Altered States; Why Insight by Itself Isn’t Enough For Lasting Change.
By: Brent Atkinson
Commentary by Diana
In “Altered States,” Brent Atkinson looks at the importance of repetitive practice over insight and understanding. He talks about his experience of people finding insight and breakthrough moments in therapy sessions and then returning for the next session in just as much turmoil as before. He talks about the brain’s ability to be rewired based on our own will and self awareness, freeing us from a dependence on more reactive fight or flight responses. Atkinson states, “most neuroscience researchers agree that the brain acquires new habits through repetition.” (Atkinson in Altered States.) Atkinson offered his clients affirmations and recorded tapes of his voice encouraging them positively so that they could be played over and over again during their challenging moments. He saw great lasting effect from this. He also worked with clients to develop affirmations based on what helped them to shift in a therapy session. Some connected more to imagery and metaphor. He likens this to prayer or spiritual discipline that have helped people for thousands of years to calm and connect to a higher purpose.
Atkinson looked at neurobiology to discover the areas of the brain that fire up when we are in states identified with love. He cites these four centres as lust, spontaneity/play, nurturing/care, and panic. This last state is often experienced as yearning or abandonment. These states are known for deep emotional bonding. The two states that are housed in the amygdala that are more automatic are the fight and flight modes. He says these are the most frustrating for therapists. “Fight… quickens the breathing, sends blood to the muscles in preparation for striking out, and releases adrenaline and noradrenaline into the bloodstream and brain. It sharpens some mental functions and leads a person to think in decisive, impulsive, blaming, oversimplified ways. It’s accompanied by the attitude “You’re wrong, and I’m right.” (Atkinson in Altered States.) The fear state produces anxiety and causes a person to freeze and withdraw. Both of these states would keep couples stuck in uncontrollable emotions and negative interaction patterns regardless of the insight or understanding they attained about them. Atkinson remarked how shocked he was to see couples continuing these patterns even though they knew that blaming and withdrawing would not get them what they needed in the relationship. He found that encouraging the clients through empathy, validation, and acceptance would help calm them down and get them out of these automatic functions into brain states that were more calm and self aware. He would go on to give clients tools to shift their moods in situations where they could not be easily calmed. This would require repetition in order to have lasting effect. I believe that this training of the mind is very effective, based on my own experience with self inquiry, visualization and meditation practices. My own mental states have changed based on building new pathways through experience slowly and consistently over time. I feel like this process could help a couple develop tools to work on their relationships day by day, step by step outside of the therapy room. This could help them to integrate the therapy session into their everyday lives where repetition and consistency could provide lasting change.
Mindsight; Dan Siegel offers therapists a new vision of the brain. Wylie – Sykes, Mary. Psychotherapy Networker. Sept./Oct. 2004. Vol. 28, Issue 5.
Commentary by Diana
In Mindsight, Mary Sykes Wylie speaks about Daniel Siegel’s Interpersonal Neurobiology and how he was inspired by Attachment and Narrative Theories. The article summarizes Siegel’s work that connects neuroscience with human relationship, linking brain research with therapeutic practice. He is a foremost expert on child psychology and uses his research to show the effects of positive attitude and relationship on the brain.
Siegel studied the effects of relationship and secure attachment on the brain, blending brain research with psychotherapy. He began to ask questions about how we develop as relational beings, how we find a sense of self and empathy and the ramifications on the therapeutic relationship. Some of the most powerful research in Attachment Theory that Siegel came across was by Mary Main. It measured the effects of parents’ relationship to their children based on their own understanding of the relationship with their parents. It was the way that parents made sense of their own relationships that was the most powerful (85 percent accuracy) of whether their own children would be securely attached to them.
Siegel also found inspiration in Narrative Therapy. Narrative Theorizes that we find meaning in stories and it’s through this meaning that we determine how we live our lives. He found that Attachment and Narrative have a great potential to instill hope and provide a missing therapeutic link. These theories both impart that we are changeable and not doomed to some destiny created by our early experiences. “I loved the way attachment research showed that fate (having less-than-perfect parents) isn’t necessarily destiny,” says Siegel. “If you can make sense of your story, you can change it.” (Siegel in Sykes-Wylie.) Seigel went on to support these theories with scientific research, showing that brain can develop and change based on what we focus on. His clients could find a healthy distance between what was happening to them and who they were. This externalizes the problem from the person, an idea talked about in Narrative. The person could see that their brains were functioning in a certain way and that the awareness of this, or mindsight, could be developed to alter what they thought and in turn alter their brain function. His interest is in how mindfulness works in the brain and how it can, literally, change brain function. His findings on this research are a valuable asset to therapists and those seeking therapy.
We, Understanding the Psychology of Romantic Love. New York: Harper Collins.
By: Johnson, Robert A.
Commentary by Diana
In “We” the Jungian analyst Robert Johnson provides a useful account of the challenges we face as a Western culture surrounding romantic love. He looks at the beliefs, ideals, attitudes and expectations we have of romantic love and explores why these are ultimately unsatisfying. He sees that our ideas about love are often contradictory and unconscious, creating conflict because we are not aware of them yet they dominate our behaviours and perceptions. We have assumptions as to what we should feel and get out of a relationship, a feeling of wholeness and ecstasy. When this dwindles after the first honeymoon stages of a relationship, we often blame the other person, overlooking that we need to change our own unconscious attitudes, expectations and demands. I feel this awareness is crucial in understanding and helping couples to attain a more satisfying relationship with themselves and their partners.
In Chapter 16 of “We” Robert Johnson speaks about the two aspects of romantic love in reference to Jung’s idea of the Anima, or feminine soul quality. In the myth of Tristan and Iseult, Johnson explores the journey of Tristan, the warrior knight on his journey to be with his love, Queen Iseult. He presents the Anima as Iseult/Maya, two parts of the soul that we experience. The Iseult aspect is the “Queen of the Inner World” who leads us to our deepest, most satisfying sense of self. The other aspect of this soul experience is Maya, Goddess of Illusion, leading us into disillusionment with the relationship and away from ourselves.
Johnson sees romantic love as a pointer to our Divine natures. He sees the illusion we fall prey to as a distorted relationship between inner and outer worlds. The role of Anima is to show us the universal and eternal vastness of our consciousness. It brings us into the internal, archetypal side of ourselves. If we learn to find satisfaction with an inner relationship to ourselves and not project those needs on to our finite relationships, we can lessen our suffering and unrealistic expectations of our external relationships. I found this to be a refreshing and complementary perspective to Attachment Theory, which focuses on the orchestration of external relationship to fulfill our needs. Johnson, through the Jungian lens, proposes that all of needs cannot be met by another person and that we must do inner work to fulfill our deepest needs of wholeness. I feel that this process would help to facilitate a couple through the uncomfortable differentiating stages into a stage of interdependence where they can integrate differences and find a more compassionate love for one another.