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The Defence Mechanisms

I have been prompted to think about the psychological ‘defence mechanisms’. These come out of Freudian tradition of psychological therapies. A detailed account of some of these mechanisms can be found in several places but have a look on:

https://www.psychologistworld.com/freud/defence-mechanisms-list

The full list is long so I will only sample some of them.

Acting Out: when our energies are diverted into some action to alleviate a strong impulse.

EXPERIMENT: recall a memory of a time when he felt you were acting out of character.  In retrospect, how would you have preferred it to be? How might you have ‘acted in’; that is, used a Body Scan to notice your internal thoughts, feelings and sensations so you could ‘label’ then more authentically.

Avoidance: walking around an obstacle rather than looking it in the eye.

EXPERIMENT: recall a time when when you were angry with some-one important in your life.  With the benefit of hindsight, was there something you might have said and done that would have addressed that feeling more directly?

Conversion and somatisation: when a high emotion stores itself in the body. Babette Rothschild wrote an interesting text about this called The Body Remembers. Her web site is well worth a visit if you are keen on researching.

EXPERIMENT: the Body Scan exists to help you be in touch with internal sensations.  When you do the Body Scan over a period of time, it is likely that you will notice a pattern; a discomforting sensation that persistently appears in one particular part of your body. Can you use meditation and relaxation to relate to the experience differently?

Denial: what better way to put something to one side than to pretend it does not exist. This phenomenon is important in safe experimenting and links very closely to the notion of Discounting, I touch on in my blog. Look to the blog for more on this.
Displacement: involves diverting spare energy into an action with some, or little, relevance to the stress we are experiencing.

EXPERIMENT: consider whether you have been frustrated about a persistent obstacle in your life a lot. How have you responded to that frustration? You may have benefited from it, e.g. by working harder to compensation for an apparent loss or short-coming. Equally, you may resolved in your mind to say  ‘dammit’ and rebelled against the issue by becoming the ‘bad boy’ or bad .girl’.
Dissociation: this is an important behaviour addressed in my blog and too complex to address in passing, here..
Humour: why not laugh it off? I’ll leave you to find the time when you did this as I think you’ll find an example without too much prompting. Emergency service personnel are notorious for ‘black humour’, an understandable protection against the horrors of their daily round.

Idealisation: placing some-one on a pedestal may be easier than looking at a ‘truer’ picture. By the way, have you noticed we can idealise ourselves or, in compensation,  damn ourselves. Anything rather than looking at who we are?!  You may notice how Hollywood makes a virtue of this tendency in some films!

EXPERIMENT: use the image below to write down one or two words  of description for some-one important in your life.  Take a break and return to the descriptions later. Notice ways in which see that other in a rather partial way.  In what way do you miss the ‘true person’, whatever that is?


Identification: a specific case of this is the so-called Stockholm Syndrome – when individuals taken hostage in a bank raid came to side with their kidnappers. Baloo the Bear had this right when, in the Disney film The Jungle Book, he sang the song: I want to be like you. When did you sing the same song, and about whom?!

Intellectualisation: I’m good at this. Let’s explain it all away, rather than feel it! A special case of this is called “mustabation”, when we explain something away with a few rules and commands to ourselves to others.

EXPERIMENT: take some time to listen to a conversation in a group of people – preferably one involving in you. Attend to the language and notice the use of words like ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘ought’ and ‘absolutely’. Later, as you reflect on this conversation, consider how helpful those words are. Are they a ‘cover’ for telling self and others what to believe, rather than helping the other person really think something through.

Projection: or, dump it all one some-one else, especially our nearest and dearest. That is a good way to get rid of bad parts of ourselves! bad

EXPERIMENT: how often have you felt bad about something in your life and dumped any bad feeling inside yourself on some-one else nearby, e.g. accused them of being angry or perverse? What might you have done differently to express yourself more directly or, as they say, authentically?

Rationalisation: or explain it all away. How many experiments are there for that.

Reaction Formation: or go in the opposite direction just to be perverse. That is, when love turns into hate. In the transactional analytic (TA) model there is a useful diagram called the Karpman Triangle that demonstrates just how quickly we can move from one extreme to another when passions run high. Well worth some exploration, if you are interested. Does the triangle help you formulate an experiment in your world?

Repression: a bit like denial, but potentially more accessible. Denial is a high level of discounting whereas repression is maintained by our personal ability to detach from reality – whatever that is.

Regression: flight into the security of yesterday when today feels a bit harsh.

EXPERIMENT: Use the ‘inverted tree’ model  or your road-map. described early on in my blog.

This may help you recall times when -on later life – you floated back to your early years in an attempt to find comfort. The blog EXPERIMENT: finding a Safe Place is, for me, an OK version of this process.
Splitting: or “nothing to do with me, Gov; it was him (or her)”.
Suppression: conscious repression often of a temporary nature; something we can put out of our mind for a while.

Transference: when we take qualities of one person and project – see above – those qualities on to another person and act towards the other as if. The end result is an unreal relationship. There are several forms of transference, including the intensities involved when we fall in love. It is a potential complication in therapy as therapists can be cast into the role of expert, when they are unable to be an expert in you. Tranferential experiences can emerge from real or imagined childhood relationships, such as parent, teacher, or charismatic school friend.  It is knowledge of this phenomenon that led me, in my blog, to caution against the tendency to relate to the idea of some-one rather than their present self.

Bear in mind that the original psycho-analytical model – formulated it is worth remembering well over 100 years ago – was both implicitly and explicitly judgmental. Originally, some of the defence mechanisms were labelled “mature”, that is OK in some ways. Others were vaguely disapproved of and needed ‘treatment’ or, at least, worked through (especially the transferences).

To be an effective experimenter, you will need to approach all of the defence mechanisms with more respect and to appreciate that they are there to do an important job.  Your task is to harness your energy to find ways in which those reactions will help you to do something different.

In what way may these ‘mechanisms’ help you with designing your safe experiments?

 

How to do safe experiments for yourself

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Models informing therapy

There are literally hundreds of approaches to therapy. How can some-one find out what works for them? It is a precarious business as you will need to find out what works for you!

One way of trying to explore this minefield is to explore the processes of change underpinning any one model. In 1977, James Prochaska embarked on a journey through the various systems of therapy. He concluded that theories of psychotherapy can be summarized by ten processes of change and I am reducing this to seven. Apologies to any-one offended by my summary! It’s a lot to cram in and some folk may well not wish to associated with some of the labels I am using!! Remember, I am not writing to as an accurate research review; only as a device to help you find ways to explore your truths. When you can see where I am going wrong, will be the day when your view is becoming clearer by the day! The seven categories I offer are:

  1. Consciousness raising: helping you bring the unconscious in to the conscious. This is found in the ‘traditional’ approaches of psycho-analysis, Freud and Jung and many others. Also, the psycho-social model of Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget, and others, once dominated therapy by covering a range of ideas about how humans grown and develop. It is difficult to offer an helpful link into this vast area of research and study.
  2. Self-liberation: breaking out of your prison created by your past. This can be seen in the radical therapies from the Lesbian, Gay and Bi-sexual and Transgender movement (LGBT), or in the more mainstream material of Dorothy Rowe, and others. I believe the Person-Centred School, emerging from the work of Carl Rogers, would want to see itself operating in this area.
  3. Social liberation: working with others to change the existing social order. Rather a favourite of radical and revolutionary thinking, this approach is well represented by the radical South American RC priest, Paulo Friere. More can be found on:  https://justliving808.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/freire-ch-1-and-2.pdf
  4. Counter-conditioning: involves ‘inoculating’ yourself against past habits by the deliberate alteration of behaviour, attitudes and beliefs. Transactional Analysis is a good example here as it helps us to identify our life Script and amend it. It has informed a lot of what I have included in my material.
  5. Stimulus control: models using affect regulation help you to discriminate what you can control, from experiences and events beyond your own control.  One example, and there are many, include; https://www.emotionregulationtherapy.com/.
  6. Contingency management: summarised as changing behaviour to hope for the best, and prepare for the worst, an approach well represented by Albert Ellis’s Rational Emotive Therapy (RET), and its cousins . See https://www.verywellmind.com/rational-emotive-behavior-therapy-2796000
  7. Dramatic relief: acting decisively to see things differently can be represented by Psychodrama and the work of Jacob Moreno and his followers. For further information, see: https://www.crchealth.com/types-of-therapy/what-is-psychodrama/. Also the work of  recently-deceased Arthur Janov and his ‘Primal Scream’ fits in here. For more information, see: www.primaltherapy.com/what-is-primal-therapy.php.

Notice the use of the term ‘trans-theoretical’ to cover a number of models that want to integrate different approaches – meaning the approach wishes to be above (any one) theory. In some ways, this has been my intention. I share the approach that recommends that we act, as well as think. Too often, however, you may find the action is prescribed by the model. I am asking you to move from the recommendations of others, toward confidently designed safe experiments of your own. This is often overlooked; the ACT Approach does explicitly ask you to find your own direction, but too often, in other models,  the advice is implicit and often sacrificed in the name of self-publicity.

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Do you need some change?

I have been asked how the ‘safe experiment’ model fits into our understanding of how we change.

This is a good point as some of the theory around change explains why we have to persist with some experiments and learn from results that leave us discomforted – those small defeats, I mention.

Effective change appears to require some initial inspiration, growing motivation, an effective strategy that transforms into the ‘do-able thing’.

The results of one do-able thing after another make the change. If its the  preferred change – then you will do more of it. If it is an unexpected or undesirable change, then you will find something a little bit different to experiment with instead.

For a practical example of a change process, specifically relating to the research of James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente, take a look at:

stepupprogram.org/docs/handouts/STEPUP_Stages_of_Change.pdf

This material is based on important research contained in their text:

Trans-theoretical Stages of Change model (1983).

Those four pages, alone, provide considerable practical suggestions for any number of safe experiments. TRY IT!!

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What are “negative cognitions”

Several folk have noticed this phrase appearing a lot in my blog. I have been asked what it means in English.

This is a good question as it is a central idea within Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Eye Movement De-sensitisation and Re-processing (EMDR) – indeed, a lot of other therapies. Negative cognitions are phrases we have in our head with which we usually bad-mouth ourselves and/or other people. In therapy it is best to concentrate on ourselves. Therefore, negative cognitions generally begin with “I”.

Most of these beliefs about ourselves are concerned with basic things – control, responsibility, vulnerability, and getting it [life] wrong.

There are many of them, as you might imagine; indeed, as many as we can all generate together. Some examples include:

I am worthless  … inadequate …. shameful ….. not loveable …… not good enough,

I deserve to die. …..  to be miserable ….

I don’t belong …..

Typical negative thoughts around RESPONSIBILITY include:

I should have known better.

and around VULNERABILITY include:

I cannot trust myself  … my judgement ….. trust anyone

and around CONTROL/CHOICE

I am not in control  ….I am powerless …. I am weak …… I am a failure.

Compare that with some positive cognitions (or affirmations, as they can be known).

I deserve love.

I am a loving person.

I am worthy.; I am worthwhile.

I deserve good things.

I can trust myself ….. I am safe now …… I can safely show my emotions ….. I am now in control …..I can get what I want.

Any of these phrases sound interesting?

Try saying one inside your head. What does it feel like?

Do not be surprised if you feel uncomfortable; that can be expected.

Any thoughts on why that might be so? If it is so, what experiment comes to mind to help you on your way?

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Evidence-based therapy

As my major blog has been around for some time on –

https://your-nudge.com/how-to-give-yourself-a-nudge/

I have gathered some feedback as well as questions from readers and experimenters.

A regular question that arises is:  is there evidence for the effectiveness of  ‘safe experiments’? This question emerges from the modern preoccupation with ‘evidence-based practice’.

I’m going to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’, aren’t I!?

The ‘yes’ is that all the information recorded by blog users and clients over many decades constitutes ‘evidence’ in my book.  Also, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a key model for encouraging experiments (or homework, as some call it) – encourages substantial record keeping. Such records provide detailed information about the outcomes of all our efforts. Further, there is a large body of formal research seeking to organise evidence in books and PhD theses.

I am not an expert in this literature; it increases at an alarming rate and I do not see keeping it all at my finger tips as one of my professional strengths. If you have a specific question, I’d hope to point you in a sensible direction. You could start your own enquiries with a PDF document at:

https://www.nesta.org.uk/sites/default/files/using_research_evidence_for_success_-_a_practice_guide.pdf

What I’d really like to do in this short blog is to go back to that word – ‘evidence’ in inverted commas. What is meant by it and in what way does it help us to design experiments and promote the changes we want in our lives? There are some misunderstandings to identify and I’d like to clarify what is useful ‘evidence’ when exploring human experience and relationships (as compared to evidence obtained in, say, medical trials).

The dominance of medicine in ‘healing’ has meant there is pressure to define ‘evidence’ the same in both medicine and counselling or psycho-therapy. Fortunately, even at this very moment (2017), the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) is taking steps to question this approach to the term, evidence.

Don’t get me wrong; medical bodies and regulators are quite right to place emphasis on obtaining very solid evidence before they let a new medicine loose on the general public. The Thalidomide scandal of the 1950’s and 60’s served to drive up standards in research. There have been moves to improve the independence of staff involved in research studies as well. That said, even today, the pharmaceutical industry funds a lot of research and this does not give the appearance of ‘independence’,  however sincere those companies may want to be.

The problem for measuring the effectiveness of therapy is that such tight control means that:

  • useful data and results are sometimes excluded from research studies. For example, the experiments I am offering, and you will design, may have no visible result on some occasion. You can neither confirm nor deny your progress toward the objective under scrutiny at that time. By all means throw out ineffective medicines – but effective therapeutic research needs to measure pathways that are good, bad and indifferent. What is bad one time, may be good or, at least, better another time.
  • methods applied to the test of a drug are very different from tests we should apply in therapy. You can objectify a drug and make it a ‘subject’ of study. You can control that subject as tightly as you want. Good therapists do not objectify their clients.  Effective researchers are ill-advised to offer a different approach.  The good therapist will negotiate a preferred outcome – one a client wants, and one a therapist is equipped to help on its way.  Then the therapist can help a client find a way towards that outcome.
  • Evidence-based researchers say they follow ethical guidelines and that is all well and proper. Those guidelines exist to see ‘subjects’ are not abused. Even so, the key focus of medical research will be: did what we do to our subjects – in applying a treatment in ethical fashion – make people better? In therapy, it is not enough to simply assist people to get better; the way therapists help people get better is central to the research. Ethics are more than a guideline to minimise the potential for abuse. How we behave towards one another is not an optional extra.
  • Research into therapy should assess what works to ensure clients are respected. Furthermore, research could identify what negotiating and communications styles engage clients. The way a tablet is given to a patient does not usually impact on outcomes (but, again, there may well be evidence to contradict this assertion!).
  • Research into therapy could study the validity and reliability of experiments but are the criteria to define these terms identical in the scientific and therapeutic environment. Now that is a BIG question
  • The recording systems used by client and therapist could be assessed. Some may be more efficient than others in illuminating outcomes. But even then, effective therapeutic research identifies how the parties got where they did. It follows the journey from the design of a safe experiment through to observing its outcome is key. Words explaining how the observations arose could miss the point. Research in medicine and science may ill-afford to study the journey; some people may die en route and that is not acceptable.
  • so the ‘danger’ to clients in therapy is of a different order to the risks involved in medicine. Some people do challenge this, say, in relation to reports of ‘false memory’ syndrome, but problems of that order say more about therapists pursuing their own ideas, rather than enabling ‘clients’ to make the move that is right for them.
  • Once we can recognise that ‘safe experimenting’ is not what some-one else does to you, then it becomes much easier to look for ‘evidence’ that fosters incremental and fluid outcomes.
  • Furthermore, taking small steps in the implementation of ‘safe experiments’ assumes that we can step back from the result and set off in a different direction. IT is perfectly reasonable to consider that successful journeys depend on mistakes – or at least, noticing them. Defining evidence in this situation means it is necessary to legitimise the ‘moving of the goal-posts’. That is a ‘no-no’ in strict research work and has been used to discredit some research in the past.
  • even when an experiment is a ‘small defeat’, things can be learned from the outcomes. As seen above, the strict assessment of evidence puts a negative value on ‘failure’ –  some people even turns their noses up at Placebo effects. That cuts off a very large chunk of helpful research into ‘what works for whom’.
  • Strict research looks askance at my assurance: if it works, don’t knock it. Therapeutic research needs systems to define what is meant by ‘works’ and it needs to consider identifying,  ‘works for whom’.

A useful example of the issues I am raising is encapsulated in the following quote from the web site listed above:

It [evidence based research] can also tell you what doesn’t work, and you can avoid repeating the failures of others.

I understand the web report is concerned about the apparent waste of resources when research appears to find out what does not work. However, in research into therapy, assessors will find that what works with one person, and at one time, will not necessarily work for some-one else or a different time. We can still learn from apparent ‘failure’.

I have a suspicion that some researchers like to follow strict rules of research to affirm the neat and tidy outcomes needed to generate confidence in a new pill or procedure they have designed!! The world of therapy is rarely that tidy and it will miss important things of it tries to copy the ‘medical model’ (not a good term, but it will have to do for now!).

If you want to apply your thinking to this subject, how about seeking out your own definition of evidence-based research. The one offered by the web site, listed above, is:
Evidence-based medicine is the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients. The practice of evidence-based medicine means integrating individual clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research.
What IS “best”? Notice how the practitioner is included here but it is his/her “expertise“, that seems central. Do you wonder if the client is really included in the sentiment that “external clinical evidence” should be matched up with clinical expertise? Sounds research results are conclusions drawn from a conference of experts. Too rarely is a client understood to be expert in themselves.

 

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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

I have been asked about this approach to therapy. It is a relatively new arrival in the therapy world (1980’s onward).  ACT does contain elements that help readers design experiments for themselves. See –

Web site – https://www.actmindfully.com.au/acceptance_&_commitment_therapy

as this provides some insight into this model and a web search will disclose a lot more!

In general, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) encourages you to accept what is out of your control and encourages you to commit yourself to action to improve your life.  It is an approach intending to maximise your potential.

Here is a diagram summarising the elements in the ACT approach.  I will need to explain myself a bit more, below, and this may help you research further.1017 ACT model

Contact with the present moment relates to the Mindfulness perspective.

Acceptance is related to the ability to decide between what you can be change and what IS.  ACT has useful things to say about our thought processes and how they can be harnessed to revise our behaviour.

Values: the model seeks to make explicit the values we possess and the ways in which our values help or hinder change.

Defusion is a specific technique rather similar to the experiment of “Just Noticing” or “Stepping Back”, included in my blog. Defusion assumes we can become over-focused on some aspect of our behaviour, particularly the language we use, and this restricts our ability to change that behaviour.

Committed Action: for me, this is ACT at its best as it is being very clear about doing something differently and noticing the outcome of your actions and being prepared to change once those outcomes become clear.

Self, as context: This element of the model is interesting. It places you and me at the centre of the process of change and respects our ability to notice and sustain changes we make. However, as with the Values element – see below – I am left uneasy about how this element works in actual practice.

The ACT model seems to help us to clarify what is important; it does inspire you to experiment. ACT helps by being action-oriented; it encourages you to find your own ways to change.  Change is achieved through teaching skills gleaned from, among others, the cognitive behavioural approach (CBT) and Mindfulness. It is the view that skills need to be taught that starts me asking questions. What are those skills and who defines them?

ACT has joined the ranks of those models that initiate training programmes. That tends to slide down the slippery slope towards ‘this-is-the-way-to-do-it’.  In my blog I have specified the way in which safe experiments can, even should, be designed. I hope I have made very clear who implements the experiment and who has to respond to the results generated.

There is an implicit assumption in the ACT model that it can define what is a ‘safe experiment’, and it places emphasis on having a guide to help you avoid a small defeat. It is possible to get it wrong. Personally, I dispute that inference.

The ACT view of Committed Action is troubling. The approach includes a commitment to values in its model. This includes a professed respect for education of the self, a view that one can be ‘trained’ toward some notion of personal growth. Sadly, that ‘education’ training perspective is not as closely focused on the individual’s path of learning as first appears. To be contentious, I’d suggest few training programmes are very focused on an individual learning about themselves, for themselves.

So, at this point, I become cautious and I look a little more closely at the model. When I do this, I find ACT seeks to be a coherent ‘whole’, when it is, in practice, a collection of approaches to safe experimenting.  You do not need to be trained in ACT to explore those other models. Also, why are a few approaches selected over the many hundred available? That is not clear to me. I have no great love of traditional psycho-analytic approaches to creating change in the human condition, but I would be reluctant to say they  have nothing to offer.

In short, the ACT perspective, when examined up-close, identifies a number of safe experiments already around from existing areas of psychology. For instance, Acceptance is an approach to ‘just noticing’ as touched on in my blog. Mindfulness, like Yoga, is one approach to experimenting that may help you, but you will not know that until you try it out. Also, it is a very large subject and you can go to Bangor University and do a post-graduate programme in Mindfulness practice!

ACT, in common with most models, is less explicit about the importance of you finding out what works for you, although it is willing to consider the possibility, see below.  Like other models, it rather implies it can tell you what will work for you. It seems to be saying that you can only make progress if you integrate your approach to experiments according to an ACT perspective.

Consider this view from – https://www.actmindfully.com.au/upimages/Dr_Russ_Harris_-_A_Non-technical_Overview_of_ACT.pdf

ACT assumes that the psychological processes of a normal human mind are often destructive and create psychological suffering. Symptom reduction is not a goal of ACT, based on the view that ongoing attempts to get rid of ‘symptoms’ can create clinical disorders in the first place.”

 

Apart from failing to respect the possibility of learning from symptom reduction and management, the final statement is an assertion. Where is the evidence for symptom reduction worsening or even creating clinical disorders?  The quotation sets up an almost neo-Freudian way of thinking: that effective therapy is full of unintended consequences that only a fully-trained expert can help you avoid. There is no respect for learning from our small defeats. This is combined with a Project Fear warning you off doing it yourself, lest you get it wrong.  The best you can do is to accept the hurt that comes with getting it wrong.

A real giveaway from Dr Russ Harris is the sentiment that:
ACT allows the therapist to create and individualise their own mindfulness techniques, or even to co-create them with clients.”
Note the way in which the role of therapist and client are defined. They can EVEN co-create techniques!!

My own blog encourages you to go your own way;  going on the scenic route. Getting things wrong is an important aspect of making progress. In practice, if you do safe experiments, you will learn from small defeats and small victories. If a series of small defeats encourage you to seek a professional consultant, then so be it – but only for the duration.