Relationships, Specializations

Healing from Psychological Abuse

The hallmark of an abusive relationship is being told that you can only seek love from the abuser. For children, the abuser cultivates shame – the belief that something is wrong with the child. For adults, the abuser makes a series of escalating “me or them” ultimatums that narrow their victim’s social circle until there is no where else to turn.

Psychologists interpret the pattern of abuse as a pathology in the abuser’s brain that grows around low self-esteem. The abuser constantly seeks to demonstrate strength by asserting control over others. It is not a campaign of overwhelming force, but starts with a series of little compromises that cultivate complicity in their campaign against others. In “The Sociopath Next Door,” Martha Stout explains that the campaign starts by claiming innocence when a protector attempts to speak out against the abuse. The abuser claims victimhood, and begins their campaign of complicity among those that rally to their aid.

But there is also a psychic aspect of the abuse. The abuser isolates their victim because they cannot receive the energies of love through a normal, healthy engagement with others. They are vampires, stealing talent, energy, and joy from their victims.

In working with victims in recovery, I offer this simple experience: love knows no barriers. It travels over psychic walls, penetrates foundations, and creeps through windows. If you truly desire love on its own terms, then all you need to do is open your eyes and its light will enter. With that light to avail you, all the lies of the abuser are annihilated.

But even more, love does not respect the barrier of time. The most beautiful moments in therapy are those in which the victim takes into their arms the image of their younger self and affirms “I love you. We are strong enough. Come to me.”

That is the ultimate victory – to call forward all that was lost from the past and reclaim it, entering into the future with the wisdom to discern danger in our relationships, and thus to confidently and joyfully project our virtue into the world.

If you’d like to reclaim those energies, hypnotherapy is the most direct means of overcoming the conventions of the scientific mind that stand in the way of psychic healing. Contact Brian today.

Mind Management

Convergence on Both Tracks

In archival training videos, Dr. Kappas was testy about “talk therapy.” A licensed psychotherapist himself, he bemoaned the first-session tradition of taking inventory of all the clients problems, sending them home feeling even worse about themselves than they came in. Traditional talk therapy (Freudian analysis) was characterized as torture – essentially forcing the client to confront their deficiencies until they got bored and decided that they would really rather change.

Perhaps recognizing these defects, talk therapy branched along several lines (Jungian, Rogerian, etc.). Then, as functional imaging (PET and fMRI) brought insight into the workings of the brain, innovations focused on shifting the response from primitive emotional centers of the brain forward into the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex contains Freud’s superego – that part of the mind that understands the self and seeks to adapt it to achieve success. In large part that is done by suppressing the activity of the more primitive parts of the brain.

These techniques have begun to be collected under the banner of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The psychologists are proud of their accomplishment. In “The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety,” William Knaus touts it as the “gold standard” for treating anxiety. In fact, regarding anxiety as well as depression, CBT appears to be more effective than drug therapy.

So I looked forward to Knaus’ writing with interest. There is a good deal to recommend in it – at least to a sophisticated college graduate. In fact, I would hazard that despite the “Workbook” in the title, not a great many will be able to make full use of the material found here. For example, in explaining why anxious thoughts are hard to control, Knaus lists nine different sources, including such subtle shadings as “loss of perspective” and “faulty expectations.” While perhaps foundational, as each source requires a slightly different technique, this is daunting.

To the sufferer, anxiety is first and foremost an emotional experience. What is the value in these nuanced shadings? Knaus doesn’t provide that motivation.

Given Dr. Kappas’ critique of talk therapy, with some chagrin I must admit that Knaus starts with just such a survey of twenty-one (21!) “indicator statements,” each with cross-references to sections on treatment. Typical is “I’m uncomfortable about making changes,” cross-referenced to chapters 14, 6, 7, 10, and 21.

Each chapter starts with a description of an anxiety trap, with a full description of the pattern of thinking that unfolds when the mind is in its grip. With that pattern defined, the chapter identifies points of intervention that can be used to disrupt the pattern. Assuming a successful intervention, mindful awareness (being in the present moment) defuses tension, allowing the sufferer to take positive, rational action to improve their situation. The whole strategy is summarized as a table or chart that walks them step-by-step toward relief.

Although sometimes it’s not that simple. For example, in Chapter 14 we have a change process with six (6!) phases: approach, awareness, action, accommodation, acceptance, and actualization. Three of the phases have a table or chart.

To simplify digestion, many of the chapters contain “Top Tip” boxes. These are often pithy metaphors for the formal process, culled from the teachings of respected researchers and therapists.

Multiply this by twenty problem-solving chapters, and you’ll understand my concern about accessibility.

If this sounds dry, that’s a fair statement. But that’s part of the method: CBT builds rational control over our thought processes. First we prepare the prefrontal cortex to monitor our thinking while going through an anxiety attack. Then we have to go through the attack without getting wrapped up in what we’re feeling. We need to be dispassionate about it if we’re going to succeed in learning to control those feelings. Indeed, many forms of anxiety (such as “Double Trouble”) involve anxiety about our inability to control our anxiety – a kind of self-reinforcing emotional loop. The only way to shut that off is to turn the focus from feelings to thinking.

To this point, then, I am doing my best to credit the intentions and rationale of the proponents of the CBT approach. But as I slogged through chapter after chapter (before surrendering around chapter 16 to my frustration), I kept on looking for the basics of self-care. This finally comes in the last chapter, “Preventing Anxiety and Fear From Coming Back.” Here we find basic prescriptions: be alert to the emotional warnings that you’re heading into unproductive thinking; exercise; sleep; eat well.

Now as a hypnotherapist, we understand that this isn’t just for recurrence – it’s prevention in the first place. Failing to perform self-care leads to a condition called hypersuggestibility. Hypersuggestibility occurs because the rational part of our mind is an optional function. When deprived of resources through emotional overload, inefficient metabolism, insomnia, or malnourishment, our reason breaks down. Planning goes out the window, and we react to every input when it comes at us – extending to our own thoughts. Already in a state of stress, with every trigger the subconscious mind pushes on the anxiety pedal to produce a strong fight/flight response – a response that is reinforced each time we “survive” our imaginary crisis. Unfortunately, as we become immune to minor anxious thinking, the only way to generate a respectable fight/flight response is to imagine the worst possible scenario. In fact, the mind is constantly searching for the worst possible scenario to ensure that it can summon the fight/flight response.

All this is going on in the subconscious – at the pre-conscious level.

As taught by Dr. Kappas, one of hypnotherapy’s most powerful methods is dehypnotization – to teach the client how to avoid the state of hypersuggestibility. This begins by reminding them how wonderful it can feel to be in homeostasis. It is reinforced by demonstrating how much easier it is to generate constructive thoughts when we are in that state. It is clinched by demonstrating that in homeostasis we are more receptive to information. Everything about life and survival is better served from homeostasis until we encounter unfamiliar and threatening circumstances that require the fight/flight response – and that response will be more effective having preserved resources by staying in homeostasis until survival is threatened.

The formal technique is called “systematic desensitization.”

Hypnotherapy starts where CBT ends. Think about it – if you’re reading the Workbook, you know that your thinking is hurting you. You don’t need someone to teach you how to think. You need to be reminded how to control your emotional state. Yes, CBT will eventually get you there, if only by boring you to tears with your defective thinking.

But in understanding the relationship between the conscious and subconscious minds, Kappasinian hypnotherapy will take you straight to the end of the journey. It will get the two tracks of your mind – reason and emotion – back into convergence.

Active Aging, Book Reviews

Aging Grace

When at 35 my hair began to turn gray, my female friends teased that I better had start coloring it, With a roll of the eyes, my retort was “When it’s completely gray, I’ll want people to know that I’ve made it that far.” Now nearing 60 little of the pepper is left, and I wonder sometimes “How did I get here?”

In “Successful Aging” Daniel Levitin tries to provide all possible answers to that question. You might stop to think about that. The sheer scope of that project is mind-boggling.

Regarding a book on aging written by one with direct experience as well as long study, perhaps the most direct characterization of Levitin’s attitude is a paradoxical “youthfully enthusiastic.” He communicates faith that a better understanding of aging will improve every life. While occasionally technical, Levitin’s treatment is approachable, and won me over to his vision.

That perspective covers sweeping territory. While a blue-collar worker may face decline alone in a room, the erstwhile Secretary of State still guides public service operations. While an unusual centenarian may smoke and drink (moderately), an elderly wife may sell the family home to pay for her husband’s chemotherapy. These barely hint at the variability that Levitin must address – a variability that may leave the reader to plead “But what should I do?”

Levitin sagely begins with the irreducible: What kind of person are you? Regardless of economic or social standing, your personality determines how you approach problem-solving, and thus how you manage aging. Surprisingly, Levitin and his colleagues find only five essential personality traits, each defining a range against its opposite. Against these traits he builds his prognosis for adaptability and longevity.

What controls our personality? Here the picture is impossibly complex: genetics, parenting, culture and opportunity. But upon reaching adulthood, that complexity fades into irrelevance. We are who we are. Here Levitin shares the perspective of Dan Siegel (who in “Mindsight” treats that matter in more detail): the brain continues to adapt even in adulthood, and with diligence we can choose our behavior.

Our capacity to implement those choices requires soundness in our mentality, including memory, perception, intelligence, emotion, and motivation. All change emphasis as we age, losing power in certain aspects (for example, forming memories) while strengthening in others (filling in missing detail). In each area, Levitin offers practices for shoring up declining faculties. The most important of these is social interaction, the essential ingredient in the formation of the personality, and paradoxically the most insidious source of stress (the universal mind-killer) and the most comprehensive stimulant for faculties threatened by aging.

Inevitably, though, aging brings infirmity that leads to illness. Unfortunately, experience has shown that attempting to eliminate illness in the elderly must be balanced against reduced quality of life. Often that reduction is driven by pain that disrupts our mental faculties, robbing us of our sense of self. Levitin surveys the qualities of pain and observes that those perceptions are distributed throughout the brain. I wasn’t surprised by the conclusion that as of today pain medications do less than desired and may cause harm, leaving us with the difficult choice of balancing life span (years alive) against wellness span (years enjoyed).

Against the background of the natural processes for the development of personality, Levitin shines a light on the artificial threats to their stability in the areas of schedule, nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Each threat is developed as a disruption to sensitively balanced biochemical systems that sustained wellness as conditions varied in the natural world. Unfortunately, artificial environments push those variations out of the natural range, and our biochemistry breaks down. Levitin’s illustration of the consequences is a strong motivation for respecting the body’s limits.

Given the gravity of death, of course, hope persists that means will be found to delay (if not reverse) the infirmities of our elder years. While Levitin glories in the scientific acumen that motivates positive expectations in consumers, the book nears its end with chapters that puncture faddish trends in cellular restoration and cognitive enhancement. In the final chapter, then, Levitin offers advice that guides us away from decisions that are likely to squander the mental and social opportunities of later life.

For some the last chapter might be all that matters, but Levitin provides the detailed background because he hopes that science will produce strategies and treatments that allow us to lead youthful lives at ages that today ensure infirmity. After all, 60 is the new 30. Why shouldn’t that first number reach 100? Or 200? As those treatments evolve, the prescriptions of the last chapter should be modified. Levitin does us the service of tracing his deductions back to science, so that when the science changes we can confidently update his guidelines.

If I would mount any criticism of Levitin’s treatment, it would be against his Pollyannaish selection of inspirational case histories, often drawn from privileged lives. A justification might be that, given the complexity of the factors he surveys, only the most sophisticated can apply his lessons.

For me, there’s a broader point to celebrate. In tracing the roots of infirmity, Levitin teaches us a great deal about how we lead the rest of our lives. There the prescriptions are clear, although scattered across 360 pages. Following them will improve our elder years. It is in this realization that I find myself seduced by Levitin’s program, and energized to pursue its implementation as a hypnotherapist.

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.

Mind Management

Power from Within

Lee was chief executive of a Fortune 500 company. Used to working in a hive of thousands dedicated to translating his intentions into reality, upon retirement he wandered aimlessly in his mansion before deciding to run for national office.

Some might read the story and shrug “Why not?” Others watching the unfolding campaign wondered “What was he thinking?”

Life begins without power, a state survived only through the dedication of our parents. Thrust into adult independence we turn to our peers for support. This is the first step up the ladder of power – forming alliances.

Given talent, alertness and ambition, those associations are rapidly sorted by value. Focusing on becoming that indispensable link between our partners – either by talent or by guile – we attain the step of accomplishment. Our peers pursue us, offering professional, social and romantic rewards. We stride across the landscape of our chosen realm.

But that status is fragile. Our peers hunger for their own turn in the limelight. By our very visibility, we betray the secrets of our success, empowering them to push us aside. Sometimes that occurs by convention – Lee reached his company’s retirement age. Sometimes it happens through guile, such as with the infamous “Red Map” redistricting that cost so many Democrats their political careers. But it is almost always an ugly process. Status is the prop for our ego. Losing it is a type of psychological death.

Fighting that outcome is destructive and ultimately futile. More productively, we might charge forward. “My circle of associations is far larger than when I started – just think what greater things I can accomplish!” But why should they support us? They are fighting their own battles for status, or seeking to expand their own empires.

So we fall – and the greater the heights of our success, the more uncomfortable the landing. Sooner or later everyone is affected – whether a mother standing amid an empty nest or a rancher hanging up his spurs.

From that difficulty – whether metaphorically a dark box or a muddy, smoking-filled crater – power arises from within. To learn more, reach out and let’s open your mind to renewed purpose!