Tuesday, 27 November 2012

HG Library: The APET model: emotions come first

Many therapists work with the APET Model (Activating agent, Pattern match, Emotion, Thoughts) of human behaviour. This is the article which introduced the idea to the Human Givens journal back in 2001.

Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrrell introduce a biologically-based theory which explains the shortcomings of purely cognitive approaches and why effective therapies can work fast. 

DENNY was given a life sentence for murder when he battered his friend to death on a freezing cold night for no reason that he could articulate. He and his best friend Nick were 'down and out'. Having failed to get jobs which they had travelled to a specific town in search of, they had both hitchhiked and trudged, cold and hungry, the 90 miles back to their home town.

On arrival, they huddled in a derelict building, desperately burning any wood they could tear down to make fires for warmth. Nick quite reasonably suggested that they go to Denny's mother's house, which was only 500 yards away, and sleep on her front room floor. Denny wouldn't hear of it. When he ran out of arguments against Nick's pleadings, he battered and killed him.

Why? All Denny could say in explanation was, "I just went too far". Denny had no idea why he felt compelled to kill his best friend, only that the 'need' was overwhelming. It subsequently emerged, through psychiatrist Dr Bob Johnson's work with him in Parkhurst Prison [1], that Denny had felt driven to murder because he was still frozen in a state of terror of his mother who had battered him cruelly as a boy. That he was now adult and a strapping six feet three and a half inches and she was 85 and five feet two did not impinge as a reason not to fear her any more.

This famous case serves to epitomise, in stark form, the shortcomings of the basic idea underlying cognitive therapy - that it is beliefs and thoughts which give rise to emotions and behaviours. Denny's fear was powerfully reactivated by a pattern from the past. It was emotion which led to the belief that he must kill, not vice versa.

The case provides a highly graphic example of how extremely strong emotional reactions precede conscious understanding and reasoning. This can be explained in terms of what is now known about how the brain works and, we propose, has important ramifications for how we can carry out therapy most effectively.

New understandings

Using new understandings about the functioning of the brain, we have developed a theory we have called the APET model. It is, in effect, a necessary updating and enlarging of the model underlying cognitive therapy, which was first developed well before the current explosion of knowledge about brain function.
The basic fallacy underlying the cognitive approach doesn't detract from the power of cognitive therapy - it is highly successful, particularly when coupled with behaviour therapy, because it acknowledges the reciprocal interaction between cognition and emotion. But it does limit the scope and thinking of its practitioners when treating mental disorders, and extends the time taken to do so.

As clinical psychologist Pat Frankish, immediate past president of the British Psychological Society [when writing in 2001], was moved to comment in her year 2000 presidential address, which centred on thought and feeling, I do not ... deny the value of the cognitive approach or the research findings. Rather I aim to warn against too many eggs in the same basket, and to remind us all that the complexity of the human brain cannot be reduced to its individual components without some considerable loss."

Faulty thinking

Before we explain the meaning and purpose of the acronym APET, we need to look first at the theory underlying cognitive therapy, an approach which takes the stance that changing faulty thinking processes is the key to changing inappropriate behaviour and emotions, and to see where it falls short of current neurophysiological knowledge.

The first cognitive therapy was rational emotive therapy (RET) devised in the 1950s by disenchanted psychoanalyst Albert Ellis. (Since 1993 the therapy has been called rational emotive behaviour therapy -REBT - to reflect the fact that people's thoughts, feelings and actions are integrally related and inevitably influence each other.) Its aim is to identify flaws in people's thinking that can have adverse emotional consequences.

Ellis proposed that the two most common maladaptive thoughts are "I am worthless unless I am completely competent in everything I attempt to do" and "Everyone must love and approve of me." Such maladaptive thoughts, which place impossible demands on individuals, inevitably lead to anxiety, depression or other abnormal behaviours, he believed. [2]

He thought it was important to disabuse clients of the unhelpful but common belief that it is events or situations which cause them to feel or act in certain ways. For instance, if someone feels anxious on arrival at a first therapy session, they might conclude that coming to therapy is making them anxious, instead of realising that it is their expectations or fears about the therapy that are making them anxious.

The ABC model

He illustrated this idea neatly in his ABC model. The A stands for activating agent agent - any situation or stimulus that prompts a reaction. The C stands for consequences - either feelings or actions. The incorrect assumption is that C is caused by A. In reality, said Ellis, C is caused by B which stands for beliefs - the thoughts, images, perceptions and conclusions that we draw from A. (In the updated REBT, A stands for adversities and B for belief-behavioural system.)

As holding unhelpful or outmoded beliefs can undoubtedly cause mental distress, this cognitive approach represented a giant leap forward in therapeutic terms. It enabled therapists to concen trate on helping clients change faulty thinking in the here and now, instead of vainly rooting about in their pasts.

Aaron Beck, another former psychoanalyst, took the ideas further and developed cognitive restructuring therapy. Here he concentrated primarily on classifying and identifying the thought disorders which he believed were underlying all psychological disorders. [3] Cognitive therapists have continued to add to and refine his categories ever since. We may be broadly familiar with cognitive-speak from categories such as catastrophising ("I've a headache; it must be a brain tumour"), overgeneralising ("Joan is a better person than I am because she is a good cook"), fault-finding ("the company was out to get me"), anthropomorphism ("computers and I don't get on"), etc.

In sum, Ellis, Beck and others who have written on cognitive approaches take the stance that psychological problems occur because thinking is defective. We maintain that this is not so. It is 'emotional thinking' that leads to problems: a conclusion clearly pointed to by the findings of recent brain research.

The emotional brain

The emotional centre of the brain, housed in the limbic system, developed some millions of years earlier than the neocortex, the highest part of our brains, concerned with thinking, planning, memory, etc.
The limbic system is concerned with raw emotion; it is the higher centres that put a more delicate spin on things, enlarging pleasure and desire into a capacity to bond with and care for other beings, for instance. Because the neocortex grew up out of the emotional brain, there are innumerable connections between the two - and more extend upwards than extend downwards, giving the emotional brain enormous influence on how we think as well as feel.

The limbic system first developed in our distant mammalian ancestors to deal with instinctive behaviours, such as eating and mating and surviving. One of the main roles of a structure called the amygdala was to promote survival by alerting the organism to possible danger and triggering the physiological fight or flight response.

In essence, the amygdala - so-named because it is almond shaped and amygdala is Greek for almond - was the limbic system's emotional alarm system, continually scanning the environment and interpreting each new stimulus in terms of whether it was safe or suspect. In colloquial terms, it was asking, "Can I approach this or not? Can I eat this or will this eat me? Will I fight (and win) or should I flee?"

The limbic system developed a rudimentary ability for memory and learning. After all, it would hardly be economic in energy terms for the amygdala to go on full alert each time that it saw a tree. It needed to be able to recognise that a tree was not a source of danger. And it did that by a process that we term pattern matching, which still underlies our mental functioning today.

Pattern matching

All mammals are programmed with species-appropriate instinctive behaviours during REM sleep while still fetuses in the womb.[4] REM sleep accounts for a high proportion of sleep in fetuses and newborns and drops off markedly as an organism starts to mature. The laying down of instinctive templates at these times explains all our species-specific behaviours, such as birds' ability to know what materials to use to build nests, wild animals' ability to recognise a predator, and babies' knowledge of the need to locate the nipple and to search out human faces to establish bonding.[5]

But these instinctive patterns cannot be too specific. They need to be flexible enough to enable them to be completed in different ways in different environments.

So a human baby will accept the teat of a bottle from which to take milk; baby birds will recognise a range of the kinds of sounds that their parents may make and infants will be able to speak the language that they hear around them, whatever it is. The more complex the life form, the more rich and varied are the instinctive templates laid down and the more flexibility available to it to complete the pattern in the environment.
The pattern-matching process is, then, an instinctive part of human brain functioning. It is behind our natural inclination to describe one thing in terms of another ("Such and such is like ...") and express ourselves in metaphor.

Dreams have been shown to be exact pattern matches or metaphors for emotionally arousing concerns from the day that have not been expressed before bedtime. [6] The often strange scenarios we dream during REM sleep at night are metaphorical renderings of those concerns which serve to deactivate them (this is not the same as resolving them), thus reducing emotional arousal in the brain and freeing us to deal with whatever demands the next day brings. So the same process, REM sleep, that first programmes instinctive behaviour in the form of genetically anticipated patterns, is also the means by which 'left-over' patterns of stimulation from waking are deactivated each night.

Pattern matching is what an animal's emotional brain uses when a tree looms into view and is recognised not to be a threat or when a certain other animal appears and is instantly deemed to be one. This happens within the first few milliseconds of the stimulus having been perceived. [7]

With the development of the neocortex and reason, we humans now have a much greater range of responses available to us when presented with stimuli in the environment. According to past scientific explanation, this was because information from our five senses would be relayed to the thalamus in the forebrain which passed it directly to the sensory processing centres of the neocortex. These then sent the information as appropriate to elsewhere in the brain, including the amygdala, and the body.

The thinking was that the neocortex moderated emotional responses, bringing more diversity of reasoning to a strange situation - the knowledge, for instance, that the man seemingly blatantly blocking the path of our car isn't an aggressor but a traffic policeman.

However, when the stimulus is one which causes significant emotional arousal - something crashes to the ground and we jump aside - the thinking brain has no role at all in the instant reaction. It is the amygdala which pattern matches and reacts before the neocortex even gets a look in. This is a relatively recent finding (and has great bearing on our development of the APET model).

Emotion before reason

The emotional brain's ability to be one jump ahead of the neocortex was the discovery of researcher Joseph LeDoux. He found that certain fear signals from the senses, once relayed to the thalamus, are immediately sent along a neuronal 'fast track' to the amygdala, arriving half a second before signals relayed by the usual route reach the neocortex. [8] That half a second is a long time in brain response terms. In effect, the amygdala can have us reacting before the thinking brain has weighed up the evidence and planned an appropriate reaction.

As a result, some emotional reactions and consequent emotional memories can be formed without any conscious participation from the thinking brain at all. The amygdala can hold on to emotional memories and impressions that have never come to full awareness. [9] (This can explain Denny's impulse to kill and the symptoms of phobias and post traumatic shock syndrome.)

When emotional arousal is high, the emotional brain is in the driving seat. It is the nature of the emotional brain to think only in survival-type choices - fight or flight; go for it or don't. While it is the job of the conscious mind to discriminate, fill in the detail and offer a more intelligent analysis of the patterns offered up to it by the emotional brain, the 'either/or' logic of the emotional brain is its more basic pattern which goes way back to earliest life forms and still forms the foundation on which much of our thinking and behaviour rests.

The degree to which the fight or flight reflex is activated is the degree to which our thinking becomes polarised - more black or more white. As psychologist Daniel Goleman describes it, the emotional brain 'hijacks' the neocortex [9] and very quickly begins to blank out more subtle distinctions between stimuli. We can't be concerned with the finer detail when making a life saving decision.

In fact, all thoughts and perceptions are fuelled by, and therefore preceded by, emotion. We are not generally aware of this because it is often a subtle process but the fact that thoughts are carried aloft on emotion becomes clear when we examine strange exceptions to this rule.

In Capgras' syndrome, for instance, the pattern-matching process is disrupted because of minor brain damage. In these cases the neocortex can no longer draw on emotional memories from the limbic system and sufferers believe that family and close friends are impostors, because they experience no feeling for them. [10]

Some recent studies have shown that amygdala damage results in problems in recognising facial expressions of fear, anger and disgust [11] and interferes with social and emotional judgement. In one study designed to test individuals' ability to make judgements about the approachability of people they were shown in photographs, researchers found that those with damage to the amygdala were much more likely to rate people as approachable, regardless of fearsome looks. [12]

Emotion, then, appears to be a precondition for thought and perception even - in cases when we might ordinarily think that no emotion is involved.

The APET model

The discovery that emotion precedes reason and perception is the fact that turns cognitive therapy on its head. Whereas the ABC model assumes that anxiety and depression - both of which are states of high arousal - arise from faulty belief systems, the APET model takes into account the latest knowledge about how the brain works and enables it to be used for more effective therapy.

Black and white thinking, which underlies all the categories identified by cognitive therapists, is the thinking style of the emotional brain. It is the result of arousal, and the accompanying hijacking of the neocortex, not the cause.

The A in APET stands for activating agent: any event or stimulus in the environment, just as in the cognitive model. Information about that stimulus, taken in through the senses, is processed through the pattern-matching part of the mind (P) which gives rises to an emotion (E) which may inspire certain thoughts (T).
To give a simple example, Anne may be sitting reading quietly at home when she hears a loud knock on the door. Anne experiences seemingly inexplicable dread. Her thought, if she has a conscious thought at all, is: "Someone is dead!"

In the split millisecond before she experienced her fear, the amygdala in her emotional brain had pattern matched to the occasion when there was loud banging on her door and she opened it to find a policeman on the step. He had come to tell her that her son had been killed in a motorbike accident. If the memory is so emotionally charged that it cannot be processed, and stays trapped in the amygdala as a pre-verbal memory, events such as loud knocking may trigger post traumatic stress symptoms such as nightmares, exaggerated startles or panics.

Points of intervention

The APET model provides many more points of intervention in therapy than simply helping a client to alter their beliefs and attitudes. Each letter of the model represents a point of possible change. Sometimes it may be most effective, for instance, to work to change the activating agent (eg. encouraging or suggesting strategies for changing an unsatisfying job or reducing loneliness).

Very often an inappropriate pattern match needs to be changed. So a woman who unconsciously pattern matches to the mental cruelty of her first lover, and consequently sabotages every new relationship she embarks on, needs help to uncouple false links between past and present circumstances.

The instinct to pattern match can be used productively by offering positive nominalisations - positive abstract nouns which have no concrete meaning, such as resourcefulness, insight, capacity, happiness, confidence - to a deeply relaxed client, so that the client unconsciously does the work of pattern matching to their past to find times when they have experienced or exercised those qualities.

(Doing this while the client is in a trance state is highly effective because the state of hypnosis is akin to the state of REM sleep, during which pattern-matching templates are first programmed. [13] It is therefore a natural learning state, when the brain is most receptive to new information.)

Similarly, the use of metaphor and storytelling directly address the pattern-matching propensity of the mind, enabling a client to draw from what they hear whatever is most relevant and meaningful for them personally.
Emotion (the E of the model) always needs to be calmed down before a client can learn to think in a less black and white fashion. It is impossible to communicate fully with anyone who is overly emotionally aroused, as very many of us will know from experience of arguments. However, depression is just as aroused an emotional state as anger, even if it is not so apparent to the onlooker.

We maintain, unlike in cognitive therapy, that it isn't individuals' faulty thinking which is causing the problem but the fact that emotional arousal, with its black and white logic, is blocking access to the more subtle reasoning of their higher brains. (Thus the depressed person thinks everything always goes wrong and no relationship will ever work, because there are no greys in black and white thinking.)

High emotional arousal locks people's focus of attention into a negative trance state where they are confined to viewing the world and their own circumstances from a limiting viewpoint. Teaching relaxation techniques and working with them while in a state of deep relaxation reduces the emotional brain's paralysing hold over the neocortex.

Finally, as every good cognitive therapist knows, it is highly important to work with any unhelpful thoughts or belief patterns (T) which may be holding clients back, diminishing their confidence, arousing distress or placing too great demands on them. When people are relaxed and their focus of attention is taken off their emotions, the neocortex can feed a new pattern back down to the emotional brain.

Cognitive therapy holds that a thought may sometimes itself be the activating agent which is interpreted by the belief system and which may then trigger off an emotional response. We would contend that there is no such thing as pure thought. A thought always subserves an emotional agenda.

Even Einstein struggling with his theory of relativity had to be motivated by some emotional need, whether the need for fame and fortune or the emotional satisfaction of discovering the rules by which the universe operates. Thought is an evolutionary adaptation that ultimately serves to help us get our needs fulfilled. A thought, therefore, is always the end, not starting, point of APET.

Dreaming is a clear example of how the brain is always serving an emotionally driven agenda. Humans experience about five periods of REM sleep a night, during which we dream. As explained earlier, dreams are exact pattern matches to emotionally driven agendas which have not been completed during the day. By providing the pattern match to the emotional arousal the dream deactivates it, freeing up our thought processes to deal with whatever the new activation agents of the next day will bring.

A swift approach to change

Incorrect or inappropriate pattern matching is at the centre of most psychological disorders. The most effective treatments for anxiety, depression, addictions, inappropriate anger, obsessive-compulsive disorders, phobias and post traumatic stress all involve detaching old unhelpful patterns and cementing in new empowering ones.

Changing the P (pattern matching) changes the E (emotion) and the T (thought), and, swiftly, the patient's life.

Whereas cognitive methods are laborious and slow and involve clients in adjusting to the therapist's reality (learning to identify the many categories of faulty thinking), the human givens approach, based on the APET model, requires therapists to enter their clients' reality, and enables them to offer diverse meaningful interventions simultaneously, effecting powerful positive change from the very first session.

We hope that the APET model will help provide a useful theoretical understanding for why human givens therapy is so effective


Subscribe to the Human Givens Journal for more articles like this one.

1. Johnson, B (1997). Narrative approaches with lifers. The Therapist, 4, 3, 24–28.
2. Ellis, A. (1971). Growth through reason: Verbatim cases in rational-emotive therapy. Wiltshire Books.
3. Beck, A (1976). Cognitive Therapy and Emotional Disorders. New American Library.
4. Jouvet, M (1965). Paradoxical sleep – a study of its nature and mechanisms. Prog Brain Research, 18, 20–57.
5. Gopnik, A, Meltzoff, A and Kuhl, P (1999). How babies think. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
6. Griffin, J (1997). The Origin of Dreams. The Therapist Ltd. (Out of print – Joe Griffin's research into why we evolved to dream, has been republished in Dreaming Reality: How dreaming keeps us sane or can drive us mad)
7. Bargh, J A (1994). First second: the preconscious in social interactions. Paper presented at the June meeting of the American Psychological Society, Washington, DC.
8. LeDoux, J (1998). The Emotional Brain. Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
9. Goleman, D (1996). Emotional Intelligence. Bloomsbury, London.
10. Ramachandran, VS and Blakelee, S (1998). Phantoms in the Brain. Fourth Estate, London.
11. Calder, A J, Young, A W, Rowland, D, Perrett, D I, Hodges, J R and Etcoff, N L (1996). Facial emotion recognition after bilateral amygdala damage. Differentially severe impairment of fear. Cognitive Neuropsychology, 13, 699–745.
12. Adolphs, R, Tranel, D and Damasio, A R (1998). The human amygdala is social judgement. Nature, 393, 470–474.
13.Griffin, J and Tyrrell, I (1999). Hypnosis and Trance States: a new psychobiological explanation. ETSI.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Is this really the exact cause of depression?

Adding to the wealth of neurobiological research that supports the human givens theory of depression is this Stanford study (reported here as the 'Exact cause of depression revealed') on how neural motivation pathways are found to be depleted in severely depressed brains.

But is this really the exact 'cause' of depression? We wouldn't say so. When you look at the bigger picture, it's obvious that what happens in the brain is not the first step in the cycle of depression. Something has to happen to make those motivation pathways exhausted in the first place, and the authors of this research might benefit from a bigger organising idea to make sense of the data which, as we shall see, provides implications beyond drug treatment for lifting depression.

Here's our organising idea behind the real cause of depression:

When a person starts worrying about innate needs not being met, this results in an excess of unresolved emotional arousals in the brain that must be resolved. This excess of unresolved emotional arousals can only be resolved in one way, through dreaming in REM sleep, and, as the increased REM sleep of depressed people shows, depressed people do indeed dream a lot more than non depressed people.

But how does this impact motivation pathways?

Too much REM sleep leads to the exhaustion of motivation pathways as dreaming continually fires the orientation (motivation) response - and it's these exhausted motivation pathways in depressed brains that are now visible through studies like the Standford one.

Recognising the importance of getting innate emotional needs provides gives far more implications for treatment of depression quickly, effectively and without drugs. See peer reviewed research in which it is recommend that human givens treatment for mild to moderate depression be fully included in NICE guidelines.

why-we-dream.com - the expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming sheds light on so many previously unexplained topics from dreaming, and hypnosis to psychosis and why we forget our dreams.

lift-depression.com - focusing on treating depression, this website covers the link between REM sleep and depression.

humangivenscollege.com/courses/cycle-of-depression - effective, evidence based training on understanding the cycle of depression from Human Givens College.

Friday, 16 November 2012

HG Library: Great Expectations by Joe Griffin

Joe Griffin goes back to basics to arrive at a some powerful new insights into the givens of human nature. This article is from a 2004 edition of the Human Givens journal and explores many of the essential insights the human givens approach is centered on. Read if you are interested in addiction, REM sleep, dreaming, neuroscience and how we function.

HUMAN GIVENS is a living school of psychology and, as such, it has to continue evolving or it will become moribund. The day we think we have all the answers we become a cult, as some schools of psychology and psychotherapy have already done. So what follows are ideas in progress (because any piece of truth we may glean is always a fragment of a larger one).

All that any new science has in its infancy is the beginnings of an approach. It took hundreds of years for astronomers to focus their minds on the central fact of their work, which was to understand the physical universe. Prior to that, studying the planets and stars was mixed up with superstition — with astrology, occult practices and mythology. Our aim with the human givens approach is to bring that same clarity of focus to psychology and psychotherapy. To do that, we must draw out from the numerous approaches to studying psychology, and the hundreds of different ideological models for doing psychotherapy and counselling, the basic starting point — the one factor that all life forms have in common.

Every living thing, from banana tree to rare orchid, from insect to worm to jellyfish, and from mouse to orangutan to human being, all have in common that they come into the world with a set of expectations about the type of stimuli they will encounter in the environment and how to deal with them. Every living thing has an innate set of responses that matches to expected stimuli, such as food or light or danger. A baby instinctively knows to latch on to the nipple; a plant turns towards the sun; a rabbit freezes in the headlights. Expectations, therefore, are about the needs of living things and about the resources they anticipate using to help them meet those needs. This holds as true for the simplest unicellular creature, swimming about in a swamp, as it does for us.

Although plants have expectations they don't, of course, have brains. They don't need them. This is because they just react to environmental changes in preprogrammed ways, hour by hour, day by day, season by season. Movement is fundamental to the existence of brains, which developed primarily to control movement, remember the result of past movements and therefore predict the outcome of future movements. So, once creatures evolved to move, the range and complexity of their expectations became more elaborate. The part of the brain that controls movement is also the part of the brain that plans and calculates and assesses. So the more complex the creature, the greater its expectations and the greater the variety of ways it develops to meet its needs. For more complex creatures, emotions are linked into expectations (I shall come back to this more fully later). Emotions, derived from the Latin emovere, 'to move outwards, to stir up', are connected to our needs and survival. Any emotional arousal caused by an expectation — to eat, to have sex, to take defensive action — is discharged by satisfying the expectation.

Taking it as the starting point, then, that expectations are about the needs of all living things and the resources they anticipate using to help meet them, we can propose the following: any life form that meets its needs by using the resources with which nature has gifted it is a successful one. When a life form is not thriving — whether plant, animal or human being — the reason is that its needs are not being met. And because not every expectation is met, nature has had to evolve a mechanism to deactivate the unfulfilled emotional charges associated with those expectations — otherwise expectations unfulfilled today would continue to dominate consciousness tomorrow. That would soon jeopardise the integrity of our instinctive responses — any response is weakened if it continually goes unsatisfied. Nature's solution to unfulfilled emotionally arousing expectations, as I proposed and gave evidence for in The Origin of Dreams,[1] is to find a sensory match for them from memory stores (pattern matching) during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and thus discharge them in metaphorical form in a dream — in effect, fulfilling them.

Monday, 12 November 2012

What is hypnosis?

A stage hypnotist transfixes his audience by making a previously sober man act embarrassingly drunk on stage. A surgeon operates on a hypnotized patient without using any other form of anaesthetic. A highly anxious client is induced into a deeply relaxed state by a trained psychotherapist to calmly rehearse an important presentation she has to give. We can quickly see that all of these situations are trance phenomena, but how does it work?

Current definitions for 'hypnosis' are meaningless

The American Psychological Association describes hypnosis as “a cooperative interaction in which the participant responds to the suggestions of the hypnotist”. This definition is meaningless because it avoids explaining the mechanism behind hypnosis by simply describing a trance induction.

In fact hypnosis is still considered a mystery in most scientific and psychological circles. Academics argue endlessly about it. Often, hypnotherapists themselves do not know how the technique they are using works, they just know that somehow, it often does.

All that confusion should change in the coming years since, thanks to the insights derived from the expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming, we now have a scientifically convincing explanation for what hypnosis really is. The explanation is found in the common denominator between dreaming and hypnotic phenomena — the REM state. This is the link that makes sense of it all:

Hypnosis is the artificial activation of the REM state 

All the many methods for inducing hypnosis are paralleled by aspects of how the REM state is naturally induced and maintained. Shock inductions, when hypnosis is instantaneously induced through an unexpected occurrence, such as the hypnotist suddenly thumping a table or ringing a bell, fires the orientation response into action, focusing attention, just as happens at the start of REM sleep. And inducing deep relaxation creates the same electrical patterns in the brain as occurs in REM sleep. Guided imagery switches people into their right hemisphere and mimics daydreaming, a state associated with problem solving and learning in which new patterns of knowledge can be pattern-matched metaphorically and integrated. (See Godhead: the brain’s big bang, for how this evolved and what it means for unravelling the mystery of consciousness, how we learn and the possibilities for human evolution.)

Locking attention

The traditional swinging of the fob watch for people to follow with their eyes mimics the rapid eye movements that are triggered by the orientation response in REM sleep. Indeed anything that focuses and locks attention (e.g. “I want you to stare at that spot on the ceiling”) fires the orientation response. In fact, even an unexpected event, idea or trauma induces at least a mini-trance, just through firing the orientation response and momentarily focusing attention.

Making sense of the 'strange' phenomena associated with hypnosis

All the strange phenomena associated with hypnosis are explainable and make sense once it is understood that they are the phenomena that occur naturally in the REM state. Take wild ‘dervish’ dancing, for example: anthropologists have witnessed and filmed participants piercing their flesh with knives and nails without any apparent pain or bleeding. This practice, a staple topic of popular anthropology books, is not mysterious when we realise that the dervishes have induced deep trances in themselves by means of rhythmic repetitive activity, usually involving drumming, chanting or dancing. The real mechanism behind trance and hypnosis can be stately very simply, however there are some very profound implications behind the explanation when you start to unpack the idea.

You might be surprised to learn the following common 'facts' about hypnosis are all myths and misconceptions:
  • Hypnosis is a natural state of relaxation and concentration with a heightened awareness induced by suggestion
  • Hypnotherapy is safe with no unpleasant side effects
  • You will hear everything that is being said.
  • Hypnosis shas nothing to do with sleep, it is just an extremely relaxed state.
  • A hypnotist cannot influence you to do anything against your own will.
  • Your own 'moral code' will protect you from doing anything against your best interests.
Ivan Tyrrell explains why in this short clip:

Trance is simply a skill to be used 

Using trance and hypnosis safely in therapy is an important skill. Throughout the ages, remarkable individuals, from witch doctors to modern surgeons, stone-age shamans to present-day psychiatrists, counsellors and psychotherapists have, by chance and circumstances, found out how to access the REM state and use the hypnotic trance thus induced for benign educational, psychological and medical purposes. (Conmen, swindlers, entertainers and cult leaders have used it too but it’s the field of medicine and psychotherapy that we are interested.)

Over the last 150 years it has been well attested by scientific method that hypnosis can be used to accelerate recovery from severe burns and that, whilst in a hypnotic state, people can have dental work, and even major surgery carried out without feeling any pain. Irritable bowel, shingles, asthma, phantom limb pain, male and female sexual dysfunctions and all sorts of psychological and psychosomatic disturbances can, when careful use of trance is incorporated into treatment, be relieved in a fraction of the time that conventional therapies take.

Hypnosis is, therefore, a demonstrably powerful therapeutic tool and thousands of scientific papers document an incredible range of medical results obtained when using it.

Hypnosis for anesthesia

For example, Dr Jack Gibson, an Irish surgeon, performed during his career more than 4,000 operations, using hypnosis as the only form of anaesthesia. He also used it to help alcoholics and asthmatics, and to charm away warts and verrucas. Hypnotic techniques are frequently used with patients, to eliminate lifelong phobias and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms in as little as 40 minutes.

Hypnosis can also play an important part in speeding up treatment for clinical depression, anxiety and anger disorders, and the treatment of addictions. And yet, despite the scientific evidence as to its power, and despite the fact that all mainstream churches have withdrawn opposition to it and all major orthodox medical and psychological associations around the world have legitimised its use, this proven psychological procedure has yet to find widespread acceptance among the practitioners of the medical and psychological professions.

For more in depth look at the role of the REM state, please visit our 'why we dream' website.

For training in how to use hypnosis safely please see our course Guided imagery and visualisation for therapeutic change.

The Therapeutic Power of Guided Imagery: How to use your mind to heal past hurts, motivate people and raise your intelligence, is a valuable CD that explains the process and has an example track that you can learn the skills from.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

HG Library: Struggling for meaning

Speaking in abstract terms is a powerful, manipulative tool. Gwen Griffith-Dickson considers how it is used to mislead – yet can also enhance understanding. A thoughtful and insightful article from the Human Givens Journal, Volume 13, No 2 (2006) 

When I was getting to know the man who eventually became my husband, he told me he had once taken part in a re-enactment of one of those medieval Everyman plays, where characters appear as virtues or as one of the Seven Deadly Sins. I asked him which role he had played. He assumed a noble look and answered, “Chastity”. (I married him anyway.)

Chastity may have gone out of fashion, and no one cautions us against Avarice nowadays. But new versions of these vices and virtues appear all the time – like ‘Celebrity’, for instance. And we human beings are still prone to this same tendency to create abstractions out of aspects of real life, and then confer on them an independent existence all of their own. This process goes by several names (all of them very abstract themselves), such as ‘reification’, ‘hypostatisation’ or, from linguistic psychology, creating ‘nominalisations’. Basically, they are ‘thing-words’ or nouns that are general, rather vague and always, always abstract.

David Cameron’s New Tory manifesto is full of nominalisations, such as, “Instead of issuing top-down instructions, we will enable bottom-up solutions”.1 If you want to know what a bottom- up solution might possibly mean in practice, it means “empowering individuals and civil society”. So maybe we are none the wiser. I certainly still don’t know what I need to do to get a hospital appointment sooner, and this passage leads me to suspect that Cameron doesn’t know what he needs to do either.

New Labour is just as fluent in the language of nominalisations as the New Tories are. We had the Prime Minister working hard to make a nominalisation illegal: that is, the ‘glorification’ of terrorism. Newspapers’ letters pages were full of satirical responses, asking whether the ritual of children celebrating Guy Fawkes’ night, for instance, counted as ‘glorification’ of terrorism. When sarcasm hits the letters pages with such force, it is clear that there is a widespread confusion over what is actually under discussion. This, in a nutshell, is the problem with nominalisations. The brain must always seek to match words with reality – a process known, in human givens parlance, as pattern matching. This is easy enough if you are talking to someone about a ginger cat. They can picture the ginger cat. But if you use a vague and abstract noun, such as ‘glorification’ or ‘empowerment’, which means nothing in and of itself and could have lots of different pattern matches, your listener’s mind has to go on a search to identify the best pattern match from its own memory store, thus creating a personal, concrete meaning for the nominalisation. Unless speaker and listener are already agreed on what a vague term stands for, the likelihood that the listener will produce the same pattern as the speaker can be low. If I begin a sentence making a claim about ‘religion’ and talk about what ‘religious people’ are like, are you thinking of Osama Bin Laden – or Gandhi?

The use of this device has a long history in Western thought. In Europe, its origins can be seen clearly more than 2000 years ago in the writings of the philosopher Plato. These took the form of dialogues in which Plato had his own teacher Socrates speak as the main character and exponent of Plato’s ideas. (Socrates left behind no writings of his own.) Most of the dialogues take their title from the name of the character engaging with Socrates, and each had a single main theme. For example, Lysis is about friendship. Meno is about knowledge. Phaedrus and Symposium are about love. Meno, although it ends up as a discussion of knowledge, starts with a question from Meno about virtue:

Meno: Can you tell me, Socrates – is virtue something that can be taught? Or does it come by practice? Or is it neither teaching nor practice that gives it to a man but natural aptitude or something else?2

The characters then conduct a lively discussion about this word, following a format known as ‘elenctic debate’ – from the Greek word elenchus, which means a kind of breakdown. The intention is to try to push your opponent until their argument breaks down and they become incoherent, contradict themselves, concede defeat or maybe rush in shame from the room – at any of which points you win. These elenctic debates were considered such great sport that they featured at the Olympics of Ancient Greece! They were so very fashionable at the time that young men studied crib notes for how to win – rather like the ‘cheat’s notes’ for today’s computer games. But Plato – through his Socrates – took the matter seriously. The point was not to win for the sake of being clever, but to test ideas and claims to see which could stand up to critical examination. In Plato’s view, proof of an idea’s worthiness to be believed, to count as ‘knowledge and truth’ instead of mere ‘opinion and belief’, came through such a test, a kind of survival of the fittest of ideas...