Monday, May 13, 2019

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF CLIMATE CHANGE COMMUNICATIONS

Our clients are anxious about climate change and how it is already and will continue to impact on their lives, the lives of their families and communities, and of the non-human beings who are our companions on the planet. They need our compassionate presence to be able to express the full spectrum of their feelings and receive guidance from us about what they can do to feel empowered and counteract the feelings of helplessness. We can also be a resource to environmental organizations that we are involved with in how to be more effective in communicating their messages about this major issue.
80% of media articles on climate change use the disaster framework emphasizing impending doom with great losses and catastrophic costs. According to Per Espen Stoknes, a Norwegian psychologist who has extensively researched the psychological effects of climate change communication, this approach unintentionally has the opposite effect of what they are trying to accomplish. Instead of generating action and collective will it evokes subconscious defensive resistance. He explains why this message evokes inner barriers to change. Per Espen Stoknes encourages us to be respectful of these subconscious responses and also offers us a number of communication strategies that can be more effective in either circumventing or bypassing these understandable human defenses.
THE WHY
If we humans were simply rational beings, when presented with scientific facts about global warming, we would simply act to make the necessary changes. However, we are also emotional and socially interactive beings. When climate messages are frightening, overwhelming, apocalyptic and induce guilt, hopelessness and powerlessness they evoke inner,often subconscious resistance. These messages engage our egos to do one of its primary jobs - to protect us from threats to our security and sense of who we are - by activating defense mechanisms. We are also socially interactive beings whose thoughts, feelings and behaviors are significantly influenced by what our friends, families, neighbors and groups with which we are identified, think and do. If a climate change message tells me to change my opinions and behaviors relative to the people I'm close to and upon whose high regard I depend(or my livelihood) then my daily life suffers potentially extremely unpleasant circumstance, from shunning to unemployment.
DISTANCING
Climate issues are usually presented in the media as distant from us: in time(2050), in space(Arctic, Antartica, South Pacific Islands) and to non-local creatures(polar bears) using abstract numbers like carbon targets. This is contrary to how we are wired through evolution which emphasizes threats that are here,immediate,spectacular with a clear enemy. This distancing can enable us to react that it is not happening now, to me or people that I care about.
DOOM
Climate messages are usually framed as an encroaching looming disaster with lots of losses,great costs and requiring us to make significant sacrifices in our lifestyle. These messages are subconsciously shaming, perhaps experienced by many people as a sermon in which we are ecological sinners - because of our high carbon footprint - who should repent(make great changes in our lifestyle) or the Apocalypse will happen. These messages produce fear, helplessness, despair and guilt. We then, as a self-protective, usually subconscious, reaction resist and internally split off these feelings(denial) so we don't feel them and then continue doing what we do.
DISSONANCE
If the scientific facts conflict cognitively with what we do or with what the people who are important to us think or do, the information creates inner tension. Then the mechanism of cognitive dissonance sets in. If we downplay or doubt the facts or dismiss them because of who the messenger is, then we can eliminate the tension and feel better about ourselves.
IDENTITY
Each of us have a significant attachment to our worldview(how we see ourselves and the world around us). We look for information that confirms our existing values or personal,professional or cultural identity. Because of this, if new information is internally experienced as a challenge to our identity, at some level of consciousness - usually subconscious - it produces anxiety and feelings of vulnerability. We will defend our identity against those threats that embody the message that we need to change who we are.
ALTERNATIVE APPROACHES
One of the most fundamental axioms of psychotherapy is to accept people where they are. So it is essential that we be very respectful of people's defenses and their resistance to change. Of course it does not make rational sense that people do not simply accept the overwhelming scientific evidence about climate change and take action. But it does make emotional sense if we consider everything that was presented in the previous paragraphs. It is essential that we let go of any tendency to be judgmental of others and avoid the common pattern of hammering people with more facts. That simply increases the defensive resistance and makes us a threat.
One more effective pathway to communicate messages regarding climate change is to honor the human tendency to imitate, cooperate with and be influenced by friends and neighbors by using messages that describe what positive things others are doing locally. We can support the identity issue by describing what people who have similar values to them are doing. Many people are not aware - because the media does not promulgate these stories - that large numbers of people in their identity group are already making changes. For example, Catholics and other Christians(including evangelicals) are increasingly embracing the stewardship ethic(take care of creation) and moving away from the dominion model(use nature for human purposes). Churches are looking at energy usage in their buildings, their investments in fossil fuel companies: ministers and priests are incorporating climate messages in their sermons. Many people who are passionate about defense and national security issues and about veterans are not aware that the Pentagon has been already working for several years on climate change solutions that affect the military.
To counteract the common messages that focus on that it is each of our individual responsibility to do something(with the accompanying sense of being overwhelmed and alone) we can present it as an opportunity to be part of a social movement. According to Paul Hawken there are hundreds of thousands - perhaps millions - of groups worldwide that are working on environmental and social justice issues. In order for them to feel empowered we can encourage our clients to find the organization that fits for them. Our individual contributions then become part of a movement of movements.
POSITIVE REFRAMING
In contrast to the 80% of negative news stories it is important for us to reframe the narrative. Instead of focusing on devastating pollution, reframe to improving air quality as a way of caring for the health and safety of our families and the environment. Instead of uncertainty regarding an apocalyptic future we can reframe it to doing things that are acts of prevention, preparedness and reducing future risk. Instead of emphasizing the need for everyone to make sacrifices, reframe it as an opportunity for communities and businesses to become more efficient in energy use, competitive with other cities and companies and develop better more fulfilling jobs with a living wage. As one example, the Tea Party is starting to embrace solar energy because it is a way to free people from the reliance on utility monopolies. The reframe is FREE MARKET ENERGY.
THE POWER OF STORIES
Humans will respond to stories more than abstract numbers like carbon targets. We respond to compelling narratives that capture our attention, help us to imagine a future and inspire us to be part of a movement that is trying to make change happen. In contrast to the powerful archetypal apocalyptic climate story that is usually presented we need a plurality of other positive stories each potentially creating a level of engagement for different groups of people.
GREEN GROWTH NARRATIVE
We can grow an economy that is SMARTER - increases efficiency, cuts energy costs, is less wasteful of precious resources, improves water quality and creates fulfilling jobs. For example, solar power already employs more people than oil and coal combined. And is growing. One reframe that resonates with many people is,"Brown growth was the 20th century. Green growth is the 21st century."
WELL-BEING NARRATIVE
Envision a future where people have a greater sense of life satisfaction and well-being(tools for measuring these aspects are now available to either replace or augment GDP). Imagine a future with forests restored, soil replenished, ecological imprint diminished, with more efficient buildings designed with care for people who live and work in them, workers having a living wage.
STEWARDSHIP NARRITIVE
Imagine religious groups replacing the human domination of creation story with the human stewardship of creation story. This shift is already happening with a wide spectrum of religious groups. And growing. Encourage religious people to be part of the movement making this moral shift in a more caring direction.
REWILDING NARRATIVE
This narrative tells the story of our feeling of love and awe for the beauty and wonder of nature, of our heartfelt and soulful connection to the places we live and to the non-human beings who are our neighbors. We want to protect diversity and to bring back the other creatures. Instead of working against nature we want to team up with nature and make it possible for her to do her restorative work.
A WAY-OF-BEING
Stoknes also points a pathway of a way-of-being during this time. He describes it for himself as "Grounded Hope". One aspect of this way-of-being is to acknowledge - not deny - and allow oneself to feel the Great Grief of the losses of habitat,species,diversity,beauty... To acknowledge that it might be hopeless to change. To feel the Eco-Anxiety evoked by knowing that the place we live,the place we love - our home - is under attack. To acknowledge and feel the anger/rage that this is happening. By acknowledging our feelings we counteract the psychological resistance and free up energy. It takes psychological energy to block these feelings.
The other aspect of this way-of-being is for each of us to increase our awareness of our connection to the non-human world and to deepen it. We are not separate from nature(the environment is not outside of us) we are immersed in nature. It permeates and envelops us. We are in and part of nature. We can increase our love for and expand our open-heartedness to the non human world. We can relate to the other non-human beings as part of our beloved community. We can become open to the possibility that they are reaching out to us, trying to communicate to us, trying to work with us. This deepening of our connection to the natural world can be concurrent with and co-exist with all the feelings that the crisis evokes.


Most of the ideas presented in this blog are extrapolated from "What We Think About When We are Trying Not To Think About Global Warming" by Per Espen Stoknes

Saturday, January 19, 2019

AGING AND STILL GROWING

I am 76 years old and still growing psychologically and as a psychotherapist. Many of my patients are in their 60's and 70's and are also still experiencing themselves as growing psychologically. Including some who are experiencing profound shifts in their way-of-being-in-the-world. I and my patients also do acknowledge the physical and cognitive changes of the aging process and the full spectrum of feelings that those changes evoke. And. We feel more open to the potential for continuing to grow psychologically and spiritually until we die.
One day, a year and a half ago I was in robust health. Suddenly - without any warning - within six hours I was riding in an ambulance heading for the emergency room where I was diagnosed with pneumonia and septic shock. If my wife Jeanne had arrived home an hour later - which would have been her usual time - she probably would have found her beloved husband dead. Before this episode I was already very conscious of my aging process. Yet, this sudden physical and psychological trauma still is affecting me every day. I have become even more acutely aware of the preciousness of every day of life. I have become more conscious of how certain behavior patterns and ego attachments to some ways-of-being-in-the-world have blocked me from being more open to the flow of life. I have become more open to the flow of love between myself and others including my patients. My life is feeling fuller and richer.
One of my patients started psychotherapy at 87 at the insistence of his girlfriend who stated that their relationship would end unless he addressed his anger issues. In the initial sessions he was able to acknowledge that his lifelong pattern of explosions of anger had been so destructive to all his relationships. In subsequent sessions he was to look at his tendency toward self-sabotage that had blocked him from being more successful and really enjoying the many accomplishments of his life. As our work progressed he was able to internalize my repeated reminder, "time is running out" and has worked hard to make changes. Now at 89 his frequent refrain is "I am a lucky man." This expresses his deep appreciation for the richness of his life - the people who love him, the accomplishments (which are still happening) and his own personhood. His relationship is thriving.
Another patient, who had initiated therapy at 68 because of anxiety, was, after a year in therapy, diagnosed with early onset dementia. Because of the dementia he became unable to work and to perform many of the fix-it chores around his home. These had been his primary ways of defining himself. Initially these losses increased his anxiety, made him feel useless and diminished his already low self-worth. Gradually, as he increasingly accepted his "condition" - his Buddhist meditation practice was very helpful in that process - I and his wife witnessed significant psychological and spiritual growth. In contrast to before, when his demeanor was more serious and guarded, he seemed "softer" with a sense of lightness of being. He became more able to feel that his wife loved him for who he was not for what he did for her or their home. He trusted more the solid foundation of their love built through all the struggles they had weathered together. As they reflected upon these changes, both of them felt that somehow the memory loss and cognitive diminishments of dementia were helping the process of letting go of old ways of viewing himself and others and creating a more flexible way of being.
Another patient had initiated therapy because of the psychospiritual crisis evoked by becoming 70. Several of his close friends had recently died. Several weeks before our first session, two of his other friends had been diagnosed with early onset dementia. Early in our therapy he realized that although he had been in therapy twice before some core issues had not changed in any significant way. He wanted to delve more deeply. I have witnessed this phenomenon repeatedly with my aging patients especially when they connect to the phrase "time is running out." He was amazed when I said that I experienced him as a "very sensitive soul" and that he had probably been that way all his life. It became clear that he was still experiencing life through the lens of a very sensitive boy who grew up in the everyday atmosphere of the complex trauma of a highly dysfunctional family. It was especially helpful when I labelled that part of himself as "Little Paulie" who was very fearful and still filled with family shame. We then used the name "Big Paul" for the adult part of himself that was witnessing with compassion "Little Paulie" and protectively encouraging him to grow up. "Big Paul" conveyed the attitude, "It's safe now. I'm here for you. You're not alone anymore." He was profoundly grateful that with a lot of hard work both during and between sessions he was gradually able - even at 70 - to significantly shift his perspective on life and himself.
I feel moved to tell these stories about myself and my patients because they are hopeful and are counter to our cultural narrative. Our cultural stereotype is that old people sit around talking about their litany of body pains and aches, their cognitive and memory losses and the deaths of their friends. There is a partial truth in that stereotype. When I gather with friends those issues are often brought up first. However, someone usually changes that narrative. When one of my friends asks me "How are you?" my usual response is some version of "A year and a half ago I almost died suddenly. Because of that I am more aware of the preciousness of every day and I am grateful for and more open to the richness of my life."
As psychotherapists and counsellors we can help change the inner narratives of our aging patients/clients and the cultural narrative about the aging process. Yes, it is important for us and our clients to be able to acknowledge the full spectrum of feelings evoked by all the losses. And. It is also essential to look at and be open to the ongoing opportunity for more psychospiritual growth. Perhaps it will be helpful for your clients to internalize the mantra "time is running out" not with a sense of fear and dread, but with a sense of deep awareness of the preciousness of each day. A question for each of us to be asking is, "If my time is limited what do I want to do with it, who do I want to share it with, and how do I want to be with these people?" This means looking at how we may be blocking deeper intimacy with the people in our lives. This means looking at how some old ways-of-being-in-the world, ways of viewing myself and others that may no longer be useful in this stage of life. This means looking at whether my thought processes are too focused on projecting into the future and upon the losses, that I am missing out on the present moments of everyday life. These are the questions we can help our aging clients to address.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

OUR NATURE PLACES AND CLIMATE CHANGE

My contemplative walks in the woods and to a local pond are essential to my taking care of myself. My work as a psychotherapist, which requires deep compassionate listening and my being in the energy field of so much pain and suffering, can sometimes be very depleting. These twice a week walks enable me to recharge my psychological batteries. I have recommended this practice in other blogs(e.g. Recharging). From the feedback that I've received that suggestion has been helpful. These sojourns into nature also create a psycho-spiritual space of openness and receptivity wherein I connect to: God, to my personal Higher Self, to other realms of consciousness and to the non-human beings who live in those nature places. As a result of many years of these walks I have developed a deep love and attachment to these places. They have become sanctuaries for me.

THE EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE
I live in a small town in western Massachusetts so I have not yet experienced some of the catastrophic effects of climate change that have occurred in other parts of the world. What I have witnessed have been more subtle, but I can project over the next decade(s).

► What will happen to our beloved forests and to the creatures that live in them that are genetically
adapted to New England winters?
► What will happen as there is much less snow to those families that rely on the income generated by
those who enjoy winter activities?
► What health issues will be produced by the rising horde of disease-bearing ticks and increased air pollution?
At 76 I do not expect to witness these more severe effects. But the younger members of my community will.
And my sons and their families who live in New York, New Jersey, Maine and New Hampshire will.
► What will they experience?
► What will the impact be over the next few decades upon other people all over the world and upon
the non-human beings who are our companions on this planet?
► What changes have you observed in your beloved local nature places? What do you project will happen
there in the next few decades?
► What about the places where your children and grandchildren live?
► What about friends,family members and colleagues?

From my perspective it is important that the words "climate change" not be an abstract notion. By personalizing it and focusing on what we are witnessing now locally and projecting it forward we will connect more deeply with our feelings. Sadness. Fear/terror. Anger/rage. Powerlessness. Hopelessness. Of course, these feelings are difficult to hold and to be more conscious of. For me what has arisen more strongly alongside these feelings is a greater need to DO SOMETHING and
to be part of a group of people who are trying to DO SOMETHING.

For years before this I have contributed money to environmental organizations, invested in companies working on these issues, gone to protests etc. But this feels different - for me it is activating an intention to devote time and energy to be part of a collective effort towards a solution.

What "solution" I have chosen is to be involved in my local chapter of a national and international organization called Citizens Climate Lobby. Citizens Climate Lobby is focused on passing the legislative solution that climate scientists and economists of both political parties agree is the best legislative first step to reduce greenhouse gasses and the likelihood of catastrophic climate change - carbon fee and dividend. Simply, a fee is charged to the fossil fuel company at the point of origin(the coal mine, oil or natural gas oil well). All the money collected is held in a fund and returned to each American citizen in the form of a monthly check. One of the major impacts of CCL efforts thus far has been the formation and significant expansion of a bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus in the US House of Representatives. I would strongly encourage you to learn more about carbon fee and dividend and the Citizens Climate Lobby
(VISIT - CitizensClimateLobby.org)and support this work.

My primary purpose in writing this blog is to encourage you to "DO SOMETHING' and to help your clients to deal with their sense of being overwhelmed and powerless by also DOING SOMETHING. What is essential is that whatever you decide to do resonates with you personally. This heartfelt and soulful motivation coupled with being part of a collective will be what sustains us in our efforts to deal with this huge issue. If Citizens Climate lobby does not resonate with you as what you personally want to do, please support our efforts, and also take a look at the book "Drawdown" by Paul Hawken which offers a number of other "solutions". I'm sure that you will find something that connects with you. We need to utilize many approaches to confront this problem.



For More Information:
Visit Citizens Climate Lobby

Thursday, July 5, 2018

THERAPEUTIC PRESENCE

Did your training as a psychotherapist or counsellor emphasize the importance of being a caring therapeutic presence? Did your training discuss how to cultivate and enhance your therapeutic presence? My training certainly did not. If course theories and techniques of psychotherapy are also important. However, over 40 years of experience in private practice have taught me that cultivating and being a caring therapeutic presence is essential. Without that our theories and techniques are much less effective. It is important for us to remember that the literature on effective psychotherapy consistently has reported that when clients are asked, "What was most helpful to you?" their response is some version of: "My therapist genuinely cared about me as a person"; "My therapist was really there for me,not just using techniques."
It is not easy to find adequate words to describe therapeutic presence. A vital aspect of it is our intention to have our whole self engaged in the session as much as possible on that day with that person. It means physically being there not exhausted or distracted by other objects in the room. It means cognitively discerning what therapeutic perspective and technique will be most responsive to the needs of this person today. It means being emotionally engaged with an open heart trying to sustain an empathic compassionate connection. It means being spiritually open trying to access guidance and wisdom from our own personal Higher Self and whatever other sources of assistance that might be available.
To be that kind of caring presence for many hours each day with a wide range of clients over many years is a profound challenge. Perfection is not possible. However, there is lots of good news for those of us who are trying to be that kind of presence. First of all, brain research has indicated that taking the time before each session to have the intention to do so activates the neocortex which then aligns other parts of the brain so that the probability of deep presence occurring is enhanced. Second, brain research has also validated my experience of over 40 years of doing this work. The more you cultivate therapeutic presence the more brain patterns develop and then get strengthened over time. So gradually the capacity to be that kind of presence becomes easier to access and then you also have a deeper reservoir to draw upon.
Cultivating and accessing a caring therapeutic presence is the work of a lifetime. There are several helpful pathways for each of us to explore. Because this is a brief blog I will just mention some of them and then describe one in more detail. For a thorough elucidation of this topic I would suggest reading, "Therapeutic Presence: A Mindful Approach to Effective Therapy" by Shari Geller and Leslie Greenberg(2012). That work inspired and informed this blog, broadened my understanding particularly of the brain research,and validated my years of experience.
Our own personal psychotherapy is an essential pathway that will help us become more conscious of our personal issues that might be triggered by our clients and are reducing our effectiveness. Also being attentive to our own self-care is vital so that we are not tired from or distracted by the responsibilities of the multiple roles of our lives. Because we are often not good at taking care of ourselves I have written elsewhere(see blog and book chapter on Recharging) on what are some of the psychological blocks that you may have to good self-care. In addition we need to work on developing more compassion - particularly self-compassion - so that we can be more open-heartedly compassionate towards our clients. We may also need to cultivate being a more compassionate presence in our everyday lives. An important question for each of us to explore is: "To what extent am I more present to my clients than I am to other people in my life?" I am not saying that we should be therapists with our family and friends. Rather I am saying there are probably many brief moments in each day when we could be a more compassionate human being. Why that is important is that the brain research indicates that the more that we cultivate presence throughout our lives the stronger those brain patterns become. We then have a deeper reservoir to draw upon during sessions.
I now want to share several practices that I have incorporated into my life that have helped me to develop and deepen a more caring therapeutic presence. Five minutes before I begin my morning or afternoon's work I sit in my therapist's chair and ask my Higher Self and other sources of guidance for help in fulfilling my intention for my clients to be a source of compassion, peacefulness and strength. I follow that with meditational breathing imagining with the out breath that I am letting go of whatever might be blocking me from being present that day. For a few minutes between clients I do the same. This is a practice I have been doing for many years. It is a way of acknowledging to myself that I am consciously moving from the ego realm of ordinary life into a different level of consciousness where my therapeutic self resides. It is fascinating for me recently to learn that brain research is now validating the importance of taking the time to set my attention which then calls into alignment other brain patterns.
In my meditational practice I have developed a relationship with certain nature places that have helped deepen my capacity to be present to my clients. This was certainly not my original intention in developing that aspect of my spiritual practice. However, it has evolved in such a way that is helpful to my work. Often I sit in meditation with my back up against an old ash tree with its thick roots exposed above the ground. For me the tree symbolically represents strength, stability, rootedness. That individual tree has become a living connection to the archetypal "Tree of Life". I also have a poster of a giant redwood in my office. When I look at the poster it reminds me of my local ash tree - and my actual experience of having meditated inside a redwood tree - and connects me at that moment to my intention to be a reliable source of rooted strength for my clients.
I also sit near a local pond and meditate. For me that pond symbolically represents stillness, peacefulness, equanimity. When I sit there I am trying to cultivate those qualities in my own consciousness not only for myself,but also so that I can project - perhaps even transmit - the energy of those feeling states for the people in my life. I have a painting of a pond in my office. When I look at it before I begin my work and during sessions it connects me to my intention to be a source of peacefulness.
I am extraordinarily blessed to have a small brook that is thirty feet behind our home and flows through our property. When I stand or sit by it I ask the brook to help me more connect to the flow of life. There is so much to learn about what the Taoists refer to as "the watercourse way" that is relevant for the human journey. Increasingly, witnessing the ways of the brook have helped me to be more in the flow of a session with each particular client on that day. To be able to let go of my need to control, influence or even know what's going on in a session and simply trust the process. What a challenge for my ego! Yet the brook is a good teacher. Having spent so many hours in the presence of that old tree, the pond and the brook have helped me to cultivate those qualities of a rooted strength, peacefulness and trust in the flow of life. I am then able to offer the presence of those qualities to my clients.

Several parts of this blog have been inspired or influenced by my recent reading of: Therapeutic Presence: A Mindful Approach to Effective Therapy by Shari Geller and Leslie Greenberg.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

EVOLVING AS A PSYCHOTHERAPIST

As I reflect upon my over 40 years as a psychotherapist I can now see there were stages in my evolution. I have also witnessed similar patterns in the therapists I have supervised and in colleagues that I've known for many years.The evolution has not been completely linear. There were certainly moments of creativity during my imitation period and there continue to be moments of imitation during the this later more authentic epoch.
IMITATION AND IMMERSION
In my earliest years as a psychotherapist I usually simply imitated what my therapist had done with me.At times it was pure mimicry - using the same words, gestures and tone of voice. My first therapist was a psychoanalyst. When I realized that I needed more training and supervision I went for four years of point-doctoral study to the same institute where he had trained. For those four years I read extensively and almost exclusively the writings of Freud, his followers and the neo-Freudians of the next generations of psychoanalysts. I immersed myself in that tradition.
If Freud witnessed how I worked now he would probably turn over in his grave or more likely excommunicate me for betraying him, the psychoanalytic tradition and my teachers. Yet I strongly feel that period of imitation and immersion was essential for the foundation of my lifework as a psychotherapist. I also acknowledge that I still use some of those concepts and techniques - they are now expressed through the unique synthesis that is my more authentic self.
Imitating our therapist or supervisor or favorite author was not a negative, it was necessary. We read extensively or entered a training program and assimilated ideas and techniques within a particular theoretical framework that we were initially drawn to or exposed to. It was important to immerse ourselves so that a solid foundation got built through practicing certain techniques and internalizing ideas within that paradigm.
Perhaps it might be fitting to describe that initial stage as an apprenticeship.
During this early period of our development some of our initial expressions of creativity and movement toward a more authentic self often show up as acts of rebellion or subversion. My second therapist was the head of this analytic institute. In therapy with him I refused to lie on the couch. In the atmosphere of that psychoanalytic institute that was a very rebellious act - an early signal that I was going to follow my own path.
With some of my early patients who were adult children of alcoholics I went against what was then a cardinal rule of psychoanalysis - to remain neutral and not disclose yourself. I revealed that my father too was an alcoholic. My patients deeply appreciated that empathic linkage. I took a further step and submitted an article describing my unorthodox ways of working with that population of patients. Somewhat to my surprise it was accepted by a respected psychoanalytic journal.
MASTERING THE CRAFT
As we practice the techniques that we have assimilated we learn: what works for some clients and not others; what ideas explain issues that our clients are struggling with and what does not; what ways of working are a good fit for our personality and what feels inauthentic.
In order to further evolve in the craft of psychotherapist it then becomes essential to intentionally expose ourselves to other theoretical perspectives and to expand our repertoire of techniques and strategies. This stretches us in that we are not rigidly adhering to a particular framework and broadens what we can offer our clients. As we explore and incorporate these other pathways what occurs - often unconsciously - is an internal reorganization of theoretical perspectives and a synthesis into a new therapeutic self. I explored Jungian,humanistic, cognitive-behavioral, psychosynthesis and many other perspectives. Increasingly we then find it hard to answer the frequently asked question,"Are you a Jungian, cognitive-behaviorist, Freudian...? What would you call yourself?"
BECOMING MORE AUTHENTIC
Many therapists over a number of years are able to develop a high level of mastery of the craft of psychotherapist. They expand what they can offer their clients by synthesizing the ideas and techniques of these other approaches. Yet they tend to stay within the boundaries of the known and familiar rarely breaking out to try something radically new, something that is their own unique insight or technique.
From my perspective it is important in the later stage of our evolution as a psychotherapists to consistently take more risks - to say or do more things with our clients that are authentically our own, that we have not consciously heard or read about others doing. To be more creative. This is not to say that we haven't been creative before or that these ideas are not influenced by others.
Sometimes these creative movements emerge from a personal life experience. For example, my ideas and strategies for helping my patients with self-forgiveness evolved from an identity crisis precipitated by my initiating a divorce. Nothing in my professional experience provided a clue how to forgive myself for the overwhelming guilt I felt for causing so much pain to people that I loved. I then developed ways of helping my patients to forgive themselves that were inspired by my personal journey.
Another, the technique of The Council, emerged from a weekend retreat in an isolated cabin that I took when I was turning 60. I had decided to imagine that the different parts of my personality were on this retreat and were addressing the question,"What is happening in my inner life as I enter my 60's?" I took a yellow legal pad - the same kind that I am writing on now to compose this blog - and unexpectedly I wrote pages and pages of thoughts and feelings. That led to the concept of The Council - a very effective tool that I now utilize when patients are facing a major life decision or entering a transitional moment in their lives.
Two medical crises, one was a very aggressive cancer in my mid-60's and the other seven months ago shortly after my 75th birthday, wherein I almost died liberated me to be more self-disclosing in unexpected ways. My patients dealing with their own medical crises or issues of aging and dying have been profoundly grateful for these moments of empathic connecting.
At other times these creative moments just spontaneously arise during a session where we suddenly find ourselves saying something to or doing something with a client that we've never thought of or done before. And its on the mark! It's exactly right for that person and that moment. Afterwards we find ourselves wondering,"What just happened? Where did that come from?" It is our creative and courageous - going beyond the boundaries of what is familiar and known - response to that moment.
These moments off letting go and being receptive to "something" flowing through me have increased since about ten years ago I started to more actively cultivate my relationship with my own personal Higher Self.In addition to my conscious efforts to engage my Higher Self during my contemplative walks in nature I started a practice of meditational preparation before starting work. Before I begin seeing my first patient I spend at least five minutes in meditational breathing and asking my Higher Self, "Please help me to be a vehicle of compassion and heart wisdom." Also, "Help me to connect to other sources of wisdom and healing beyond myself. Help me to be open to the assistance of the Higher Self of my patients." During sessions, particularly at moments when I feel uncertain what to say or confused by what is happening or overwhelmed by the amount of emotion that my patient is expressing, I ask my Higher Self for help. These "prayers" have helped to create a receptive space in my ordinary consciousness so that these creative moments of inspiration from multiple sources of consciousness can occur. At these times I feel more fully alive and authentically present to the moment.

Many of the ideas expressed in this blog have been influenced and inspired by writings about creativity in Oliver Sacks recent posthumous book,"The River Of Consciousness."

Thursday, October 19, 2017

RESTORING OURSELVES

My wife Jeanne and I recently returned from a much-needed eight day vacation in the town of Wellfleet on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. That section of Cap Cod is only three miles wide. On one side is the Atlantic Ocean and on the other is the bay. Every day we walked on the beaches at the water's edge. We focused on what it felt like to walk in the moist sand, to hear the comings and goings of the waves, to feel on our bodies the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the onshore breeze, to smell the salt air. We sat on the sand and did our meditation taking it all in physically, psychologically and spiritually.
It was so restorative. The cumulative tiredness and depletion of the effects of my recent medical crisis and the many months of our work as psychotherapists gradually ebbed away. We felt nourished by this immersion in the natural world, our dormant and depleted life energy was being replenished. It was a reminder to both of us that whenever we have experienced a physical/psychological/spiritual crisis spending concentrated time in nature has been the most reliable source of reconnecting to the life force both within and outside of us.
Who knows why spending that kind of time by the ocean is so restorative. Certainly there is something primordial about being at the ocean's edge. Is there some resonance with our reptilian brain that reminds us of the origins of our species? Is there some connecting with the primal memories of being in the nourishing waters of the womb? Is there something about the intake of negative ions that affects us at a cellular level? Is the unending ebb and flow of the tidal waters connecting our spirits with some feelings about eternal life? Maybe all of the above.
As psychotherapists and counsellors it is essential for all of us to have ways of restoring ourselves. We all spend many hours each week in the energy field of the suffering and struggles of our clients. Each of our clients needs us to be an open-hearted compassionate presence. After work when we return home our partners and children also need us to be emotionally available. How do we sustain that level of presence and not become exhausted, overwhelmed, emotionally distant, resentful and numb?
In order to sustain that level of empathic connection which is necessary for our most optimal work each of us needs to find our ways of restoring ourselves that uniquely fit us. From over 40 years of experience in private practice I have learned that a primary pathway is to regularly spend solitary time in some local nature setting. Whenever I sit, stand or walk alongside the brook that is behind my home or the water flowing at the bottom of the small gorge several miles away or at a local pond I feel reenergized. My psychological and spiritual batteries are being recharged. Standing or sitting by the water, acknowledging this felt sense of the presence of life giving energy, I take some meditational breaths. With the inhale I say "Water of life" and with the exhale breath I release the feelings of depletion.
When I am in the office in the psychological energy field of my patient's strong feelings, that sometimes can be overwhelming, I look at the painting of a pond that I placed on the wall behind my patient. Using that image to tap into the memory of the feeling state of being by the water I quietly do a few meditational breaths. With the inhale breath I imagine myself accessing the felt sense of being by the water and with exhale breath releasing the feelings of anxiety about being overwhelmed by the power of my patient's feelings. Gradually I begin to feel that some larger source of life is sustaining me at that moment. I am again able to be fully present with an open heart.

For more about this topic I encourage you to read another blog entitled "A Walk In the Woods" and the youtube video called "Recharging" www.youtube.com/WilliamPRyanPhd

Thursday, July 13, 2017

I ALMOST DIED

Two months ago, while home alone, suddenly without warning my body was wracked with chills. Then for the next four hours I had alternating bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. When my wife Jeanne arrived home she found me in this depleted state and called my physician who fortunately picked up the call and said go to the emergency room. In the ambulance my body temperature was 105 and my blood pressure was plummeting to dangerously low levels. The emergency room team treated me aggressively with antibiotics, intravenous fluids and norenephrenine to regulate my blood pressure. I was in the intensive care unit for five days with a diagnosis of streptococcal pneumonia and severe septic shock made worse by the fact I have no spleen because it was removed twelve years ago as a result of very aggressive lymphoma. On the third day of my stay in intensive care, as my body was recovering unexpectedly quickly, the RN revealed that when I arrived I was the sickest person on the unit. At that moment I became increasingly aware that if everyone(Jeanne, my physician, the ER team) had not acted in such a timely way I would have died.
PLEASE CARRY ME
In the ambulance en route to the hospital, in the emergency room and throughout my five day stay in the intensive care unit I frequently asked my Higher Self, "Please carry me." And it did. My dear wife Jeanne, who was fully with me throughout this major medical crisis - including sleeping on a couch in my room every night - said it was amazing to witness that my consciousness was present during the whole experience. My primary care physician, who is a dear friend, visited me at home two days after I returned from the hospital and asked,"Were you freaking out at times?" I was perplexed by her very understandable question. After a while I realized that at no time in this ordeal did I feel fearful or anxious. WOW!
My Higher Self carried me through what one of the RN's described as "the most massive stress test that your body could ever experience." That transcendent part of my consciousness helped me to be fully present so the I could: collaborate with the medical staff, be unafraid so that fear did not interfere with my treatments and recovery, and most importantly to feel deeply that I was going to be "OK."
This is profound for me. It has deepened my faith that no matter what happens in my life, including my dying, my Higher Self will be present as my companion,as a source of strength and equanimity to carry me through. WOW!!! For many years I have cultivated a personal relationship with my Higher Self - whom I call Wiseheart. This medical crisis bore to me the fruits of that ongoing work. With my psychotherapy patients I encourage them also to develop that ongoing relationship and teach them how to access their Higher Self in everyday life. This experience has affirmed the importance of that work. I encourage you too to cultivate an ongoing relationship to your personal Higher Self.
I AM ALIVE
There are no adequate words to describe the level of gratefulness that I feel to my body, to the medical staff at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton Massachusetts, and to all the people whose presence, love and prayers helped me through this ordeal. Coexisting alongside these feelings of immense gratefulness I was also carrying and contemplating - for several weeks after my return home - this unanswerable psychospiritual question "What is it like to not exist in this form?"
About a month after my hospital stay Jeanne and I felt we needed some time away and we went for three days to a town an hour and a half from our home. Our first night over pizza and beer we were discussing again all the thoughts and feelings we were each having while I was in the hospital. Then a man walked up to our table and said, "Do you remember me?" I looked up and said "Yes,but I don't know from where." He said,"I'm Matt. I was your nurse at the hospital." Both Jeanne and I got up, hugged him and expressed our great gratitude. I said," I can't imagine any hospital in the world giving me any better care than you and the rest of the staff at Cooley Dickinson gave me." He introduced his wife and son and we expressed our feelings to them. After he left Jeanne and I expressed our awe at this moment of synchronicity. What are the odds that at the moment we were talking about the hospital Matt - who lives two and a half hours from this pizzeria - would be there with his family.
Later that night,lying in bed while Jeanne was asleep, I began to have flashbacks of being in the hospital. After a while something inside me said "You are alive." Then it shifted to "I am alive' and then became a robust "I AM ALIVE." To affirm this statement I decided to do two things that I could not do in the hospital: one,get up and walk around; two, open a window and breathe outside air. Since that moment I say aloud robustly several times each day "I AM ALIVE." I do this to strengthen that inner feeling and to respond to the call to be more fully alive. The earlier question,"What is it like not to exist in this form" has receded. It is as if that synchronistic moment of Matt's appearance acted as a psychospiritual bridge to move me along from my thoughts that I almost died and ruminations about non-existence to a way-of being-in-the-world more connected to the life force. WOW!!!