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!

Mind Management

Quantum Time? Reversal!

In “The Cure Within,” Anne Harrington explored the narratives that have empowered the common wo/man to access the power of thought to heal the body. Universally, those narratives originated as rebellions against religious and medical conventions, and propagation was in the hands of a few charismatic individuals. Over time their published writings have given the narratives lives of their own.

Harrington traces the history of six narratives:

  • The Power of Suggestion – seek an authority who knows how to speak to the inner mind.
  • The Body Speaks – illness is often rooted in emotional trauma and can be cured when the trauma is released.
  • The Power of Positive Thinking – illness reflects spiritual adversity that clarifies the soul. Healing comes when the positive lessons are received.
  • Stress Kills – Western civilization prevents resolution of psychological conflict, and disease arises and persists until conflict is resolved.
  • Love Heals All Ills – self-love is the antidote to psychological conflict.
  • Eastern Ways – Asian cultures retain harmony that has been lost in the competitive Western world.

In summarizing her study, Harrington observes that the coexistence of these narratives proves that we still lack a fundamental understanding of the mind-body connection. This is despite the efforts of researchers who have studied the effects of meditation and positive thinking on our biochemistry. Demonstrably things change, but the effects vary with culture and affliction. Lacking a definitive mechanism, those seeking to share the benefits of healing visualizations are left only with stories to tell.

Harrington, however, omits one class of narratives that carries the cachet of scientific respectability: quantum spirituality. Proponents of this view draw upon the early philosophy of quantum physics, characterized by theorists seeking to justify their mathematical methods. The concepts include “wave-particle duality,” “wave-function collapse,” “resonance,” “tunneling,” and “time-reversal.” These concepts suggest the possibility that physical bodies may have non-local interactions across both space and time.

In “What the Bleep Do We Know?” a community of quantum physicists, philosophers and Eastern spiritual teachers elaborated on these metaphors, claiming that they explain mind-body connection and other types of spiritual experience. The problem is that when a competent physicist does the calculations, the strength of the quantum effects is miniscule. For this reason when Deepak Chopra goes to speak at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the physicists shrug their shoulders and roll their eyes. Quantum mechanics does not account for spirituality. Like Harrington’s narratives, its spiritual appropriators simply encourage the public to explore spiritual experience.

Against this institutional inertia (in both communities), I have proposed a framework that has spirit as a natural consequence. The basic principles are simple:

  • Just as the atom is composed of smaller pieces, there is another layer of discrete structure in the particles (“fermions”) that physicists currently consider to be fundamental.
  • By construction, the hidden structure admits that charge may be decoupled from the fabric of space, becoming weightless. It is this weightless charge that composes spiritual structures.
  • The essence of “life” is for a spirit to enter a physical body with the goal of reorganizing and strengthening its structure. As that evolves, spirit disturbs the fabric of space, storing energy that can be drawn upon to accomplish “miracles.”
  • Interaction between our bodies tangles our spiritual structures. (This is why sex is called “intercourse.”)

Not only does the framework explain spirituality, it admits answers to a broad set of problems in fundamental physics (spanning both astrophysics and particle physics).

As regards Harrington’s narratives, the framework also suggests investigations that might help to resolve the methodological difficulties in the experiments that probe the mind-body connection. Simply: I would suggest that healing occurs most powerfully, as Jesus exemplified, when our virtue is witnessed by someone that loves us.

As known by every spiritually sophisticated mother.

Book Reviews, Mind Management

Me vs. We

I discovered comic books in college and continued to collect them into my thirties. I briefly became persona non grata in a segment of the creative community when I called out an independent author for running an abusive letter column. A little bit of a narcissist, he vented his spleen on his critics. When a young fan wrote a similar rant, the author had to back off when the boy explained that the attack was simply an homage to the author’s style.

Twenty years later, Microsoft introduced a “teenage” Artificial Intelligence system called Tay to reddit. In twenty-four hours, the system had successfully adopted the style of the forums it monitored, becoming an abusive, fascist misogynist.

Then in 2016 Facebook’s monetization of “click-bait” gave Macedonian fake-news sites disproportionate sway on our primary process, eclipsed only when we realized that Russia was leveraging the social network for espionage. In the aftermath of the resulting scandal, Facebook hired a Republican social media specialist to manage its political messaging policies.

Sarah Cavanaugh’s “Hivemind” weaves together interviews with leading researchers on the social effects of social media, looking to provide comfort and advice to screen huggers and those they alienate. Under that theme, however, lies a deeper question: how do we develop and nurture identity?

The book opens with a perspective that will be refreshing to the hypnotherapist: we aren’t who we think we are. A great deal of our behavior is buried in the subconscious realm, and often our reasons for what we do are only rationalizations. We may think that don’t work with minorities because they’re poorly educated – though that’s truly only because our parents forced their parents into low-income work. Underneath, our subconscious knows the truth: in our childhood hostility towards minorities was projected by the tone and gestures of adults. Identifying with them, those behaviors were internalized and are now passed on to our children.

It is this implicit well of attitudes and behaviors that Cavanaugh calls the “Hivemind.”

To those whose membership in a privileged group is denied or threatened, social media represents an opportunity for explicit expression of hostility toward those unlike us. Cavanaugh herself grew up in a middle-class culture rich with rituals that cemented communal bonds. For her, social media is a means of sustaining and enriching those bonds. In between are those foraging for meaning in the information hives on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Unless they find a welcoming community, their unrewarded investment builds anxiety and depression. Cults and extremists methodically identify, cultivate and convert the vulnerable before exploiting their trust.

My opening vignettes reflect Cavanaugh’s conclusions: social media didn’t create the problem of polarization between peoples. Unfortunately, the platforms do not moderate strident voices, but rather project them globally. The concentration of power in the industry also makes us vulnerable to manipulation by institutional actors.

Reading as a hypnotherapist, however, I was sensitive throughout to the topic of identity formation. Large sections of the book are concerned with bias as it defines our circle of concern. Cavanaugh’s anatomy includes in-group and out-group bias, but also upward and downward bias. She focuses on the antidote of reappraisal: When that automatic thought arises, ask “what other explanation is possible?”

But there are equally important points made in passing. Youth suffer less from their own social media obsessions than they do from the obsessions of their parents. Responding to the greater visibility of cults and extremists, those obsessed parents are also paranoid and so deny their children the communal rituals celebrated by Cavanaugh. Social media allows youth a healthy opportunity to define their identity in relationship with those that matter the most: their peers. Perhaps after a generation of desensitization to information overload, as parents those children will define more reasonable boundaries for their children (Cavanaugh extols the “free range” movement).

Cavanaugh is an atheist, teaching and researching at a Catholic university. If I would express a disappointment in this book, it is that her associations have not brought her to consider the power of spirituality in the formation of identity. Perhaps it’s her atheism – most people associate spirituality with religion. My understanding of spirituality is directly related to Cavanaugh’s thesis, however: it’s the negotiation of the boundaries between “I” and “we.”

This is the antidote to social media obsession in youth: parents must take time to ask them “How does that make YOU feel?” Cults and extremists are evil because they deny their victims a separate identity: it’s all “we” and no “me.”

Once we start down the spiritual road, however, we cannot avoid seeing ourselves in the mirror. Identity is about who “I” am. How do we make room for the other?

In her concluding chapter, Cavanaugh offers prescriptions that cover hope, fear, gratitude, and anger. Those are all psychological strongholds. But as an individual the other enters authentically only through one doorway, and that doorway is unconditional love.

I’d like Cavanaugh to consider the Bible from that perspective, and perhaps revisit her conclusions. When as a scientist I undertook that assessment, I was compelled to write “The Soul Comes First.”

You see, the Holy Spirit was the original social network, and comes with the guarantee of amplifying only ideas that serve love. Facebook and the like are poor substitutes.

Basics, Mind Management

The Ethics of NLP

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) is a discipline developed by Richard Bandler and Eric Grinder. If you think of computer programming as “cyber-linguistic programming,” you’ll get the gist of NLP. Assuming that the mind is an information processing device, NLP proposes a model of how the mind receives and filters information, and then provides methods of communication that allow us to hack the program.

NLP was popularized in the 1990s by Tony Robbins, whose Unleash the Power Within seminars use a form of group hypnosis to encourage people to cast off their self-limiting beliefs. During business networking, I have encountered life coaches, mediators, sales people and hypnotists who testify to have mastered these practices in seminars typically lasting a week or so.

A characteristic moment from Robbins’ seminar illustrates the technique. Tony may start “you like me – want to get the most out of this weekend.” Through emphasis, that innocuous sentence embeds the suggestion that “I like him.” The suggestion is obscured by the pause between “you” and “like,” and so may be discarded by the conscious mind when the sentence is completed. But the emotional effect lingers on in the subconscious, and subsequently affects our behaviors.

I could elaborate the NLP model, but I hesitate for ethical reasons. That caution was codified by Milton Erickson when founding the America Society for Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH). All members must be licensed clinicians with a degree in mental health. (That’s right: I don’t qualify for membership.)

This is significant because Erickson was one of the clinical luminaries that Bandler and Grinder studied to develop the communication patterns that give NLP its power. Erickson’s caution is illustrated in a published paper that applies those patterns to his own work: “Transcript of Trance Induction with Commentary.”

The value of the paper is not just in its elucidation of the techniques that would be adopted in NLP, but also for what it reveals about the context in which those methods were developed. Erickson was an academic researcher, and coaxed many of his patients to serve as experimental subjects before beginning therapy. This was because Erickson felt that successful therapy required the application of “hypnotic work” that was accessible only after twenty or more hours of conditioning. But the experimental subjects were not limited to patients. Erickson and his wife also hosted weekend gatherings in which friends and colleagues were encouraged to explore hypnotic experience.

“Transcript…” is interesting on its face because it shows how skillfully and gently Erickson went about bringing his subjects into hypnotic experience. But for the concerns of this post, the important point is made near the end of the session. Erickson takes the subject into an age regression. The commentary reads:

Her hand didn’t point, so then I started narrowing down. Have her point with her left hand. When she failed to do that, I knew how deep in the water I was. I was out of contact with her.

The problem is in having convinced the subject that she was about eighteen years old, severe trauma would occur if she awoke in that mental state in a room with people who related to her as a thirty-year-old – not least her husband.

NLP techniques are powerful in part because they bypass the conscious mind – but that in itself is why they are so dangerous. The subject changes their behavior and doesn’t understand why. They begin to fear that they are losing their grip on themselves, and so that they might begin to express their worst tendencies. The mind turns against itself and may break.

As I summarized in a prior post, Erickson was extremely sensitive to this vulnerability, and eventually began to try to dissuade practitioners from application of his methods of speaking. Paraphrasing, his observation was

Do not believe that you can adopt my manner of speaking and thereby achieve the same therapeutic results.

I believe that he left silent the stronger caution: that in fact, the subject can be harmed when linguistic methods are applied with neither psychological understanding nor compassionate intuition. (This is not a hypothetical: I have interviewed a client who was so affected.)

Some confirmation of this caution is found in Hammond’s “Handbook of Hypnotic Suggestions and Metaphors.” Hammond summarized the collected wisdom of the ASCH, and in surveying research on the effectiveness of techniques for formulating suggestions, reported studies that showed NLP was of marginal therapeutic value.

For those of us without clinical degrees, Cheryl O’Neil’s Therapeutic Imagery program, the culmination of the lay hypnotherapy program formulated by Dr. John Kappas at HMI, is a safe practice. The therapeutic method facilitates self-improvement through gradual reconciliation of conscious and subconscious perspectives. The pacing of the process is under the full control of the subconscious mind, whose over-riding concern is to preserve the subject’s well-being.

Book Reviews, Mind Management

Psychiatry in Disorder

Any accredited professional college must educate students on the legal requirements for their practice. In the case of hypnotherapy, in most states the law makes psychology a dominant field. I have been forced to turn away clients because their concerns might be due in part to an actual illness of the mind – something that I was unqualified to diagnose or treat. Sometimes that’s made easier because the client is actually under the care of a psychologist – I’ve learned to expect that I just need to turn them away, because I’ve never found a psychologist that was willing to work in tandem with me. They don’t even answer my e-mails.

In the gray zone are clients that have read the pop psychology press and tell me, for example, that they have “PTSD.” Given what I know about the diagnostic definition, I ask a few questions and determine that they probably have post-traumatic stress, or PTS. Now I can work with PTS, but not PTSD. Here’s the rub: I can’t tell them that they have PTS, because that would be a diagnosis that I am not qualified to offer. You can imagine how difficult this becomes with more common psychiatric designations: depression and general anxiety disorder, for example.

Against the backdrop of this frustration I now report on Anne Harrington’s “Mind Fixers: Psychiatry’s Troubled Search for the Biology of Mental Illness.” Obviously I would like to be assured that there’s a valid scientific basis for the designations offered by psychologists – and something in their treatments beyond the power of suggestion. Because if that basis is weak, then the legal pressure I am under is hurting not just me, but my potential clients.

I regret, then, that Harrington mounts a devastating critique of psychology. It is not just that psychology has no sound scientific basis – the dynamics of its development have systematically brought suffering to those it characterizes as patients.

In considering the history surveyed by Harrington, I think that it would be generous to say that, desperate for some therapeutic method, psychiatrists have systematically seized upon symptoms as causes. Each generation of psychiatrists took up tools that addressed the purported cause of the era, only to discover that the treatment tended to increase the aggregate suffering of their patients.

This generalization applies to both of the broad classes of therapeutic approaches. The first assumes that mental illness reflects a biologic imbalance in the brain that can be treated with surgery or drugs. The second sees the imbalance as a learned response to a toxic environment that can only be corrected with therapy that builds new behaviors in a supportive environment. These two approaches are known popularly as “nature or nurture.”

Harrington’s history develops as a pendulum swinging between these two approaches, driven by shifting political winds. Reflecting the stark contrasts, psychiatry’s torch-bearers tend to be absolutists.

On the medical or nature side, anatomists first treated asylum patients as laboratory specimens, extended in their second era with legislative policies of sterilization and euthanization. This was followed by the practices of electroconvulsive therapy and prefrontal lobotomy. As biochemistry advanced, drugs were sought to target the specific pathways. Manipulation of metabolism (for depression and mania) was pursued using addictive drugs, followed in the modern era with drugs that target neurotransmitter balance. Unfortunately, Harrington reveals that early drug trials did not assess serious long-term side effects of metabolic drugs, and that more rigorous tests of neurotransmitter drugs show that they are only marginally better than sugar pills. Having hidden those results while marketing directly to consumers, Big Pharma is abandoning mental health under pressure from European advertising regulations that require that any new drug must be demonstrably better than existing remedies.

On the nurture front, Freud first blamed sexual repression for all mental illness. Mental institutes abandoned treatment to function largely as warehouses of sufferers deemed to be incurable. In the aftermath of World War II those concerned with valor blamed mothers for mental illness. Seeking early intervention, psychologists formulated categories of “deviance” that were seized upon by parents and schools as justifications for anesthetizing unruly youth. Finally legal decisions forced the disbanding of mental institutions, eventually leaving the prison system to step in as de facto provider of care for those that that cannot align their behavior with our civil codes. Of course prison society is not an incubator for civil behavior, and certain practices (solitary confinement foremost among them) are known to trigger psychotic breaks. While Harrington does not reference a statement of policy that blames the mentally ill for their condition, today American society does choose to punish them.

In grappling with these outcomes, psychiatry has recognized that therapies cannot be evaluated effectively until mental illness can be diagnosed accurately. Thus was born the institution of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. At this time it recognizes over two hundred conditions. Perhaps because of this complexity, Harrington reports that two clinical evaluations are likely to disagree roughly 70% of the time – and thus that treatment will follow different paths. Harrington does not report any studies that elucidate the discrepancies, but I am familiar with reports that suggest that overlap of criteria means that the diagnosis is often biased by clinical predisposition. If a psychiatrist has had success treating schizophrenia, they may look for schizoid symptoms and thus bias towards that diagnosis.

Harrington concludes her survey with the admission that the scientific foundations of psychiatry are vague, and calls for clinicians to return to basics. Should they fail, she foresees that they will surrender therapeutic initiative to those that lack prescribing authority: counselors, therapists and social workers.

I have deeper concerns. Hypnotherapists understand that the brain is not the mind – and this is a view shared by followers of Jung, who split with Freud over the matter. Through personal experience, I believe that the human brain is best understood as a multi-channel radio receiver, and that most of our thinking is done in the soul. This undermines biological investigation for the causes of mental illness. There may be correlations between diseases of the soul and brain biology, but attempts to change only the biology will be ineffective in treating the disease.

As a hypnotherapist, my response to Harrington’s indictment of her discipline was angry. Given that “science” was the justification for preferential licensing, it now appears that in fact the regulators were snookered by a chest-thumpers seeking to engage in restraint of trade. I plan on promoting Harrington’s revelations, and will be far more aggressive in seeking to help clients that have been disempowered by the industry.

For that is where the real answers are to be found: empowering self-care. After more than a century, the evidence is in, and the human mind is beyond biological understanding. Psychology should recognize that it is largely a philosophical discipline – which in the best sense serves to provide citizens with understanding to manage their minds and relationships. The obfuscating complexity of psychiatric terminology must be removed from public dialog, and replaced with something with greater utility. Perhaps the Kappasinian Theory of Mind?