fuck up while you get on with things.

Here are some examples from the world of Therapy:

You are working on your recovery from Depression and you have decided to get out more. The Inner Voice says ‘what’s the point?’. Your response: go ahead and call a friend and make that date regardless.

You are working on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and you have decided to increase your morning exercise routine to 10 minutes. Your Internal Saboteur says: ‘you’ll make yourself ill’. Your response: increase it to 15 minutes.

You are working on Anxiety. Your Internal Control Freak says: ‘I worry that you won’t be able to stop worrying because you have been a worrier all your life….’. Your response: you focus your attention on a non-worrisome activity for the next few hours.

One difference between using Steven’s method on creative work, and using it on personal problems is this: in creative work you just get on with the project (for example: your next novel, or work idea, house redesign, etc.). In that way you force Headmind to get on with doing something useful.

Whereas if you are depressed, anxious, obsessional, etc., you may need to give Headmind some substitute activities to do. A good example relates to giving up drug/alcohol/cigarette/ gambling addictions. Whenever the Internal Saboteur twitters on about needing a fix/drink/fag/bet then you just do a 180 degree attention turn and go off and do something more worthwhile. My experience with my clients is that when they do this repeatedly, then over the ensuing weeks that Internal Voice will gradually dwindle away to a whisper.

Image by permission of Fuyoh

How not to be a slave

Bound

This is the fourth, and final article, on how to become the person you always were. Or, to use another terminology, to exercise your Personal Genius.

The first article in the series was Why it’s ok to be a bit weird, the second was How to be strange and the third was How to be unique.

This one is about how to get free of personal slavery. For, so long as you are a slave to opinions, to convention, to other people, to your ego, or to routine, then you cannot really be you.

For some free spirits slavery to convention is the worst. Which means doing what your parents and teachers always told you to do; or following along the mores of what the ‘right’ people do – the people you went to school with, or the people in your church, your company, your club, your neighbourhood and so forth. So that you end up speaking with the same accent, dressing the same way, behaving the same way, and, what is most despicable – judging, excluding or persecuting people who don’t follow that same ‘right’ way of life.

For other fans of enlightenment slavery to opinion is the worst. That means thinking the same way as the majority. Sharing the same newspapers, the same TV programs, the same politics, the same religion and the same prejudices. And although I don’t read newspapers, rarely watch TV, don’t vote and don’t subscribe to any single religion, I certainly agree that Headmind slavery can be a problem. In this respect I remind my readers that dumb thinking is one sure path to unhappiness and illness, as well as slavery.

Sceptics throughout history have argued that slavery to gurus is pretty bad too. But since I have also written about that subject in a prior blog article I won’t go over that ground again here. Likewise I have also written elsewhere about slavery to personal ‘bananas’, the ego, and personality.

Now I agree that if you really want to be someone worth paying attention to then you are going to have to ruthlessly discard conventions, ideas and obsessions you have always taken for granted. You are also going to have to get out of your comfort zone.  Although that is hard work (the work of a life-time, in fact) the rewards – in terms of personal fulfilment – are unspeakable.

But, for me, the worst form of slavery is the one most of us take for granted. And that is slavery to routine: doing the same things, in the same way, at the same time, in the same place, with the same people, every day. Right down to the way you dress yourself, eat your food, drive your car, do the shopping, surf the internet, walk the dog, take a nap, smoke cigarettes, have a drink and so on and on and on. So that life becomes a kind of mechanical, living death. So that you go to sleep and stay there. So that life just passes you by without you ever really exercising Awareness.

The reason this is the worst kind of slavery is that, in it, Bodymind dies slowly. And when that happens the brain loses neuroplasticity. Which means that the cells in the brain (as well as those 2 trillion cells in the body that communicate to it) either die off or become rigid. Which, in turn, means that you become a zombie incapable of changing, evolving, or learning anything new.

For me, slavery to habit is the basis for all the other kinds of slavery mentioned above. Simply because it keeps you asleep. Avoiding premature death is hard work but it is simple too. All you have to do is break one habit every day.

 

Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation. Oscar Wilde.

 

 

How to be unique

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This is a continuation of my series on becoming the person you were always meant to be. The last article in the series was How to be strange. And the one before that was Why it’s ok to be a bit weird.

A second way to be strange, weird or unique is to be an incontrovertible expert in something. Or in two things. Or in three, four, five things. To become an authority on them in fact.

Now it helps if you choose subjects that a lot of other people are fascinated by. But it isn’t strictly necessary. For example, if you choose to become an expert on Palmistry or reading the Tarot then I can guarantee you a ready audience from personal experience for the simple reason that most people are fascinated by the occult, even when they pooh-pooh it. But if you decide to become, instead, an expert on Egyptian hieroglyphics the fact that you know a lot about something practically nobody knows anything about will give you a certain cachet – which is a source of pride to you, even if you happen never to speak about it. For the simple reason that Knowledge equals Power.

Another, very good, choice is to become an expert in solving problems that everybody struggles with. For example: money management, child care, dealing with difficult people, employment law, maintaining a house, etc. Knowing a lot about those things will usually mean that you end up becoming an advisor of some kind – that, too, is a great way to exploring your personal power.

One word of warning, however. Whatever project you choose, it helps to be guided by your Personal Genius.

 

 

 

How to be strange

Laugh

I once read a statistic – and I can't remember the exact figures that were quoted to me – that the odds are several trillion-to-one that someone could be born with the same genetic code as yours. Which, effectively, means that you are absolutely unique. There will never be another person with your temperament, character, experiences and personal gifts until God goes to sleep for good. 

However humdrum or unhappy your life might be at the moment you are a special person. You have unique experiences and perceptions that no one else will ever have. And it doesn't matter whether you have a humdrum life, or whether you suffer from the delusion that you are a failure. Nor does it matter if other people fail to appreciate just how different you really are. Just get on with the task of becoming the person you were always meant to be. Or, as I advised in my last article – cultivate your weirdness.

One way to do that is to start following what your personal genius wants you to do. Another is to break free of your personality. But there are other ways, and I shall write about each of them:

  • Be playful with the truth.
  • Become an expert at least one thing.
  • Break away from slavery.

 Be playful with the truth

I don't mean play with the truth (meaning: tell lies). I mean: telling the truth so straightforwardly that you make people laugh. Even telling the raw truth, just as you see it, is often amusing, as well as fascinating. As a rule, saying shocking things about yourself works best, but you can do the same for life, god, other people, or about anything else you like. As Bernard Shaw once said, telling the raw truth will be taken by most people as an outrageously witty thing to do.

Some examples:

1. Abraham Lincoln was once heckled at a rally and accused of being 'two-faced'. Lincoln (who was famously ugly) replied: 'If I had two faces do you think I would be wearing this one?'

2. Oscar Wilde was once listening to a rather vain artist who was complaining that the critics never wrote about him and that there must be 'a conspiracy of silence' against him. 'What should I do, Oscar?' he asked. 'Join it' said Wilde. 

3. I once met a woman at a party who told me that her husband was so depressed that he had given up his job and spent most of the day in bed. I also learnt that she had gone back to work to pay all the bills while at the same time looking after their four children, running the home, and dealing with his moods. When I asked: 'Don't you get depressed too?' She replied, satirically: 'Me? Oh I don't have time to get depressed."

Einstein is a pretty good example of how an 'ordinary' person came to seem more and more interesting to others. Although it took him a long time to get there. He was a failure at school and dropped out when he was 16. One of his teachers even wrote on his school report that he was probably retarded. From thereon he lead a dreamy, secluded, life as a University academic, his theories and himself more or less unknown to most people until he was 41, when he suddenly became famous. Therafter, his eccentricities and sayings became the stuff of legend. Here is one of my favourite stories about him: one that illustrates his personal humility, and his sense of mischief, as well as his playfulness with the truth.

One day, while Einstein was on a speaking tour, his chauffeur, who often sat at the back of the hall during his lectures waiting to take him home, remarked that he could probably give the lecture himself, having heard it so many times. Thinking it over, Einstein decided to give it the test and switched places with him. As he suspected would happen, no one knew who he was or what he looked like, and the chauffeur went on to give a flawless lecture on Relativity. Things only went wrong near the end when he was asked a question he couldn't answer. The driver pointed to Einstein, sitting at the back of the hall, and said:

'The answer to that question is so simple even my driver could answer it."

 

 

Banishing pain with awareness

Book This will be the first (and probably) the only time I review a book on this blog.

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.