Telling stories about childhood trauma can heal your life

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ABC Bookstore Blog Post

2nd July 2020

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The circle of life, and the value of stories: The silent witness of early childhood trauma

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling: Copyright (c) Jim Byrne 2020

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Introduction

Telling stories is good psychotherapyI believe that each of us is a silent witness of our early childhood experiences. We do not know what happened to us unless and until somebody helps us to make a story or stories out of our raw experiences.

You may have noticed this phenomenon: Sometimes in a cop show, or murder mystery, on TV, there’s a witness who knows something which is relevant to solving the crime or mystery. But this witness is unaware that they have witnessed something which is very important, which could be helpful in solving the case.

I believe each of us is like that witness. Let me explain:

Recently I’ve been reading three books that deal with complex, post-traumatic stress disorder:

Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score.

Judith Herman’s Trauma and Recovery.

And Pete Walker’s Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving.

One of the things that struck me about all three books is that each of the authors have to tell a personal story to illustrate the journey that got them to study trauma. There is nothing impersonal about their expertise; and their personal stories underpin their professional practices.

Many years ago, I had a set of serendipitous experiences which unearthed some strange stories from my own ‘internal silent witness’. The first happened in Bangladesh in 1977. Up to that point, nobody had ever expressed any curiosity about my life. And I had – consequently – no story about life, which I could know and share with the world.

Asking others about their stories is good therapyI met Carla in Bangladesh, and she was intensely curious about my life, and especially my childhood. I told her some bits and pieces from the very edges of my conscious awareness, and she was appalled at how painful my childhood had been – how physically and emotionally I’d been abused. I was amazed at the emotions that came up them: the painful memories that welled back.  What I had taken to be ‘normal life’ turned out to be quite brutally unusual – or at least not how children should be raised, by parents who love their children, and want them to be happy.

Two years later, back in the UK, I met Renata (my wonderful wife of 34 years), and she was studying various disciplines, including Gestalt therapy. As a result, she was able to help me to explore my childhood some more. Out of my conversations with Renata, I got a lot of little stories about my weird childhood: some funny; some saddening; and some angering.

Over time, two major stories emerged: My Story of Origins (as a country boy in a city school, who failed to make a single friend in ten years of schooling). And My Story of Relationship (especially my insecure attachment to my cruel mother). Both of these stories now appear in a forthcoming book, which you can read about here: Recovery from Childhood Trauma: How I healed my heart and mind – and how you can heal yourself.

Whole cover,3

Later, I expanded those two stories to include a good deal of my journey from birth to eventual relationship happiness. And I have written that bizarre journey up in a two-volume, fictionalized autobiographical story, which you can read about here: Freud, Mammy and Me: The roots and branches of a simple country boy. Volume 1 of the fictionalized autobiography of Daniel O’Beeve

Whole cover

And, at the moment, I am rewriting another of my books, which is designed as a self-help guide for individuals who want to work on their childhood trauma. You can read some information about that book here: Transforming Traumatic Dragons: How to recover from a history of trauma – using a whole body-brain-mind approach

Whole cover Dragons Trauma book June 2020

Without the curiosity of Carla and Renata, all of my unknown stories would still be festering inside of my neurotic, subconscious mind-brain-body; instead of having been externalized, ventilated, and healed.

What kinds of stories does your Silent Witness have in raw, gut-feeling form, which could benefit from being written up, or talked out?

What happened to you that needs to be aired and witnessed by a caring other?

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cropped-abc-bookstore-maximal-charles-2019-1.jpgThat’s all for today.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling, Authorship Coach and Trauma Therapist

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How to heal your childhood trauma

Blog Post – 24th June 2020

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Refinement of my book on ‘Facing and defeating your emotional dragons’

By Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

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Introduction

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working on the refinement of my main book on processing traumatic memories. Because trauma is such a complex phenomenon, and lots of new ideas have been developed in the past ten years or so, it is taking some time to clarify my revised process of trauma therapy.

Here is an extract from the Preface to the revised, updated and expanded edition:

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Facing and Defeating your Emotional Dragons:

How to process old traumas, and eliminate undigested pain from your past experience

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

Copyright © Jim Byrne, June 2020:

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Preface to the Revised Edition, 2020

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

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1. Preamble

Front cover, dragonsEarly childhood trauma (like physical and emotional abuse, and neglect), and other forms of prolonged trauma (like domestic abuse), affect the very structure of the human brain, and the behaviour of stress hormones in the body. This insight is expressed by Dr Daniel Siegel as follows:

“…(T)raumatic experiences at the beginning of life may have profound effects on the integrative structures of the brain… (A)bused children have abnormal responses of their stress hormone levels[1]… Cortisol (a major stress hormone) is sustained, and elevated levels can become toxic to the brain[2].”

And, cortisol and other stress hormones are secreted throughout the body when it’s under pressure.

In the first and second editions of this book, we made the mistake of overlooking the role of the body in storing traumatic memories; and the need to involve the body in the resolution of traumatic memories.

This revised, expanded and updated edition is intended to correct that omission, which was paradoxical, given that our main claim to fame, at the Institute for Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT), is that we “added back the body” to the rational, cognitive and psychodynamic models of the individual client in counselling and therapy. The body is the very foundation of the human personality; which is actually a body-brain-mind, as shaped by social experience.

In this preface we want to address the following contextual questions: What is trauma? What is post-traumatic stress disorder? What is Complex-PTSD? How widespread is Complex-PTSD? What are Adverse Childhood Experiences? What are some solutions to Childhood Developmental Trauma or Complex-PTSD? The meaning and importance of the concept of Traumatic Dragons. And finally, a brief overview of the content of this book.

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2. What is trauma?

Front cover, dragonsAccording to my Oxford English Dictionary, trauma means: “… (1) a deeply distressing experience. … (And) (3) emotional shock following a stressful event”. (Soanes, 2002, page 893)[3].

And my Oxford Dictionary of Psychology says it’s: “…a powerful psychological shock that has damaging effects”. (Colman, 2002, page 755)[4].

To further clarify the meaning of ‘trauma’, let us take a look at how Sue Gerhardt, a psychotherapist who deals with childhood trauma, defines this concept.  She describes the opening scene of the film, Fearless, in which Jeff Bridges plays the role of a man who survives a plane crash, with several others. He looks at the scene of devastation without a flicker of concern; walks away; gets into a taxi, and leaves the burning plane, ambulances, fellow survivors, and fire engines behind him. His friend and business partner has died in the crash; so, not surprisingly, the Jeff Bridges’ character is ‘traumatized’. As Gerhardt writes (describing how this character is when he returns to his home life):

“His relationships are affected: he has difficulty relating to his wife and son, and starts instead to form a bond with another survivor who lost her baby. He has flash backs to the crash, reliving the moments as the plane went down. He impulsively takes extreme risks with his body, walking blithely across a busy highway. He is dissociated (or detached – JB) from reality”. (Gerhardt, 2010, page 133).

Trauma disrupts our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. And, in the case of prolonged childhood trauma, the damage also affects:

– personality development;

– the ability to think critically/logically (cognitive development);

– the ability to engage effectively in social relationships;

– and the ability to regulate one’s emotions (which can therefore escalate into inappropriate shame, anxiety, anger, guilt and depression).

Front cover, dragonsIndeed, as Dr Bessel van der Kolk (2015) writes, “All trauma is preverbal”. Traumatized individuals cannot find words to express their terrible feelings. They may freeze, like statues; or fight verbally or physically, with the wrong people; or find various ways of running away, as if you could run away from your own central nervous system’s panicky arousal! They may also ‘fawn’ over others to placate them, if they were bullied and abused by their parents.

As Van der Kolk expresses it: “Even years later traumatized people often have enormous difficulty telling other people what has happened to them. Their bodies re-experience terror, rage, and helplessness, as well as the impulse to fight or flee, but these feelings are almost impossible to articulate. Trauma by nature drives us to the edge of comprehension, cutting us off from language based on common experience or an imaginable past”. (Page 43).

Van der Kolk has worked with traumatized individuals for decades, including war-damaged soldiers and victims of childhood abuse and neglect. And his insights and approach to the subject have also been strongly influenced by working closely with Dr Judith Herman (1994/2015), who has been in the field even longer than him, and who has mainly worked with female victims of childhood sexual abuse, adult rape and domestic violence.

Eventually, trauma sufferers do come up with what Van der Kolk calls “a cover story”, which is their best attempt to tell a story which accounts for their trauma; but it rarely captures the essence of the experience. “It is enormously difficult to organize one’s traumatic experiences into a coherent account – a narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end”.

I know that this is true from my own experience.  I only became aware of my own prolonged childhood abuse when I was thirty years old, and I met a woman who cared enough to listen to my story, and to tell me “that was not normal.  And that – what they did to you – was not okay!”

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Front cover, dragonsTrauma does not just affect our consciousness; our memories; our minds. Modern neuroscience, since the 1990’s, has revealed to us just how much the brains of traumatized individuals are changed (for the worst) by their horrible experiences.  Trauma leaves its imprint on our brain, our mind and our body. And these imprints affect how we think, feel and behave in later life, even decades after the traumatic experience. Trauma changes our perceptions, and our capacity to think. But even when we begin to think/feel about our traumatic experience – and to create a helpful story of what happened – we are still left with the imprints in our bodies: the automatic physical and hormonal responses to present-time reminders of the trauma inflicted on us back there, back then.  The ‘there and then’ is always with us, in our bodies, here and now: unless and until we process those physical and hormonal responses. To quote Van der Kolk again: “For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed, and to live in the reality of the present”. (Page 21).

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In this section I have presented two kinds of trauma: discrete experiences of trauma, like the plane crash; and protracted experiences of trauma, like prolonged childhood abuse. It is important to be clear about the distinction between the first – which is called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – and the second, which is called developmental trauma, or Complex-PTSD.

Let us first define PTSD. …

For more, please click this link: How to resolve childhood trauma.***

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Dr Jim's officeThat’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

Email dr jim.byrne @ gmail.com

Telephone: 01422 843 629

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Covid-19 will test our stoicism to destruction, if we let it

Blog Post – 9th May 2020

Copyright (c) Jim Byrne 2020

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How Stoical can a Moderate Stoic remain during the Covid-19 Social Distancing rule and its frustrations?

By Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

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Introduction

Jim and the Buddha, 2It has often been said that it’s easier to “talk the talk” than it is to “walk the walk”.  This American expression refers to the frequent gulf between our words and our actions.

But we all like to think that this only applies to other people, especially if we pride ourselves on being some kind of Stoic or Buddhist, capable of being supremely detached from the threats and dangers of life.

We know that many people are losing their tempers and engaging in domestic violence, under pressure of lock-down in crowded homes. This is deplorable. The “talk” (or principle) here is that it is not okay to hit another person, no matter how frustrated we may feel when attempting to communicate with them, or trying to influence their thinking or their actions.  We must walk that talk, or face the legitimate shame of being prosecuted and punished for grossly immoral behaviour.  And that applies whether or not the perpetrator is male or female.

Front cover, anger2Learning to walk this talk is a function of Anger Management Training; and our book on that subject is a good resource for calming yourself, reducing resentment, and learning how to forgive others, instead of becoming excessively angry with them.

(See my book: Anger, resentment and forgiveness).

But what about the stresses and strains of being out and about in public: shopping, or taking a daily (legal) walk for exercise?

What is the legitimate “talk” here, and how easy is it to “walk it”?

My recent experience

Let me tell you a story about my own recent experience.  I am able to tell this story with reasonable accuracy because one of the things that I do to control my mind and to manage my life is to write things down, on a daily basis.  At the moment, I spend about half an hour each morning writing what Julia Cameron called ‘Morning Pages’; about three pages of stream of consciousness; which provide an opportunity to chew through what went wrong (or right) yesterday; and what I want to (or need to) do today.

The story I want to tell you was written down in Friday’s (7th May) morning’s Pages, as follows:

Can I walk my own talk?

Stress, strain, Covid-19I like to think of myself as a calm, reasonable and rational individual with high emotional intelligence.  I think I am gentle and kind, and well able to manage my emotions to keep them within reasonable bounds; not too high, and not too low.

Yesterday something strange and slightly disturbing happened, which seems to be a result of the (unrecognized) stresses and strains of the Covid-19 social distancing rules.

Renata and I went out for our daily (legal) walk near out home.  At a certain point, where the road is narrow (just over two metres wide), and there are no pavements, a cyclist came down the middle of the road, while Renata and I stood on the right hand side.  He was cycling directly behind a woman (his girlfriend/wife?) who was jogging.

My expectation was that they would move over to the left as they approached us, in order to maintain roughly two metres of social distance.  But they stuck to the centre of the road.

When they were getting very close to us, I suddenly looked him in the face, angrily, with the intention of ‘willing him’ to move further over the road, away from us (so he could not infect us with Covid-19, if he was infectious).  Then, when he was about two metres before the point at which he would pass me by – inside my space – and without realizing that I would speak, I said (in a fairly quiet, but angry voice): “Move over, you c**t!”  These words just popped out of my mouth, unbidden.

Anger affects us allThe next thing that happened was that I felt very shocked that I used the ‘C’ word.  I was shocked that I was so angry. (I am an anger management specialist! [Or that is one of my specialisms]).  (Postscript: Upon reading this back, I notice that I did not judge the woman to be culpable, even though she was in the leading position!  Interesting!)

After the cyclist passed, I noticed he was looking back at me angrily. Perhaps he’d heard what I said; or been able to read my lips; or he decoded by body language.

So, I’d upset myself; and I’d upset him.  And what had I achieved?  Nothing useful.  I did not get what I wanted (in terms of social distancing).  I did not teach anybody any lessons. (He most likely had no idea how I had perceived him, other than negatively. And he most likely believed, sincerely, that he had done nothing wrong.)

Except – I now realize – that I was about to teach myself a lesson.

My lesson from the school of life

I felt bad about how I’d responded to this invasion of my social distancing space.  I felt guilty that I could (potentially) have caused an accident, by distracting him from his cycling.  I felt fear that I could have precipitated an ugly scene of verbal conflict; or even physical conflict with him.

As I write these notes this morning, I realize that this is a major learning experience for me. I realize that I am quite demanding that people should and must follow the government’s guidelines in an intelligent manner, and never get closer than two metres from me. (I also realize that this has been building up over time.  This is not the first time I’ve felt angry towards somebody who mindlessly walked too close to me. But I failed to pay sufficient attention to what was happening (inside of me, in response to those ‘invasions’); and I made excuses – I distinctly remember – for my aggressive responses – instead of correcting myself).

Damning people causes angerI have tended to damn anyone who breaks the rules, in relation to keeping their distance from me and/or my wife; and that makes me angry at them. And resentful: which is like taking poison, and waiting for them to die!  This harms my body and lowers my mood for a protracted period of time. Meanwhile, the person at whom I am angry may be having a ball, oblivious to the effect they have had on me. So the ultimate harm is all done to me, by me.

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Reframing transgressions against me

I must learn to apply my own Window No.1 (from my Nine Windows Model) to social distancing problems.  This is it:

Window-1-001So: “In life, there are certain things I can control, and certain things that are beyond my control”. And a good way to get upset and stay upset is to try to control the uncontrollable!  (Of course, if something [which is important to me] is potentially controllable, I should try, within reason, to control it!)

Therefore, I will always try to put two metres between me and everybody else in public places.  But I will not insist that they be as diligent, or intelligent as me, in keeping their distance.  I’d prefer it if they kept their distance, but it’s not essential to make them do so! It may be bad for me if they get too close, but I don’t run the universe!

I’m sorry I was so aggressive yesterday.  It won’t happen again; I am determined to make sure that it does not. That is my commitment! I will stop calling people ugly names (in my head) if they prove to be unintelligent, or incompetent, or uncooperative in maintaining social distancing rules.

How far I slipped back, under Covid-19 pressure

Jim and the Buddha, 2That aggressive behaviour on my part was uncharacteristic, but then I am very new to being involved in a death-inducing viral pandemic.  (And I am over the age of 70 years, and I’ve been sent a powerful ‘nocebo’ [or negative self-fulfilling prophesy] by the state to the effect that my age puts me, automatically at risk! Although I think the strength of my immune system is just as important as my age, nocebos, sent by authoritative voices, have powerful influences, outside of conscious awareness!) I spent years teaching myself the idea, from Epicurus, that I should “get accustomed to the idea that my death means nothing to me”, for all good and evil consist in sensations, and death is only the deprivation of sensations. Therefore, it makes no sense for any person to fear their own death, for when death arrives, they will have (simultaneously) departed.  And if they are here (and aware of being here) then death has not arrived.

I was totally reconciled to my own death.  The deaths of my nearest and dearest is another matter.  Their deaths will hurt me, deprive me, cause me grief, and render my life less joyful.  But my own death means nothing to me. (Except that I want to stay alive for my nearest and dearest; and for the fun of it!)

But then Covid-19 crept up on me; blindsided me; and I am having to learn all over again that “If I die, I die!”  That only my body will die, because it alone was born.  My mind cannot die, because it was never born.  And that my death means nothing to me, because I am here, and my death is not!

My revised plan

Front cover 2I will try to avoid the sickness of Covid-19; and I hope my immune system is strong enough to keep me alive if I contract it.  (I work at strengthening my immune system in various ways; in particular with eight hours sleep each night; eating the right foods; avoiding the wrong foods; exercising every morning at home; and getting out for a one hour walk in the sunshine and fresh air every day; and relaxing my body, and meditating to calm my mind).

However, if, after all that, it transpires that I die from Covid-19; then I die; or my body dies; and at the moment that death arrives, I will no longer be here to lament my own passing!  (But it would, of course be painful for my loved ones, which gives me an incentive to try to avoid dying!)

So let me live today fully so that I do not regret my (potentially) last day on Earth

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That’s the end of my story, from Friday’s Morning’s Pages.

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Let me leave you with this final thought, from Jack Kornfield’s wonderful book, mentioned above:

“Anger, blame, conflict, and resentment arise from our fear.  When we are afraid, our body tightens, our heart is constricted, our mind is possessed.  We cannot live wisely.

“Forgiveness releases us from the power of fear. It allows us to see with kindly eyes and rest in a wise heart”.

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Front cover, anger2Please take a look at our book on Anger, resentment and forgiveness: How to get your inappropriate anger under reasonable control

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Or this: How to Control Your Anger, Anxiety and Depression: Using nutrition and physical exercise).

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And if you are feeling anxious about Covid-19, or anything else, you might want to read about our book on Cutting through the Worry Knot! How to Reduce and Control Your Anxiety Level: Using a whole body-brain-mind approach; and without using drugs, alcohol or escapism!

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Diet,exercise book coverIf your situation is such that you do not want to take the time to read a book or two to support you through the Covid-19 crisis, you can always consult me – Dr Jim Byrne – or Renata Taylor-Byrne – via the telephone, for help, support Psychological First Aid, counselling, coaching or deep psychotherapy:

To consult Renata Taylor-Byrne, Lifestyle Coach/Counsellor, please email renata@abc-counselling.org

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Or take a look at Renata’s Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching Services.***

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Jim.Nata.Couples.pg.jpg.w300h245 (1)

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To consult Dr Jim Byrne, Counsellor/Psychotherapist, please email drjwbyrne@gmail.com

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Or take a look at Dr Jim’s Online Counselling Services.***

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That’s all for now.

cropped-abc-bookstore-maximal-charles-2019-1.jpgBest wishes, and take good care of yourself (and others).

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Bookstore Online UK

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For telephone, Skype and email counselling, coaching and psychotherapy

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drjwbyrne@gmail.com

Telephone 01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK).

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Books about emotional life, including anxiety

Dr Jim’s Blog post

23rd April 2020

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Books as depositories of valuable knowledge and ideas; and as outlets for speaking to the world…

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Introduction

Jim and the Buddha, 2I love books; and I’ve enjoyed scouring bookshops for new ideas since I was about 14 years old.  It is perhaps one of the greatest deprivations of the Covid-19 lockdown that I cannot get to walk around the philosophy, psychology, health and self-help sections of Waterstones, in Leeds or Manchester; or the Bookcase in Hebden Bridge; or W.H. Smith’s in Halifax; or the Bookcase store in Piece Hall.

I also miss the whole floor of good quality, and interesting secondhand books in Oxfam in Bradford!

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A story of browsing

Yesterday I was browsing my own (and Renata’s) bookshelves in our attic office when my mind alighted upon one of our own books – Holistic Counselling in Practice: An Introduction to Emotive-Cognitive embodied Narrative Therapy.[1]

Book-cover-frontBut, actually, it was the original version I had in my hands; the one with the bnlue cover, and the coloured illustrations – and my eyes were drawn to three illustrations, on pages vi and vii of the Foreword.

– The first illustration shows the interaction of a mother and baby, giving rise to the socialized mind of the child.

(See below).

– The second is a blue boxed callout, which says: “We are bodies as well as minds; primarily social animals; with the potential to develop virtues and vices”.

(Not shown on this page).

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– And the third was also a callout, like this:

“The thoughts and beliefs of the (counselling) client cannot exist independently of their diet, exercise, self-talk, relaxation, stress level, social and economic circumstances, etc.”

Basic-CENT-model

With the benefit of the passage of time, I can see that sleep and relaxation should have featured prominently in that second callout.

Anyway, the surprising thing was that I had to skim all the way through to page 123 before I could find our Holistic SOR model, which is what distinguishes us from the CBT, psychodynamic and humanistic traditions.  This is it:

Holistic-SOR-model2

This model shows that diet and food supplements; meditation; exercise regime; plus sleep and relaxation histories; are among the many factors which determine how the body-brain-mind will respond to an incoming stimulus, or, if you like: how we will respond to our ongoing experiences.

The importance of high quality, original research

I recall that, as I was beginning to draft that book, I realized that we needed to be quite specific about the kinds of foods, and exercise systems, that would most benefit a person who is suffering from anger management issues, or anxiety/panic, or depression.  And I knew I could not afford the time to study nutrition and exercise at that time; so I spoke to Renata (my wonderful wife and life and business partner) and she agreed to do what turned out to be months of research of the scientific studies which have looked at the links between diet and exercise, on the one hand, and the experience of anger, anxiety and/or depression, on the other.

Renata’s research of those subjects appeared as Appendices E and F of the Holistic Counselling book; and later we created a more expanded book – Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person – in which Renata did weeks of research on the science of sleep, and how it relates to emotional states; and that went into the Lifestyle Counselling book.

Recently, we’ve gone back to all of that research, and subsequent refinements, to produce a new book.

This time we’ve tackled a topic which is very relevant to the Covid-19 pandemic: how to control your anxiety.  Here are the details of the book:

Front cover 2Cutting through the Worry Knot!

How to Reduce and Control Your Anxiety Level: Using a whole body-brain-mind approach

And without using drugs, alcohol or escapism!

By Dr Jim Byrne and Renata Taylor-Byrne

Anxiety is not a disease; not a mental illness. Anxiety is part of our normal, innate, mental signalling system which tells us what is happening to us, and what to do about it.  That is to say, it is part of our emotional wiring. Our emotional intelligence.

Trying to get rid of anxiety with drugs is like hanging two overcoats and a duvet over your burglar alarm when it goes off.  The burglar alarm is designed to give you helpful information, which you can then use to guide your action. Should you check to see if a burglar has got into your house? Or call the police? Or realize that you’d mismanaged your alarm system, and that you should therefore switch it off?

Once you understand anxiety correctly, it becomes as useful as a burglar alarm; and you can learn how to manage it correctly.

When you buy a burglar alarm, it comes with a little Instruction Book about how to set it; calibrate it; monitor it; reset it; and switch it on and off.

You should have got just such an Instruction Book about your anxiety alarm, from your parents, when you were very young – and some people did.  But if your alarm goes off at all times of day and night, in unhelpful ways, then I guess you were one of the unlucky ones who did not get your Instruction Book.  This book contains your Instruction Book, plus lots of other backup information, which will help to make you the master of your anxiety, instead of its quaking slave.

Don’t let your anxiety “burglar alarm” reduce your life to misery. Learn how to use it properly!

For more information about this book on anxiety:

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Paperback copy:

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Kindle eBook copy:

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We love books: Reading them; writing them; and talking about them.  We hope you enjoy what we have to say about what we have learned, and how we have applied our learning.

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Best wishes for a happy reading aspect to your growing life!

Jim and the Buddha, 2Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

Doctor of Counselling

Joint Director of the ABC Bookstore Online UK

Joint Director of the Institute for E-CENT Counselling

Dr Jim’s Counselling and Psychotherapy Division

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[1] Byrne, J.W. (2019) Holistic Counselling in Practice: An introduction to the theory and practice of Emotive-Cognitive Embodied-Narrative Therapy. Updated edition (2).  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

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Byrne, J.W. (2018) Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching of the Whole Person: Or how to integrate nutritional insights, physical exercise and sleep coaching into talk therapy.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

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Taylor-Byrne, R.E. and Byrne, J.W. (2017) How to control your anger, anxiety and depression, using nutrition and physical activity.  Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

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Byrne, J.W. and Taylor-Byrne, R.E. (2020) Cutting through the Worry Knot! How to Reduce and Control Your Anxiety Level: Using a whole body-brain-mind approach. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications.

 

Thinking, feeling and perceiving: REBT critique

Blog Post, 16th January 2020

By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

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Response to Comments upon my YouTube video about

A Major Critique of REBT

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Introduction

Dr-Jim-Byrne8 (2)I have frequently found that senior REBT theorists, like Albert Ellis and Michael Edelstein, do not seem to be able to string a valid argument together!

This is surprising, because Albert Ellis built his reputation upon being a ‘great thinker’ (although many who followed him thought him a ‘sloppy philosopher’).

In this blog post, I want to present some brief comments by a recent defender of REBT, to demonstrate that nothing has changed in the ability of REBTers to think straight!

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Here’s the background:

On 2nd September 2017, I posted a video clip, with the following title – REBT CBT Book: Title, Unfit for Therapeutic Purposes – on YouTube, at this web address: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfmCs9hbN04

Front cover3 of reissued REBT book(Subsequently, that book was slightly updated, and reissued with the title, A Major Critique of REBT’).

On 15th January 2020, that video clip received its 20th comment from a viewer.

In this blog post, I want to present that viewer’s comments – in defence of REBT – plus my analysis and refutation of those comments.

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What the viewer wrote:

“Can’t we concede there are some instances in which beliefs and thoughts cause distress? If I believe that losing my job would be a catastrophe of gigantic proportions, won’t that make a job loss much more upsetting than if I view it as merely an unpleasant setback? There are times I’ve had to adjust my thinking with self-talk like, ‘OK, this is unpleasant but it’s not the end of the world.’ Such thoughts have actually made me feel less upset. Also, while I agree with you that blaming the client is usually unwarranted, I don’t think it always is. Don’t we bear any responsibility for our well being or lack thereof? Aren’t we often the architects of our own trouble? Is it always circumstance acting upon us?”

This viewer’s ‘handle’, or ID, was this: Some guy’s page. I checked out his page.  It does not have content.  And the identity of ‘Some guy’ is not revealed.

Some Guy's page

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Nevertheless, I replied to ‘Some Guy’ as follows:

“Hello: You have commented upon a video clip which was designed to advertise my book which critiques REBT.  As it says in the description below this video clip:

“For more information about the book which is reviewed in this video, please take a look at ‘A Major Critique of REBT’:  https://abc-bookstore.com/a-major-critique-of-rebt/

“But instead of following up that information, and reading the book, to see if you can fault its factual basis or its logical argumentation, you have commented upon the advert!

“It would have been more helpful if you had read the book, and commented upon the *actual arguments* presented therein.

“I am extremely busy, and I did not post the advert to stimulate debate.  I do not have time to debate your comments upon my advert.  However, as a quick one-off exception to that rule, let me briefly respond, in the following blog post”.  (And I added a link to this post which you are currently reading).

Here is my brief response to ‘Some Guy’

You asked: “Can’t we concede there are some instances in which beliefs and thoughts cause distress?”

My first answer would have to be this:  Even Albert Ellis (on a *good* day) would not make such a suggestion.  Why?  Because, on a *good* day, he would be pursuing the *official line*, to the effect that human disturbance is caused by the interaction of a noxious experience (or Activating event) with an Irrational Belief.  So, it is never the Belief that causes the upset, in the *official line*, but rather the interaction of a belief and an experience (or a memory, or anticipation).  (On a *bad* day, Ellis would have gone way beyond you, Some Guy.  He would have insisted that human disturbances are always and only caused by irrational beliefs!  And I have demonstrated, in many different ways, in my book, that this is a false conclusion on the part of Albert Ellis: See A Major Critique of REBT.***)

My second answer would have to be this: You (Some Guy) are here utilizing the concept of ‘thoughts’.  But what exactly are thoughts?  In Albert Ellis’s (1962) book on Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy, he cites the idea, from McGill (1954) – Emotions and Reason – that emotions always have a ‘cognitive’ (or thought) component. But McGill was arguing that our emotions (with their cognitive components) determine how we respond to environmental happenings (based on our previous experience).

Albert-Ellis-childhood-imageFrom this, Ellis (1962) concluded that thoughts and feelings are never separate, and are, in some senses, essentially the same thing.

And even though he suggests that they are very often “the same thing”, he goes on to suggest, later in his book, that it’s our thoughts (or beliefs) that determine our feelings.  What a muddle he created here!

I tried to rescue Ellis from this muddle, in a paper from 2003, which is now incorporated into A Major Critique of REBT’.  It involved developing a Complex ABC Model; but when it was complete, it invalidated much of the original theory of REBT.  (More on the concept of ‘thoughts’ and ‘thinking’ below).

Whole cover3

My third answer would have to be this: You are suggesting, rhetorically, that beliefs and thoughts *cause* distress sometimes; and it seems to me you are making that suggestion because you, personally, *believe* that beliefs and thoughts cause distress (which you may or may not have learned from Albert Ellis’s writings).  So, you should then present *evidence* to support that conclusion.  Perhaps that is what you intended to do in what follows next, where you wrote:

“If I believe that losing my job would be a catastrophe of gigantic proportions, won’t that make a job loss much more upsetting than if I view it as merely an unpleasant setback?”  (Emphasis added – JB).

Let’s reconstruct that argument in the form of a syllogism, as follows (for an imaginary counselling client who is going through the difficulties that you describe, in bold above):

Premise 1: I believe that losing my job would be a catastrophe of gigantic proportions.

Premise 2: I am in the process of losing my job.

Conclusion: I have to *feel* very upset about this catastrophe.

For this to be a valid argument, both premises must be true, and the conclusion must follow logically from those premises.

Premise 1 seems to be true, because you have told me that you *believe* that losing your job would be a catastrophe of gigantic proportions.

Premise 2 also seems to be true, in that you have informed me that you are in the process of losing your job.

Back cover3However, the Conclusion does not follow logically from those two true premises, because you have smuggled the word *feel* into the conclusion, whereas it does not appear in either of the premises!  (It has to be in at least one of the premises to get into the conclusion, validly). Therefore, this argument is invalid, and it falls!

It’s interesting to me that you are a follower (or supporter) of Ellis, and Ellis argued that he was interested in the premises of his clients’ arguments, but he failed to teach anybody anything about how to construct a valid argument, or how to reconstruct an argument to test it for validity.

In my book critiquing Ellis’s theory – A Major Critique of REBT – I have reconstructed some of his key arguments, and some by Dr Michael Edelstein, and demonstrated that they use invalid arguments without noticing their invalidity – and therefore their arguments fall!  By contrast with my approach, Ellis’s followers in general do not seem to have learned to put his theories to this kind of test!  That is why you would be well advised to read my book: A Major Critique of REBT.

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You (Some Guy) then continue your comments like this:

‘There are times I’ve had to adjust my thinking with self-talk like, “OK, this is unpleasant but it’s not the end of the world.” Such thoughts have actually made me feel less upset.’

I have a problem with part of this statement, but not with another.  To try to tease them apart, let me present two syllogisms. The first is to demonstrate what I agree with; while the second is designed to point out a flaw in your presentation and understanding.

First argument reconstruction:

Defintion of an argumentPremise 1. Particular forms of self-talk help to calm our emotions.

Premise 2. I sometimes have to engage in one of those forms of self-talk.

Conclusion: (Therefore) When I use that kind of self-talk, I feel calmer emotions.

This is a valid argument, because both premises are true, and the conclusion follows logically from the premises.

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Second argument reconstruction:

Premise 1: It is often argued that positive self-talk will have a positive effect upon our emotions.

Premise 2: I’ve noticed that when I use particular forms of positive self-talk, my emotions calm down.

Conclusion: (Therefore) positive self–talk changes my *thinking*!

This is an invalid argument, because the concept of *thinking* has been smuggled into the conclusion, whereas it does not exist in either of the premises.

It is simply an article of your faith (Some Guy) that self-talk changes your thinking; and that your thinking changes your emotions. You have no evidence for that; and it is actually impossible to collect evidence to support your conclusions here.

Think about it: Where would you go to collect evidence that self-talk changes your thinking?

If my thinking/feeling/perceiving is all of a piece, why not conclude that my self-talk changes my thinking/ feeling/ perceiving?  (PS: Furthermore, it also seems to be the case that my self-talk is actually a form of thinking/feeling /perceiving!)

Front cover3 of reissued REBT bookIn the summary of A Major Critique of REBT, I introduce the concept of ‘perfinking’ – which is shorthand for perceiving/ feeling/ thinking, which seems to me, based on modern neuroscience research, to be what humans do – not discrete thinking, or discrete feeling, or discrete perceiving.

Indeed, Albert Ellis should have got to this point himself, because he had McGill’s (1954) statements about the interconnection of thinking and feeling.  But Ellis was so committed to Epictetus’ statement about how “people are never disturbed by what happens to them”, that he had to cling to his simple ABC model, with its discrete Beliefs causing discrete emotions.

Here’s a little extract from the summary of my book:

“…in Chapter 3, Dr Byrne compares Dr Ellis’s ABC model with the SOR model of neobehaviourism, (which says this: A Stimulus [S] impacts an Organism [O] producing an outputted Response [R]).   As a result, he (Byrne) finds that it is essential to ‘add back the body’ to the ABC model; and once that is done, the core theory of REBT falls apart, because now we are dealing with a whole-body-brain-mind-environment-complexity, rather than a simple ‘belief machine’.

“Furthermore, this complex-body-brain-mind engages in ‘warm-perfinking’ – (which means, perceiving-feeling-thinking) – which is coloured by emotion from beginning to end), rather than cool thinking and reasoning.”

Please pursue this argument in my book, A Major Critique of REBT.

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The final point that you (Some Guy) make is this:

“…while I agree with you (Jim Byrne) that blaming the client is usually unwarranted, I don’t think it always is. Don’t we bear any responsibility for our well-being or lack thereof? Aren’t we often the architects of our own trouble? Is it always circumstance acting upon us?”

These questions feel like ‘rhetorical devices’, designed to make statements without making them; and intended to hook emotional responses, rather than attempts at reasoning.

Draft-cover-3My REBT book, and also my Lifestyle Counselling and Coaching for the Whole Person, argues that human beings are largely non-conscious creatures of habit, who are shaped by their lifetime of socialization and interactions with others.  I also wrote a lengthy essay on Free Will for my diploma in counselling psychology and psychotherapy, many years ago, in which I concluded that the most extreme scientist cannot prove that there is no possibility of some small elements of free will in a human individual; and that the most romantic philosopher cannot prove that free will exists at all.  This concept of ‘free will’, therefore, seems to me to be a highly contested concept. So, rather than blaming a client for their upset emotions, I think it is more ethical, and more productive, to teach them how to change and grow, rather than blaming them for where they are stuck!  (If you would like a copy of my paper on Free Will and Determinism, please email me, drjwbyrne@gmail.com).

I could write a lot more, if I had the time, but I am extremely busy.  Lots of new books to be written!

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What did you think of this blog post?

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Best wishes to all readers.

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

ABC Bookstore Online UK

The Institute for E-CENT

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