Tag Archives: psychology

Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Isn’t Enough

14 Jul

I have never been a fan of cognitive behavioral therapy. Sorry. If insight was enough to change, most of us would have quit smoking, lost weight, and kept any other New Year’s resolutions by now. Most of us would know we are worthy despite maybe having been mistreated as a child and most of us would make choices for ourselves that are healthy.

CBT is based on the idea that how we think influences our emotions and behaviors and without a doubt there is some truth here. If I wake up and see that it is raining, a thought such as “Oh, crap! It’s raining. Now the day is going to suck,” will definitely get the day off on the wrong foot. Yet if I wake up and think, “Oh, wonderful! I love the sound of rain on the roof and we need the rain,” then I’m going to be in a much better disposition. But what if you implement the positive thought and yet your mood doesn’t follow suit?

Herein lies the problem. Our thoughts aren’t enough. Here in Western society, we make cognition the King, the Supreme Being. Thinking (pun intended) reins over all systems. We negate the intelligence of our emotions, the secret knowledge of the heart, and the ridiculous accuracy of our guts.

In reality, behind every thought form is energy and energy vibrates at certain frequencies. Not only that, the energy that accompanies subconscious thought patterns often trumps any conscious work on “catch it, change it, change it” strategies.

How then do we break down old narratives?

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I’m a firm believer that some of the deconstruction has to start on the physical, cellular level. We do this using our breath, by having corrective, positive interpersonal interactions, and by creating new neural pathways vis-a-vis kinesthetic movement. In the process we begin to rearrange dimensions of our nervous system, which in turn influences mood, emotions, thoughts and behaviors. We embody new narratives when we create a new reality of presence.

Yet we also have to purge ourselves of the energy associated with the traumas that created the thought forms in the first place. What subconscious contracts did we make with our parents? What energy did we pick up in the household (or in the society at large)? What belief systems do we carry that aren’t even ours? Have we taken on one parent’s issues and energy in order to stay loyal to him or her? Are we subconsciously holding ourselves back because to live a different life would be to betray mom or emasculate dad? Do we dare to be happy if our ancestors weren’t?

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How come the third generation of Holocaust survivors sometimes relate to the terror of the Nazi occupation on a visceral level, when the family history was never discussed or even acknowledged? Why might a child in utero sense the mother’s fears and resentments about an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy? Why do various ethnicities carry historical trauma even when healing has occurred and why can you burst out in tears during a massage when a certain knot in a muscle is expunged? And why can the touch of one’s beloved make you cry out in relief and ecstasy?

Sometimes my clients look at me weird when I suggest a method of treatment that entails flushing out traumatic memories and patterns vis-a-vis the energy centers of the body, or chakras. Yet even skeptics can’t help but acknowledge that when they place their hands on their hearts or throats while declaring a specific statement or pattern unique to their experience, they sometimes experience intense images, feelings, insights, and sensations. The body doesn’t lie; the body keeps the score; the body is a wealth of knowledge. The subconscious, now made conscious loosens, as does the energy and resulting belief systems associated with traumas. Catharsis, as painful as it can be, clears and removes long held defense structures held within the body and cognitive schemas.

We can’t always think our way out of the the energetic ramifications of trauma. In fact, we never can. We feel, intuit, move, and then think our way out of intra-psychic prisons. Prayer too helps because it changes the energetic frequency when you invite in the presence of the Divine. Catharsis of repressed emotion and giving voice to long held anger can also liberate and energize.

Healing is a far more complex process than keeping thought records and dissecting behavior like diagramming sentences in grammar class. This can become mental masturbation and a Woody Allen monologue. Transformation comes when we dive into the energy of our traumas and into the joy of movement, breath, and sensate experience.

 

Litany of Lies

24 Jun

“Could it be SATAN?” Dana Carvey used to ask as Church Lady on “Church Chat”, the hilarious SNL skit that ran in the late 80’s. Satan was attributed to every evil conceivable and Carvey played the kind of Christian that pointed fingers at anyone and everyone committing sins.

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Yet when it comes to the litany of lies we tell about ourselves, others, and the world at large, evil really does have its day. When we distort the truth and buy into negativity, the havoc wrecked is far from Godly.

“I’m not good enough.” “I’ll never find love.” “There will never be enough.” “I fucked up. I always fuck things up.” “I’m fat.” “I’m stupid.” “Why try? It never works out anyway.” “There are no jobs.” The economy is terrible.” “This field is dead.” “The world isn’t safe.” “There will never be peace.” “There will never be change.” “Why bother?” And the chorus goes on and on. I’ve heard these phrases from people all around me, and I recognize some of the statements coming from my own mouth. We all have different scripts but whatever ones are ours, they are hard to re-write.

Many of us have a litany of lies as firmly ensconced as the weekly liturgy. Indeed, many of us recite these untruths with the zombie like quality of someone doing religion by rote.

This doctrine, if not rooted in Satan, stems from thought distortions, which are in essence evil. These usually arise from traumas, causing us to formulate specific beliefs about ourselves and the world based on what has happened to us and what we’ve observed in life. Sadly, distorted thoughts often cause history to repeat itself over and over again.

Thought forms carry energy, which makes them even more complicated and powerful.

Yes, many of us were initially victims in our lives, but if we buy into the lies formed at the time of horrific events, we victimize ourselves. We keep ourselves stuck. We buy into the same damn stories and contribute to them over and over again.

One of the hardest things in the world is to look in the mirror and see how we’re involved in our own narratives. While we don’t have control over people, places, or things, we certainly have control over what we do, what we believe, and our attitudes. This can be extremely sobering.

How then do we change these limiting belief systems?

Very carefully.

It’s hard to create something new because we often can’t envision a different outcome. If we’ve only known disappointment in a given area, why expect anything different? It’s simply easier to cling to the old beliefs because to hope for new outcomes is just too scary, right? Yes, it might work out differently, but if it doesn’t, it will hurt like hell. AGAIN. So why be an idiot and hope for anything more? It’s easier just to give up on having any dreams for a more positive future and life. And if we do cling to any sort of hope, we’ll have to feel the loneliness and pain of desires that might not ever be fulfilled. So wouldn’t it be easier to just eat a bag of potato chips, turn on a video, and shut out the world? And wouldn’t it be easier to just surrender in the face of injustice and never speak up, never vote, never defend others, never write editorials, or lay down our lives for others?

Could this be SATAN? YES! That is Satan.

It’s so easy to recognize the litany of lies when we hear it coming from the mouths of others. It’s harder to recognize it when heresy comes from our own mouths. Yet when we start to recognize crap thinking for what it is, this doesn’t mean that it’s easy to “catch it, check it, change it.” Sometimes change feels impossible.

Here are a few things I think are valuable when trying to change distorted belief systems:

Be patient with yourself; Beliefs that have been ensconced for years may take some time to change

Grieve – Feel the pain behind the narrative for there is always a wound beneath it

Pray – Ask God to remove the blocks and to help co-create the new narrative

Seek support from others. People can hold hope as a ray of light when you don’t have a candle or a match while in the dark.

Forgive – yourself and others. We are all a work in process. Progress not perfection.

Imagine – this is a huge element in creating change. Then act. Imagination + action = new creation.

Eliminate the words “always” and “never” from your vocabulary. Start saying, “might”, “may”, and “could” instead.

Try new experiences. They help eradicate and/or integrate the previous ones.

Read stories of people who have overcome similar obstacles.

Seek expertise in the area in which you feel challenged. Educate yourself about that subject matter whether it be in love, relationships, health, finance, fashion, etc. Take a class on it, read books about it, join groups on it.

Realize no dreams are realized overnight. Luck doesn’t just happen. It occurs after much groundwork has been laid.

Rain Come Down

16 May

rain

In Southern California, rain has always been a treat but now, it is even more so. The last two years have brought such chronic dry conditions that many of us have forgotten what rain, fog, and moisture feel like.

I have begun to dream about water like someone in exile.

I fantasize about fields of green and landscapes of snow.

The last few days we’ve finally had some cloudy skies.

Variance in weather is a good thing. Too much perpetual sunshine gets old. Rain gives us permission to pause. To hole ourselves up inside and hibernate. Rain, like crying, flushes everything out. It cleanses the earth, refreshing things.

Storms remind us that life is not one eternal day of sunshine. Life is filled with loss, heartache, unexpected winds, and things becoming completely uprooted. Sometimes life is also a period of winter where everything is dead and frozen.

Southern California defies these truths making it hard to come to terms with them.

Weather is natural. Weather is part of the life cycle.

I am glad for the weather that mirrors my soul.

Believe it or not, drought can be hard on the soul. It creates thirst and a deep longing for relief. Oh how we need a drink of water after wandering about too long in the desert.

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Thank you. May the rain come down. And down. And down.

May it wash out the debris and create new life.

Becoming One’s Beloved

28 Feb

I’ve always hated the phrase, “You’ve got to love yourself if you want to be loved,” because it makes love sound like a class you have to pass before you can enter college or something. How is one to learn to love oneself other than by example and by being loved by others?

Life doesn’t occur in a vacuum. People need people and humans respond astonishingly well to love. Like plants receiving water, we are fed by it. If this weren’t the case, babies wouldn’t bask in the love of their caretakers and we wouldn’t pine so much for the acceptance of our friends and families.

When there is no one around to hurt us, some of us do quite well. If our self-esteem is somewhat in tact, and our abilities to self-soothe have been cultivated, we may live a very happy existence. But when we’re in intimate relationships, this sense of serenity can be threatened because another reality is introduced. We now turn to others for love instead of seeking it independently. After being in a desert, someone hands us a glass of water. We don’t have to forge for it ourselves. As this love pours into us, it overwhelms and excites us. We let down our guard. Like a puppy on its back getting its belly rubbed, we soak in the bliss.

Until all hell breaks loose. The magic potion wears off and we realize that our partner is not our parent here to make us feel like an infant at mommy’s breast. Instead, that person is an adult with needs of his or her own and flaws as refined as ours. They can withhold from us, disappoint us, hurt us, fail to commit, and ultimately, abandon us. To the infant inside us, this is death.

And it in this death that we have an opportunity to heal. Somehow, we have to walk into that nursery and tend to the screaming infant that is ourselves.

We don’t say to that child, “Here are your diapers. Figure it out.” Instead, we pick up the crying baby and care for it. This can be an exhausting process and at times, a thankless job. No one gives us a gold star for a task well done. Instead, we often do the work alone and/or with little help. We are indeed a single parent.

While this might seem unfair, it is the only way to become one’s own beloved because whether in or out of relationship, humans will delight and disappoint us routinely.

The heart of self love is not flashy, glamorous, or romantic. We don’t get wined and dined. Self-love isn’t delivered to us in a formula, or an orgasm, or a package from someone else. It doesn’t come from buying a new dress or coloring one’s hair. Instead it comes with the courage to face the pain of being human, while still longing for the unitive state, which is only truly experienced with God.

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What’s Art Got To Do With It? Who Needs a Heart, When A Heart Can Be Broken?

21 Apr

When my world shattered at an early age I didn’t turn to God. I didn’t know who God was. If he existed, he had abandoned me like others had.

So I turned to books and paper and crayons. To drama and dance. And in the creative, I organized myself as best I could.

When your world shatters, you can dance along the edge of madness. I’ve seen it in myself and I’ve seen it in others. Thankfully, art heals.

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This weekend I rejoined a group of friends and colleagues for an annual conference using a particular method of drama therapy. I have been involved with this form of work for seventeen years post graduate school. Many of us have traveled across the globe to train in it. Based on Grotowski’s work (among others), it is a radical form of encounter with self, other, one’s issues and something Other.

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Our mentor founded the New Haven Post-Traumatic Stress Center with his wife. They believe that people can heal from trauma. That through art, we can pick up the pieces of our lives. In front of their building is an actual beam from the World Trade Center.

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I am reminded that –

Today will be the day that my fragile world will fall
The teetering house of suffering will collapse
And I will be freed of what happened then.

All that matters is that I will be caught by you!
I see your outstretched hands! I feel the building sway!
Now is the time…
I cannot wait for tomorrow…again.

And I have also found God through art. He said to me, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirt in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). And yes, these bones can life. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away” Revelation 21:4.

The Tipping Point

15 Dec

Here is a tragic irony. On Wednesday, in response to the Oregon mall shooting, I posted on my FB page: “Seriously. When will the gun violence in this country abate? I know humans pull the triggers but still. Assault weapons? Seriously. We should be ashamed. I am. Life is not a &*^% Hollywood action film.” Two days later, news breaks out that a gunman opened fire in a Connecticut school massacring twenty-seven people, twenty of whom where children under the age of ten.

As someone who has invested well over twenty years of my personal and professional life to exploring the ramifications of trauma, I know a thing or two about the subject. And trauma is indeed personal and political. It makes no difference whether we’re talking about war, sexual abuse, rape, gun violence, human trafficking, or even natural disasters. The underlying causes and/or responses to events, whether on the individual or collective level, are deeply intertwined.

It has taken a long time for the public to become outraged over gun violence. But perhaps we’re at a tipping point. I certainly hope so. Because ultimately we collude with violence when we sit back passively wringing our hands saying, “People will always be evil.”

As commentary started flying yesterday, a faction on the internet condescendingly rebuked those expressing feelings about the event because – well, shit happens everyday. “Why be so upset over this but not give a fuck about other injustices happening all around the world?” I also saw patronizing statements in response to posts about gun control. “Today is not the day. We need to respect the victims and allow them to grieve. It’s not time to push your political agenda. Show more tact and sensitivity.” I noticed cool disdain towards those expressing righteous indignation, which of course was labeled as “reactive, emotional and not based in reason.” So tell me, is there anything reasonable about trauma – whatever the horror – be it a shooting or otherwise? Trauma does evoke an emotional response even if that response is numbness. It is after all – TRAUMA. Finally, there were the comments inferring that gun violence only occurs at the hands of those mentally ill. But here’s a little factoid folks. Statistically, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes vs. perpetrators of ones.

I know that gun control alone will not prevent random (or not so random) acts of violence. There are complex sociological issues at play that need to be addressed just as fervently as gun control. I also know that humans pull the triggers. That guns themselves don’t spontaneously ejaculate.

But people, let’s stop making excuses for our moral laziness. All movements for the well being of society require courage, action, intelligence, legislation, and a deep commitment to a higher vision for all.