Basics, Book Reviews

Mental Wellness: From Theory to Practice

Dr. John Kappas, innovative genius and founder of America’s first accredited college of Hypnotherapy was an avowed behavioralist. Having surveyed the practice of psychiatry, he concluded that lay therapists, dedicated to the relief of client symptoms, were far more effective than the psychologists who tried to force their patients into theoretical boxes.

But of course, behavior is a function of the client’s mind. In applying desensitization to relieve a phobia, the lay hypnotherapist is facilitating the growth and removal of neural connections and the supporting infrastructure. All of these are psychological effects. Of course, hypnotherapy can’t guarantee results – we don’t analyze diet, provide supplements, or prescribe drugs. But for behavior to change, so must the brain.

As revealed in training videos, Kappas alluded to this in his teaching. Brain laterality, mind-body connection, introversion and extroversion – all these terms were used to motivate therapeutic strategy. Unfortunately, over the years this teaching has become diluted, to the point that resorting to psychological justification may be met with “we’re not psychologists.” Instead, students are taught “if the client has a phobia, use systematic desensitization.”

In the interim, psychologists have begun to develop therapeutic strategies utilizing mindfulness disciplines from Eastern religions. But where Kappas worked backwards from symptom to psychological cause to practice, honoring the full complexity of the client’s experience, conversely mindfulness was never fully integrated into a therapeutic framework that covered the full gamut of mental distress.

This need is addressed in Dr. Dan Siegel’s “Mindsight.”

I’ll start by celebrating Siegel’s integrity and the breadth of the insights it inspired during his career. Observing that we can’t discuss mental wellness if we can’t define the mind, he proposes:

The mind is a structure that mediates the flows of information and energy.

A healthy mind, then, effectively integrates those flows from sources to destinations. Siegel then identifies eight dimensions of integration, reflecting both the nature of this reality and the happenstance of the brain’s architecture. In order based upon a hierarchy of dependency, these are:

  • Consciousness – the ability to focus attention. This is the foundation offered by mindfulness practice.
  • Horizontal – reconciling sensation (right brain) and expectation (left brain).
  • Vertical – harmonizing our physical activity with our goals.
  • Memory – making explicit all the events – some obscured in the fog of crisis – that influence our behavior.
  • Narrative – moderating dispositions ingrained by our parents.
  • State – understanding and honoring our physiological and emotional needs.
  • Relationships – leveraging “mirror neuron resonance” to intuitively adapt to the expectations and needs of our co-participants.
  • Temporal – dealing with uncertainty, most particularly death.

Drawing upon psychology (the science of brain development and function), Siegel relates each of these dimensions to specific behavioral challenges.  Along the way, therapeutic metaphors are offered suitable for those under treatment.

With this foundation established, Siegel turns in the second half of the book to therapeutic practice. Each chapter demonstrates how disintegration in each dimension leads to distorted behavior and documents the use of mindfulness – focused by metaphors – to achieve integration and wellness.

In Kappasinian behavioralism, each of the dimensions of integration has related therapeutic practices.

  • Consciousness – progressive relaxation, imagery.
  • Horizontal – coordinating imagery with cataleptic rigidity in different sides of the body.
  • Vertical – desensitization and rehearsal.
  • Memory – body syndromes and habit development.
  • Narrative – Kappasinian suggestibility and dream therapy.
  • State – rehearsal, anchors, and guided imagery.
  • Relationships – Kappasinian sexuality.
  • Temporal – life script and Mental Bank.

In comparing the two, it might be obvious that where Siegel uses a mindfulness as a Swiss army knife, Kappasinian hypnotherapy offers laser-focused tools for specific needs. That allows the competent behavioralist to guide a client directly into a resolution, where Siegel’s mindfulness expects a resolution to arise organically through self-discovery.

More subtly, mindfulness-based therapy does not facilitate a focused conversation across layers of the mind. It all starts at the level of consciousness, and percolates down through the levels of subconscious awareness. This slows the process down. In some cases that is necessary: when behavior is a defense against trauma, the behavioralist will slow the progress of therapy to build resilience. But in general, we want to be able to navigate across hypnoidal, cataleptic, and the levels of somnambulism to allow the rational mind to influence the behaviors that cause tension in our waking lives. Those can be as deep as the way that we digest food, accessible only to the most advanced mindfulness practitioner.

In favor of mindfulness, the client does attain skills that reveal interior conflict before it disrupts our lives. That monitoring does take time from our daily lives. Kappasinian dream analysis encourages those same insights to arise when waking in the morning, but it’s up to the subconscious to decide what is important.

The origination of Kappasinian suggestibility is also out-of-date considering the psychological studies on childhood attachment.

In the end, however, I expect that mindfulness therapies are going to have a long road to full elaboration. Siegel hews to scientific materialism, where Kappas recognized spirituality. The brain is not the only mechanism for integrating the flow of information and energy. Siegel hints at spiritual integration in his case histories but explains it as mirror neuron resonance. This is disappointing – not least because some studies claim to have debunked the mirror neuron theory.

What is essential to the behavioralist, however, is the model of integration and the corresponding behavioral presentations. In his introduction to Kappasinian therapy, John Melton emphasized how Dr. Kappas built a therapy session, piece-by-piece, to a resolution of the highest layer of disintegration. Seigel’s dimensions of integration gives the behavioralist a subterranean road map that mitigates against therapeutic “whack-a-mole.” It should be integrated into training programs at all accredited colleges of hypnotherapy.

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