Mindfulness, Psychotherapy, Solution Focused Therapy

Ending and beginning

This month has been one of endings and beginnings for me. I achieved my qualification in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy with Clifton Hypnotherapy Practice Training, having gathered the most awesome group of friends I could have hoped for. Set against the backdrop of coronavirus and uncertainty, CPHT gifted me a year of learning and growing together – supporting each other to help others. From that nest of support, Choice Therapies was born, and it continues to grow into a nurturing community for practitioners from all walks as therapy, as they learn and grow and strive to do their best by their clients.

This month I also had a big push on my Masters thesis, exploring the use of Solution Focused Hypnotherapy for the management of chronic pain conditions. For a few weeks I was wholly submerged in data analysis and write-ups, and thanks to the incredible support of my supervisor, not to mention my family, I’m returning to the surface, as a finalised report takes shape.

And yesterday, I waved goodbye (over Zoom) to a lovely bunch of solution focused practitioners from across the globe who I had learned so much with and from over the last four months, on the Intensive Solution Focused Brief Therapy course with BRIEF International. Discussing the intricacies of this transformative approach with the solution focused greats, Adam Forever, Chris Iveson, Elliott Connie, and Evan George, was an absolute joy, and has shaped how I work with clients for the better.

So here I am, winding down, taking a moment, taking a breath. Looking back down the mountain to admire the view. These moments are important. We take stock, we process, we gain perspective on where we are right now, in this moment, and nudge the tiller if needs be to help us along the path ahead.

There’s so much to look forwards to; collaborations, projects, research, learning. Choice Therapies continues to grow into a wonderful community. My own practice continues to allow me the opportunity and privilege of watching my clients grow in strength and confidence, finding ways to manage their challenges that work for them. Many of the ventures I am fortunate to be a part of, are in their infancy. The future is full and exciting.

But for now, in this moment, I am pressing pause. Reconnecting, celebrating, and feeling grateful.

Mindfulness, Solution Focused Therapy

Snacking: how can we resist the urge?

It’s mid-afternoon. Working from home. Five meetings deep. Battling the post-lunch slump. Stifling yawns. Back aching. Attention slipping. The fridge beckons.

Once you become aware of your desire to get up and head to the fridge, your brain has already invested millions of neural connections into the decision to do so.

You now have 0.2 seconds to work with, from the moment you became consciously aware of being about to head to the fridge for a snack, to the moment you start to stand. This 0.2 second interval is long enough, with practice to notice the urge, and intervene.

And notice we must, as it requires ALOT more cognitive effort to stop ourselves from polishing off a tub of humous/a bag of Pom Bears/anything with chocolate in it, once we have already started the process of doing so.

We can’t control all of the neural signals sent out by our brains before we become aware of what’s going on. In any one moment a mind boggling 40,000 neural impulses are firing in between our ears, the vast majority of which we will remain blissfully unaware about. BUT.. we do have the power to consciously ‘veto’ urges that are sent to our awareness from the other 95% of our brain. We can choose whether or not to act on our impulses.

As Dr Jeffrey M Schwartz explains, us humans may not have much free will but we do have free won’t. Maximising the potential of these precious 0.2 seconds, to gain greater control over our urges, starts with awareness.

Once we can discern the small time scales that make up the process of each impulsive action, we can start to notice urges as they arise, and as they unfold. Author of Your Brain at Work, David Rock, describes this process as ‘Brain – signal – desire – movement’. Once we become aware of our desire we have a small window to inhibit our movement.

Holding on to this idea of how we might inhibit an urge takes up valuable space in our prefrontal cortex, an energy-hungry, space-limited resource. The limitations of our prefrontal cortex are never more apparent than when we are tired. When our intellectual brain is running on empty, and we are pouring vast swathes of our cognitive capacity into staying awake, there is little space left to notice, let alone stop the urge to snack.

Herein lies the importance of words. Language, as David Rock puts it,supercharges our ‘veto’ power. If we have the words to describe a pattern of thinking we will be much more likely to notice it.

Building our language around what on Earth is going on inside our brains, brings this once- mysterious processes into our conscious awareness where we have more control over how we manage them.

A key focus on Solution Focused Hypnotherapy is building this language to strengthen the network of connections between our intellectual conscious minds and our emotional subconscious minds. We learn that the process exists. We colour our understanding with language – words that bring the process into our conscious awareness. Then we draw on this understanding when we need to, achieving greater control over our urges when they strike.

So at 3pm on a Tuesday, when the fridge sounds it’s familiar calling hum and the cupboards subconsciously serenade us towards the snacks, we know that we have a 0.2 second slither of time. A gift of 0.2 seconds in which we can express our ‘free won’t and choose to refuse.

Rock, D. (2009). Your Brain at Work. New York: Harper Collins

Solution Focused Therapy

Finding hope

In Solution Focused Therapy, we talk about the importance of never giving up. We never give up on our clients. We never give up on the process. We never give up on a question, once asked. We never give up on ourselves, on our capacity to try to help our clients with our questions. And this is because we believe.

We believe our clients have hope. We believe everyone has hope. Sometimes this hope gets buried deep beneath the debris of life. Hidden under mountains of fear, worry, regret, disappointment, anger. These mountains can seem vast; the task of shifting them can seem overwhelming. And so a heavy fog of depression can settle on top, and we can lose clarity and perspective. We don’t know where to start in our search for hope.

In Solution Focused Therapy we believe in the power of the question. We believe that the right questions open up pathways in our clients’ minds. These pathways lead our clients to a recognition of what has been good, what has gone well, how they have coped. These pathways lead our clients through the fog, through the mountains of fear, worry, regret, disappointment and anger. These pathways lead our clients to hope.   

Mindfulness

Lockdown parenting: finding the positive

With schools out for lockdown, and parents working from home, the four walls of the family home loom higher; some days casting an enormous black shadow over the occupants. Sharing space without reprieve is tough. Relentless multitasking is exhausting for our minds and for our morale. 

But what if we shifted our focus to what we have, rather than what we don’t? In place of time to think, we have extra time to spend with our children, whose younger years will slip through our fingers like grains of sand. 

In place of by-the-book parenting, we have a collection of imperfect parenting moments, that, as Brene Brown points out in Daring Greatly, become gifts as our children watch us try to figure out what went wrong and how we can do better next time.

In place of freedom to connect with friends, we have freedom to connect with our home, the space we come back to every night, the partners with whom we used to bookend each day with the scraps of ourselves we had left, the children we struggled to get more than two words out of when we asked about their day.

In place of a deceptive certainty of what the future holds, we have the glorious present moment, and as Sam Harris acknowledges in his aptly named book Waking up, that’s really all we have.

In place of plans and diaries bulging with progress, we have opportunities to take stock, to change direction, to connect with another path. 

In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, we spend time guiding our clients to reconnect with the strengths in their lives. To shift focus to the positive. Moving forward, this change in mindset can be both liberating and life changing. As Elliott Connie, Global Leader in Solution Focused Brief Therapy Elliott Connie says; “There is magic in being led by what you want, rather than what you don’t want.”

So embrace the moment; embrace the magic. And recognise that to do this is, in itself, an achievement. A demonstration of your powerful mind. 

References 

Connie, E. (2016). Small Things Can Lead to Big Things. Moments with Elliott Connie. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rd3QIelHxhk

Harris, S. (2014). Waking up. Simon & Schuster.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Gotham Books.

Psychotherapy

Accepting our inner selves: using the Internal Family Systems (IFS) model in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy

This week I attended a training seminar led by founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute, Lissa Rankin, MD, and founder of the Internal Family Systems model Richard Schwartz, PHD.

Firstly, a huge thank you to Lissa and Richard for running the seminar, which, as someone relatively new to IFS, I found really accessible and informative, and very useful for therapists like myself working with those impacted in some way by COVID-19. 

The seminar got me thinking about the value of the IFS model for use in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy. 

The analytical side of IFS can often draw clients towards childhood experiences as they follow the trailhead back from their present thoughts and behaviour, and this contrasts with the SFH focus on the future, not the past. However, there do seem to be many areas in which Solution Focus Hypnotherapy, and Internal Family Systems align. 

  1. Both IFS and SFH share the same positive assumption that we all essentially have the capacity to draw on our inner resources in identifying where we want to get to and getting there. As Richard Schwarz explains, in IFS, “Everyone has an essence or state amid the terror, the Self in each of us is always there—the “I” in the storm, the calm depth beneath the roiling waves.” (Rankin, 2020). The positive suggestions in SFH encourage both self acceptance and a focus on our strengths and successes. Similarly, IFS aims to bring the exiles – the parts of ourselves that we don’t like – into acceptance, in doing so accessing the inherent strengths. 

  1. Both SFH and IFS work with the subconscious mind, using rewinding and reframing techniques to help us achieve positive change, although the use of rewind in SFH is usually restricted to specific phobias.  Equally, both SFH and IFS use solution focused questioning to assist this process.

  1. The multiplicity of our minds is a key focus in both SFH and IFS. In SFH we draw on neuroscientific understanding about the brain to recognise the role of its multiple parts in how we feel and behave, while in IFS the multiplicity is through the metaphysical understanding of how our personalities are comprised of multiple sub personalities, or parts.

  1. Both SFH and IFS aim to work with, rather than against, all parts of our mind. In SFH we talk about the primitive mind as an essential part of us. Our intention is to utilise the creative strength of the subconscious mind through meditative practice, while consciously thinking, acting, and interacting in a positive way to avoid operating from our primitive mind in times of stress. The anger, anxiety and depression we resort to when we operate out of our primitive mind are often unwelcome in today’s society, but 100,000 years ago would likely have saved our life. Even now, the speed at which our subconscious mind can react to danger saves lives every day. In the same way, according to the IFS model all of our personality ‘parts’ are essentially good, although how they are expressed sometimes when we are under pressure can cause us trouble. Progress comes in accepting all of our parts, and nurturing rather than rejecting the parts of us we don’t like or fear.

The value of the IFS model for SFH is in the precision it can bring to identifying our inner resources through solution focused questioning (Adams, 2018). The SFH approach provides a meditative platform through which to employ the IFS technique of focusing on one thought, belief or sensation at a time and using it to get back to the part of us it comes from (Schwartz, 2020). In turn the IFS model gives SFH a useful understanding of our personalities that lends itself to exploration through hypnosis. The visual metaphor of our multiple inner selves is something we can use in SFH to encourage a positive inner dialogue, within which we can draw on our stronger parts to nurture the parts of ourselves we wish to grow.

References

Rankin, L. (2020). The viral wake-up call. An IFS perspective. Retrieved from https://lissarankin.com/the-viral-wake-up-call-an-ifs-perspective-by-dick-schwartz/

Adams, J. The Situated Self as a Motivational Resource. Journal of Systemic Therapies 37 (3), 29-41, 2018. Retrieved from https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdf/10.1521/jsyt.2018.37.3.29

Mindfulness

Daydreaming

In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, we strive to break through inaccurate and media-fuelled misunderstandings of what trance is. We emphasise its normalcy, its ordinariness, as something fundamentally, and very basically, human. We talk about how we experience trance every day, several times a day, when we daydream while doing something relatively monotonous that doesn’t occupy much brain space, like washing up, or driving somewhere very familiar.

And yet, daydreaming itself is something that has been scorned, ridiculed, and undervalued, almost as much as trance. The unreachable windows of Victorian school buildings are monuments to education’s efforts to drill out our natural inclination to daydream. Society teaches us from a young age that daydreaming is inconvenient, a waste of time, something we are reprimanded for doing.

So we train ourselves to measure our day by its productivity and shake off our reveries as quickly as we can. We get increasingly good at doing this, so that by the time we are adults we inevitably feel lost, out of touch with our inner self, at a loss as to who we are, because we have spent so little time stopping to listen, to process, to understand.

In The School of Life: An Emotional Education (2019), Alain de Botton eloquently captures with his words, both the unfortunate reputation, and the significant value, of daydreaming:

“THE IMPORTANCE OF STARING OUT OF THE WINDOW

We tend to reproach ourselves for staring out of the window. Most of the time we are supposed to be working, or studying , or ticking things off a to-do-list. It can seem almost the definition of wasted time, It appears to produce nothing, to serve no purpose. We equate it with boredom, distraction, futility. The act of cupping our chin in our hands near a pane of glass and letting our eyes drift in the middle distance does not enjoy high prestige. We don’t go around saying, ‘I had a great day today. The high point was staring out of the window.’ But maybe, in a better society, this is exactly what people would quietly say to one another.
The point of staring out of a window is, paradoxically, not to find out what is going on outside. It is, rather, an exercise in discovering the contents of our own minds. It is easy to imagine we know what we think, what we feel and what’s going on in our heads. But we rarely do entirely. There’s a huge amount of what makes us who we are that circulates unexplored and unused. It’s potential lies untapped. It is shy and doesn’t emerge under the pressure of direct questioning. If we do it right, staring out of the window offers a way for us to be alert to the quieter suggestions and perspectives of our deeper selves.”

Mindfulness

Running for my lockdown life

In the UK, during the COVID-19 lockdown, 1 hour of exercise per person is the daily allowance, stipulated by the government and enforced by the police, with increasingly hefty fines per offence. The focus of many a critic has been on how little time we have to escape our four walls every 24 hours, and go out into the ghostly world beyond.

And yet, spoilt as I am with a yard and two frequently empty communal gardens, I hadn’t quite realised the importance of this restriction. Until today. When I saw it as a prescription (with the help of my husband who described it as such and all but pushed me out of the house).

Just as your GP will prescribe antibiotics to help you shake that lingering chest infection or paracetamol to ease a tiresome headache, the government has prescribed us an hour of daily exercise to fight that creeping darkness that threatens to swallow us while and spit out a mumbling, distracted, irritable gremlin in our place, who puts their phone in the fridge, shouts at everyone about pretty much everything and weeps over broken biscuits and lost socks.

I thought I was going outside enough. I went out in the garden to play with the kids, put the recycling out, brought parcels inside. OK, perhaps part of me was aware that I needed to break out and go further afield for an hour, pound the pavements and be alone, but I kept finding reasons not to. A thesis to write, a child to soothe, a dinner to make, a wash to put on. The list was endless and grew longer and more confused as my mind became jumbled, squeezed and suffocated by the four walls of our home.

Until today, when my husband braved the gigantic atmosphere I had taken to carrying around the house with me for the last few days, like a rock-filled rucksack that I couldn’t remember how to take off. ‘I prescribe a walk out around the river’ he said, and realisation dawned. That was exactly what I needed. I had spent the morning incredibly frustrated by the feeling that I couldn’t find something but couldn’t figure out what that something was, and that was it. I needed to get out. I felt like crying with relief, that someone had realised.

The walk was beautiful. I looked at clouds and the boats and smiled at others who were out exercising. I even ran a bit and felt the wind and my lungs burn. And I banked a whole heap of what we call in Solution Focused Hypnotherapy the three P’s: positive actions, positive interactions and positive thoughts. These three elements work together to produce patterns in the brain that give us a steady flow of happy hormones such as serotonin, which we need to feel good in both mind and body.

So listen to the government guidance through the lens of what it is telling you to do, rather than what it is telling you not to do. It’s telling you, if you can, for one hour a day, to get out. Go. Experience. Drink in the confidence that comes with being proactive, drink in the hope that comes from positive interactions with the nods from passing strangers, drink in the positivity that fills your mind when you treat your body to sunlight, movement and connection.

Psychotherapy

Strength in Simplicity

As I learn more about Solution Focused Therapy and Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, I, and those I learn alongside, find ourselves grappling with the simplicity of it. The simplicity of the solution focused process, in which we identify where we want to go, recall our strengths and imagine a positive possible future, wherein we have achieved our best hopes, is sometimes difficult to align with the bulk of our education, which teaches us that the more complex an idea, the better; the more complex an idea, the more important; the more complex the idea, the greater the impact. Or as Alain de Botton writes in The School Of Life: An Emotional Education ‘We could expect humans to display a powerful reflex for the simple over obscure explanations […but our apparent prejudice in favour of enigma…] suggests an implicit belief that the truth should not come in a form that is easily fathomable’.

As Steve Jobs famously pointed out, ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.’ In fact, the simplicity of Solution Focused Therapy is arguably its greatest strength. When we are young, we are guided how to hold a pencil in a way that will be most comfortable for our hand and give us the most control over our writing. We practice and, like any other skill hard-earned, with practice we are eventually able to write with ease. The idea that our minds are beyond this simplistic process of learning has dominated psychology for many decades; our minds have long been deep dark pits full of old sores that we must dig up, bring into the light of day and interact with if we have a hope of a mentally healthy future. Indeed this approach has helped many achieve peace through gaining a greater understanding of their inner self.

For some, however, against this analytical backdrop, Solution Focused Therapy is like an outstretched arm from the future. It is unapologetically positive. It accepts our past with compassion, then focuses on where we want to go, and simply guides us into this new, positive, solution focused way of thinking. And it feels good.

Neuroscience has taught us that we can still learn; that, just as we learnt how to use a pencil when we were young, we can learn and relearn how to use our mind, however old we are. Breaking the problem focused mold set by the majority of psychotherapies, Solution Focused Therapy guides us to use our minds to access our strengths and apply them to the future we wish for ourselves. Yes, it feels simplistic to step forward from what a lot of other therapeutic approaches dedicate much of their time to understanding, but it also feels positive, achievable, exciting even, and that’s what makes it Solution Focused Therapy’s greatest strength.