Spirituality and Mental Health, Part III of IV: Psychotherapy Beyond Words

Psychiatry_Psychology.jpgIs there Energy in Psychology?

I was conducting debriefing after a workplace suicide. The problems ran far deeper than a single suicide, because it turned out to be symptomatic of a drug culture that pervaded the workplace. A bald-headed man came in and said he was afraid because he had a heart condition. He was stocky, and his round head and face were very red. After about one minute of so-called energy psychology, his color was restored to normal, he was no longer afraid, and we were able to talk about more than his acute reaction to workplace stress.

You’ll notice I said “so-called” energy psychology. That’s because I don’t know if any theories about energy or chi will contribute to psychotherapy. I do know that energy therapies that work happen to share many traits with rapid-acting therapies that don’t call themselves energy therapies, and that aren’t based on energy psychology.

Rapid Acting Therapy

You’ll notice I used the term “rapid-acting” therapies. By this I mean that, compared to traditional methods, some approaches, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), are more likely to produce rapid results for some problems, particularly those with a strong element of anxiety or stress.

You’ll notice I just named a therapy that has had a good amount of scorn heaped upon it by skeptically-minded people. That is in the past. EMDR is now a highly-researched modality, and is widely used. It’s even approved by the U.S. Veterans Administration. I have been using it since 1992 with police, military, kids, and all sorts of other people.

I developed a “bilateral stimulation” sound that is used for EMDR-inspired processes in place of eye movement, called UpLevel. It has gotten great reviews on Amazon.com. I coined the term “bilateral stimulation” for the various methods of triggering reprocessing (mentioned below) in EMDR and other approaches that use it.

Sometime I’ll write about the active ingredients of psychotherapy. In the mean time, I posted a wonderful talk by professor Charles Figley, the founder of traumatology, on the subject at my Psych Innovations site.

But rapid results are not always to be had, and that is not the point of this article. We’re talking about the more abstract or generic aspects of spirituality, and how they have a place in psychotherapy.

State Shifting and Reprocessing

There are two main aspects that I want to emphasize about modern psychotherapy for this article. One is the idea of state shifting. Connecting to troublesome “material” (memories, feelings, attitudes), and shifting into a positive state can often create a sort of link or pathway, that allows the person to side step their usual reaction upon subsequent exposures. Instead of having panic attacks in airplanes, for example, they feel calm. Instead of waking up sweating from a nightmare about having been mugged, they may get a good night’s sleep. Instead of resorting to violence, they may wax philosophical.

Means of shifting into a positive state can include methods that are traditionally thought of as spiritual, or they can be the more obviously secular techniques.

The other element I wanted to mention is reprocessing. Experiences that are not properly processed can lead to anxiety, sleep disturbances, post traumatic stress disorder, and other problems. Perhaps the most important processing of our experiences happens during REM sleep. It is likely that a large percentage of mental problems are directly the result of impaired sleep, which in turn is the result of experiences that are too disturbing to process during REM sleep. This is probably one of the reasons that post traumatic stress disorder often takes three or four months to develop after the original traumatic stressor (e.g. getting mugged). Hence, therapies that can emulate this kind of processing can restore normal sleep.

It is interesting to interact with people who are reprocessing, because, even if they are linear thinkers, they start connecting the dots in ways that are reminiscent of REM sleep or dreaming. After a session, it is not unusual for a person to say, “Now I see how it’s all connected.” Because of this unique quality, I coined the term “reprocessing state.”

I think the most effective therapists typically combine the above two ingredients, along with others that are appropriate to the problem at hand. I first noticed this in my own use of EMDR, and then as a managed care network coordinator, responsible for generating referrals to therapists that had good feedback from clients. I have had this perspective reinforced during countless hours of networking and discussion forum participation.

You can see these ingredients in a variety of self-help and religious methods, as well. Even Scientology methods make use of them, but with all sorts of metaphysical metaphors attached.

In part IV, we will wrap things up by bringing the spiritual elements from the research I have discussed into the context of psychotherapy.


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Robert A. Yourell, MA

Robert A. Yourell, MA, has extensive experience in the mental health and social services dating back to 1975. His training includes Ericksonian communication and hypnosis with John Grinder, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing with Francine Shapiro, PhD, Body Integrative Psychotherapy with Jack Rosenberg, PhD, and solution-focused psychotherapy. He provides free audio experiences on his site that include bilateral sound and Shimmering.
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