Monday, 19 June 2017

NEW COURSE: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - understanding OCD and how best to treat it

Obsessive compulsive disorder
(OCD) is distressing not just for those suffering from OCD but also for family members and friends. Contrary to the popular view of OCD as being harmless over-cleanliness or simply checking things over and over again, OCD sufferers experience a high level of anxiety – and the condition can damage their relationships, social and work lives, and physical health.

Many sufferers are ashamed of their problem and hide it. Sometimes therapists fail to recognise the rarer forms of OCD and therefore fail to offer effective treatment. And many people with milder forms of OCD do not realise that they can be helped, and do not seek help until their condition becomes much more severe.

This new workshop with tutor Miriam Chachamu offers an in-depth look at OCD in all its guises and focuses on practical and effective methods of treatment – OCD recovery is possible in most cases.

The day is interactive and includes demonstration videos of therapy sessions, short video clips, in-depth discussions and case studies.

We still have spaces on this course in Manchester on Tuesday 20th June, and we are also bringing the course to London on 26th September 2017.

Please see here for more details.


What you will gain from attending:
  •  New information that will enable you to help OCD sufferers more effectively
  • An understanding of OCD, what it is and how it develops
  • The ability to recognise less familiar types of OCD, which are often missed by both client and therapist
  • Illuminating video clips of OCD sufferers describing their experience
  • An effective 4-step method for treating OCD
  • Understanding of the role of guided imagery in treatment and why it improves success rates
  • Helpful ways parents and educators can prevent signs of OCD in children and teenagers from developing further
  • How to separate a person from their OCD
  • New ways to help people living with OCD overcome their compulsive tendencies
  • Knowledge of how obsessive compulsive disorder fits with other psychological conditions and with autism
  • What to do when OCD symptoms are entrenched
  • The chance to observe effective therapy for OCD and discuss case studies
  • The opportunity to discuss some of your own cases with the tutor
  • How to handle challenging cases successfully
  • ...and much more.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

How do we improve politics?

"Tolerance and trying to understand others, until recently a luxury, has today become a necessity. 
This is because: unless we can realise that we and others are generally behaving as we do because of inculcated biases over which we have no control while we imagine that they are our own opinions, we might do something which would bring about the destruction of all of us. 
Then we will not have any time at all to learn whether tolerance is a good or a bad thing..."
Reflections, Idries Shah

WE ARE ALL FAMILIAR these days with what are called ‘hidden camera shows’ where pranks played on unsuspecting people are recorded surreptitiously for entertainment purposes. One of the classic hidden camera situations is one in which an engineless car is pushed down a road towards a garage by accomplices. The driver uses the momentum achieved to swing the car into the garage and park up. He or she then gets out and seeks help, explaining that the car has “just broken down”. When it is discovered to have no engine bafflement, disbelief and hilarity ensue. Because it’s obvious that a car with no engine is an impossibility. It makes no sense. It can never work and can never have worked. It is absurd.

Imagine, for a moment, how much more absurd the situation would be if the mechanics in this prank failed to notice that the car had no engine, failed to even look under the hood/bonnet, and set about trying to mend the car, to make it ‘go’, by paying attention to various visible and superficial aspects: its colour, bodywork, windows, wheels, seats, dashboard etc. They wouldn’t stand a chance of fixing it.

The Conciliator's Guild

The Conciliator’s Guild was set up to introduce the idea that something just as fundamental is missing, at every level, from our global politics: a vital piece without which it cannot, and will never, properly work. This component must be recognised, and understood, and worked with in accordance with its own inherent laws of motion, if we are ever going to stand a chance of sorting out the increasingly chaotic, conflicted and bloody world situation that we see unfolding daily in the media reports that overwhelm our minds via a multitude of information channels.

The missing thing - the thing that, up until now, has mostly been overlooked, ignored, or insufficiently understood - is the nature of the complex human organism itself, and the innate needs that underlie, explain and drive all of the things we think and do, at every moment of every day. Beneath the thick surface layers of our immensely varied cultural differences we share a universal, common human ground. And we need to learn to work together, as a species, at this level, in order to make things run more smoothly, for all of us, on our precious little blue planet.

Why do we do what we do?

The human givens approach observes that all human activity is powered by a set of innate needs that are necessary for our well-being and survival. The difference between wants and needs is that if we don’t get what we truly need we suffer and may eventually die. Nobody ever died through not getting what they wanted unless this also happened to be, or to contain, something that they genuinely needed too. (Along with caffeine and alcohol, coffee and wine also contain water.)

We do the things we do because it seems to us, at the time, rightly or wrongly, that our needs will be met by so doing. If we could tune in to our survival brains we would be able to hear the simple logic of their decision making processes:

  • “If I walk up this steep hill I will get food, drink and company because there is thriving little restaurant at the top." 
  • "If I take my dog to the park at 8 a.m. we will both get some exercise, and there will be lots of people there doing the same thing so I can have lots of nice chats!"  
  • "If I leave the village and move to the city I will find a mate, and friends, and have fun, and get a job that is meaningful and fulfilling." 
  • "If I get out of bed again today, and do that job that I hate, I’ll be able to pay the mortgage and feed my family."  
  • "If we annihilate that city over there with bombs our enemies will all be killed and we will feel safe once more."  
  • "If I leave this cold, materialistic, selfish country and join Islamic State I will get everything I need in a warm climate: a sense control; a community of like-minded people; lots of attention; friendship and intimacy; status; a sense of achievement; a real feeling of meaning and purpose.” 

What do we need, and what's getting in our way?

The human givens approach explains that mental illness, from mild feelings of unease to full-blown psychosis, is driven by stress, and ‘stress’ is what happens when an organism’s innate needs are not met in a balanced way. Mental illness is therefore ‘cured’ by reducing or removing stress from a person’s life. Which needs are not being met right now? Why are they not being met? What can be done to remove the obstacles currently preventing these needs from being met? When innate needs are met people calm down. Mental illness evaporates. We feel good. We thrive. And one major obstacle that is preventing needs from being met in the world today, that is driving conflict and vitiating global politics, is an inability to see past cultural differences, and biases, and recognise our common humanity.

Water is a fundamental human need. It is hard to imagine any sane person disagreeing with this statement. Without water a human being can survive for a maximum of around one (increasingly uncomfortable and distressing) week. The need for water is one of the things we have in common with most of the other organisms on our planet.  Given the truth of the preceding statements,  it is hard to understand how the following situation, for example, could have happened. It is an instance, as they say, worth a thousand.

An illustrative example

For the past 40 years or so Turkey has been creating dams in order to irrigate crops in the southeast of the country. The industrious Turks have done a great job of looking after themselves. Agricultural production in that area of their country is booming. But, as a consequence, water flow into neighbouring Syria and Iraq has been significantly reduced. Turkey is consuming far more than its fair share of water in the area, and starving its neighbours, who are suffering greatly as a result. And it is water shortages that are, according to many sources, driving conflict in the area.

What is it that is allowing the Turks to behave like this? It can’t be the fact that they are unaware of the consequences of their actions for their neighbours. Nor can it be because there is something peculiarly wrong with them. Travellers to Turkey generally tell of stories of spontaneous hospitality and warmth. It can only be a failure to recognise their neighbours as beings of the same type. When we behave like this to other people we are secretly (or not so secretly) thinking:
“You are not like me therefore you are not really human. You don’t really count.”

The Conciliator’s Guild is collaborating with Human Givens College to present a new course entitled:
Fear and political chaos: How to bring clarity to societal upheaval through the lens of innate human needs.
The course explains how the ideas raised in this article can be put into practice. You can find out more about it here.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Prisons We Choose to Live Inside

The 1985 Massey Lectures - by Doris Lessing

What can the individual do to salvage his or her freedom in a world dominated by the forces of mass emotions and group thinking?

The Massey Lectures were started by the CBC in 1961. They were established so that some of the world’s leading thinkers could present the result of original work in different areas of thought. The 1985 lectures were by Doris Lessing, who died in 2013. 

The topic of the 1985 lectures was “the predicament of the individual in a world that’s increasingly dominated by group thinking and mass emotions, as well as the inflammatory rhetoric that usually accompanies such displays of group behaviour.”

The title for the series was: Prisons We Choose to Live Inside. “An examination of our tendency to act and think according to patterns of group behaviour thus making it easier for us to fall victims to political rhetoric.”

Given what we are witnessing in the UK at the moment following the EU referendum, this all seems highly relevant, perhaps even more relevant than it was 30 years ago when these lectures were first broadcast by the CBC. You might say that the ‘volume’ on some of the phenomena Lessing discusses has been ‘turned up’.

Introduction by Doris Lessing

“This is what I want to talk about in these five lectures: how often, and how much, we are dominated by our savage past, as individuals and as groups. And yet, whilst sometimes it seems that we are helpless, we are gathering, and very rapidly - too rapidly to assimilate it - knowledge about ourselves, not only as individuals but as groups, nations and as members of society. This is a time when it is frightening to be alive, when it is hard to think of human beings as rational creatures. Everywhere we look we see brutality, stupidity, until it seems that there is nothing else to be seen but that - a descent into barbarism, everywhere, which we are unable to check. But what I think is that, while it is true there is a general worsening, it is precisely because things are so frightening that we become hypnotized, and do not notice - or if we notice, belittle - equally strong forces on the other side, the forces, in short, of reason, sanity, civilization..."

"The sad thing is, all these issues about human behaviour are so important, and so fundamental to why people get ill, anxious, sad and behave criminally, that they ought to be looked at calmly and scientifically by more people and talked about more widely. But these issues are not explored yet much on TV or in other media and yet they are far more important that politics or the 'arts'. That's why what you're doing in the Human Givens Journal is so valuable."


Click the link in each section header below to listen to the lecture on the CBC site. Each section contains a short synopsis or key point.

“I think when people look back at this time - the one we are living through - they will be amazed at one thing more than any other. It is this. That we do know more about ourselves now than people did in the past but that very little of it has been put into effect. There has been this great explosion of information about ourselves. The information is the result of our - of mankind’s still infant ability to look at itself objectively. It concerns our behaviour patterns… and is about how we function in groups, and as individuals. Not about how we may like to think we behave and function, which is often very flattering, but about how we can be observed to be behaving when observed as dispassionately as when we observe the behaviour of other species.”

“This business of seeing ourselves as in the right and others in the wrong; our cause as right, theirs as wrong-headed; our ideas as correct, theirs as nonsense (if not as downright evil). Well, all of us in our sober moments, our human moments, the time when we think, reflect and allow our rational minds to dominate us - we all of us suspect that this ‘I am right, your are wrong’ is, quite simply, nonsense.

Part 2: You Are Damned - We Are Saved

The political and personal implications of our tendency to think and act according to patterns of group psychology and mass morality - what Nietzsche called “the herd instinct”.

Politics, advertising, brainwashing and indoctrination - information about how society operates “which could, I believe, transform us - transform our lives and how we view ourselves.”

“We have now reached the stage where a political leader not only uses, skilfully, time-honoured rabble-rousing tricks (see Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar) but employs experts to make it all the more effective. But the antidote is that, in an open society, we may also examine these tricks being used on us. If, that is, we choose to examine them, if we don’t switch off to see Dallas, or whatever, instead.”

Part 4: Group Minds

We may be subject to pressures that make us considerably less individual, and free, than we would like to imagine. And this imaginary picture of ourselves makes us more vulnerable and less likely ever to achieve true freedom.

“But is it possible that all the bad things going on (and I don’t have to list them, for we all know what they are) are a reaction, a dragging undertow to a forward movement in the human social evolution that we can’t easily see? Perhaps looking back, let’s say in a century, or in two centuries, is it possible they will say ‘that was a time when extremes battled for supremacy. The human mind was developing very fast in the direction of self-knowledge, self-command. And as always happens, as always has to happen, this thrust forward aroused its opposite: the forces of stupidity, brutality, mob-thinking’? I think it possible. I think this is what is happening.”

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

How on Earth do we cool things down?

THIS HUFFINGTON POST ARTICLE ON INFLAMMATORY DISEASES seems like a metaphor for the increasing strife we are witnessing on our planet. Wherever you look, at every level, things appear to be becoming more toxic, more inflamed and deranged. Lost in a hot fog of emotion, members of the collective human family are failing to recognise one another and finding any old excuse to fall out - like the immune system attacking the very body of which it is an integral part.
"We are facing an epidemic of allergic (60 million people), asthmatic (30 million people) and autoimmune disorders (24 million people). Autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, celiac disease, thyroid disease, and the many other hard-to-classify syndromes in the 21st century. These are all autoimmune conditions, and at their root they are connected by one central biochemical process: A runaway immune response also known as systemic inflammation that results in your body attacking its own tissues.
Not forgetting depression, also an inflammatory condition, which, at ~350 million people, may eclipse these other problems even when they are added together. And reductionist thinking is not the answer: 
"Medicine as it is practiced today is like taking the battery out of a smoke detector while a fire burns down your house!" 
Something more expansive is needed if we are to see what we are really dealing with.

Illustration of The Blind Men and The Elephant from A Thousand and One Nights
The stress caused by emotionally toxic environments - those in which it is difficult or impossible to meet innate human emotional needs - is, unsurprisingly, hardly touched on because the organising ideas necessary to perceive things in this way, at this level, are not yet present in the writer's mind. 

But stress for this reason is, maybe, the major factor, and its effects seem to go well beyond individual physical ailments to affect the entire human organism. 

New ways of seeing that help us make sense of what is happening, and cool the emotional temperature on planet Earth, have never been more necessary.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Reflections on the UK's EU referendum

The saddest thing about the EU referendum is how it has divided, and continues to divide, the people of the United Kingdom. To vote you needed to pick a side, and if you picked a side you risked alienating yourself from huge numbers of others - including old friends, colleagues, neighbours - who thought differently about what the best thing to do might be. The fact is that nobody really knew what the best thing to do would be. You can only really know this if you know what the consequences of an action will be, and we live in a world where making predictions based on yesterday’s weather just doesn't seem to work very well any more (if, indeed, it ever did). All any of us had to go on was opinions and hunches justified by varying amounts of variable quality information.

Possibly the most important vote of our lifetimes?

So here we all are on the flip-side of “possibly the most important vote of our lifetimes” and a small majority have decided we should leave the European Union: 17.4 vs 16.1 million people. The emotionality and ‘informational overload’ leading up to this decision caused immense stress and confusion for many. The obsolete ‘us’ vs ‘them’ (in-group vs out-group) survival instinct highlighted in this article about why we feel antipathy towards refugees has been provided with ideal conditions for its activation. It’s still raging, and finding a myriad of different ways of expressing itself - none of them very helpful.

The entire debate over the referendum was polluted by a need to polarise voters because of the very nature of the black and white decision they were facing, and all sorts of tactics were used that increased the emotion in an effort to herd sufficient numbers of human beings in the direction deemed correct by the argument makers. Passions were deliberately, and not so deliberately (because so many of the people involved know no better), stoked by all concerned.

A difficult choice for emotional brains

The ‘vote leave’ campaign may have been fractionally more successful because, with its “take back control” message, it tapped into our innate need for autonomy and control, which is frustrated by bureaucracy, rules and red tape. On the other hand, the remain campaign seemed to emphasise how leaving would, in a multitude of ways, make us all less safe and secure. Both sides seemed to have an intuitive grasp of what really matters to human beings (we are motivated by anything that promises to meet our innate needs) but, unfortunately, people were forced to choose between increasing their sense of autonomy whilst (potentially) becoming less secure, or maintaining their sense of security at the price of their sense of control. Neither option was wholly appealing hence, perhaps, the close margin. (It would have been extremely interesting to add an Emotional Needs Audit to the referendum so the results could have been correlated with how well participants felt their emotional needs are currently being met. But this opportunity was lost because it would never have occurred to the organisers - our rulers are still too ignorant of what really drives, and is important to, human beings.)

In the wake of the referendum result the emotional brain is clearly having a field day as people argue, blame, resign and make all sorts of binary, final decisions that, viewed from a cooler perspective, seem both unnecessary and unhelpful. (Further evidence, if more were needed, that high emotional arousal causes us to lose access to our higher human faculties and renders us functionally stupid.) Because this seems like an ideal time for sticking together, and sticking with it - not for more fighting and abandoning of ships.

Charting a way forward

There are big questions now facing the UK such as: What do we do next? How do we move forward? How might we stick together in order to work things out and avoid further wasteful conflict? Ideological, party politics is divisive. Is it (like the us-vs-them instinct previously referred to) an anachronism that we need to dump if we are to discover a viable way of running our country, especially now that we have increased scope for taking responsibility and making our own decisions? Do the conditions in post-Brexit UK increase the necessity, and provide an opportunity, for us to take the next step in our political evolution? If so what might that look like?

It’s clear to most people that our politicians have lost their way. If you asked most of them what the purpose of politics is (and assuming, by some miracle, that they answered honestly) one feels that they would say something like:
"If we are in power the purpose of politics is to remain in power. If we are not in power the purpose of politics is to get into power."
Beyond this it is doubtful that they would have anything useful, or coherent, to contribute. Money and power are the priorities. Everything is subservient to these considerations.

The good news is that Human Givens Charter provides a simple blueprint for how to govern a country in a way that could unify the warring clans and work better for all concerned. In summary, imagine a country where the agreed purpose of politics was:
"To run things in such a way that people and businesses can thrive."
Rates of mental illness would be used to measure how well any government was doing vis-a-vis this purpose. Healthy GDP (whatever this means when such a large slice of it is apparently 'consumer spend') and profit in general would be a byproduct of creating an environment in which more and more people get their innate needs met, gain access to their innate resources, become more stable, intelligent and creative - rather than the (in itself meaningless) raison d'etre.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

How do we free ourselves from the tyranny of modern mass politics?

The multi-step American Presidential election process has always seemed baffling to outsiders (perhaps to insiders too) and increasing numbers of commentators are now explaining that it is also flawed and fundamentally undemocratic,[1][2] but in 2016, with the improbable rise of Donald Trump, it's an even stranger carnival than usual.

People all over the world are scratching their heads in wonder. How could a man like Trump, who seemed at first almost like a joke candidate, be doing so well? Many have simply stopped paying attention to the story - tuned out because they feel powerless to do anything about it, to oppose something so manifestly, and multifariously, wrong. But the winner of the American Presidential race will be, for a time, one of the most powerful people on Earth, and there is therefore is an increasing need for us all to make sense of this situation, to understand what's really going on, to work out what (if anything) ordinary people like us can actually do about it. Because this is not just an American problem. Trump's presidency, if he is successful, will affect millions of lives across the world, and the forces that may bring him to power are common to all people and societies.

A recent article in Psychology Today made some interesting observations that partly explain the secret of Trump's appeal: he is using the tricks and techniques of a dominant male primate to activate ancient templates lying deep in the human brain that turn us into unthinking, fawning, subordinate creatures that are happy to give power away to super-apes who promise protection and plenty for all - at least for those lucky enough to be on the right side of the fences they will build to keep the wrong kinds of people out. 

John Bell and Ivan Tyrrell have also just shone some additional, useful light on this subject in their article for Al Jazeera: Donald Trump, demagoguery and attractive illusions. Politicians like Trump use language in a special way that hypnotises and entrances, turning off the critical faculties and turning us, effectively, into their mindless slaves. But we can take back some power, and regain control over our own minds, if we realise what is being done to us. If we take the time to study and think about these methods of manipulation there is the possibility that we can learn to spot them when they are being applied to us and become less affected by them. But the onus is on us, as individuals, to do this for ourselves. Liberation from this kind of tyranny cannot be done for us or by simply joining some kind of mass movement. The revolution that is needed has to happen in each of us, individually - in the quiet stillness of our own hearts and minds once we have stepped away from the herd and absorbed the requisite information. 

This is such an important theme, particularly at the moment, that Human Givens College produced a webinar presented by Ivan Tyrrell:

How politicians use hypnotic language... to turn us into puppets

Increase your awareness and understanding of how some politicians gain fanatical support – and why it can be dangerous if we don't realise what's happening...

Attendees will discover:
  • Why we must pay attention to the language politicians use – and what happens when we don't
  • Important lessons from assessing speeches made by Donald Trump, Barack Obama, David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn
  • Why we are susceptible to becoming puppets – what is happening in our brains and how this can lead to mass insanity
  • Examples of hypnotic language – what to look out for 
  • What you can do to protect yourself against manipulation and make informed decisions during elections or referendums
You can watch a replay of the webinar here.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Is it possible to build 'resilience' to 'stress'?

WE ARE COMING TO THE END of stress awareness month 2016 so it seems like a good time to ask: is it possible to build resilience to stress?
"Because life is tough and, if we want to survive, we need to learn how to be tough back!" (Anonymous)
HG College tutor, therapist and writer Julia Welstead will be pondering this important question from the human givens point of view in our next live webinar on Wednesday 27th April @ 1pm (UK BST).

HUGH GLASS (c.1780-1833) was an American
fur trapper and frontiersman noted for his exploits
in the American West during the first third of the
19th century. Self-sufficient and courageous, he
epitomises a form of archetypal human resilience.

People have been talking about 'stress' for ages but 'resilience' is a word that recently seems to have appeared alongside it. It's been cropping up in articles and chanted in conversations: a magic word that immediately makes anyone employing or hearing it feel a bit better - a bit less stressed, a bit more resilient (at least for a moment or two, until the emotional effects wear off).

But what do we need to do to get something more substantial, a little less transitory, from the 'stress'/'resilience' theme? It feels like there might be some stuff here that could be of more lasting use if we can find an intelligent way of unpacking and making sense of the key terms - of taking what are really a set of confusing abstractions (that can mean different things to different people, and even different things to the same person at different times) and putting them to work in a bit of clear-thinking on a subject that does seems pretty important.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'stress' as follows:
A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.
And the human givens definition says simply that 'stress' is what happens when our innate physical and emotional needs are not met. When this happens the emotional brain feels itself to be under threat, and starts to 'sweat'. This is a really useful way of making 'stress' concrete and understandable to anyone, and we can do the same thing with 'resilience' too. Again, the OED is a good place to start. 'Resilience' is:
The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.
So if 'stress' is what happens to us when innate needs are not met (could be sleep, could be control) then 'resilience' could be the ability not to fall apart when things get stressful. This means several things, for instance:
  • The ability to endure stresses that we have no immediate control over.
  • The ability to reduce stresses that we do have control over. 
This is reminiscent of The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971):
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things [stresses] I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.
To which we could add:
  • The ability to avoid making things worse by misusing our innate resources (such as imagination) in ways that are self-defeating.
And then there are the stories of people who have demonstrated outstanding resilience, in the above senses, from which we can learn a good deal. For instance, the real story of Hugh Glass, the man on whom the recent Hollywood film The Revenant was based, is quite astonishing. After being savagely mauled by a bear, stripped of his possessions and left for dead, Glass crawled his way alone out of the wilderness. Later the same year he found himself abandoned once more, his companions again thinking he was dead. He wrote:
"I felt quite rich when I found my knife, flint and steel in my shot pouch.  These little fixin's make a man feel right peart when he is three or four hundred miles from anybody or any place."
Glass had the skills and tools to survive, was courageous and not prone to feeling sorry for himself. His story demonstrates that human beings are far, far tougher (and need far, far less) than modern society encourages us to believe (perhaps to keep us docile, dependent and obedient).

Truly resilient people don't run away from the difficulties and discomforts of life, nor do they passively accept (or keep returning to) familiar yet toxic situations. Instead they arm themselves with the knowledge and tools that they need in order to handle stress as they seek to extend and stretch themselves, to step outside of their comfort zones into a world that becomes, as a result, gradually wider and wider (instead of narrower and narrower).

So please join Julia on Wednesday 27th April @ 1pm (UK BST) for what promises to be an essential and stimulating webinar.