It may also be helpful to anybody interested in this blog to go to my homepage and read about my background in order to understand where I’m coming from. That background has led me to, as far as I can tell, a different perspective on psychotherapy. I am both a scientist (neuroscience) and a psychotherapist (trained in a host of different psychotherapies). From the moment I finished my psychotherapy training, I have been interested in figuring out how and why psychotherapy works, and how that relates to basic laws of how the human mind works. What this blog, which will be ongoing and evolving, is about, is just that: how psychotherapy works and what the basic laws of mind are that enable it to work.
WHY DO PEOPLE COME TO THERAPY?
Symptoms such as anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive behaviors, problems forming and/or maintaining relationships with others are some of the usual reasons. However, the underlying reason is that whatever someone is doing to try to deal with the symptoms is not working. People find themselves repeating the same patterns without being able to change them. They come to a realization that something is missing that they need to find in order to regain control over their own lives. Whatever their reflexive behaviors are to try to deal with things is not only not helping, but actually perpetuating the problems.
WHAT IS PSYCHOTHERAPY?
Psychotherapy is a process which enables people to get in touch with parts of themselves they are not in touch with. Its goal is to help people become aware of stuff (thoughts and feelings) that they are not aware of. In terms of exactly how to do this, there are, as the saying goes, many paths. For any given individual, part of psychotherapy is to figure out what that person’s path is. As the field of psychotherapy has developed and expanded the number of techniques (paths) available has increased dramatically. They have increased from classic talk therapies to behavior therapies to gestalt therapies, to cognitive behavioral therapies, to mindfulness therapies and many many more. The goal of all the therapies is to break up reflexive patterns that one is trying to change so that these perhaps unwanted patterns, can be replaced with whatever may work better for the individual. In the language of psychology, the unconscious is made conscious so that a person can regain control of their own destiny.
I have often thought of psychotherapy as a postgraduate course in feelings. The human mind consists of thoughts and feelings. We are highly educated in terms of how to use our thoughts to learn, to communicate, to understand. However, feelings work differently from thoughts. It often takes a while to figure out exactly what our feelings are to say nothing of what they mean or what we want to do with them. I have come to believe that feelings are more basic than thoughts and that in fact it is feelings that give birth to thoughts – sort of like nebulae give birth to stars. There is, therefore, a great deal of power in being in touch with and understanding feelings. How to decipher them and stay in touch with them is a large part of the work of psychotherapy.
The way we are built is to protect ourselves from thoughts and feelings that are dangerous to us. The way we do this is to not let them come into consciousness. Instead we remain unaware of them – they are in our unconscious. When they are in this state the avoidance of them produces reflexes that are often not in our own best interest. The avoidance often produces the symptoms described above and generates reflexes that are counterproductive.
The thing about it is that these unconscious avoidance reflexes are generally created very early in life. Whereas one would think they would be replaced with more adaptive reflexes as development occurs, it is often the case that this is not so. In fact, it appears that there is a basic law of mind that the unconscious does not know time. Therefore, to our unconscious, we are still the vulnerable child in need of protection! The process of becoming aware of these feelings and of our habitual reflexes enables us to gain control over them and decide our own destiny.
One institute where I was teaching put up a sign in the office saying “We Update The Unconscious”. Indeed this is a prime objective of psychotherapy.
Understanding what the experience of psychotherapy is can, of course, best occur by being in psychotherapy, which is a requisite of anybody who enters the field. However, a goal of teaching is to get as close as possible to communicating what the process actually ‘tastes’ like, feels like, actually is. Hopefully those of you attending the NYU lecture will, in fact, walk away with such a taste. Additionally, this blog will operate on a continuous basis to explore facets of psychotherapy and the underlying laws of mind.
It is an old saying that if you become a teacher by your students you’ll be taught. One of the joys of teaching is meeting such students, seeing them graduate, and then becoming colleagues. One such student of mine is Dr. Inessa Manevich. She and I will be offering a series of short on-line lectures by the end of the year, and I will post the name of these talks here. We also have a joint blog called the “East West Psych Blog” –which we will update regularly to include any material that we find intriguing and helpful.
We look forward to getting feedback from you!