Emotions and the Brain: the origins of values?

The meeting of the Fells and Dales Counsellors on Friday August 24th 2018, met, through the medium of TED and UTube talks, Professor Mark Solms and Dr Jaak Panskepp, the latter now sadly deceased.

The input stemmed from a visit by one member in July to South Africa. He had been reading a book The Brain and  the Inner World written by Profesor Solms. Noting that Professor Soms was at Cape Town University he discovered that this Vineyard was located ten minutes away from where the holiday accommodation was situated, a visit was therefore possible. Mark Solms is Professor of Neuropsychology at the University of Cape Town. He is also a psychoanalyst and the owner of a Vineyard in Franschhoek.

The relationship to that Vineyard, Solms and Delta Vineyard, is  complicated and offers a fascinating insight into the political and cultural situation in South Africa. The insight of a psychoanalyst to that situation illuminated by the mind of a neuropsychologist is rich indeed. One possible reference to hear about the sociological dynamics can be found at: https://youtu.be/C_Aao_8XOAI       Mark Soms giving his land back to farmers.

The focus then was switched to hearing Professor Solms, the academic, speaking of a fundamental theory concerning ethics. He understands and has been able to demonstrate that all mammas have the same brain structure and deep level of emotional response. We share our emotional brain responses with 500 million years of mammalian evolution. Our fundamental emotional responses concern survival and reproduction. All mammals feel the enthusiasm for seeking and finding that which keeps the physical body in being and harmony. When it is not in harmony, the emotional response is such that that balance must be restored. 500 million years ago then, the concept of values was being played out in terms of that which is ‘good’ and achieves physiological balance and that which is ‘bad’ and upsets or destroys that balance. all of which is routed to the inner brain emotionally. Thus our value system was born as was consciousness itself, in an awareness of what our emotions were conveying, namely, ‘how am I doing?’

Professor Solms refers to the work of Jaak Pansksepp, Estonian neuroscientist, and known for his work now into affective neuroscience whose book The Archeology ofthe Mind details his resesarch into those primary and ancient emotions that we share in common with all mamanals. His identification of seven fundamental primary affects is becoming better known. There are several TED videos which feature Jaak Panskepp such as that seen during this meeting at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65e2qScV_K8

Discussion visited the origins of ethics in use today in our professional bodies and curiosity about the tendency towards the apparent doctrinal even dogmatic assertion of our professional ethical boundary statements. Perhaps education in affective neuroscience may help practitioners understanding of their emotional lives that sometimes lead to unwise behaviours.

We were reminded of the association of Sandra Paulsen to Jaak Panskepp and her EMDR workshops inviting participants to consider the existence of these fundamental primary emotional circuits. She proposes that these, due to innumerable forces no doubt, can be ‘damaged’ or ‘distorted’ and not fulfilling their evolved purposes. She teaches EMDR protocols for their ‘resetting’. A member of the group who has benefitted from her workshop and had the privilege of working with some clients in this mode, told of his awareness of and fascination with clients’ processes and work that led to an apparent amelioration of their emotional lives.

All felt that a world of new reading had been offered!

 

 

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Emotions and the Brain: the origins of values?

“Real” differences between twins and identity development

 

 

The groupm meeting on June 6th 2018, discussed a chapter entitled “ “real” differences between twins and identity development” from Barbara Klein’s book on twins in therapy: “Alone in the Mirror” (Routledge,2012).

 

This chapter raised a number of interesting issues for our work as therapists:

 

  • Who mirrors the twin as the twin is often not looking at mother but at their twin and what is the impact of this? (i.e. the essential formative relationship is with the twin rather than the mother)

 

  • What is the effect of shared experience in the womb, particularly if one twin dies in utero?

 

 

  • Effect of a merged and dependent relationship with the other twin as in the clinical example of Chuck

 

  • The effect of twins being seen as a unit by the parents rather than as separate individuals

 

 

  • Impact of a twin’s expectation of others that their feelings and thoughts will be known and understood without the need to express them due to the shared communication with their twin as the imprint

We agreed that the book was thought-provoking and merited further reading and one of the group has already recommended it to a client who is a twin which is sufficient validation!

 

Rosemary pitt

28/6/18

“Real” differences between twins and identity development

The True Nature of Jealousy

The papers for discussion this month were on the subject of Jealousy, by popular request.  Both articles are from Psychology Today: ‘Listening to Jealousy’ by Sara Eckel, and ‘The True Nature of Jealousy’ by Berit Brogaard.  It was acknowledged that jealousy stems from insecurity, sometimes relating to suspicion (which could be unfounded), though it could represent a genuine fear based on past experience.  It is symptomatic of attachment issues, with relationship difficulties becoming a metaphor for early life scripting.

Jealousy can be an escape or distraction from facing one’s own guilt and responsibility.  We discussed the difference between jealousy and envy, one possible pair of definitions being:  envy is wanting what someone else has;  jealousy is not wanting someone else to have what you have, and what you consider is rightfully yours, and resenting them if they’ve got it!  Jealousy is associated with possessiveness, a fear of loss, a sense of injustice, a threat (usually to a relationship), being made to feel inadequate or inferior.  Preoccupation or obsessive thoughts that a partner is being unfaithful, with no real evidence, can result in ‘morbid jealousy’.  Its origin could be a deep underlying fear of being abandoned and left alone.

In the words of Esther Perel, quoted in the Ekel article, ‘The feeling itself [jealousy] is taboo…..[and yet] it’s a universal human condition, one of many that is part of the multilayered experience of love.’

The True Nature of Jealousy

Should we talk to ‘parts’?

The group met 20th April 2018 and used the article ‘Should I talk to Parts?’ by Rob Spring (Multiple Parts (2015) Volume 5, Issue 3, Pages 12-17.) as a departure point for our discussion about working with multiple parts & dissociation.

The article starts from the position that there is no ‘YES or NO’ point, but rather it depends on the context.  The article continues to talk through 7 arguments that include;

  • whether the parts are created by clients for personal gain,
  • whether therapists help or harm clients by engaging with parts,
    • such as the impact of approaching some parts and not others possibly due to bias of therapeutic approach (e.g. to only address adult parts) or personal views of the therapist around what parts represent (e.g. there may be a perceived risk around further dissociation when engaging with some parts over others or in somehow enabling parts to become more individuated from the ‘host’ rather than working towards integration of parts into a ‘whole-person’ identity.
    • Whether therapy may align more with the therapist’s agenda of what is helpful or contain certain bias that do not help clients,
    • whether working with parts is a form of avoidance of processing the trauma or helping clients to avoid taking personal responsibility for clinical improvement,
    • whether therapists may inadvertently re-active trauma, whether working with parts.

 

We discussed a few different subjects over the course of the meeting.

We asked whether expertise was important in this area and how it was possible to gain appropriate skills.  A key text ‘Looking through the eyes of Trauma by Sandra Paulsen’ was discussed and referred to by several group members who had found this to be a useful and thought-provoking body of work around how to engage in therapeutic dialogue with parts.

One of the difficulties with this subject is defining reality.  We discussed the reality of the therapist vs the reality of the client and as we discussed this one emerging theme was that the therapeutic alliance between therapist and client set up a language of its own through which clients and therapists learnt how to position reality and work with parts.

Dissociation although written about and assessable through various means was also felt to be something hard to experientially define and again seemed to be something that was recognised between the therapist and clients at moments of incongruence – each experience being context-dependent and somehow related to how ‘in-contact’ it feels in the moment with clients. Although experience of the therapist in this arena was felt to be helpful in working with dissociation there was a dominant feel that the relationship between client and therapist seemed to be something we all felt would support therapeutic progress.

PB shared work by Knipe (CIPOS Method – constant installation of present orientation and safety, which had some useful theory and approaches around helping dissociative clients to engage with the present and gradually resource clients with ways of making greater contact with their own experiences.

We also asked the question of the difference between amnesia and a ‘split-off’ part? This lead to a discussion of childhood trauma and attachment style and how these contributed within this area of work.  We also referred to Sandra Paulsen’s work again here and some work by Michael Patterson on Ego State therapy and the relationship to dissociation which identifies different types of dissociation (primary – being nightmares and flashbacks, secondary being depersonalisation and derealisation and the third type associated with more complex states that have amnesic barriers).

 

Should we talk to ‘parts’?

Insights from neuro-biology to soul

A presentation for a workshop first given to a BACP workshop in Cardiff ‘Working with soul in counselling and psychotherapy’ in 2017, was shared with the group by the presenter, Dr Peter Bowes.

Peter’s interest is in developing a psychology of spirituality. He works with his understanding that human beings universally need a language we call ‘spiritual’ to speak of their experience. What is the source of that experience? Before we attribute it to an external influence such as ‘Spirit’ or ‘god’, it is responsible to explore it in other ways and certainly in today’s world to do so with awareness of current neuro-biological research.

The Powerpoint presentation used first the work of archaeologists David Lewis-Williams and Steven Mithen to point back to the ‘big bang’ of human evolution which in say a 6 million year history happened say between 60,000 and 10,000 years ago. This relatively short event saw the end of Neanderthals and the continuation of our species, homo sapiens.

These two authors offer different hypotheses. That of David Lewis-Williams points to the displays on the walls of the Lascaux Caves in the Durdogne. He refers to modern understanding of altered states of consciousness (see for example the work of Charles Tart) to illuminate the role of the shaman in these early communities. However, by this time the Neanderthal extinction had happened. The hypothesis is therefore about the capacity developed by homo sapiens that did not occur in the Neanderthals. Mithen uses his Cathedral and Swiss Army knife metaphors to attempt to offer how the increased ‘cognitive fluidity’ demonstrated by the artefacts left behind by the one and not by the other, might have developed. Each had perhaps the discrete areas of intelligence needed for survival but only homo sapiens was able to have the cognitive fluidity that linked these otherwise disparate intelligences together. Thus archaeologists note, for example, the development of increasingly elaborate burial rituals in homo sapiens which do not occur for Neanderthals.

So already questions form for us as to what prompted that development? What ‘drives’ that development? Can that theorising stay within a paradigm that insists there  is not an external power at work or are we driven in our civilisation to posit external forces and hence our religions or posit aliens and the ‘scientific fiction’ culture that develops with it ?

Another construct found more helpful to the author who is a therapist comes for that reference to altered states of consciousness. The shaman whose experience is of such altered states (dreaming say to psychosis as others might define some such experience), has power which inevitably others want to share. The cave paintings are offered by Lewis-Williams as arising out of that shared experience. No attempt to understand humans neurobiologiclly or indeed within any other disciple can be complete without taking cognisance of the universal and comprehensive experience of such altered states. Books such as The Irreducible Mind  (Edward and Emily Williams Kelly)  and The Mystical Mind (d’Aqulla) make strong pleas for and offer in depth evidence for such states.

More recent research and thinking by Iain McGilchrist in The Master and His Emissary explores the operations and functions of the left and right brain hemispheres and the manner in which each half facilitates and inhibits the other. Again developmentally one might wonder about the need for such difference and sameness and what drives it to occur.

There is, of course, a vast amount of research and literature about these themes. Peter’s aim for this presentation in the context of soul in counselling and supervision is to draw attention to the wondering that happens when considering the apparent ‘big bang’ development in the growth of homo sapiens.

The work of Jaak Panskepp, who sadly died last year, detailed in his The Archaeology of the Mind, brings contribution from his neuro-biological research to our awareness. Acknowledging the plasticity of the mind/brain, he shows the existence of primary, secondary and tertiary brain areas. In the primary sub cortical area, he demonstrates the existence of seven primary affects to which he looks for the origins of our survival as a species and the dynamic that drives our evolution linking to the most fundamental of these affects, that of SEEKING. The capitals denote that this affect is not that we normally associate with our emotions. Further more, Sandra Paulsen, demonstrates that these affects can be damaged by our early attachment processes and that damaged, they can be ‘reset’.

However, returning to the purpose of the presentation, bowing before the extraordinary nature of the human being who is our client, should surely caution us from a profoundly left brain driven belief that we can know what is wrong with them and that by instruction such as that offered often by cognitive behavioural therapies to our tertiary level brain processes – a top down understanding- the desired changes can take place. Neuro-biological research is suggesting or showing to us that ‘bottom up’ processes are essential and that of Panskepp in particular must invite our attention to the conditions that are necessary such that change at primary processing levels takes place. We already know for example that EMDR stumbled upon those conditions some 25 plus years ago and only now is the neuro-biological research beginning to show us why this might be so.

Fundamentally, if we were to ‘know’ what those conditions are, then as therapists we might consider ourselves morally and ethically bound to create them for our clients. This observation will change the way psychotherapy is delivered in the near future.

St Augustine (354-430 AD) sagely observed years ago “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”

Perhaps then we need as therapists to so value and love our clients that we hear more sensitively their experience of their world in their mind/brains with wonder and willingness to learn of the experiences of others. We may be more willing to comprehend the mystery of that experience that needs the language of spirituality, and to listen with awe to the breadth of those expressions. Each of us can be said to be creatures seeking, and that dynamic finds its source in those of our clients as well as our in our selves. What greater respect can we demonstrate? Are we witnesses to the emergence of soul?

Insights from neuro-biology to soul

Out of this World -Suicide Examined

The Fells and Dales Counsellors group met on August 4th 2017 to discuss a chapter from a book entitled “Out of this world- suicide examined” by Antonia Murphy (Karnak, 2017). This text is a mix of theory and personal experience as the author’s sister killed herself in 1983 aged only 27.

The main thesis is that the act of suicide almost always carries within it an aggressive intent, whether or not this is conscious, and also is an acting out of a fantasy and so demonstrates what she calls ” a delusory aspect”. Indeed the author identifies 5 different types of fantasy, namely (1)the merging fantasy which she suggests underlies all the fantasies where death is seen as a return to a peaceful, womb-like state and the body is killed off as it frustrates or disappoints this euphoric dream. Then (2) the revenge fantasy which the author feels her sister acted out, where the person is preoccupied with the impact the suicide will have on others. (3)acting out a form of self-punishment where there is a strong element of guilt and self blame

(4) an elimination fantasy where “the actual body is experienced as something mad or bad and has to be destroyed for the self to survive”  and (5) the dicing with death fantasy or deadly risk-taking where the person is “both trying to attract and attack the care of the Other” .

She also describes a fantasy which she thinks of as embodying “the deadly heart of the matter”- the delusion that the person will survive the suicide and so be able to witness its potentially devastating impact. She Continue reading “Out of this World -Suicide Examined”

Out of this World -Suicide Examined

Stabilisation strategies

At the July  meeting of Fells and Dales Counsellors we considered the chapter Stabilisation Basics from the book, Neurobiology and Treatment of Traumatic Dissociation: Towards an Embodied Self, Lanius, Paulsen  and Corrigan, Springer Publishing Company, 2014

The stated purpose of giving this material was to prompt sharing about what each of the group recognised they did with clients to facilitate change. The context of the chapter was dissociated clients and their presentation of different ego states as an outcome of trauma in early life in particular and coupled with other traumatic experiences in life.

The discussion included reflections on the theme of meeting the client ‘where they are’ with unconditional positive regard on the one hand and sharing with the client our experience of them and offering education and understanding about the need to create and feel safe in the room and relationship on the other.

We recognised developments in the way in which we approach therapy and the therapeutic relationship and our shared awareness of the move towards perception of the ’embodied self’ and working with visceral somatic experience. Since many clients are not practised at such awareness it follows that facilitating that awareness is the responsibility of the therapist?

We noted that the focus of our chapter being dissociation and the different ego states that can result initially seemed specialised but then noted that creation of a safe place and good enough relationship for therapeutic work was the same. The ‘tools’ were recognisably the same and we were able to review and share what we each brought to that work.

We perhaps also recognised that the future of psychotherapy includes more realisation of ‘bottom up’ processes than the current tendency to focus in the NHS more on top down cognitive processes. If we know how brain processes change, and that a ‘safe place’ and ‘good enough’ relationship are core to that process, then are we not ethically and professionally bound to take responsibility to enable clients to experience calm in order  for change to take place?

Stabilisation strategies