Why Psychotherapy Alone Doesn’t Really Work.

Via on Apr 2, 2011
Photo: mas abie

“Understanding is the booby prize of the universe.” – Dharmanidhi Sarasvati, creator of Sauhu

“Talking about it” can only take us so far. When our dis-ease is developed to the point of inwardly experienced and outwardly expressed symptoms then our “problems” are embodied. At this point, changes in the mental landscape alone are insufficient to empower transformation of these hardened patterns. Body-oriented action is required. We must work our “issues” at the level of the nitty-gritty details of life: food, sleep, sex, habits, work, exercise, rest, lack of rest, etc. Truly effective therapy must enable us to engage reality. Our body is the most tangibly real access point we have to working with our actual situation. Then, when combined with specific action-oriented “treatments” that are expertly designed to work our embodied reality, talking about the obstacles that arise to living our ideals can be a useful aspect of the process.

Photo: brian_blogger

Scientifically, doctors Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon in their book, “A General Theory of Love,” explain to us the neurological reasons why talk is cheap. In summary, we have different parts of our brain that are responsible for different aspects of our lives. The limbic brain is responsible for our emotional world. The neocortical brain is where our logic, reason and understanding takes place. We learn about our world of emotions through what is called “implicit” memory, which is imprinted in our limbic brain. Though we think we are mostly molded by either the major emotional traumas of our lives, or the significant “highs”, we are almost entirely conditioned by the subtle, ongoing, un-noticeable and incomprehensible emotional matrix that we inhabit.

Thus, our emotional experience of life is dependent on “implicit” memory, which is NOT AVAILABLE to conscious recollection (neocortical brain) except in the most extraordinary situations. The part of our brain that is active when we are trying to understand why is actually not relevant in our quest for emotional stability and peace.

Occasionally, an “a-ha” understanding will create enough of an energetically powerful response that we are able to tap into the limbic brain patterns that cause us to suffer emotionally. Thus, when our “stuff” is really “up” in talk therapy there is an opportunity to make real change. But, this is a rare occasion. Most often when we do succeed in finding some potent energy via talk and understanding we end up trying to make more meaning out of the energy rather than using its power to launch us deeper into the aspects of ourselves that really drive us. We mistake the means for the fruit and try to continue in the process of further “understanding” as a way to liberate us from our particular pains.

At this “a-ha” point there are countless methods (see future articles) for going deeper into this energy, thereby circumventing the neocortical process and accessing limbic patterns. But, even the psychology theories that are good at getting us acting more than talking are very young in their development compared to the tried and true hoary wisdom of yoga and ayurveda – including asana, diet according to element balance, routine changes, meditation, mantra, pranayama, bandhas, kriya, etc.

Photo: e-magic

Because the problem is not at the level of understanding knowing “why” won’t help. There is something off-balance in our deeper recesses. To repeat, using the “energy of mind” that can sometimes be inspired via intellectual understanding is the only reason why tracing a cause might be useful. Thus, psychotherapy can theoretically create an environment for occasional awakenings that actually last.

But, true change requires accessing the problem at the level where it is. In my opinion psychotherapy arrives in this dimension mostly by chance. There are instances where the intentional skill of an exceptionally excellent analyst can lead us to change that is deeper than the temporary ideational fix. But more often the change people experience in therapy is simply due to normal maturation because they are in it for so long.

For my time and money I would rather go straight into the type of inner work that is intentionally adept at finding these patterns in our present day, actual, lives. More than that, I want a view that has the methods to work with these energy patterns directly, rather than skimming the surface of understanding their particular manifestations.

View informs method which creates fruit.  The view that we need only “understand” our emotions in order to be free from the suffering they cause leads to the method of talk and trying to “figure it out.” The fruit of this method, if successful, is the temporary satisfaction of “getting” a particular problem and its supposed cause. But, practically speaking, the deeper pattern has not transformed or dissolved and we will be suffering over it again, perhaps in a different form, at some point soon. From the perspective of natural wisdom we call this “horizontal change” as opposed to “vertical change.”  Vertical change occurs when one “octaves” to another level of being, completely digesting the pattern that is never to be repeated in any form. We are happy to see that the scientists are beginning to agree.

“A General Theory of Love”:
“Turning psychotherapy into a treasure hunt for the explicit past is misguided. Exposure to a style of relatedness (implicit memory) imprints a person with its grammar and syntax. The perceptive observer can find the stamp of that knowledge everywhere: in dreams, work, relationships, in the way he loves his wife, his children, and his dog today… Everyday the patient parades the jewels of memory that the therapist seeks; they are woven inextricably into the tapestry of his life… But, people rely on intelligence to solve problems, and they are naturally baffled when comprehension proves impotent to effect emotional change. To the neocortical brain, rich in the power of abstractions, understanding makes all the difference, but it doesn’t count for much in the neural systems that evolved before understanding existed… The dogged implicitness of emotional knowledge, its relentless unreasoning force, prevents logic from granting salvation.” (emphasis mine)

It's Primal - Yogi's son Rudi doing yoga at 7 months

Even the skilled psychotherapist, who is perceptive in picking up these patterns in our daily lives, is most often without the tools to do anything about it. This is where there is brilliance in combining astute psychological sensitivity with the ways and means of ancient spiritual wisdom that is a proper balance of technical science and intuitive art. Yoga and meditation have been refined for millennia to enable us, among other things, to access the “deeper” aspects of our neurology. Yoga is programmed into the core of who we are. It is primal, innate. It is even now commonly proven amongst scientists that seasoned meditators are able to exhibit different brain frequencies than the rest of us while still remaining conscious.  This is what allows for true transformation. These practices can place one directly in touch with the patterns that are stored in the limbic brain of our emotions and even the reptilian brain of our survival instincts.

We are so used to the habit of relying on what has grown to be the biggest part of our experience, the neocortical brain and its intellect, that we rarely access the grooves that really drive us.

Instead, how many of us are familiar with “spinning” or “looping” thoughts that we can’t seem to shake?

When we are ruminating over our problems in this way we are literally in an area of our brain where we can’t do anything to change – we just think, think, think, talk, talk, talk, blah, blah, blah. So many of us feel trapped in this mental vortex. We may even know, intellectually, that it is not serving us but we don’t know what to do.

Thus, in combination with the supremely capable science of yoga and meditation, we can also employ the principles and practices of ayurveda, which has the same view. And, so, in a very practical and embodied way we can work our diet, our daily habits, our herbal medicines, etc. into an effective means of getting into our bodies and out of our heads – accessing these deep patterns and transforming them for our benefit.

This is a new paradigm of therapy. By meeting us exactly where we are at – in the practical details of our lives – we can work our situation on all levels of our experience: body, energy and mind. Most psychotherapy only attempts to work the mind, and occasionally gets lucky by stumbling upon some energy that results in “vertical change” that is embodied and lasting. Psychological suffering is a huge aspect of the world we live in. Human beings are known for their ability to adapt to their current situation. We now need a “psychology” that employs a complete approach, leaving nothing out: body, mind, or spirit.



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About Alex Myles

Alex Myles is qualified as a Yoga teacher, Reiki Master, Teacher of Tibetan Meditation, Dragon Magic and a Spiritual coach to name just a few. Alex has no intention to teach others on a formal basis for many years to come, instead, she is collecting qualifications along with life’s lessons. One day, when the time is right, Alex will set up a quaint studio, in a quirky crooked building where she will breathe and appreciate the slowness of those days as life is just way too busy right now! Reading and writing has always been one of Alex’s passions. Alex likes to consider herself as a free spirit rather than a commitment-phobe. Trying to live as aligned to a Buddhist lifestyle as is possible in this day and age, she just does not believe in "owning" anything or anyone. Based on the theory that we ‘cannot lose someone that was not ours to lose’ she flails through life finding joy and magic in the most unexpected places. Mother to a 21 year old daughter and three adorable pups, she appreciates that some of the best moments in life are the 6am forest walks watching the dogs run, play and interact with one another and with nature. Connect with her on Facebook and check out her blog, Love and Madness. 

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