Cognitive Therapy’s Flawed Premise

Psychology needs to shine light on the source of distress and dysfunction.

Psychology needs to shine light on the source of distress and dysfunction.

People struggling to realize their potential or find inner peace often turn to psychotherapy. Yet they find themselves wandering without much guidance through a marketplace of mental-health offerings and claims, lacking the knowledge to distinguish good therapy from bad. More than 150 different psychotherapies are offered in the United States.

In this post, I present some insights concerning cognitive behavioral psychotherapy (CBT), which has become one of the most available forms of treatment. My intention here, as well, is to show important distinctions between CBT and the depth psychology that I practice, particularly as these distinctions apply to clinical depression. This post is twice the length I usually write, and it gets a bit “technical,” so be prepared for some heavy-lifting.

Cognitive therapy, which attempts to address “distorted thinking” by replacing it with rational thinking, originated more than 50 years ago. By the 1980’s, it was merged with the techniques of behavioral therapy to become CBT. This therapy now is widely offered, perhaps in part because it’s a simple, straightforward method for psychotherapists to learn and practice. It offers, as well, a limited, controlled expenditure for insurance companies. I look upon it as the fast food of mental health.

Cognitive therapy originated out of the work of Dr. Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who became convinced in the late 1950’s that depression was not being effectively treated by psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysts believed that depression was caused by anger or hostility toward the self (self-aggression). Unfortunately, these practitioners were insufficiently effective in their treatment of depression because they were addressing only the aggressive side, not the passive side, of the primary inner conflict that produces the malady. [Read more…]

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An Insightful Case of Self-Injury

As many as two million Americans harm themselves each year.

As many as two million Americans intentionally harm themselves each year.

It’s worrisome and disheartening to realize just how many people around the world regularly engage in self-injury or self-harm. They cut or burn their skin, pull their hair, scratch and interfere with wound healing, bang or hit the body, or swallow sharp objects or toxic substances.

Experts say that up to two million Americans, most of them teenagers and young adults, commit such acts each year. The psychiatric profession, meanwhile, has been unable to pinpoint a cause for why these individuals feel compelled to harm themselves.

Obviously, these people are emotionally troubled. Increased risk is found in individuals with borderline personality or bipolar disorders, yet many sufferers do not have a recognized mental disorder. Often they were sexually or verbally abused in childhood, and they experience themselves as failures and misfits. They usually describe themselves as being bad, unworthy, defective, and deserving of punishment.

As I attempt to show in this article, the behaviors of the people involved in self-harm, along with their emotional turmoil, make complete sense when we consider evidence from depth psychology. These individuals, for the most part, are plagued by inner conflict. Such conflict involves invisible inner dynamics—especially the engagement in the psyche between self-aggression and inner passivity—which strongly influence human emotions and behaviors. [Read more…]

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Are You Hopeless of Ever Finding Love?

In any context, hopeless feelings can be traced to inner conflict.

In any context, hopeless feelings can be traced to inner conflict.

Hopeless romantics are frequently daydreamers, idealists, and poets—distinguished for their spirited passion and steady optimism. But another kind of hopeless romantic is stalled in lonely wretchedness.

Painful hopelessness stalks many people who, feeling unlucky in love, are convinced they’ll never find a loving partner for a committed relationship. These people have now activated a Catch-22: the more hopeless they feel, the more likely the psychosomatic side-effects of that negative emotion will make them less attractive to healthy people.

Often prowling in the psyche of such individuals is the sense that they don’t have much to give or to offer another person. Who they are deep down, it feels, is simply not enough to capture the love and devotion of others. “Sometimes I feel so broken,” one woman said, “that I’m sure the universe doesn’t care whether I ever find love.”

Hopelessness in whatever context it arises is a painful symptom of inner conflict. According to depth psychology, a person often fails to establish an intimate relationship because he or she is using the playing field of relationships as a way to replay and recycle that conflict. [Read more…]

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Words to Enlighten Younger Children

Younger children can be helped and inspired by depth psychology.

Younger children can be greatly helped by depth psychology.

Young children from six or seven years of age can be helped and inspired by the knowledge of depth psychology. Of course, it’s best presented to them in simple language.

Some basic thoughts and ideas are offered here concerning what young children can understand and learn about their psychological nature. I broached this subject a few years ago (Teach Your Children Well), and this new post tries to present the same concepts more simply. This post can also help adults to learn the basics.

Such knowledge might come across as mere empty words if the person who communicates doesn’t embody or personify the knowledge. The best guidance for young children might not be the words themselves but rather the emotional strength and kindly conduct of those who would instruct or teach them. In any case, the following statements can guide parents and teachers as they impart knowledge and wisdom to children. Some children can also read this content themselves and make good sense of it.

1 – Understand that we have an inner world of vanished memories and unrecognized emotions. This vital part of our nature is called the psyche. The psyche’s stirrings and dynamics strongly affect our mental and emotional life. These dynamics often operate beyond our awareness. It can be hard for us to see clearly enough what’s happening inside us. We want to become more aware of these inner dynamics so we aren’t limited or hurt by them. [Read more…]

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How to Recognize Good Psychotherapy

Effective psychotherapy uncovers inner conflict, defenses, and emotional attachments.

Good therapy uncovers inner conflict, defenses, and emotional attachments.

Psychotherapy can be very helpful—and, in some cases, essential—for success, self-fulfillment, and future happiness. But it can also be a waste of time and money if you don’t have a good therapist.

Regretfully, a majority of psychotherapists practice superficial methods that fail to uncover inner conflict, emotional attachments, and psychological defenses. I say this not to be critical but to provide some perspective concerning the current state of psychological services.

People seek psychological help because they’re troubled by moodiness, stress, anxiety, depression, and lack of self-regulation. Often they’re concerned about indecision, procrastination, lack of purpose, self-sabotage, and work or relationship failure. For the most part, these difficulties are produced by inner conflict in our unconscious mind or psyche.

To understand inner conflict, let’s consider the plight of people who are, to a chronic degree, moody or mildly depressed. Such individuals frequently harbor feelings of being disrespected or seen in a negative light. Often they’re having relationship problems. Their inner conflict produces this impasse: consciously, they wish to be admired and respected, but unconsciously they are attached to (and prepared and even compelled to experience) feelings of being seen in a negative light, as an unworthy person undeserving of respect. Unless this conflict is resolved, such individuals are very likely to continue to be troubled. [Read more…]

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Defeating the Inner Bully

We can defeat the inner bully when we connect with our self.

We can defeat the inner bully by connecting with our authentic self.

I cringe at the childishness of modern psychology. In trying to solve our emotional problems, it offers us kindergarten-level information. If computer science were performing at this level, we’d all be using learning laptops for children.

I found this article at the Psychology Today website, and unfortunately it’s typical of much of the psychological “knowledge” that comes our way. The article is titled, “26 Ways to Love Yourself More,” and each of the 26 ways consists of simplistic advice. When it comes to the unconscious mind, advice is practically useless. The unconscious mind isn’t impressed by advice because it doesn’t operate according to rational principles.

The unconscious is chaotic, conflicted, and irrational. The best way to penetrate it—and to learn to really love ourselves and each other more—is to possess the correct knowledge concerning the inner dynamics that produce negative emotions and self-alienation.

I’ll illustrate my point with one of the tidbits of advice from the article mentioned above (number 14 on the list). It reads: “Unfortunately, my inner dialogue isn’t always kind or accepting. When I catch myself engaging in negative self-talk, I remind myself that I am enough, that I’m doing good work, and that I have friends and family who love me.”

This comment is going to be about as effective as a little boy or girl telling a big mean bully: “You shouldn’t be mean to me because I’m a nice person.” A bully would snicker maliciously at this and enjoy his meanness all the more. [Read more…]

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When Life Becomes Unreal and Dreamlike

Hidden conflict in our psyche produces depersonalization. psyche

Depersonalization serves as a defense to cover up inner conflict in the psyche.

Many millions of people frequently experience themselves in a pronounced state of unreality, in what can be described as an out-of-body, vague, dreamlike mental-emotional condition.

This affliction—known as depersonalization—gets little attention in the media. Yet it is, in fact, the third most common psychological complaint, after feelings of anxiety and depression. According to the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association, “The symptoms cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

The manual says that episodes of depersonalization “are characterized by a feeling of unreality or detachment from, or unfamiliarity with, one’s whole self or from aspects of the self.” In addition, the depersonalization experience “can sometimes be one of a split self, with one part observing and one part participating, known as an ‘out of body experience’ in its most extreme form.”

Depersonalization is commonly associated with childhood trauma, stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks, migraine, sleep deprivation, and recreational drug use. The affliction does not produce discontinuity of consciousness, a symptom associated with dissociative identity disorder.

Experts say the exact cause of depersonalization is unknown. I am making the case, however, that the origin or cause of depersonalization, as published in psychoanalytic literature in 1950, is, in fact, known.* [Read more…]

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Insight into Gender Identity Disorder

Three psychological insights reveal important aspects of this issue.

Three psychological insights reveal important aspects of this issue.

The lives of transgender people are often agonizing. They experience significant distress or impairment concerning their strong desire to transition to the gender other than the one they were assigned at birth.

How does the medical profession help? Psychiatrists regard their plight as a mental-health disorder. Under categories for children, adolescents and adults, the disorder is termed Gender Dysphoria (discontent) in the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013).

The disorder’s symptoms are varied and painful. According to Wikipedia, adults with gender identity disorder are “at increased risk for stress, isolation, anxiety, depression, poor self-esteem and suicide.” Symptoms of the disorder in children include “disgust at their own genitalia, social isolation from their peers, anxiety, loneliness and depression.”

The psychotherapy that was practiced decades ago tried to help them become reconciled with the gender assigned at birth. Now the emphasis is more on providing affirmative care for the patient, with treatment driven by the patient’s desired outcome. Attempts to “cure” them by having them reconcile with their birth characteristics have been ineffective. It’s not helpful, the American Psychological Association says, to force a transgender child “to act in a more gender-conforming way.”

While compassion and support for the individual are essential, there are certain deeper psychological aspects of this problem—issues involving self-doubt, self-rejection, and feelings of being trapped—that aren’t getting sufficient recognition and understanding. [Read more…]

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The Lingering Pain of Old Shame

Why is it that old shame so often awakens in our mind?

Why is it that old shame so often awakens in our mind?

We have all experienced, like a punch to the gut, old feelings of shame for things that happened long ago. Of course, everyone has committed past blunders or acts of negligence, cowardice, or foolishness. A lot of people hold on to these memories, and they continue to be inundated with waves of regret, embarrassment, and shame.

Even when people try to forgive themselves for old missteps, the memories can persist. Why would we continue to be haunted by such memories from the past? They only bring up—right in the present moment—a fresh new experience of the original shame or humiliation.

The answer to this question affords us an opportunity to see exactly how, in our unconscious mind, we produce much of our emotional suffering.

Jeremy, a client of mine, was lying awake in bed in the middle of the night. A recurring memory from 40 years ago crept into his mind. At that time he was almost fired after making a foolish judgment that cast himself and his company in a bad light. The memory seemed to hover over him like an ancient curse, and once again he found himself reliving the original shame.

“What’s this all about?” Jeremy now asked himself. “This event is ancient history. Why am I tormenting myself right now?” [Read more…]

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An Unconscious Factor in PTSD

Some detective work is involved in uncovering this unconscious factor.

Some detective work is involved in uncovering this unconscious factor.

I believe a psychological factor in post-traumatic stress disorder is being overlooked, one that might be a key to treating the painful, debilitating condition. Current treatments involving therapies and medications are not particularly effective, and the disorder is still not well understood.

This psychological factor operates unconsciously, and some detective work is involved here in uncovering it. The clues are found in the symptoms. The symptoms of acute, chronic, and delayed-onset PTSD are many. They arise following perilous experiences in which individuals felt intense fear, horror, or helplessness.

PTSD develops in some individuals following experiences of bullying, domestic violence, gun violence, sexual abuse, animal attack, and living in dangerous neighborhoods. PTSD has affected more than 15 percent of U.S. soldiers deployed since 9/11. The percentage of Vietnam War veterans affected by PTSD is double that number.

The symptoms involve the onset of troublesome emotions and behaviors. These include nightmares, flashbacks, rage, and addictions, as well as difficulty in suppressing disturbing thoughts and feelings, along with intense guilt for failing (or allegedly failing) to act appropriately or for committing harm to others.

As an overall effect, one’s old familiar sense of self—one’s psychological constitution—has been shattered. The stricken individual has no idea how to restore or reclaim that former self. [Read more…]

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