Health Psychology

The term “health psychology” pertains to our emotional and psychophysiological responses to our personal conditions of health and illness as well as thoughts, emotions and  behaviours  that either contribute to or hinder our well-being.

Often in the  Cartesian world of conventional  bio-medicine, individuals are split up as bodies and minds, implicitly  implying that the mind and the body are separate entities and not connected. This is because whatever the ailment whether it is cancer, auto immune diseases, irritable bowl syndrome, obesity etc.  the physical body is always treated with surgery and pharmaceutical drugs but the mind or rather the psyche is often left out and rarely given therapeutic attention.

This is unfortunate on two accounts, firstly,  people have very strong emotional reactions to their illnesses and physical disabilities,  which need to be treated as individuals could spiral into clinical depression, severe anxiety, anger or frustration in relation to not “feeling well,” which could hamper their recovery.

Secondly, our bodymind is an integrated system whose reciprocity needs to be acknowledged. Today, illnesses  such as fibromyalgia as well many neuro-endocrinological disorders are all pointing towards psychogenic causes of these conditions, as is the whole field of psychoneuroimmunology which emphasises the inter-connections between the psyche, nervous system and immune system.

The role of stress and anxiety in the cause and proliferation of illness ranging from cancer to coronary disease to diabetes  is getting highlighted, as last year in the US alone more 300$ billion dollars were spent on stress-related medical ailments. It is interesting to note that in contrast to conventional western medicine,  nonwestern medical systems such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese medicine have always given importance to and have inquired into the subjective states of those who were sick and have underscored a deep connection between the mind and the body.

Drawing from Eastern philosophical  systems of understanding the psyche-sensorium, I often work with people who are suffering or surviving from cancer or have recently recovered from heart attacks or those who have had Bariatric surgery with mindfulness-based cognitive therapeutic interventions. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy helps  facilitate my clients to regulate their disturbing emotions regarding their physical conditions and enables them to tolerate  distress with more ease. Accepting and working with our emotional reactions to dis-ease has a huge impact for our recovery and ongoing maintenance of health. While not a substitute for medical attention, health-oriented psychotherapeutic attention is a very important complement and adjunct.


Remembering Dreams

Many indigenous societies, over space and time have given importance to dreams and have regarded them as messages from the Gods, oracles, spirit communications, a reservoir of important symbols, sources of deep wisdom and portals of spiritual experience. Different cultures, ranging from the Dream temples of the Hellenistic era to Tibetan dream yoga practices to the practice of Dreamtime, prevalent in many Australian aboriginal cultures, have given dreaming a central place in their religious and healing traditions.

 

Dreams represent the mytho-poetic and aesthetic processes of our psyches . . . Dreams are embodied images that reflect where we are in our lives, and what our most intimate and existential concerns, hopes, and fears are. Dreams don’t tell us what to do, but point us towards where we need to give attention to in our waking lives.

 

Bridging the dream life to the waking life, then, is an important kernel of psyche-therapeutic work as dreams are, as stated by Freud, “ the royal road to the unconscious.”

 

I always encourage my clients to remember and record their dreams in a dream journal and often facilitate them in processing their dreams in sessions so as to allow for a deeper, self-illuminating process.

 

Yet, often clients complain that they cannot remember their dreams, if this might be the case, please refer to the below link to allow for dream remembrance.

 

http://www.dreams.ca/recall.htm


NATURE AS MY CO-THERAPIST

I always encourage my clients to grant themselves solitary time in nature and moreover,  like to do retreats or therapeutic work in the wilderness with them. Consciously, spending time in the natural world is one of the most healing presents you could give yourself. Being-in-nature with a client serves as a holding environment, where a client can let go, relax and go deeper into their process. Since most of my work is in urban environments, occasionally, just doing a session in a park has a profound effect on the therapeutic exchange.

Scientifically, research has shown that time spent in the biosphere helps lift depression, brings down blood pressure, alleviates mental fatigue, relieves stress and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, to name a few benefits.  Although, there are definite psychophysiological shifts when immersed in nature, if we are busy with our smart phones, iPods, iPads or are engaged in compulsive thinking the positive effects of being in nature are reduced.

Our minds in their habitual thought patterns often veer us towards the future or the past, dissociating us from our environment and diminishing our capacity to stay with what IS.  In order to prevent ourselves from unconsciously hijacking our nature experiences with nonstop thinking, I recommend practicing mindfulness meditation when immersed in mother Earth. Please use this link to read about different nature meditations you can practice.

http://www.meditationoasis.com/how-to-meditate/simple-meditations/nature-meditations/

 

 


Meditation and Psychotherapy

In today’s post-modern era, cutting edge understandings of mental health are emerging through an integration of both eastern spirituality and western psychology. Both traditions work with the mind, subjectivity and consciousness in different and complimentary ways. To do psychological work, one needs to be fully present in the moment and conversely, to do spiritual work, one needs to make peace with one’s personal wounds and traumas. Together like two wings of the same bird that move synchronically, they bring about self-knowledge and transformation. Combining meditation and psychotherapy will go beyond the individual limitations that shore up against each approach, namely, the shadow (i.e. disowned, split of aspects of one’s personality which are either positive or negative), which meditation does not integrate and conversely, the exaggeration of the wounded ego in conventional psychotherapy.

In my own therapeutic practice I have noticed that by both, supporting my clients in their mindfulness practice as well as facilitating psychological processing with some cognitive and behavioral shifts, has helped their capacity to self- regulate, become aware and integrate their rejected parts and most significantly, suffer less.

http://www.buddhanet.net/psymed1.ht


Mindfulness: more than just a buzzword

Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice of paying attention to moment to moment experience in a nonjudgmental way.  Contemporarily, it has been highly regarded and recognized by western psychology, psychiatry, and cognitive neuroscience as having a deeply therapeutic value and literally transformative impact on the mind/brain. Mindfulness is about developing self-awareness and is the cornerstone of all psychological and spiritual work.

Before starting a session, I always begin with mindfulness meditation to help gather and center my client. This is because mindfulness allows one to get in touch with oneself as an observer behind the whirlpool of distracted thought, emotion, and sensation. It deeply anchors one in the present moment and allows us to really experience and study our selves.

Research states that mindfulness or rather the capacity of the mind to direct the brain, through trained attention and focus, can shift our neural architecture. Through mindfulness we can dis-identify with negative thoughts and behavior patterns and allow us to replace them with positive ways of being-in-the-world. It gives us choice and frees us from our habitual modes of reacting and judging. Today mindfulness has been used to treat many disorders from depression, anger management, addictions, anxiety and panic disorders, chronic pain and stress reduction to name a few areas.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmEo6RI4Wvs


Making friends with our emotions

Most of us are pegged on the pleasure-pain continuum bobbing up and down the scale between hedonism and agony. We do not want to feel sadness, loneliness, and alienation; instead we want to feel happy, peaceful and content. Our instinct is to resist, get rid of, repress, dissociate or defensively do away with difficult emotions as they hurt. Yet these efforts to dispense with emotional distress are often clumsy and psychologically ineffective. As the pain we feel will return and and we can feel it deep in out bodyminds’ if we pay attention.

Another way, to deal with emotions, even disturbing ones might be to practice what the Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi says to “welcome them all!” By allowing difficult emotions to arise and by simultaneously training our capacity to tolerate distress, we can become equanimous in the face of any mental storm.

http://persweb.wabash.edu/facstaff/hulenp/sperit/poetry/rumi/guesthou.html


What is Psyche-Therapy

I am often asked why do I call my practice “Psyche-Therapy” as opposed to “Psychotherapy?” Psyche-Therapy is a particular orientation some practitioners of mental health have when they work with their clients, where attention is given to the whole person instead of being isolated or reduced to a DSM-V diagnosis.

The word Psyche-Therapy comes from two ancient Greek terms “Psyche” and “Therapeia”

Psyche: is an ancient Greek term which can be appreciated as soul, spirit, life force . . . or more expansively the animating principle of the kosmos. Psyche in modern psychology encompasses both the mind and the brain and the conscious and unconscious aspects of the Self.

The term Psyche has specific meaning in the Greek mythological and symbolic context where it is often synonym for the human soul. In the myth (see links below) Psyche is a human princess who falls in love with a divine God, Eros. The legend is about love, enchantment, betrayal, heartbreak, pain, reunion and everlasting happiness, pretty much the existential journey of life. Metaphorical it is about the soul’s love affair with the Divine and the hardship the soul goes through to realize that union.

http://www.greekmyths-greekmythology.com/psyche-and-eros-myth/

or

http://www.greeka.com/greece-myths/eros-psyche.htm

Therapeia: is another ancient Greek term that connotes healing, treatment, curing . . . Therapy, the modern English term is etymologically derived from Therapeia and encompasses vast fields such as pharmacological therapy to physiotherapy. Therapy then is a generic word that simply underscores a mode or method of working with a field to help catalyze results within the individual that are rejuvenating.

So Psyche + Therapy = Psyche-Therapy= a holistic therapeutic facilitation engaging the myriad conscious and unconscious layers of the Self.