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For A Tigress: Part Two

Sep 03

My apologies for such a long absence. I was distracted by significant family business. I hope you all have been enjoying a rewarding and restful time away from work whether on sick leave or vacation; and of course I must offer a nod to you know who?…… This extension to fight the Canadian terrorist threat has really delayed your escape to “Downunder” eh mate? Understandably so though, as we are inundated by the “little buggers”, no?

Now to the business at hand; at the conclusion of my last article I pledged to my Magnificent Tigress that I would return to add some of the “nuts and bolts” to the introduction to ACT that I provided. Please allow me to turn myself to her, at this point, and feel free to listen in as we begin with a bit of a synopsis. My superbly equipped Jungle Cat, you will recall that I had suggested that most psychotherapy patients come to therapy with the objective of ridding themselves or, at the very least, controlling what they have identified as pathology e.g. anxiety, depression, anger, grief, traumatic memories, poor self- image, and the like. However I, my beautiful Tigress, shockingly suggested that there should be no attempt to change, eliminate, reduce, avoid, suppress, or control these private experiences. Rather the patient might learn to influence these unwanted thoughts and feelings, by embracing and applying mindfulness. In this way you will learn to stop pushing against your private experiences (which of course results in them pushing back), accept them, recognize them for what they are and let them come and go absent any struggle. In this way my Tigress, all the time and energy you previously wasted in battle could be invested in a winning game plan based upon your core values; having a greater likelihood of resulting in success.

Our game plan is based upon two major thrusts:

  1.  You and I must accept your previously unwanted internal experiences as being out of your personal control……..due to the fact that they are not you…….I challenge you to find one and grasp it!
  2. And, the recognition that commitment and action will lead to a valued life ( and just maybe a reduction of the present problem).

Are you still with me my Magnificent Tigress?   OK hang on, here comes a brief summary of some ACT interventions that I will attempt to illustrate with some (completely) anonymous examples:

In the first instance (you may remember) the patient’s natural game plan of emotional control is respectfully undermined through a variation of “motivational interviewing”. As I want you to discover on your own that your method is ineffective, I will ask you to identify the major strategies that you have employed to defeat or control your unwanted internal experiences. Then I ask you to assess each of these strategies: “Was this tactic successful over the long term in reducing your symptom(s)? Was there a cost in terms of family, friends, health, or time? Did the strategy solve the problem and get you closer to the kind of life you wanted?” May I use you as an example? Thank you. For a moment recall the battle you described, complete with its’ anger, anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. I think you recognize the toll that this strategy has taken on you and your cub? Yes I hear you, they may have a short term benefit…….but in the long term? So the drill here is to get the patient to elucidate all the “emotional control strategies” utilized and to perform a cost-benefit analysis in terms of long-term effectiveness.

In the next phase, my Dear Tigress I want to further impress upon you how truly ineffective your attempts at emotional control really were; in fact they were largely responsible for your misery and woe. Remember the difference between “pure” and “dirty” emotion? You have created the latter and are stuck in a vicious circle of increasing misery. My colleagues speak of “the struggle switch”; that is, when you hit the struggle switch after encountering a challenge you are sure to turn a pure emotional response into a dirty one and complicate your problem.

It goes without saying that you didn’t like the way the management treated you (“pure anger, masking hurt and sadness?”) but, to suggest that they shouldn’t have, when it’s exactly what they should have done if their objective was to save their own “butts” (which is exactly what it was about) flips the “struggle switch” and now you likely begin to feel sad about being angry (“ Why do I always feel like this?”) or maybe anxious about your anger ( “What’s wrong with me, what will this do to my cub and I?). Do you recognize the shift from “pure emotion” to “dirty emotion?”

On the other hand, if you didn’t hit the struggle switch, of course the anger would be uncomfortable but it wouldn’t be overwhelming; it would be free to come and go as the situation required. Absent the struggle switch, my Magnificent Tigress, you would likely experience natural and expected levels of “pure emotion”. We all have it!! There is no way to avoid it if you are alive, remember…….”Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass, but learning to dance in the rain”.

Moreover, when the “struggle switch” is activated not only did you attempt to rid yourself of a natural response, but some of your strategies may be having long term costs for you and your cub e.g. food, alcohol, drugs, smoking, promiscuity, or excessive time spent on the Internet; less obvious, but equally damaging strategies might include ruminating, extreme self-criticism, or blaming others.

Exquisite Tigress, I want to be sure that you have control of your emotions before we proceed. If you do, the next step will be to introduce you to the basic principles of ACT.   There are six of them that are designed to increase your cognitive flexibility:

  1.  Distancing
  2. Acceptance
  3. Awareness
  4.  The Observing Self
  5. Values
  6. Committed Action

These six principles are designed to increase your cognitive flexibility, my Exquisite Tigress. Each one of the principles will have its’ own methodology, exercises, homework and metaphors. For example, cognitive distancing is designed to disentangle you from language. Rather than getting caught up in thoughts, images, memories and other cognitions you will learn to regard them for what they are; no more and no less than language, words and pictures. Remember how distressed you got when you hit the “struggle switch” and engaged the “That’s not fair………” thought? You began to fight it as if was an objective truth or fact (which I assure you it isn’t………just ask the other side, they will tell you!). Instead try to observe the thought like a curious police investigator; imagine the thought running on the banner at the bottom of the six o’clock news, change the colour, change the font, or imagine a bouncing ball hopping from one word to the next. You may notice that it becomes less distressing. Your homework here will be to practice a few different distancing techniques (e.g. think of the thought as being on a cloud passing overhead or on the side of an 18 wheeler passing you on the highway…….or create one of your own); not to rid yourself of the thought, just to be able to step back and view the thought as words passing through.

As for acceptance, this will require that you allow unpleasant thoughts, feelings, reactions, and any other idiosyncratic responses you may have to come and go without battling them ( what’s that?…..yes, you turn off the “struggle switch”!!). No more trying to escape them, no more running from them, no more excessive attention paid to them. I want you to become that objective police investigator again and pay attention to how you feel the sensation of anger (anxiety, depression, etc.). Observe its’ edges, shape, weight, temperature, etc. Breathe into it and see if you can make room for it, wherever it is. Your homework here will be to allow (or create) the feeling and then (without attempting to chase it off), simply learn how to let it come and go without a struggle. (Can you see what you are gaining control over? Yes of course, the “struggle switch”!).

Awareness involves contact with the present moment. Focusing your full awareness on the here-and-now. (Recall the spotlight beam?) This is attained by bringing your attention to the present moment with openness, receptivity, and interest. For example, the next time you have a cup of coffee sit quietly with it. Drink it as if you were doing so in slow motion. Focus the spotlight beam first on the taste, then the temperature, then your swallowing, its’ movement down your throat, the associated sounds, etc., etc. You get the idea. For your homework when you get this far, I want you to engage in a number of daily routines with greater awareness of them, in addition to keeping up with what you will have already mastered. For example, focus the spotlight on showering, brushing teeth, brushing your glorious mane, washing dishes, making beds, etc., etc.

As part of our game plan you will need a way to transcend the view of self that you presently have. You will need an unchanging (don’t panic, my Jungle Cat) continuous, impervious (to your stream of visiting thoughts and sensations), transcendent sense of self (in other words, above all of the activity that comes and goes). With some work it will become a perspective from which you will recognize that you are not your thoughts, feelings, urges, memories, traumas, sensations; and yes, even physical body. Weird huh? I bet we have lost some of your more conservative colleagues already! Believe me dearest Tigress, this is not “mumbo-jumbo”, it is well researched psychological science. The phenomena that we are discussing are always moving and changing; they may be peripheral aspects of you but they are not you. They are not (in your case) the essence of Tigress. For your homework (and for the rest of the jungle beasts who are sitting quietly in the shadows listening to us) I want you to sit quietly and observe your thoughts. I want you to observe their form, speed of entry and exit, location etc. As you sit quietly I want you to become aware that there are thoughts and also an observer of those thoughts. Note that there are two processes going on; a process of thinking and one of someone observing the thinking. The beauty of this my Tigress is that from this perspective you are all powerful; no thought can threaten or control you…….you are in control of your jungle!

Now we move into what we could regard as phase two; the identification of your value system. Here’s where we must discover what you stand for, what moves you deeply, what provides meaning in your life. (As a precursor to this I will mention one of my heroes, Dr. Viktor Frankl, who wrote “Man’s Search For Meaning”……he was a Viennese Psychiatrist who believed that mental health was based upon having meaning in one’s life. This wonderful Jewish Psychiatrist survived the Nazi concentration camps, when many didn’t, simply because he had meaning in his life. He was determined to return to the practice of psychiatry with his newly found insights.) Dr. Frankl would look at you my Tigress with his kind eyes and ask you, “What do you want to be; What do you want to stand for in this life?”

Once you have identified (actively) your passion, it is now time to begin committed and effective action; the route being pointed out by your values. Let’s say, for example, you decide that starting up a private firm in the area that the police paid thousands to train you in is your passion. At the right time we will set some increasingly challenging goals, while continuing to practice your mindfulness skills to contend with the angry/anxious/sad thoughts and feelings that have inevitably arisen. And who knows, the painful thoughts and feelings you deal with may diminish although not the objective of your efforts? Sort of a pleasant by-product, don’t you think? (This reduction in symptoms is sometimes accounted to “exposure”, as practicing mindfulness of unwanted thoughts and feelings can be regarded as a form of exposure therapy.)

So there it is…….an overview of ACT. If, my beautiful Tigress, you have attended the offices of other mental health professionals I’m sure you would agree this is a somewhat different approach? We are no longer concerned with ridding ourselves of “bad” feelings or getting over past traumas; rather we are all about creating rich, full and meaningful lives. And best of all, it works……….as confirmed by such noted psychological investigators as Hayes S.C., Bissett R., Roget N., Padilla M., Kohlenberg B.S., Fisher G., Strosahl K.D., Bergen J., and Romano P., to name only a few of those behind this approach. One well known psychological researcher (Hayes, 2004) said that if he had to put it all on a T-shirt it would read, “Embrace your demons and follow your heart”.

N.B. Remember my second objective? Not only have I been addressing you my Tigress, just think of how many have been eavesdropping on us. Do you think we’ve had at least a modicum of effect on them? Wadda ya’ think Commish? Feel better?

Dr. Mike Webster

Reg’d Psych   (#0655)

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7 Comments
  1. Director(s), Badge of Life Canada permalink

    Reblogged this on Badge of Life Canada.

  2. thekraaken permalink

    What would you call some one who had your obsessive preoccupation with Paulson? Forget him. As far as your tigress babble, I am concerned for you. Members need straight forward no nonsense advice, to deal with the issues, not that.

    • Wow permalink

      Exactly. I surprised he even allowed your comment. The Tigress stuff is disturbing. Are you infatuated with one of your clients Mike?

      • corbettstu permalink

        “Wow” seems appropriate, as your pseudonym. Because “wow,” what a weird thing to post. As I told the mighty “Kraken,” I’ll be posting a response that speaks to people like you. .

    • Stu permalink

      Hey “Kraken” I’m calling bullshit on your comments. As Webster said, anyone can send in a statement. So just for you, I’m going to write one up and speaks to you and members like you in a “direct” manner. I’ll be sure to let you and your trusty sidekick, “Wow” know when it’s posted.

  3. Heather Gray permalink

    I’m sad that someone, presumably someone also affected by harm in policing would be so critical and voice such disparaging comments that would wish away anything he’d (?) not like. Is it that in your selfish mind everything must be black and white and cater to your notion of what might help people who are in pain? Could you not allow that others might appreciate a rather creative, novel and visionary approach which is meant to help envision how to regain inner strength? Most of us have lost that fierce energy, like a jungle cat let’s say, and need to recover our inner core of strength in order to be able to embrace a whole new framework theory of wellness. I rather pity you your closed minded and selfish attitude and I hope you exhibit more kindness, care and acceptance to those in your life who need something other than having it smacked in the face!

    • corbettstu permalink

      Well said Heather. I pity them too. It’s quite possible these are Whiteshirt “Trolls.” Trust me, they monitor this site more than anyone. But if they’re actual cops, They have my pity. As do their co-workers, families, friends and the public.

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