My interview with Brant Cortright on The Neurogenesis Diet & Lifestyle

This is a link to my interview with Brant Cortright PH.D, clinical psychologist and professor of Psychology at California Institute of Integral Studies and author of The Neurogenesis Diet & Lifestyle. In the interview we discuss neuroscience, transpersonal psychotherapy and how to live more healthily and for longer.

See also

Meditative practice can help the physical brain to change for the better

My other interview with Brant discusses integral psychotherapy and the impact of psychoanalysis and existentialism on the integrative practitioner. Brant is author of Psychotherapy and SpiritHe is a licensed clinical psychologist and maintains a private practice in San Francisco.

Restoring the magnestism of the body

Earth Breath TechniqueI spent a day in the garden today and it was a nice escape from the demands of academic books. Working in the garden is not compulsory, of course, in order to get away from the intellectual realm. The earth breath technique can be done anywhere and can be a vital part of integrative psychotherapeutic practice.

The Earth Breath Technique involves stabilizing our energy, and slowing down our rhythm. Breathe slowly in through the nose and as you do imagine that you are drawing up the magnetic energy from the heart of the earth. Release slowly through the nose whilst focusing on the crown chakra, imagining a white light descending down the spinal column, releasing any stale energy from your magnetic field. 

It is important that clients with an intellectual tendency sit with both feet on the ground in the therapy room. The Earth Breath Technique can help to avoid the temptation to drift off into an intellectual level. It can hold the potential to restore the magnestism of the body. Earth qualities can represent transformation over the course of therapy, attuning to the earth and connecting with the earth’s abundance and fertility. Earth qualities help enable us to contain our feelings and help us avoid being so easily triggered. Earth qualities are typically those of resilience, perseverance and discipline.

For Vaughan and Walsh (1993) transpersonal practices are those structured activities that focus on inducing transpersonal experiences. Transpersonal experiences may be defined as experiences in which the sense of identity of self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche or cosmos. However, it is perhaps equally important to remind oneself from the writings of Rich Hycner (1993) that technique is not what therapy is all about – it is the relationship that heals.

Sand has an ancient quality as well as an obvious earth quality and sand tray work in psychotherapy can also help to bypass intellectual defences.

What is Transpersonal Psychotherapy?

Transpersonal psychotherapyOne of the dangers in trying to define transpersonal psychotherapy is that one can become overly analytical and miss the core essence of the approach. For transpersonal psychotherapists will maintain that the interaction with the client is heart felt, not theory driven. Unlike psychoanalysis there is no strict adherence to the rule of neutrality or non self disclosure. Various tools and techniques are employed where the practice may be defined as holistic and integrative. It could be argued that all tools and techniques are transpersonal, given a transpersonal framework.

Transpersonal academics view their approach as going beyond the person, as trans egoic, that is to say beyond the normal range of human perception or experience. The reasoning is that if we do not have a language to describe an inner experience it remains unfathomable and becomes lost to the unconscious side of our psyche. Hence, the term transpersonal experience refers to those perceptions and experiences that some people have (and most others don’t) which go beyond our normal experience. Cortright (1997) described transpersonal psychology as the scientific study of higher states of consciousness.  Boorstein (1997) saw transpersonal psychology as addressing the broadest conceptualisation possible of human psychological growth and was not bounded by any spiritual or religious system. Lajoie and Shapiro (1992) have also defined transpersonal psychology as concerned with the study of humanity’s highest potential. Human potential is, of course, a modern one, being defined by Maslow (1968) as one of the fundamental tenets of transpersonal psychology.

Transpersonal therapists will often refer to their own journey of discovery, and reaching different levels of consciousness through active engagement with symbolism, creative imagination and meditation. Indeed, John Rowan points out that because of this self discovery, the transpersonal community (if one is allowed to be generalist) can often appear to be dogmatic and not open to debate – perhaps because they have discovered “the truth” for themselves through a phenomenological experience, and, therefore, it must be true! Rowan points out that there is often a lack of debate at transpersonal conferences and rarely a questions and answers session.  I can’t comment one way or the other as I have not yet attended one. What I am sure about, though, is that if there is one thing to be dogmatic about, it is the importance of not being dogmatic.

It is alleged that the word “transpersonal” was first introduced into psychology by William James in a 1905 lecture. The word was also used in 1942 by Carl Jung as the German term, überpersonlich, which his English translators rendered as “transpersonal”. However, Jung would turn in his grave if he was labelled as part of any movement or approach. Indeed the word trans is derived from the latin for ‘across’ (to the other side). Only by looking to the spiritual dimension that includes and transcends heredity and environment can we discuss an adequate answer to the problem of human existence. Transpersonal psychotherapy could, therefore, be seen as an approach beyond the personal and seeking the sacred in the daily, ordinary life and consciousness in which people live. It is consciousness that heals and it is consciousness that frees us from our unconsciousness conditioning.

Transpersonal psychotherapists share a great deal of common ground with therapists from other schools in the way they can reflect back material to the client, mirror to the client, engage in active listening, holding, containing and helping them to seek meaning and so on. But the defining difference in transpersonal psychotherapy, to that of the other approaches, is the active pursuit of the spiritual dimension. There is an old cliche in transpersonal circles “You need to be a somebody before you can be a nobody”. That is why it is essential that the tools and techniques from other modalities are employed to deal with the pre personal and personal material that is presented by the client. For more information on this, see my posts on Wilber and transformation of consciousness.

Counselling PaddingtonThe core assumption of the transpersonal approach, especially the Sufi influenced CCPE model, is to view the essential nature of the client as spiritual and that there is a spiritual source which is the ground from which psychological structures arise. Unlike the Judeo Christian view, the soul has its own journey and remains innocent irrespective of the impressions it receives, however bad, in the material world.  (It is also different to the Buddhist tradition which does not see the soul journey).

An essential task of a transpersonal psychotherapist, therefore, is to recognise the client’s innate and unique nature and witness the soul and see its challenges in life. It does not mean that the client needs to believe in God. Indeed an atheist will not visual angels because they won’t believe in angels but can still access deeper levels of consciousness as to their own identity.

In the therapy there is a journey beyond the rational mind where archetypes, myths and symbolism can be explored. Transpersonal psychotherapy is realised through the consciousness of the therapist and is a lived experience, not merely a belief system.

The CCPE model offers a tri-partite approach to guide client work by using the CCPE Elements Model as a typological manual to investigate shadow material and to manifest qualities, the planes of consciousness and chakras to understand one’s soul attunement and alchemy to help guide a transformational process. The model is heavily influenced by Jung.

Jung and Symbolic LanguageWhere Freud was perhaps the psychological figurehead of the 20th Century it is possible that Jung could become to be seen as the figurehead of the 21st Century. The future orientation of Jungian therapy is what is exciting about this approach. For Jung, the unconscious fulfils a positive role, performing a therapeutic function by showing the conscious mind what needs to be done to dispel unease and unhappiness and to achieve fuller satisfaction in life.

The job of a transpersonal psychotherapist is to help clients decode the symbols or symptoms that are presenting and to understand the messages from the inner world that are manifesting in the physical world. Critics, such as Walter Benjamin, point out the dangers of therapists interpreting dreams and symbols for the client. Transpersonal therapists believe, however, that the waking dream technique can help guard against these dangers, as it is the client who is providing the narrative on the impact of their dream in their body, not the therapist.

Working with creative imagination is what defines transpersonal psychotherapy in practice. This is how clients are guided to access their real selves, their essence or their soul types.  This is how clients can engage with opposites, such as animus and anima. Post Jungians accept we all have both, that men have inner anima and women have inner animus.  Becoming conscious of these opposites through dreams and active imagination, by entering into dialogue with these through identification with sub personalities, for example, we can start the process of making these conscious and the work can lead towards integration.

Couples therapyThere are many transpersonal approaches in addition to Jungian symbolism including (and this is not mean’t to be an exhaustive list) Shemanic Therapy, Almaas’s Diamond Approach, Archetypal psychology of James Hillman, Robert Sardello’s Soul Practice, Psychosynthesis founded by Roberto Assagioli; Zen Transactional Psychotherapy created by Robert M. Anthony; and the theories of Otto Rank, Michael WashburnAbraham Maslow, Stanislav Grof and Ken Wilber (although Wilber is very fluid in what he identifies himself as, sometimes rejecting the transpersonal tag). Perhaps the most simple definition is to view the transpersonal as beyond personal. It is hard to understand how psychology, which sought to discover the truth of human existence, could have avoided the realm of spirituality for so long.

Rowan states that one of the most important facts about the transpersonal is that it has no basic texts, no centre and no founder. Rather, the transpersonal community is a number of people all trying to make sense of what Maslow called the farther reaches of human nature.

Somers and Gordon-Brown state that integrative transpersonal psychotherapy combines a number of different therapies and, therefore, interventions under the transpersonal umbrella, which includes the personal but also transcends it. To further understand the transpersonal approach it is worth noting what Sa’adi says “Every being is created for a purpose and the light of that purpose is already kindled in his soul”.

Ultimately, the transpersonal psychotherapist is a holistic and integrative practitioner and needs to be mindful of the special place of supervision, continuing professional development (CPD) and research, given the absence of specialisation in any one particular approach. Being integrative means being committed to the whole project of therapy, rather than to a particular approach. However, the ongoing challenge for practitioners is how to maintain appropriate boundaries with the client, if the therapy is truly heartfelt.

A transpersonal critique of Existential Psychotherapy

yalomA major criticism of an existential approach in counselling and psychotherapy is that it lacks a systematic statement of the principles and practices of therapy. There is an absence of a coherent set of highly developed techniques. The approach can be applied in a haphazard manner since there is no primary theoretical framework. Furthermore, from a transpersonal perspective, there is no acknowledgement of the soul journey. Whilst it would be unfair to view all existential therapists as atheists, since they often have a great depth of training in philosophy and sometimes theology, they do not actively pursue the soul journey in their theoretical approach to counselling and psychotherapy.

existential crisisAn existential crisis, from a transpersonal perspective, can be viewed as loss of soul due to the demands of modernity to stay connected to the technological advances in society. These advances can be seen as creating greater isolation, material possession and resulting in greater secularization. 

Life crisis can emerge when coping strategies fail to support the sense of self. As a result, people lose touch with their inner essence and this has co-incided with a declining sense of community.

Like an existentialist therapist, a transpersonal integrative therapist may seek to address lack of meaning in life directly with clients, and accompany their client on their journey to find meaning in their lives. Being integrative doesn’t mean avoiding anxiety about the unknown by remaining defensively within the security of the supposedly known. In Frankl and May, there is a rich approach to discovering a sense of meaning and responding to the givens of life. Indeed Yalom’s tales of therapy in “Love’s Executioner” are inspirational and insightful.  His reflections on being a therapist in the “Gift of Therapy” is an excellent source of inspiration for integrative therapists.

The existential approach can offer a unique insight into clients and their issues. It is holistic in the sense that it considers the client as a whole and goes beyond merely how the mind functions, to the core issues of existence.  However, the existential approach does not (or at least not in Yalom’s model), consider the spiritual aspects of a client and the soul journey, quite apart from distinguishing between different soul types. Transpersonal psychotherapists would argue that a development of the psycho spiritual model of consciousness could better serve the client by working on archetypes, symbols and images and viewing the therapeutic journey, including dreams, through the lens of alchemy.

Where do our inherited qualities come from?

Who are we?

Who are we? Where do get our good and bad qualities from? We can often be asked these types of questions in one form or another from prospective employers or from prospective partners. But we often don’t ask ourselves where we have inherited these qualities from.

We can inherit qualities from a number of sources.

Genetic qualities

These can be the realm of biology and the scientist where presenting issues are explained by a history of generational anxieties.  The dependents of Holocaust survivors might be an example whereby clients carry generational anxieties to do with death and captivity.

Scientists will see addictions from a generational perspective.

Nurture qualities

This is the realm of therapy whereby clients are encouraged to look back into their early life to ascertain early scripts that get evoked.  For instance, we get all sorts of messages from family and early school and we might learn to adapt to cope with these messages.

According to Eric Berne who developed transactional analysis (TA) we acquire a script by age 7. A script is an unconscious life plan based on the power of parental information. There are three types of scripts:

A. Winning scripts: these are positive
B. Losing scripts: these do not serve the person well.
C. Non winning: Not playing to win or to lose.

We, therefore, develop qualities that are to do with nurture. Often it is quite obvious when people have had good parenting.  They can be self accepting and are resilient.

Jonathan Bowlby used the term “Internal Working Models” to describe how young children form mental representations within close relationships. Internal working models are based on the child’s sense of worthiness which is dependent upon other people’s availability and ability and willingness to provide care and protection.

Attachment behaviour is any behaviour designed to get children into a close, protective relationship with their attachment figures whenever they experience anxiety. The child’s instinctual attachment behaviour repertoire includes crying, clinging, sucking, following and smiling.

Addictions could be seen as a response to ambivalent attachment to primary care givers in early life.

Soul qualities

Transpersonal psychotherapists believe in the concept of the innocent soul and the work in therapy is to uncover the true qualities before the soul was impressed by the journey of incarnation.  Qualities, it is argued, can be seen in the young baby when some are naturally very playful. The soul has its own journey and descends down through the planes of consciousness. This is in direct contradiction to the psychoanalytic school which views the neonate as having a blank canvass.

Transpersonal psychotherapists see soul as receptive by nature, it absorbs impressions, takes on impressions, consciousness starts to identify. The soul can shift and take on different shapes. Soul has a wonderful fluidity. It can be dynamic and ever changing. Our minds like to compartmentalise things in our everyday life. When we enter life, we require limitation, (parents, culture, race etc), but soul does not know limitation.

Of course, Adlerian analysts would counter that even young babies can be affected by the birth order and that the qualities can be attributable to these factors. For example, a second child might develop the qualities associated with the need to compete with the first sibling for the attention  of the parents.

Addictions, from a transpersonal perspective,  would be viewed as a loss of soul.

Angelic qualities

Qualities are deeply embedded.  Some speak of divine qualities and that these qualities are evident in the first few months of life before they get overlaid with the challenges in life. But whatever our experiences in life, and they may be harsh, the soul remains innocent. Transpersonal psychotherapists will speak of the innocence before spoiling.

The Sufis say that we are all a hidden treasure longing to be known. So we created the Creation so that we may be known.

Transpersonal psychotherapy is not alone in encompassing spirituality into treatment. Other modalities allow for the spiritual in their therapeutic approach but transpersonal psychotherapy actively involves the spiritual element in the client work. We need, however,  to work with all of these inherited qualities in order to be truly holistic and integrative in our approach. Therefore, we need analytic skills such working with the transference, dealing with resistance and understanding early childhood issues. We also need the empathy and authenticity of the humanist schools as well as the conflict model of TA. Embracing the existential school can also be useful in uncovering issues to do with mid-life crisis.

Transpersonal psychotherapy will go further and investigate the function of archetypes to help and transform our personality and character. The purpose of the spiritual archetypes, for Jung, is to reveal our true nature (soul) nature.

I believe that the real work in therapy is uncovering the story behind the story that the client is bringing. How can I facilitate another human being to manifest their real and positive qualities? I may have all sorts of theories in my head and techniques up my sleeve but these will be redundant if I am not truly conscious in the therapeutic relationship. However, when and indeed how I intervene is what makes psychotherapy an art form.

Reflections on two years of my psychotherapy training

Holiday time finds me reading books which I had failed to read throughout the year, such as I’m OK you’re OK as well as books which I want to read out of pure interest.  I also find myself reflecting on the last two years as I pass the mid point in my training. I recall what tutors said on the opening evening of the course. They said that we as students would develop as counsellors in our own unique way throughout our time at the Centre.  There was not a CCPE way to developing as a therapist but that we would grow in our own individual way and find our own truth.  I am reminded of this as I write.

As a result I find that I ask myself what is my way?  Have I read enough? What is my approach to counselling and psychotherapy?  What does it mean for me to be an integrative psychotherapist? These are questions that will be perhaps a constant line of questioning throughout my journey as a therapist.

My second year at CCPE has been a time when I have revisited early life issues and experiences. Indeed, Rosemary Cowan [1] points out that the developmental model that CCPE suggested was very helpful to her.  She notes that trainees in the first year were likened to wide-eyed, enthusiastic primary school children; in the second year, like pre-teens, they gain confidence and independence but may also be ‘know-alls’ who overstretch themselves; in the third year they reach the rebellious, argumentative, difficult teenager stage; in the fourth year, with increased maturity and stability, they become more rounded, finished characters.  I am not sure where I fit in with this model but it is an interesting theory.

 I became more conscious of the emotional effects of group-work

I learned a lot about my early childhood experiences and how I act in groups following 16 weeks of group process. Families are, after all, our first blueprint for how we act in groups. It became evident to me that my early experiences were constellating in my life as an adult. I like what Bion [2] said about experiential groups. When under attack it is far more beneficial to one’s own learning process to try to observe that one is being attacked, and take in what that experience really feels like, rather than reacting to the source of the attack.It was also interesting to sit with how I felt about those in the group who didn’t participate in the group’s discussions.

My placement gave me an insight into the limitations of psychotherapy.

I had been fortunate to secure a psychiatric observational placement at an NHS Mental Health Trust where medical students were also on placement. It proved to be an amazing experience from a learning point of view as there were many specialist services in the Trust.

I had been familiar with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) before the start of my placement through my lectures and my own prior knowledge. However, I attended a team meeting in a sexual behaviour unit in a forensics unit and learned about the Dialectical behaviour therapy treatment programme.  It was welcome to see that Zen techniques have been incorporated into the treatment models, even in the NHS.

My placement gave me an insight into the limitations of psychotherapy.  Some patients are so ill they lack the capacity for insight and a pharmacological treatment plan is critical for their recovery.  I believe we need to proceed with great caution when working with clients with psychotic conditions as there is often an absence of a healthy ego.

Gestalt Psychotherapy proved to be one of the most powerful components of the course so far

I have enjoyed the second year lectures starting off with short term therapy.  I found the lecture on short term therapy to be very helpful from a practical point of view given that I see clients for an initial period of six weeks at Help Counselling.   One or two lectures (though thankfully the minority) were uninspiring and at times I wondered whether we were really on a postgraduate level course given the poor quality of discourse in the room.

We had a three day weekend on Gestalt Psychotherapy, which for me, proved to be one of the most powerful components of the course so far.  The word gestalt is used to describe a phenomenon/concept in which the ‘whole’ is considered as greater than the sum total of all its parts.  I found the empty chair technique to be a good technique for dialoguing with absent parents, friends or colleague, dealing with unfinished business.

I believe that in psychotherapy clients make theory rather than theory making therapy. I need, therefore, to remain open-minded and use early life theory as a map which might be helpful in the navigation rather than as a set of rules. Pattern recognition is essential to good therapy. The primary difference between talking to our friends or Aunt Dorris is that counsellors are trained to look for patterns.

I believe that transpersonal psychotherapy is not alone in encompassing spirituality into treatment. Indeed, other modalities allow for the spiritual in their therapeutic approach but transpersonal psychotherapy actively involves the spiritual element in the client work.

 

[1] Therapy Today July 2012
[2] What is a Group? A discussion of Bion’s Experiences in Groups Antony Froggett 2005

Caravan drop-in counselling service celebrates 30 years

The Caravan drop-in counselling centre celebrated 30 years of service at a garden party on Friday in the grounds of St James’s church Piccadilly.

I met Revd Donald Reeves (pictured above), the founder of the Soul of Europe and the author of The Memoirs of a Very Dangerous Man. Donald was the rector in charge of the church when the caravan started life.   I also had the opportunity to chat to the Director of CCPE Nigel Hamilton as well as to Allan Pimentel (pictured below), a previous co-ordinator of the service.  In the interview we chat about about transpersonal psychotherapy and the issues involved with a drop-in counselling centre.

Caravan drop-in garden party podcast 

Pictures courtesy of Raccoon Event Photography