This article appeared in the New Times Magazine
UNDERSTANDING EMOTION IS CHANGING PSYCHOTHERAPY
What is a negative emotion? What is this force that causes people so much psychological discomfort? What is this stimulus behind unhealthy, even bizarre behavior? What is this reaction that is proven to diminish immune responses and accellerate pain? Once having effective answers to the previous questions, an even more important question emerges: how does a person effectively manage this uncomfortable and destructive reaction?
The most modern and thorough answers to the question of what is negative emotion are coming from outside the field of psychology. They are coming from the varied scientific disciplines studying the mind-body connection such as neurology, cellular biology, immunology, even the fascinating new discipline studying the interactions of the varied body systems, psychoneuroimmunology. This new knowledge of the nature of emotion is…
- Revolutionizing what are traditionally thought of as mental experiences.
- Laying the groundwork for changes in psychological theories.
- Calling into question, common ideas of what stimulates the uncomfortable experiences called negative emotions.
- Changing how therapists can effectively help clients make progress toward an important goal of psychotherapy, better management of negative emotions and their resulting destructive behaviors.
UNDERSTANDING THE BRAIN
Many methods that psychotherapists use, do not reflect current neurological understanding about the nature of emotion. This has resulted from the fact that often, the work of psychotherapists does not move in tandem with the work of those unlocking the mysteries of the brain’s hardware. Also, the fact that psychotherapy’s image as an art with philosophical underpinnings has, at times, led to distrust of scientific explanations.
New tools are emerging that can enhance the methods of psychotherapists. Some facinating secrets of mind body interaction have been uncovered.
- Fact #1. Mind and body are not separate. The actions of the body shape the actions of the mind in fact, the body is an extension of the mind.
- Fact # 2. There are things our body does, that are crucial parts of any mental experience. There is a physiology of emotion composed of physical and chemical reactions.
- Fact # 3. Since the time of Freud, there has been a common metaphor of the mind’s functions. The image was of a conscious level that gathers information from the outside world, including negative information, and sends it to a subconscious level. The subconscious level theoretically received the negative input and reflected it back to the conscious, resulting in negative feelings and responses. This is now seen as a more simplistic way of understanding the varied and complex processes of the mind specifically, negative emotion.
IMPROVING PSYCHOTHERAPEUTIC METHODS
Not only does this emerging information about the mind-body connection change what has been thought of as the basis of emotion, it also broadens what therapists can do to diminish the effects of negative thoughts, memories or occurrences in people’s lives. A new premise regarding the nature of emotional reactiveness must have an impact on the tools used by psychotherpists. That premise is: A person’s response to a specific negative stimulus will be more or less intense as a result of their inner physical and chemical vulnerability to emotion in general. The thought, memory or occurrence is not the problem, it is their body’s reaction to it, that is the problem.
THE ROLE OF BELIEF
A psychotherapist was once asked “What is the dynamic element of change in the methods you use, and what actually produces change?” he replied, “Belief, the person’s belief.” His approach was one of counseling based on the premise that relief from the terrors or disturbances of negative emotion would come about primarily through cognitive means, through understanding the stimulus triggering the emotion. This therapist was not wrong in seeing the person’s achievement of belief as therapeutic.
Throughout the centuries, powerful spiritual leaders have instilled intense belief in their followers, resulting at times in seeming miraculous psychological as well as physical changes. What is now offered is a more sophisticated understanding of why this seeming state of mind called belief has been so powerful in recreating well being.
Positive feelings such as belief, happiness or confidence are not just ideas. They are the result of certain physical and chemical reactions. Methods of changing, thinking and understanding about the negative things in life may help a person modify how they consciously perceive them. Only in a round about way, though, can changes in thought and understanding about things that happen help the person stimulate and sustain new, more healthy, physical and chemical responses in the face of those occurrences.
CONSTANT TRIGGERING OF NEGATIVE STIMULI
Traditionally, psychotherapeutic methods have been directed at more specific, though significant, negative stimuli in people’s lives. Unfortunately, things that trigger the physical and chemical reactions of negative emotion happen constantly in the form of thoughts, memories and actual occurrences. For people to enjoy long-term emotional strength, it is important that they are taught a method of daily management of these bodily reactions. Traditionally, what psychotherapists do is focused on stimulating mental changes. The nature of such methods puts little emphasis on changing physical and chemical processes. For people to enjoy long-term emotional strength, they must learn to directy diminish the physical and chemical aspects of fear, anger or depression.
THE EFFECTS OF A MENTAL STIMULUS
A woman may seek help when suffering from negative emotion which is stimulated by an incident of sexual abuse as a child. Whenever the memory is triggered directly or indirectly (a mental occurrence), she feels a familiar and uncomfortable experience in her body (a physcial and chemical occurrence) which she has come to refer to as anger. Her memory, the mental stimulus, triggered her physical response of anger.
- Certainly, how she thinks about the negative experience dictates the nature of the physical and chemical reactions triggered, so in a round about way: changing how she thinks about the occurrence can change her physical and chemical reactions to it.
- Helping her better understand the stimuli for the negative emotion can play an important part in lessening her uncomfortable feelings or destructive behaviors. With the emotion having a physical and chemical basis, though, treatment through understanding can only offer her temporary or partial relief from negative emotional eruptions.
Thinking differently about, or understanding her abuse, does not offer the woman tools for long term management of the mental and physical reactions triggered by memory of it. Further, the effects of methods based on understanding are often not powerful enough to counter a new problem caused by negative emotions. The physical and chemical aspects of negative emotions can damage the body. People do not have the luxury of being emotionally upset for long stretches of time.
Psychotherapy’s methods are expanding. There are neurological methods joining the talking therapies. Neurological methods can be defined as ways stimulating the hardware of the brain to respond in ways that directly diminish the physical and chemical reactions underlying negative emotion. It could be said that the use of drugs to manage emotions is a neurological method. It is chemicals of drugs directly altering chemicals of emotion. Forms of relaxation therapy or biofeedback can teach people to diminish the physical and chemical eruptions of negative emotions. The neurological tool of SUBVERBAL SHIFTING® is part of an evolution in psychotherapeutic methods. Developed by the North American Institute of NEURO-THERAPY it is a way of using a brief sound stimulus while a person is in a concentrated state. The effect is that the brain, for a fraction of a second, shifts into a state of rediness for survival again directly changing the physical and chemical nature of the emotions in the body at the time. SUBVERBAL SHIFTING directly diminishes the physiology of emotion.
Neurological tools give psychotherapists powerful new ways of achieving the traditional goals of psychotherapy.
- To help people achieve long-term relief from their emotional terrors and disturbances.
- To help people change resultant destructive behaviors.
But they go much further encompassing the new goal of psychotherapy which is…
- To help people diminish damage to the body caused by the physiology of negative
PSYCHOTHERAPY’S ROLE IN PHYSICAL HEALTH
There is clear scientific evidence that the physiology of negative emotion diminishes immune responses and affects other body systems as well. Many who face the challenge of illness actively seek therapists who can help them learn ways of more actively helping the body heal. They seek help to better manage the damaging physical and chemical responses that result from negative emotions such as fear, anger or depression.
The impact of negative emotions is not merely one of uncomfortable mental experiences. By teaching people to lessen the physical and chemical aspects of negative emotion, therapists can go beyond teaching people a way of maintaining psychological well-being, thus improved behavior. The therapist can now help the person improve and sustain better physical health.