What’s it like living with a “porn addiction”? Lonely, according to the results of my research.

Exploring the Lived Experience of Problematic Users of Internet Pornography– A Qualitative Study is a research project I conducted as part of the requirements for the Master of Counselling & Psychotherapy course I have recently (finally) completed. While it’s soon to be published in the peer reviewed journal Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity, published by Taylor & Francis, in this post I reflect on what it was like to research this topic and I share some of the responses I received which highlight, to me, the seriousness of this emerging problem. I will post a link to the peer reviewed article here soon as it is published but I have uploaded a preprint version to Research Gate which I have linked to above.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In 2019 I completed the last few subjects of a Master of Counselling & Psychotherapy course I had started in 2016. As a qualified counsellor, working as a clinician in a youth mental health service at the time, I decided to take my time and just work through the units one subject at time. With a couple of semesters off here and there, three years later I was happy to see the end in sight with the last hurdle being the big research project which took up 4 out of the 12 units I needed to pass to complete the course.

I decided to do my research project on sex “addiction”, specifically, problematic use of internet pornography (note, there is no DSM diagnosis of sex addiction, to date, however, the ICD-11 now has a diagnosis of Compulsive Sexual Behaviour (CSB) disorder, which covers problematic sexual behaviours.) Having encountered several young male clients through the youth mental health service I worked at who were experiencing problems with their porn use, as well as previous experience with a partner who disclosed his own struggles with porn use (which I initially discounted as nothing to worry about!) – I thought there was something to this issue which needed to be looked into further. At that time, (2015 ) when I first started to research the literature on problematic internet porn use, I was completely unaware of the extent of the problem. In my informal research, however, I found the website www.yourbrainonporn.com and Gary Wilson’s now infamous TED talk (The Great Porn Experiment) and other TED talks on the subject, which was a wealth of information as well as an eye-opener. In my academic research I found some very interesting papers, including A. Cooper’s prophetic 1998 paper: Sexuality and The Internet: Surfing into the New Millennium which described some of the ways the internet was having an effect on human sexuality. In this paper, which has been well cited, Cooper highlights three aspects of the internet which he predicted, accurately it seems, could transform human sexuality. These were access, affordability and anonymity. The results of these three factors has resulted in an explosion (pardon the pun) of pornography on the internet and to give you just a drop-in-the-ocean statistic, Porn Hub boasted a whopping 42 billion visits in 2019 alone. And that’s just one website. That figure alone is staggering. (In my literature review which forms part of my research report I provide an extensive overview of the literature for and against the conceptualization of problematic porn use as an addiction.)

But despite these numbers and the overwhelming amount of academic research I found, including this 2019 review which did a pretty good job of summarizing the research and some of the controversy surrounding the, still ongoing, debate on sex and pornography, there are some who insist on downplaying the issue. Despite the inclusion of CSB disorder in the World Health Organization’s ICD-11, I found articles which went so far as to say Sex Addiction and Porn Addiction “do not exist”, or were not “real” or a “myth” and that believing you are addicted to porn is the cause of your symptoms, not the result of engaging with porn itself. I noticed pretty quickly that these authors tend to selectively quote studies which support their position, whilst stating that there is no “scientific evidence” to support the notion of sex or porn addiction (I found plenty). These types of articles all seem to share common themes; that religious beliefs or morality play a big part in why people struggle with porn use, and that those who voice any opposition or concern about the effects of excessive porn use are “anti-sex” moral crusaders, puritans or religious prudes. Granted there is the understandable concern that the term “sex addiction” is problematic in that it could potentially pathologize activity that is just a normal variant of a natural human behaviour, but their contention that porn addiction does not “exist” is “harmless” or is beneficial to society is itself problematic. Granted, there is evidence that moral conflict about pornography plays a part in users’ distress, (how could it not) however, it is a factor only, there are others. Rarely do they mention the potential effects of exposure to extreme pornography on children, the extreme and highly concerning content available to anyone, the links between internet pornography and sex-trafficking and rarely do they take into account the ocean of anecdotal evidence from users themselves. If anything, pro-porn advocates actively dismiss the growing tide of anecdotal evidence to be found online.

So, what’s the real story here? Are users getting addicted to internet pornography use, or not? Or are we too hung up on semantics? Does it really matter whether we label something an addiction or not anyway? In the end I suspect not, however, to blanket deny that there is an issue is the height of irresponsibility, somewhat delusional and invalidating in the extreme for those who self-identify as problematic users of internet pornography, or “porn addicts” – for want of a shorter term. Perhaps the issue is the word “addiction” and what can and can’t be called an addiction, medically speaking. Well, that is a topic for a whole other post, but if we can get over the linguistics for a moment, surely, what really matters here is that people, men mostly and their families, are suffering. Why, in this age of #metoo am I so interested in men’s suffering? Because, as a society, we cannot afford to ignore men and their suffering because men who suffer often affect others around them negatively too. Children, partners, other men and society in general. We all have a stake in this issue. That is why, for my research I wanted to find out why there are more and more people turning up on internet forums and sub-reddits, such as nofap and reboot nation to name two of the most popular ones, complaining of their struggle to give up porn and related problems, which they attribute to their ongoing and excessive use of internet pornography and masturbation.

Qualitative research is used in the social sciences to describe something in detail and more depth. It mainly uses words rather than statistics and is not meant to be generalized, but rather a deep dive into a particular topic. It is specific and often descriptive. So, my study took the form of an online anonymous survey of 20 open ended questions which asked participants who self-identified as problem users of internet porn, to write about their experiences. The questions asked were general and required participants to write out answers in their own words. There was no word limit, so I got a broad selection of answers, some short and to the point and some lengthy and detailed.

The survey was live for around 6 weeks and altogether 53 participants took the time to answer all 20 questions and submit their responses. I remember reading the first few survey responses as they came in, and immediately started highlighting and taking notes of what I was finding. I was firstly surprised at the level of apparent openness and honesty of some of the answers. It soon became apparent to me that these participants, (99% men), had clearly struggled with an issue that was bigger and more formidable then they had first thought. Concerningly, many reported first accessing online pornography as children, and the youngest said he was 6-years-old the first time he viewed internet pornography:

I must’ve been aged 6, I was laying in bed—alone—flicking through channels, & from nowhere came, well, porn. I can distinctly remember being: traumatised, intrigued, disgusted & aroused. My innocent infantile mind couldn’t process it.

At the other end of the scale, one man reported first finding online pornography at age 40. As you can see, quite an age range. Yet, the average age of first-time-viewers of porn on the internet turned out to be 14.89 years. I put together some super-simple stats that came out of the study below.

  • 36% (19) respondents mentioned erectile dysfunction (ED) or weak/flaccid erections or inability to maintain an erection during actual sex.
  • 70% (32) respondents report engaging with online porn instead of doing other important tasks, such as going to school, university or work
  • 88% (46) reported their porn tastes changing or escalating to more extreme porn over time.
  • Only 9 mentioned seeking professional help for this issue.

Whilst my study was very small, only 53 complete responses, the answers were far richer and more detailed than I had even hoped for. It was overwhelming to be honest. After painstakingly coding and collating the codes into themes, I slowly built up a picture of what it means to live with a pornography consumption and masturbation problem. And while I ended up with three main themes, the one overarching feeling I personally got after reading through answers could be summed up in one word: Loneliness.

Loneliness, disconnection, isolation, feeling cut-off from other people and society, an overwhelming inability to engage with other human beings, and ultimately the Self, in a positive, meaningful, joyful or authentic way. The spectre of porn addiction appears to cast a long, diffuse and murky shadow on its followers, and it looks to be one that many users struggle to get themselves free of. Comorbidity is a factor (as it is in substance addiction) however, that does not discount the specific issues reported that seem to be directly related to these users’ excessive porn use.

But enough from me, the whole point of my study was to essentially let the data speak for itself. I will certainly post a link to my study when it gets published, but in the meantime, in order to do justice to the participants who took time out of their day to share their experiences, I thought I would post a “sampler” if you will of some of the particularly poignant responses I received, of which there were many. Too many to post here.

Selected responses from Exploring the Lived Experience of Problematic Users of Internet Pornography: A Qualitative Study.

“After 16 years old, after my tastes escalated, I was very sad (nearly depressed). I had low self confidence, ashamed of myself and some social anxiety.   I had no concentration also, porn may be related.   I had no love or desire to search someone other than to have sex or for the social benefit of it (bragging to friends). So I had no relationships during highschool, I think porn impacted it deeply.   In the beginning of college, I was alone in my appartment so I could watch when I wanted. Then I developed a very strong social anxiety, I was very stressed. I was very depressed as well, it occurs a lot when I drank alcohol. I still had friends but no love relationships.   No erection without porn.   Less ambition.   I was more introverted and not very open to people.”

“I have never been in a serious relationship. My sex life is non-existent and I have an unhealthy sexual ideal. I have noticed mental, emotional and physical symptoms similar to the high and crash from drugs/alcohol. During the time in adolescence that I should have been learning and building social skills and healthy connections, I isolated and defaulted to porn and video games as well. Instead of pursuing real sexual relations and healthy friendships with women, porn has served an easier, quicker solution.”

“Guilt. The sense that I continue to let myself down, and let others down. The fact that it has any kind of hold over me is disconcerting. Then there is the sheer amount of time I have spent viewing internet porn rather than doing something constructive.”

I’m lonely and depressed. I’m scared of trying to connect with women and commit to stopping because I’m ashamed of being inexperienced.”

I’m not doing well in life, i barely have sex i love fapping ive become an under achiever and have achieved nothing worthwhile i entertain too much i dont sow but wish to reap a huge crop.” 

“For a very long time I have been dealing with depression, anxiety, loneliness and isolation and it’s difficult to determine what is the relationship of my porn use to these problems. On the one hand, porn has brought me relief and even a better mood in many difficult moments. On the other hand, porn might have influenced my view of women in a negative way.”

“It took away my ability to process the world with any emotion. My porn use put me into a state of emotional and social withdrawal in almost every aspect of my life, and because of that, I suffered significantly socially, romantically and academically. I lost many years of my development because I could not feel any pleasure and I could not make sense of the world – my mind was in a state of constant turmoil.”

“I never had a partner because porn kept me from even looking for one. I was scared to interact with someone in general but then also having to slowly bond with them and constantly working on maintaining a relationship seemed like too much of a struggle and not worth pursuing. Porn was a way easier “fix” for my loneliness.”

“I don’t really have relationships. That’s why I view internet porn. But a couple of times I’ve come out of short-term relationships and felt a sense of relief that came from knowing I was free to go back to internet porn, and I know that that can’t be a good thing.”

The above are direct quotes from the survey responses I received as such they have not been edited. As I said, these are just some of the answers received to my survey. I just want to take the opportunity to say a big thank you to all the participants who took time to complete the survey. I was humbled by their honesty, vulnerability and willingness to participate. I wish anyone struggling with this issue healing, connection and encouragement to seek help and support. Some resources are listed below. I am currently taking on a limited number of private clients (via Zoom only) for individual therapy. My counselling website is www.francescapcounselling.com

*

Lifeline: 13 11 14 / http://www.lifeline.org

Mensline: 1300 78 99 78 / http://www.mensline.org.au

Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636 / http://www.beyondblue.org.au

Mantherapy: 1800 2738255 / http://www.mantherapy.org

http://www.yourbrainonporn.com

 

 

 

 

Why is the word “addiction” so controversial?

Addiction-slider-702x336

At the time of writing, there are now numerous studies including several reviews of internet pornography use, which indicate that compulsive use of internet pornography, like drugs or alcohol, is addictive. Yet there are some researchers, scientists and even clinicians who refuse to accept that sex or internet pornography can become addictive. They are a relatively small group but, as the saying goes, small does not mean quiet. In-fact, they are very vocal with their assertions and are often cited in the general media as “experts” in the field. One of the more prominent ones even offered therapy advice via an internet pornography cam site. In-fact a casual search on the internet will net you many articles claiming to ‘debunk’ the ‘myth’ of sex and/or porn addiction, citing a select few researchers and studies which support their “porn is harmless” stance or to explain the reported negative effects as the “belief” that you are addicted to porn that is a problem, not your viewing habits themselves. There also seems to be a current and ongoing Twitter battle for the hearts and minds of anyone who cares to listen on what can and cannot be called an “addiction”.

Why is this so? Anyone who cares to do their own actual research into the matter will find many studies and a growing number of systematic reviews of the research (a systematic review is when you do a search of a topic, collate all the studies you find, and attempt to come to some consensus of what the studies are reporting). However, Gary Wilson of the website Your Brain on Porn has a very thorough job of collating a long list of reviews and studies on the effects of porn which you can access here – if you have a free week or so to wade through them all! One thing I can tell you at a glance is that these studies are all primarily peer reviewed research articles and some are reviews of the research. It is hard to argue against the sheer volume of literature out there now on the topic, yet the T’war (Twitter War) rages on. There are even legal proceedings underway indicating that what started out as an academic debate is now getting real-world serious, with a number of individuals filing defamation suits against one particular researcher who seems to have taken things very personal indeed.

My own thorough review of the literature, which my own study supports, is that the research on problematic pornography use is leaning towards the classification of this phenomenon as a ‘behavioural’ addiction. Meaning, the person is “addicted” to an activity or behaviour, rather than a substance. The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has already included one behavioural addiction in its category called “Substance Use & Addictive Disorders” (APA, 2013). However, interestingly, the terminology of the DSM-5 does not use the word “addiction” to describe any of the diagnoses in this category, despite the use of the term “addictive” in the category heading. In fact, as Richard et al. (2019) point out, they specifically state that the use of the word “addiction” has been removed because of its “uncertain definition and its potentially negative connotation’ (APA, 2013, p. 485). Despite its seemingly awkward welcome/not welcome guest status, the word “addiction” refuses to leave the party graciously. It continues to hang around in common usage and in both academic and social media circles, lurking about like the friend that no-one wants to admit knowing.

So why is the word “addiction” so controversial?

At the centre of this academic and social media tempest seems to be the word “addiction” itself. In order to make some sense of the passionate debate that is still raging as we speak, I thought it might be time to take a closer look at this currently unfashionable, problematic yet persistently sticky word “addiction”. Firstly, I shall look at some definitions, then I will attempt to look at the history of the word and finally I will add my own, humble, opinion at the end.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) defines addiction broadly, as “a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviours. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioural control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviours and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.”

The Centre on Addiction’s definition of addiction is similarly broad, “Addiction is a complex disease, often chronic in nature, which affects the functioning of the brain and body. It also causes serious damage to families, relationships, schools, workplaces and neighbourhoods. The most common symptoms of addiction are severe loss of control, continued use despite serious consequences, preoccupation with using, failed attempts to quit, tolerance and withdrawal.”

Popular psychology website, Psychology Today states that a “person with an addiction uses a substance, or engages in a behaviour, for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeat the activity, despite detrimental consequences. Addiction may involve the use of substances such as alcoholinhalants, opioids, cocaine, and nicotine, or behaviours such as gambling.”

The APS defines addiction in terms of criteria for diagnosis relating to substance use disorders, and only mentions gambling and internet gaming as examples of behavioural addictions in line with the DSM it publishes.

Of course, there are others but I’m sure you get the idea. The common theme seems to be this: Addiction affects the reward centre of the brain, which causes the addicted person to want to engage in the activity or use the substance repeatedly, which in time causes the person to be unable to stop or reduce using the substance despite wanting to, and in the face of increasing problems caused by the addiction. But what does the actual word “addiction” mean and where does it come from?

Etymology of Addiction

According to Richard et al., (2019) the word addiction has a long and interesting history. It originally appears in the early Roman republic. The latin root addicere, was used as a legal term meaning “to speak to”. In the later Roman period, it was also used to describe indebtedness, usually in relation to gambling debts. In Roman times the person (addictus) who owned a gambling debt was in a sense, attached or enslaved to his debtor until the debt was paid. By Elizabethan times it was used to describe an intense attachment to some person, cause or object. Mostly the word “addict” was used as a verb, as in to attach or devote oneself to something. Attachments could be either positive or negative, so the use of the verb was in itself neutral. Richard et al. (2019) argue that it is the flexibility of the word addiction and its ability to be used to denote either an extremely negative or positive attachment which has led to its longevity and popularity in common usage, as well as causing diagnostic ambivalence.

The connecting of the words addiction and attachment makes a lot of sense to me clinically. While running a substance-use recovery group for offenders, I would often start the group with an activity which involved various definitions of the word “addiction” in order to facilitate discussion. There were various definitions, including some medical, some from official sources such as the DSM and some quotes from famous ex-users. I would then ask the group members to choose which quote they felt mostly described their own experience. Most often the users chose a quote by Dr Patrick Carnes, (who specializes in treating sex-addiction and has written several books on the topic including, Out of the Shadows ) in which he describes addiction as a “pathological relationship”.  That this quote, written by a sex addiction specialist, was the one that these men would choose most often is interesting to me. They would then go on to describe their relationship to drugs as the most intimate, reliable and consistent relationship they had experienced. Their attachment to their drug of choice was very real and often, it had been the only thing they could turn to for comfort. Most of these men had histories of dysfunctional, abusive family lives, and most often they were let down by the very people you and I expect to be able to trust, again and again. No wonder their attachment, their addiction to their substance was so hard to give up. Carnes goes on to say that the pathological relationship with sex is a replacement for a healthy relationship with people. The same can be said for excessive substance users, problem gambling and those who consume pornography compulsively, which is what my own research documented:

“I don’t really have relationships. That’s why I view internet porn. But a couple of times I’ve come out of short-term relationships and felt a sense of relief that came from knowing I was free to go back to internet porn, and I know that that can’t be a good thing”

If we take the word “addiction” to mean simply an attachment, devotion, or enslavement to something, whether it be a substance, like alcohol or drugs, or an activity, like gambling, gaming or internet pornography, then the term addiction does seem to fit, at least as a descriptive term if not a diagnostic one. Any negative connotation to the word may well be attached to the substance or the behaviour which becomes problematic in that case, not the word “addiction” itself. Furthermore, those headlines claiming that porn addiction “does not exist” or is a “myth” because it is not listed as a diagnosis in the DSM are technically correct, because, in the current DSM there is no disorder with the actual term “addiction” listed at all. They are all disorders attached to the substance or behaviour, as in Alcohol Use Disorder or Opioid Use Disorder etc. – even though all these disorders fall under the umbrella of Substance Use & Addictive Behaviours.

Goodman (2001) made a, still, convincing case for the term “sexual addiction” to describe the phenomena of sexually related behavioural problems. He noted the similarities between substance use disorder and sex addiction and found them to be almost identical. In the proceeding 20 years, advances in neuroscientific imaging have shown these similarities are observable in the brain. So, if the term “addiction” where to be removed from the debate what would we be left debating? That excessive and compulsive use of sex or pornography does no harm? That people who describe themselves as addicted to internet pornography are delusional or wrong? I don’t think that’s helpful at all. The fact is, problematic use of internet pornography and sex exists, and is a real problem for many. Those that are experiencing this phenomenon firsthand no doubt care less for what you want to call their affliction, but more about getting help, recovery and healing from this issue, whatever it is called. As a counsellor, it is not my job to debate with clients about whether or not their issue is a “real addiction” or not. My job is to listen, to help facilitate change and to support my client create a better life for themselves and loved ones.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Psychiatric Association. 2013. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: Author.

 

Goodman, A. (2001) What’s in a name? Terminology for designating a syndrome of sexually driven behavior. Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity. 8:191–213, 2001. DOI: 10.1080/107201601753459919

Richard J. Rosenthal & Suzanne B. Faris. (2019) The etymology and early history of ‘addiction’, Addiction Research & Theory, 27:5, 437-449, DOI: 10.1080/16066359.2018.1543412

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning how to manage unpleasant emotions

ACT – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy can be summed up in three key skills or processes. Be present, open up and do what matters. Being present means taking a moment to moment, curious and mindful approach to our experiences as they happen. Being present simply means noticing. But what happens when our present moment experience is unpleasant, uncomfortable or distressing? Well I came across a short Ted Talk this morning which I thought explained how to manage these unwanted emotions in a clear and helpful way and which I’d like to share with you.

Credit: Act Made Simple by Dr. Russ Harris

 

Our ability to stay present, and fully experience uncomfortable or unpleasant feelings is important to our ability to move through the world with more comfort and ease and is the key to achieving our recovery goals or just simply feeling happier, and more comfortable in your own skin.

 

There are 8 key unpleasant emotions (which we like to think of as negative or bad but are not, they are simply unpleasant but necessary guides to what really matters to us, protection from dangerous others, reflections or echoes from past negative experiences). However, if we can learn how to be fully present for, not avoid or distract ourselves from, but fully present when these sorts of emotions arise within us – we can handle pretty much anything that life throws at us.The eight core unpleasant emotions are:

 

Sadness

Shame

Helplessness

Anger

Vulnerability

Embarrassment

Disappointment

Frustration

Our emotions are created by our brain and bodies working together but are felt in the body first as a bodily or physical sensation. A biochemical rush that last approx. 60-90 seconds. In the case of unpleasant feelings, it is this physical response that we are trying to distract ourselves from or move away from. Thing is, all emotions are necessary for healthy functioning of our entire being, not just the pleasant ones.

 

This too shall pass

 

Emotions (like urges) come in waves, they peak and then they subside. That’s the key thing to remember. Emotions always subside, both pleasant and unpleasant. The key to managing these emotional waves is to stay present whilst the wave is moving. Usually, after the wave subsides, new insights often emerge. New conversations can be had, relationships can be mended, a sense of relief is often felt and over time learning to embrace and experience all our emotions, mindfully and non-judgmentally, can ultimately lead to more self-awareness, peace and understanding of ourselves and others.

 

Listen to Dr Joan Rosenberg’s Ted talk https://youtu.be/EKy19WzkPxE

 

 

 

What are Existential Givens and Why Should You Care? A Layperson’s Guide to Existential Therapy

In 1980 Irvin Yalom, wrote his most famous text Existential Psychotherapy. In it, he proposed a new type of therapy which would allow for what he considered to be the “existential givens” of life to be brought to the forefront and dealt with head on, rather than being dodged, circumnavigated or just plain ignored, which he said had been the case in therapy circles thus far. So, what are existential givens anyway? Well, funny you should ask!

Existential ‘givens’ are essentially those things (and/or events) when we cannot change. Things such as the details of our birth, or the act of being born, or simply be-ing for that matter. Oh, and the process of dying and consequentially death, that’s a big one too. These are two main events which are common to all humans. Those are pretty much two of the biggest in-fact, but there are others, equally immutable if not as final as death or as cruelly insistent as being seems to be.

In fact, in his text Yalom (1980) narrowed it down to four big givens of existence, which he called ultimate concerns, and for the purposes of this limited exploration we shall focus on these four and how they relate to therapy and counselling. These are, in no particular order, (although one may argue that death always has the final say!): freedom, death, isolation and meaningless.

Freedom

Image result for freedom

Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology (Sartre, 1943), is perhaps existentialism’s greatest and most profound extrapolation on the notion and meaning of personal freedom.

We, (human beings) are essentially like a blank canvas, and unlike something like a chair, for example, we have the choice to be-come whatever it is we want to, within limitations of course. We get to paint whatever we want to on the blank canvas which symbolizes our life. Thing is, says Sartre, this freedom thing, (free will if you like), doesn’t seem like the great gift it is for many of us, in fact, it terrifies us mostly. “What, so we get to make our own decisions!?”  Wait, what, …we have to make a choice??! Sounds great, to a degree, however this thought understandably can be quite overwhelming when one then considers that with choice comes responsibility. Yes, the gift of freedom to choose our destiny means that we are more or less responsible for our own outcomes in life. For some of us, this realization is often fraught with anxiety and can sometimes plunge us into deep, dark moods and depressions. For to choose how to live your own life is a heavy, heavy burden to bear at times.

So heavy, that it is understandable that much of the time the temptation to live a life defined by what others have decided is the life you should be living, is too great to resist. Sometimes, it is really just easier to go with the flow, or to hold on to beliefs we have become so accustomed to wearing, (hand me downs usually) even though they no longer fit so well. Anything it seems, seems easier than having to shake yourself out of your stupor and utilise the freedom which is and always was our birthright.

However, once the tightness of ill-fitting beliefs become too uncomfortable to bear, or those sedimented systems which we have become so used to carrying around with us become too heavy, we start to feel uneasy. And the longer we deny the call of freedom, the more uneasy and nauseous we become. Sartre (1943) talks of the nausea that is created by the realization that we are, after-all, nothing. Nothing but the choices we have made and continue to make. Freedom of choice is sickening, overwhelming, and often unbearable. No wonder we cling, for so, so long, to the walls that stop us from falling down into the dark, unknowable void in which nothing is known and certainly, nothing is certain.

As Van Deurzen (2005) explains, “terrific loss in involved in the process of letting go of the things that determine our identity” (p.6).  Accepting freedom essentially means accepting that if nothing is holding you back, nor is it holding you up. And that, is a pretty frightening concept. One of the goals of existential therapy is to help a client be-come more comfortable with this concept of freedom, or nothingness, and to reduce the anxiety associated with it and perhaps even replace it with something more like enthusiasm, courage or even excitement. Something like the excitement felt, for example, by a painter faced with a blank canvas, on which he knows he will paint his master work. To become one’s true self seems to be the goal of freedom then, or one’s best self, one’s authentic self. But what the hell does that mean? How does one know when one is being authentic??

Authenticity

Not all writers and philosophers assume that authenticity is or should be the reward of freedom or its goal. In-fact, one writer has said that, “Heidegger’s ‘authenticity’ is a simulacrum, a vacant totalitarian formula echoing the nostalgia for the power of a god that once was – before being slain at the altar of modernism and post-modernism” (Bazzano, 2010, p.53).  (Heidegger is considered the OG of existentialism.)

Thus, are we to be thrust once again into a world of absolutes, with authenticity being the goal of freedom? Perhaps so, if as Sartre thought, inauthenticity, or bad faith is viewed as a condition of existence and we are continually striving for or from or teetering on the edge of authenticity and inauthenticity as we move between birth and death. Because if nothing is certain, then neither is authenticity, and we can never really be certain we are being authentic, but, we can at least try.

This brings us to the next existential given to examine, and that is death.

Death

Image result for death

Death is that unpleasant certainty that is forever in the back of our minds, even if we choose not to consciously think of it. Awareness of death can cause existential guilt and anxiety, a certain amount of which is healthy.

Existential guilt is brought on by a feeling of “not having done enough” or of not having lived to your full potential. It is caused by an awareness, sometimes sudden or sometimes gradual, that one has been living their life at half-mast, so to speak. Or to use a more modern analogy, that they have been coasting along in second gear and that time, which once seemed infinite, is precisely not that. Existential guilt is that psychological rude awakening that keeps you awake at night or disturbs you from your otherwise peaceful slumber so that you sit, bolt upright, anxious and sick with the realization of your own finiteness, smallness and helplessness . Nausea once again ensues.

In order to live authentically with the knowledge of death and the anxiety this produces takes “tremendous courage” (Hoffman, 2009).  Controversially, to live in denial of these ultimate truths is to limit your capacity for living, loving and experiencing life fully, because simply if overly stated, “Living is dying” (Van Deurzen, 2005).  The experience of existential guilt in therapy offers the client a positive opportunity to re-direct their life and reach a place of ‘reconciliation’ with the absolute unknown, which is death (Jacobson, 2007).

Isolation

Humans are, if nothing else, walking paradoxes. The one existential dilemma that is perhaps the driving force behind countless romantic novels and movies, and which has caused the online dating industry to become one of the fastest growing businesses of the post-modern, technological era, is the existential anxiety which is prompted by the realization of our inherent isolation. Our aloneness. We are born into this world, as a single unit and we will exit the same way.

However, we do not exist in complete isolation, but in relation to others. In truth we could not exist without others. One of the dilemmas of living involves resolving the paradox of… How can I be my authentic self, whilst relating to others in a meaningful, compassionate and fulfilling way? (Jacobsen, 2007). The question of intimacy and love brings up issues which can cause anxiety in an individual struggling with the paradox of their inherent isolation and the need for intimacy.

The practice of mindfulness, a concept borrowed from Buddhism and incorporated in current existential practice offers something like an answer to the concern of isolation. The anxiety produced by the desire for intimacy, for close relation to another human be-ing for….o.k. let us call it, love, is often founded on the all too real fear of its eventual loss. For implicit in loving another human being is the ultimate loss of that relationship, whether through natural entropy, conflict or death.

Claessens (2009) wrote of the four noble truths of Buddhism and related them to existential dilemmas, such as fear of isolation/intimacy; “We crave permanence, never-ending,  never changing love, eternal youth, certainty and total safety and we recoil from confronting our decay and vulnerability and the passing of joy” (p.113).  Therefore, in isolation we shiver, so we crave the closeness and the warmth of another being, and yet we fear losing the comfort before we even experience it fully.

Once again existential therapy can help, in terms of resolving this conflict, by encouraging clients to learn to appreciate and experience the joy of everyday pleasures, including love, without having to hide behind false illusions of foreverness and perfectness, which ultimately results in unnecessary emotional pain (Claessens, 2009).  Thus, as living involves dying to a degree, loving involves losing. One of the goals of counselling then could be to help the client with acceptance of the paradoxes inherent in truly living and loving.

The fear of intimacy is also linked to the notion of identity. One fears losing themselves to another, especially if their sense of identity has been freshly, or painfully carved out. But what if finding yourself involves losing yourself to a degree? (McGinley, 2011).  Is it possible that in isolation, we are not truly able to be ourselves anyway, and that it is only in relation to others that we are able to distinguish our own unique silhouette?

Yalom (1980) spoke of three types of isolation; interpersonal, intrapersonal and existential isolation. The latter refers to “the reality that we are unable to ever fully overcome our isolation” (Hoffman, 2009).  In therapy, clients may feel the force of this paradox when dealing with issues involving their personal relationships. Because while the fact of isolation may be terrifying to some, the prospect of fully relating to another being as your ‘authentic self’ involves an entirely other set of hazards. For in relating to someone as your authentic self, the possibility of being rejected involves deep, emotional risk. No wonder, many people hold a part of themselves back, even in their supposedly most personal relationships. And wonder furthermore, why they feel the ache of isolation even when they are in company.

Existential therapy talks about different ways of being in relation to others. One can choose to share a carefully selected version of oneself, and to relate to the other as less than a whole being as well, the I-It way of relating. Or one can choose to both be their authentic selves in relation, and see the other in their entirety as well, the I-Thou relationship (Buber, 1970 as cited in Hoffman, 2009).

A therapist may help their client to examine their relationships and question the types of relationships they have chosen so far, and if they are unhappy with them, to explore other ways of being with others. This is a very important aspect of life as relationships are among our most important sources of meaning in life. Without meaningful, authentic relationships, human beings are like plants without water and sun, we cease to exist in any meaningful way.

Meaningless

Which brings us to the dilemma of meaningless. If one clings to old ideals, beliefs, ways of being as if for dear life, then there must be a very good reason. Because the problem to be tackled, with the help of the therapist, lies in not just helping a client to discard old, no longer useful belief systems but in facing the inevitable question which then arises which is, What now?!  It is not simply enough to discard the old self, without, at least having some idea about what this new self is going to be. Of course, this is not always possible and thus, a person can experience a period of time in which they must exist without the (some might say illusory) solidity of a definable set of values, beliefs, goals, and/or meaning. What the existentialist Victor Frankl termed an existential vacuum (Corey, 2009).

So, it is not surprising that in counselling a person may resist facing making those choices which will eventually lead to the change they may say they seek. A counsellor may help their client, not by telling them what they ought to do, but by helping the client to face their own personal void or existential vacuum with strength, courage and purpose. Interestingly, meaning as such is like the holy grail of existence. In that, as cited in Corey (2009), meaning is quite often found by chance and not by direct pursuit. To pursue meaning as an end in itself is often a fruitless, frustrating and pointless endeavour.  Both Frankl and Yalom (1980) are in concert with the assertion that, “finding meaning in life is a by-product of engagement” (p.151).

Perhaps, as Claessens (2009) describes in her article, Mindfulness and Existential Therapy, the answer to the resolution of the dilemmas of existence and living within the existential givens as outlined above lies in what Buddhist teaches as the middle path. That is, not allowing either spectrum of the paradoxes we face to have undue influence but by consciously acknowledging their existence and proceeding, with mindfulness and compassion, anyway.

This middle path, whilst sounding quite mundane with its connotations of middle-of-the-roadness, is actually quite revolutionary when used in therapeutic application for “the middle path lies between the suppression and the venting of emotions” (p.116).  It offers acceptance and relief from the anxiety of  the question of living with dying, of existing in isolation and in relation to others, of living with the self that you choose and the self that you shed, of accepting the freedom of living on the edge of the void and finally, finding meaning in living, loving and being.

In counselling the existential therapist has three main goals they hope to achieve in order to assist their client. Helping the client find their own truth, helping the client find their own perspective and meaning in relation to their life, and to support the client to absorb these reflections and discoveries and in doing so construct a more authentic way of being in the world.

Acceptance of the givens of existence, like the four described above, can go a long way towards achieving these ends for the client. With a focus on the therapeutic relationship, being present with the client, taking a non-expert, non-judgmental and compassionate approach,  an existential counsellor attempts to help facilitate change in a client that can be truly revolutionary and long lasting. Whilst not focusing on symptoms and behaviours can seem counterintuitive to today’s therapist, existential therapy aims to address the underlying truths or facts of existence, which can be extremely liberating and healing.

 

 

 

REFERENCES

Bazzano, M. (2010). A True Person of No Status. Existential Analysis: Journal Of The Society For Existential Analysis21(1), 51-62.

Claessens, M. (2009). Mindfulness and Existential Therapy. Existential Analysis: Journal Of The  Society For Existential Analysis20(1), 109-119.

Claessens, M. (2010). Mindfulness Based-Third Wave CBT Therapies and Existential-Phenomenology.  Friends or Foes?. Existential Analysis: Journal Of The Society For Existential Analysis21(2),        295-308.

Corey, G. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.

Geldard, D., & Geldard, K. (2012). Basic personal counselling: A training manual for      counsellors (7th ed.). Sydney, Australia: Pearson Australia.

Hoffman, L. (2009).  Existential Therapy: A General Overview. Sourced from: http://www.existential-therapy.com/General_Overview.htm  Retrieved 10.4.14.

Jacobsen, B. (2007). Authenticity and our basic existential dilemmas: Foundational concepts of existential psychology and therapy. Existential Analysis: Journal of the Society for Existential Analysis, 18(2), 288-296.

McGinley, P. (2011). The Question of the Self in Existential Thought. Existential Analysis: Journal Of The Society For Existential Analysis22(1), 2-15.

Nanda, J. (2010). Embodied Integration. Existential Analysis: Journal Of The Society For Existential Analysis21(2), 331-350.

Oliveira, A. (2012). Significant Events in Existential Psychotherapy: The Client’s Perspective. Existential Analysis: Journal Of The Society For Existential Analysis23(2), 288-304.

Sartre, J.P. (1984). Being and nothingness : a phenomenological essay on ontology. Translated and with an introduction by Hazel E. Barnes. New York London Washington Square Press, 1984

Van Deurzen, E. (2005). Philosophical background. In E. van Deurzen, & C. Arnold-Baker (Eds.), Existential perspectives on human issues: A handbook for therapeutic practice (pp. 3-14). Hampshire, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Yalom, I. D. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

James Bugental’s Existential-Humanistic Therapy

 

 

Note from the author. This blog post was originally an essay written as an assignment whilst I was completing my Master of Counselling & Psychotherapy course. Now that I have completed the course, I am going through some of my favourite essays and am going to re-write them and reproduce them here. This essay on James Bugental will kick things off. James Bugental was an American existential-humanist therapist who very much championed the importance of the individual and felt that our journey towards authenticity was the most profound and healthiest things we could hope to achieve in life. He wrote several books including one called The Search for Authenticity. He is not so talked about these days but he was a big influence on my development as a therapist. Hope you enjoy.

 

James Bugental on Existential-Humanistic Psychotherapy

 

In the 1960s in California a new type of therapy was born: Existential Humanistic therapy, heralded by James Bugental, a psychology professor who thought that being human meant becoming an authentic individual. Unlike his contemporary, Irvin Yalom, Bugental’s writings and practice did not focus as much on the existential facts of life, the limitations or what Yalom refers to as the “givens” or ultimate concerns of existence, (Yalom, 1980) but more on the problem of self-alienation. Bugental saw growth as an individual responsibility, and that we make our own choices and are responsible for much of our own sense of happiness. This is a directly opposite view to much current day thinking, which emphasises social factors, such as patriarchal oppression, identity factors such as race or gender, and which generally encourages a wounded mind-set. Existential humanism places the individual at the centre of well-being, rather than external, social or environmental factors. For James Bugental, however, the core issue which hindered the individual’s natural inclination to develop fully was self-alienation.

To be self-alienated is living without an awareness of one’s own inner nature and true essence. It is like being essentially split off from your true self. In other words, you are a stranger to your self. But, more than that, Bugental believed that living with the split-self was like living with a tyrannical boss. One who constantly watches, micro-manages and critiques your every move, (Bugental, 1978). This creates anxiety, depression, and in extreme cases schizophrenia and splits us off from our authentic selves. Bugental believed that until we turn towards our selves and begin the process of getting to know who we really are, we will continue to live less meaningful, fruitful and fulfilling lives.

Bugental understood the self as process and in progress towards becoming a fully functioning human being, with all the resources required to do so on board. This is not dissimilar to what Rogers referred to as a person’s “tendency to self actualize” (Tudor &Worrall, 2006). Bugental’s conceptualization of the self could be summarised as, “subjective awareness continually in process” (Bugental 1976, as quoted in Krug, 2009). He has also said that the human essence is essentially no thing, or nothing.  Existential therapist Bazzano (2010) also talks about the concept of being a true person of “no-status”, which is a concept borrowed from Zen Buddhism. In this context, “No status indicates the uncertainty and transient nature of life and its groundlessness”.  In other words, we are pure awareness, everything else is illusory. Not that we will ever truly achieve this transcendental state while we are embodied in human form, but it is necessary to understand this if we are to achieve anything close to happiness in this life.

Bugental saw the therapist’s work as helping a person become aware of this phenomenon (of self construction) and ultimately aware of the way in which we continuously construct our world, moment by moment. And of how we unconsciously block our progress by “avoidant or distortive” actions (Krug, 2009).  With this awareness though comes freedom to choose and with freedom, responsibility.

Of course, one cannot speak of choice, freedom and responsibility without mentioning the seminal work of Jean Paul Sartre, and what some have called the “bible of existentialism,” Being and Nothingness, (Daigle, 2005). In this heavy work, originally published in 1943, Sartre investigates the concepts of being and consciousness, freedom and responsibility, authenticity, “bad faith” and finally the relationship with others. These are all themes which Bugental as well as other existential humanistic therapists aim to explore. However, it is Bugental’s focus on present moment awareness and experience which stands out as his intervention of choice. He aims to chip at the layers of self construction in order to extrapolate that underlying essence.

Bugental’s focus on process and what is happening in the room and in the “now” during therapy evokes Sartre’s position on I am vs. I become statements. To state that “I am” is in Sartre’s worldview an act of “bad faith,” for we are only ever playing at being authentic. Bugental understands this notion and sees the psychotherapist’s role as helping the client to attend to his or her own acts of bad faith, as they occur, and in doing so attempt to acheive internal wholeness and Sartre’s state of authenticity.  Of course, Sartre is never clear on what a state of authenticity would actually look like. No doubt this imposing question was in Bugental’s mind when he wrote his first book, The Search for Authenticity (1965).

For Bugental, existential humanistic therapy aims to make the split parts of the alienated self into a whole. In his own words, it is to help the client discover their sense of “I-ness,” (Bugental, 1976). Some writers have questioned existential humanism therapy’s focus on authenticity (self-actualization or wholeness) altogether,  perhaps because of its quasi religious overtones, claiming that it has “relied for too long on Heidegger’s idea of authenticity, a notion which reinstates idealist philosophy and monistic notions of ‘Truth'”, (Bazzano, 2010, p.51). Perhaps it is simply necessary to have something to strive for in therapy and the notion of authenticity/wholeness/gestalt fits this purpose perfectly. Perhaps, the warm, free thinking west coast of the USA in the 1960s was a time when notions of authenticity, individuality or a yearning to be “truly alive” (Bugental, 2005) actually seemed possible.

In Yalom’s classic text Existential Psychotherapy, he gives a brief history of existential psychotherapy and lists James Bugental as a member of the “flashy American cousins” branch of the “extended existential family” (Yalom, 1980). Yalom insightfully points to the difference in schools as being rooted in the “zeitgeist” from which they arose. Humanistic existentialists arose in a relatively new continent, during a time of cultural and economic expansion, America in the 1960s. As opposed to previous European existentialists from the ‘old country’ or continent, which has experienced more history, more conflict and more exposure to the limiting realities of existence; war, famine and the like.

With this in mind it is hardly surprising that when Bugental was made president of the newly established (1961) American Association of Humanistic Psychology he wrote the existential humanistic manifesto, of sorts, and came up with five basic postulates of existential humanistic psychotherapy practice in the 1963 article, Humanistic psychology: A new breakthrough, which I shall summarise very briefly (replacing the word “man” for the word human in line with gender neutral language):

  1. Humans are more than the sum of their parts
  2. Humans exist in context with other humans
  3. Humans are self aware
  4. Humans have choice
  5. Humans are intentional and look for meaning, purpose and value in life

The five postulates above clearly articulate the existential humanistic world view in context of 1960s American idealism – a much more positive stance that allows for hope, optimism and the freedom to ‘be what you want to be’ vibe that is so evocative of the sixties. Perhaps the biggest contribution of the humanistic existential approach to psychotherapy is the sense of hope, purpose and the mystery of humanity that it allows for.

To an existential humanist like James Bugental, human beings are not a just a set of cause and effect actions and reactions that can be reduced to a formulaic, mechanistic set of interventions which can be administered with clinical precision based on a set of diagnosable presentations, which much modern evidence based psychology purports to be. Perhaps this is why, as quoted in Bradford (2009) Bugental declares, “Psychotherapy is not a learning to adjust; it is a facing of infinite unadjustability,” (p.325).  For Bugental, this involves continually attending to our present moment inner experience, thus enhancing our “inner guidance system” which points us in the direction of authenticity.  In session you see Bugental continue to steer his client in this direction, from thinking to experiencing, intellectualizing to feeling, from narrative to presence. Cooper (2003) acknowledges Bugental’s contribution to psychotherapy as bringing attention to “here and now” awareness within the counselling session as a primary therapeutic tool, “the purpose of which is to illuminate here and now processes within the therapeutic encounter,” (Krug, 2009).

Bugental aims to bring his clients’ self-awareness or inner awareness out by bringing clients awareness back to the now, as he does with Marie in his Existential Psychotherapy in Action demonstration video.  It is in-fact, the very first thing he says to her after she offers up some narrative; “How is it with you right now?” and once again after she explains the anxiety that she is feeling in relation to her father’s illness, “And it’s there now?” In fact, in almost every interaction with Marie, Bugental attempts again and again to bring her back to the present, using the word “now” or phrase “right now” over 20 times. This reflects Bugental’s philosophy of present moment awareness being the doorway to effecting personal change. That Bugental is only partially successful in getting his client to be present to her moment by moment experience is obvious to anyone watching this encounter. Marie appears carefully and meticulously dressed and sits quite stiffly throughout the session. Her carefully constructed veneer of control is barely scratched by Bugental’s gentle insistence in asking her, time and again, but how is that for you, now.

However, as he noted in the pre-session commentary, this was not your typical therapy session which would involve just two people. Present in the room were cameramen and a quite a few observers. It would be difficult to allow oneself to truly ‘let go’ in such circumstances. Bugental acknowledges this and also mentions that in a real therapy session he might not be as insistent or as pushy, and he specifically mentions being conscious of trying to balance the purpose of the video as demonstration with respecting the needs of his client.

In my own practice I have found the existential humanistic practice of using the here and now in session as a way to help clients access their own inner experience and get in touch with what is happening for them, right now very helpful. In conjunction with mindfulness and ACT (Acceptance & Commitment Therapy), existential humanistic philosophy gives me a foundation from which to return time and again in sessions with my clients, many of whom have never had another person engage with them in such a way before. I use a lot of mindfulness-based interventions in my own counselling practice. However, over and above the use of apps, handouts or psycho-education tools, a central feature of my approach is to incorporate mindfulness practice as a way to help manage anxiety and mood. This approach models in-session presence by bringing my clients attention to what they are feeling or experiencing in the here and now, as they are talking about something that happened to them then. I have found that this is the most useful way I can demonstrate a mindfulness stance to my clients.

It is my experience that existential therapy and mindfulness work very well together. Existential therapy’s focus on self as process is similar to the mindfulness concept of acceptance of the “transitory, fragile and contradictory nature of existence,” (Claessens, 2009, p.114). Acceptance forms the basis of the Third Noble Truth of Buddhism from which the practice of mindfulness has been borrowed.  The connections and similarities between existential humanistic therapy and mindfulness are beyond the scope and purpose of this article. However for the purposes of reflection, I have noted them time and again, as have other practitioners, (Claeseens, 2009). I have used both quite successfully in my own practice, and they seem to me to be a natural fit.

Bugental’s version of existential humanistic therapy and his optimistic human centred philosophy of believing in each and every person’s “potential for richness and fullness of living” (Bugental, 2005) reminds me of how important it is to be present during sessions with clients, and to remember to see them as completely and utterly individual human beings. Not as a set of symptoms, behaviours or diagnoses. It also functions as a reminder to myself, as I go about the business of constructing my own moment by moment experience and facing my own journey towards authenticity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

REFERENCES

 

 

Bazzano, M. (2010). A True Person of No Status. Existential Analysis: Journal Of The     Society For Existential Analysis21(1), 51-62.

Bradford, G., & Sterling, M. (2009). The Journey Is the Goal. Journal of Humanistic        Psychology, 49(3), 316-328.

Bugental, J., & Darley, John G. (1963). Humanistic psychology: A new breakthrough.      American Psychologist, 18(9), 563-567.

Bugental, J. F. T. (1976). The search for existential identity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bugental, J. F. T. (1978). Psychotherapy and process. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Bugental, J. F. T. (1981). The search for authenticity: An existential-analytic approach to

            psychotherapy. (Exp. ed.) New York: Irvington.

Bugental, J. F. T., Yalom, V., Douglas, M., Sapienza, B,. (Bugental Video Project & Jaylen         Productions). (2005). Existential-humanistic Psychotherapy in Action a      Demonstration.

Cooper, M. (2003). Existential therapies. London: Sage.

Claessens, M. (2009). Mindfulness and Existential Therapy. Existential Analysis: Journal Of      

            The  Society For Existential Analysis20(1), 109-119.

 

Daigle, C. (2005) Sartre’s Being & Nothingness: The Bible of Existentialism? Philosophy            Now. Retrieved from,             https://philosophynow.org/issues/53/Sartres_Being_and_Nothingness_The_Bible_of_      Existentialism

Duncan, B. L., Miller, S. D., Wampold, B. E. & Hubble, M. A. (2010). The heart and soul

            of change: Delivering what works in therapy (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American

Psychological Association.

Krug, Orah T. (2009). James Bugental and Irvin Yalom: Two masters of existential therapy         cultuivate presence in the therapeutic encounter.(Report). The Journal of Humanistic         Psychology, 49(3), 329-354.

Sartre, J.P. (1943).  Being and Nothingness: A phenomenological Essay on

            Ontology. Trans. Barnes, H.E. New York: Washington Square Press.

Tudor, K., & Worrall, M. (2006). Person-centred therapy: A clinical philosophy. London/New York: Routledge.

Yalom, I. (1980). Existential psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.

 

Truth. An opinion piece

 Truth, fact, opinion. They are all words which are often related but they differ fundamentally. Everyone has a right to speak their truth and to have an opinion but just because in your opinion something is “true” does that give you the unfettered right to speak that opinion without reservation, and without consideration of the facts…all the facts? Never mind the effect on others.
Especially where other people’s lives and emotions are concerned, it strikes me that a reasonable person’s aim should be to offer an opinion with humility and unless one is in complete possession of all the facts, temper that opinion with a disclaimer.
The problem as I see it, some people confuse opinion with truth, and truth with fact,thinking all three are interchangeable.I took the liberty of looking up a few definitions from www.dictionary.com to hopefully increase clarity. With all these opinions floating around, (my own included, of which this entire blog consists of when all is said and done) it is sometimes helpful to go to a neutral source such as the humble dictionary:Fact
[fakt]
noun
1.something that actually exists; reality; truth: Your fears have no basis in fact.
2.something known to exist or to have happened: Space travel is now a fact.
3.a truth known by actual experience or observation;something known to be true:

Truth [trooth]
noun, plural truths  [troothz, trooths] Show IPA.
1.the true or actual state of a matter: He tried to find out the truth.
2.conformity with fact or reality; verity: the truth of astatement.
3.a verified or indisputable fact, proposition, principle, or the like: mathematical truths.

O·pin·ion   [uh-pin-yuhn]
1.a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty.
2.a personal view, attitude, or appraisal.
3.the formal expression of a professional judgment: to ask for a second medical opinion.

Ok so fact and truth can sometimes seem interchangeable.. depending on your point of view of course. Truth is however not quite as black and white as fact. Point in question. It is a fact that the sun exists. It is a visible phenomenon, we can feel the sun on our face we know it’s there. So, it is true to say the sun exists and we know this to be factual.

Truth is sometimes not that simple. Facts are indisputable. Truth is often relative. Especially when we are dealing with humans and their emotions.

An opinion is something held by one person ‘which is not based on ‘verified’ facts or ‘insufficient grounds to produce certainty’. That is, you are not entirely sure but you have an opinion anyway but most reasonable people are always ready to qualify, this is only my opinion but…

One has to be careful when uttering what they deem to be truths, because truth telling is rarely without consequence. Especially these days it seems. Truth and increasingly fact is not a defence when someone’s feelings are at stake. And when truth telling is based not on facts, discernible, provable facts but on evidence which is at best piecemeal or one sided, incomplete or just unclear then one begins to play a very dangerous game.

Telling the ‘truth’ is important but that truth has to be based on fact not assumptions. Just as the giving of opinions should be tempered with humility and deference to a wider picture and another person’s right for self direction. However, today simply uttering an opinion on someone else’s reality could land you in a lot of hot water. Although it does seem to me that the lines between fact, truth and opinion seem to be entwined so much these days that I would hate to be in law enforcement as more and more people use new laws designed to protect the truly vulnerable to attempt to force their truths on another’s reality.

So here are another couple of definitions for you to ponder:

Goss.ip

1.idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others: the endless gossip about Hollywood stars.
2.light, familiar talk or writing.
3.also, gos•sip•er, gos•sip•per. a person given to tattling or idle talk.

Slan•der
[slan-der]

1.defamation; calumny: rumors full of slander.
2.a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report: a slander against his good name.
3.Law . defamation by oral utterance rather than by writing,pictures, etc

Those of you who brashly speak what you call the “truth” and are offended when no one thanks you because of it may be well advised to remember these little paradoxes:

One person’s truth may be another person’s lie.
What is true today, may be false tomorrow.
Opinion is not fact. Facts are facts, the truth may lie elsewhere.

Anyway, that is just my opinion

Top self-help books I recommend as a therapist and some that have been recommended that I have yet to read…

You can heal your life
Louise Hay

You Can Heal Your Life

Louise Hay has been called the queen of self help books. In-fact this book was originally published as a pamphlet in 1979 before Louise developed it into the best-selling You Can Heal Your Life in 1984. This book is well loved and has sold up to 30 million copies. It is available in a variety of places online or free as a PDF, or you can find a copy at any second hand book store more times than not.

I recommend this book as a non-scientific spiritual read which should be read with an open mind and heart. It is not evidence based in the way that some other books are that I recommend but it is a book that helped me greatly when I was at one of the lowest points of my life. The premise of this book is quite simple. Our thoughts create our experience of reality. Change your thoughts and you can literally change your life. This is basically the premise behind CBT as well, (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) but written in beautiful, simple and yes, I guess slightly woo-woo language. So, for that reason it may not be for everyone. Louise states her beliefs at the beginning of the book and clearly states, these are her beliefs which you, the reader, can either agree with or not. For example, she believes that we choose our own experiences, our parents and even when we are born. I don’t believe this myself. I don’t know that we choose our parents or time of birth, or our early childhood experiences when we are too young to have any influence on our environments. However, I do believe that we choose our responses to events that happen to us as we grow older, and in consciousness. That is simply my belief.

Regardless of what you choose to accept or not, the book has a powerful message of self-love, belief and self-empowerment which is why I recommend this book to friends, family and clients alike.

The happiness trap
Russell Harris

The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living

The Happiness Trap is written by Russell Harris who is an ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) therapist and trainer. He has written numerous other texts and self-help books based on ACT principals. The Happiness Trap is one I recommend as it is simple to read and has a lot of practical activities throughout. It is a great adjunct to therapy if you are seeing an ACT counsellor.

The basic premise of ACT is simply that life involves pain and suffering, but by accepting our reality as it is, not struggling with it, judging or allowing it to overwhelm us with emotion we can empower ourselves to mindfully take meaningful action in the present to create a more positive, meaningful and fulfilling life in the future. The aim of ACT is not necessarily to get rid of symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, but to learn how to deal with life’s challenges more effectively, so that when challenges or conflict arises, as it will do, we are able to manage them in a way which is more in line with our values, goals and abilities. Bad stuff will still happen, but we can learn to not let the bad stuff affect us so much. ACT uses skills such as mindfulness, reflective awareness training, acceptance and self-compassion to enable us to deal with challenges more effectively and reach our goals sooner.

You can purchase a copy of The Happiness Trap here or at your local bookseller.  For the full range of Russ Harris books and access to his online courses you can go to the Act Mindfully website.

Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world
Mark Williams & Danny Penman

Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world

This is my go to book to direct clients to who are interested in exploring mindfulness more fully as a practice. The book is basically a home-based version of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who also writes the forward to this amazingly easy to read and follow guide. The title actually does a great job of explaining what the book is. It is a very practical guide, light on theory and jargon but packed with wisdom and knowledge. The hard copy, which I have, actually comes with a CD of the 8 meditations used throughout the book, read in Mark William’s incredibly soothing voice, in my opinion anyway!

The book is actually more of a course, based on Kabat-Zinn’s eight week program. Each chapter is basically a week in the course and there is a meditation to go with it. You can approach this book in one of two ways. You can simply read it as a book, there are lots of interesting stories and anecdotes and information to keep it interesting but to get the most out of it, you can approach it as a guide or course in mindfulness which will basically do what the title says it will do – guide you towards more peace and awareness regardless of what is happening in your external world. I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in finding out for themselves what this whole mindfulness thing is really about.

You can grab a copy here. If you just want to listen to the meditations they are available on You Tube or on the Frantic World website.

Mindsight: Change your brain, change your life
Daniel Siegel

Mindsight: change your brain and your life

Mindsight is possibly one of the less accessible books I recommend to my clients. It does however, have some detailed and thorough explanations of the science of emotion, attachment, relationships and self-integration. I tend to recommend sections of this book rather than the book as a whole. Daniel illustrates his concepts with case studies which is helpful for understanding how awareness of what is happening in our brains can translate into improvements in mental health and functioning. I tend to use his ‘hand model of the brain’ section quite a lot as well as his section on attachment theory as well.

This book is divided into two halves. The first part is theoretical and explanatory and the second is illustrative. If you are interested in learning about the neurology of the brain and how it is organised then you will find the first half fascinating. If you are someone that likes to learn from others’ examples, the case studies which make up the second half of the book will be most helpful.

I personally enjoyed this book from a therapists’ point of view and recommend it to clients who are more scientific in orientation and who become interested in learning more about how our brain works. The book draws heavily on the science of neuroplasticity, the idea that our brains continue to change and develop as we get older based on our experience and interactions with our environment. This means that change is possible throughout the lifespan, which gives us hope at any age.

 

The body keeps the score: Brain mind and body in the healing of trauma
Bessel van de Kolk

 

 

 

 

Dr Van de Kolk is one of the worlds foremost specialists in trauma. He was instrumental in the development of the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From his experiences as a young doctor working with returned veterans, he saw first hand the results of trauma experienced by these men and the effects on their brains, memory and bodies.

This book is a very good read. It is both anecdotal and scientific. You will learn a lot about how trauma impacts our brain, mental health and how, ultimately it lives on in the body. If you are a trauma survivor of any kind, I highly recommend this compassionate, liberating read.

You can grab a copy here.

Books I’ve yet to read

As I have been trying to complete my master in counselling and psychotherapy whilst working full time, there are a heap of books on my reading list which I’ve yet to get to. I am just a few weeks away from finishing however, so when I get around to reading them I will post them here. First two on my list are Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life and Russell Brand’s book on Recovery: Freedom from our Addictions. Oh and, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. That should keep me busy over the summer months!

If there are any self-help books you recommend I read please comment below.