Empowered Psychotherapy: Teaching Self-Processing

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'Self-Processing' is Langs' development of self-analysis. He lays down a detailed technique and ground-rules for using this technique in everyday practice, in order to utilise the encoded impulses and adaptive processes of the client.The self-processing (self-analysis) therapy that is at the heart of this book is arguably the most powerful means available for accessing and harnessing the power and wisdom of a deep intelligence whose adaptive choices and encoded communications embody a compelling and effective route to insight and cure. Langs' attention to the details of technique and to the ground rules and of the treatment situation generates many surprising perspectives on the therapeutic experience, exciting revelations that have a multitude of applications in clinical practice. Empowered Psychotherapy is a modern-day classic that stands on the cutting edge of psychotherapy; the book is a turning point in the long and honorable history of the fields of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.

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1. The goals of self-processing therapy

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We are about to explore a technique of psychotherapy that is likely to seem both familiar and unfamiliar, old yet new. On the familiar side there will be the quest for unconscious processes and meaning, the allusions to unconscious systems of the mind, the importance of ground rules, frames, and boundaries, and the search for cure through insight. Less familiar … and perhaps more difficult to grasp … will be the redefinition of many of these basic concepts and a series of techniques and ideas that arise from the distinctive features of the method of therapy that is the subject of this book. A comparison of certain aspects of psychotherapy and self-processing therapy will introduce us to some of these issues (see also Langs, 1992d).

THE ADAPTIVE TASKS OF PSYCHOTHERAPY

There are, of course, many forms of psychotherapy, but it seems fair to say that, as a rule, they are relatively unstructured in respect to the unfolding of each session. In dynamic forms of therapy, there is a rather broad goal … namely, to resolve a patient’s emotionally founded symptoms, whether subjective, psychosomatic, or interpersonal In nature, and to do so in an insightful manner that includes the illumination of unconscious factors. However, the goal or task of a particular session tends to be open-ended: the patient simply is asked to free-associate, and whatever unfolds from there is subject to the patient’s selection of material or inclination to fall silent and the decision of the therapist as to when and how to intervene… if at all.

 

2. The evolution to self-processing

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The creation of self-processing therapy followed a tortuous and unplanned path. It was by no means the product of a deliberate search for a new and stronger mode of therapy and self-analysis, though such a need certainly was in the background of these efforts. Instead, it emerged as part of an evolutionary unfolding that began fortuitously with classes offered to both lay people and professionals on “Decoding Your Dreams”. These seminars were devoted mainly to studies of the nature of dreams and what they reveal about human coping capacities, the architecture of the mind, and especially its unconscious operations. It was the shift from a university to a private setting for these seminars that set the stage for the gradual changes that led to the relatively well-defined structure and techniques of self-processing therapy and its therapeutic effects.

Because of the strong adaptational position of the communicative approach, there is an unyielding principle that all of its teaching efforts must be based on living exercises. As a result, each of these classes was developed around a dream presented by a student. Given that these were working exercises, the presentation might include additional material that facilitated the processing and our understanding of the dream … associations, triggers, etc. Nevertheless, the dream was centre stage and was used to illustrate general teaching points far more than to illuminate the emotional life of the presenting dreamer.

 

3. The surface message

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There are many ways to think about and conceptualize the healing process. Psychodynamics, interaction, object relations, intersubjectivity, self and self-object, transference, countertransference, trauma, cognitive issues … these and many other concepts are used as leading edges into understanding psychotherapy and creating its methods.

Reflection shows, however, that fundamental to these diverse attempts to conceptualize the therapeutic process is human communication. All of the concepts brought to bear on the therapy situation are extractions and inferences made from examined behaviour … in substance, from observations of the conditions of therapy and the communicative exchanges, verbal and non-verbal, between patients and their therapists.

Given that all healing is transacted through communication, it behoves us to turn now to the fundamentals of human expression so they may serve as the clinical basis for the development of the self-processing methods to be offered in this book. This is a rather natural way to proceed because the process itself evolved through a deep understanding of human communication in its many intricacies and nuances.

 

4. The implications of manifest contents

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The surface of emotionally charged human communication is straightforward and, in general, readily defined. But these same manifest contents serve other communicative functions that are less easily formulated. The simplest of these capacities involves implications that are embodied in, and inherent to, the direct message…the connotations added to the denotations of surface material. Human communication is an intricately woven fabric of expression with considerable extension even on the surface.

Every message we send and receive has a host of unstated, implied meanings. Even a simple message, like “Yes” or “No”, can be overloaded with implicit intimations. Some of these meanings are consciously intended by the sender, others are conveyed entirely without awareness. Much the same applies to the listener who will consciously register some of the intended or evident implications of a message, miss others, and even read into a message meanings that are not intended by the sender. Once we move beyond raw manifest meaning we are faced with highly complicated and uncertain facets of human expression.

 

5. Symbols and isolated encoded meanings

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We shift now from the realm of direct, manifest expression to meanings that are disguised or encoded in the same surface message. It is well to recognize at the outset of this discussion that methods of decoding are created by therapists … by listeners. They are not inherent to messages per se. They are human inventions, techniques designed to formulate and access levels of non-manifest meaning that are theorized to be cogent to human emotional experience. While these translations should possess both explanatory and predictive powers, and should touch on meanings of great import emotionally rather than on trivialities, their validity and cogency remain unmeasured and uncertain to this day.

Given the enormous defensiveness of the conscious system, we should be prepared to find that relatively inconsequential decoding methods will be attractive to the conscious systems of both students and teachers, more so than those that are of more profound and disturbing significance. The unconscious forces that shape our preference for one or another mode of listening and formulating are relatively unappreciated. We are faced with a catch-22 situation: a self-processing teacher must overcome the inevitable resistances against accessing deep unconscious meaning and engage in effective trigger decoding in order to discover why trigger decoding is so often by-passed by psychotherapists as the formulating method of choice … manifest and other types of formulating cannot provide answers to this dilemma. Nevertheless, we can benefit from discussing the issues raised by various approaches to delineating supposed disguised latent contents and by attempting to bring some clarity to a situation that has long eluded resolution. In the final analysis, we will see that only trigger decoding reflects the specific adaptive functioning of the emotion-processing mind and is the only means of defining latent contents that obtains encoded or unconscious validation.

 

6. Trigger decoding

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As I have said, the human mind evolved primarily under both physical and interpersonal environmental influence and was designed to deal with external dangers and satisfactions, and only secondarily with the need systems and other responses that they arouse. This fundamental principle holds for processes both within and outside of awareness. This implies that mental activity, whether conscious or unconscious, is inherently and specifically adaptive. The emotion-processing mind is activated primarily by the immediate stimuli arising from one’s environment … settings, incidents, people, etc. … and to a far lesser extent by internal happenings, which become important only when unusually intense or critical. An individual’s genetic endowment, inner mental world, and past history play their most essential role as shapers of the psychic resources … and dysfunctions … that determine when and how an individual deals with external impingements.

It follows from this analysis that both direct and encoded contents in messages are part of the flow of human emotional experience and adaptation. Mentation and communication largely are responses to external triggers as experienced through conscious and unconscious perception … and then processed. The triggers themselves are constituted as emotionally significant events and interpersonal interactions that involve communications (inputs) from others that are themselves quite complex…fraught with manifest and latent meanings. Human emotional life is never simple.

 

7. The modes of self-processing therapy

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We are now ready to explore the techniques and teaching principles of the various forms of self-processing therapy. We will begin by looking at the three modes in which these efforts are made … personal, tutorial, and in a class of two to six students. They have much in common, yet each has its own distinctive features … its own frame and consequent holding powers and issues.

THE SELF-PROCESSING TUTORIAL

The self-processing tutorial is designed as a one-to-one situation, usually but not necessarily once weekly, in which there is a teacher and a single student who engages in the process within a well-defined frame. Because this mode of self-processing can be carried out within an ideal secured frame or within a frame with the fewest possible departures from this unconsciously sought ideal (e.g., it can be arranged with full confidentiality and privacy, and with suitable anonymity for the instructor), it is the optimal form of self-processing. Indeed, the self-processing tutorial is quite extraordinary in its healing powers, and the day is awaited when it will be an important part of accepted clinical practice.

 

8. The frame of the self-processing class

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We begin our study of the self-processing class with its structure … the ground rules or framework that defines its setting and procedures. As is true of psychotherapy, this edifice is of critical importance to the self-processing experience and its outcome. The teacher’s management of the frame is organized along frame-securing and frame-modifying lines. Whenever the ground rules of the class are considered, this attribute must be identified because it is the primary organizer of deep emotional life and the source of most unconscious psychodynamic conflicts and their resolution.

As is true of boundary conditions throughout nature, the status of the frame has an impact on every other aspect of the self-processing experience. Indeed, because it is a crucial and ubiquitous, ever-present dimension of life, it can be fairly said that within and outside of psychotherapy we are always dealing with one of the two forms of frame-related anxieties … deviant or secured … or a mixture of both.

While each type of frame offers a measure of gain, the deviant mode overall is more maladaptive than the secured-frame mode. Each type of frame also generates a degree of anxiety (much of it unconscious); deviant-frame anxieties reflect the actual persecutory attributes of that type of frame, while secured-frame anxieties are largely existential in nature, yet far more dreaded than those connected with altered frames. Much of this sounds unfamiliar largely because evolution has assigned the monitoring of and adapting to frame conditions to the second unconscious system.

 

9. Initiating the self-processing class

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We have established a framework for self-processing therapy. It is time now to walk through the average self-processing class in order to develop the specifics of how the class is conducted. The procedures and techniques of self-processing are precisely demarcated, remarkably so. This regimentation is necessitated, as I have said, by the defences and architecture of the emotion-processing mind and its conscious system which is designed, for reasons of personal survival, to subtly and grossly oppose the search for secured frames and deep unconscious meaning.

In principle, a student (and self-processing teacher) either follows the relatively narrow path to the second unconscious system or he or she will fail to reach deeply encoded wisdom … it’s as simple and as difficult as that. For the teacher, the goal is to integrate these procedures sufficiently into his or her way of doing self-processing therapy so they can be used as broad guides and safeguards within which he or she works intuitively, creatively, and effectively.

 

10. The first class

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We are about to pass through the gateway to a deep and mysterious world whose pathways are obstructed by and alien to the conscious mind. It is a journey no one takes without trepidation, yet it is a trip that no one should miss. We will, in this and subsequent chapters, mark it out full well.

THE FIRST MOMENTS

We have now reached the point at which a self-processing instructor has made arrangements for an initial class of self-processing students. The agreed-upon time has almost arrived. The instructor is in his or her office or classroom, and the students are in the waiting room. The hour strikes and the instructor goes into the waiting room to greet the new students. In general, handshaking is not in order because the teacher has already met the students; where this is not the case, a brief greeting…”Hello, I’m Dr. or Ms. So-and-so” … and handshake is called for. There are, however, no other introductions or comments made in the waiting room, which is outside of the secured classroom space. The teacher simply invites the students to enter the classroom and allows them to find their way to their seats. As a rule, their place is easily recognized because the instructor sits alone behind a desk.

 

11. The focus on resistances

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The self-processing teacher needs to have a clear and definitive picture of the ideal ground rules of the self-processing class and the structure of the self-processing exercise, including a knowledge of the essential features of each of the five steps to self-processing insight. With these configurations set mentally, the teacher can use intuition, understanding, inventiveness, and validated principles of technique to modify and correct the typically errant exercises conducted by his or her students.

In this chapter I discuss the general principles related to handling these truly inevitable conscious system resistances and offer some fresh perspectives on this vast topic…viewpoints that have emerged mainly through self-processing therapy itself. The specific issues raised by each aspect of the process will be discussed in the chapters that follow.

THE ROLE OF THE FRAME IN FACILITATING THE WORK OF THE TEACHER

The ability of the self-processing teacher to step back and incisively observe a self-processing exercise and to identify the main resistances that obstruct its successful completion is more than a simple matter of knowing the template of the process. This basic position of the instructor is sustained by the frame … the ground rules and role definitions of the self-processing class.

 

12. The origination narrative

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The fountainhead … the power source … of every self-processing exercise is the origination narrative. The choice of which narrative to use is left entirely to the presenting student … the origination narrator. In most cases, this takes the form of a recent dream, and, as noted, the next best choice is a brief fictional story composed at the beginning of the exercise. Whatever form it takes, this first narrative is to be the primary source of the presenter’s guided associations.

While the choice and contents of the initial narrative are entirely the responsibility of the student, the instructor can, during the teaching period, identify resistance aspects to the story and raise other teaching issues. He or she is guided by the template of an ideal origination narrative. Indeed, as we will see, each of the five steps in the self-processing exercise has its own essential optimal characteristics.

THE MAIN SOURCES OF ANXIETY

In keeping with the need to keep an ear towards resistances first, I will begin this discussion by reminding us of the main anxieties connected with effective self-processing. The first sources lies with the material itself. Even though derivatives are disguised, they are a source of great terror for the conscious system. Derivatives encode terrible unconscious perceptions of the powerful, idealized, and fearsome instructor and of the students themselves. They therefore are treated as dangerous communications despite their disguise and constructive potential. In all, then, there is a universal dread of encoded expressions in all of the participants in a self-processing class … a fear that the self-processing teacher must overcome to the greatest extent possible.

 

13. Guided associations

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The teaching issues in the area of guided associations are among the most complex in the self-processing exercise. In the vignette just studied, we saw a student abandon the process of guided associating entirely, but it also is common to come upon resistance-dominated associational networks that are repetitive, sparse with regard to powerful images, scattered and difficult to organize around central themes, seemingly unconnected to known triggers, and overfilled with intellectualizations.

Building a dreamassociational network with strong imagery and themes is an essential part of the self-processing exercise. The narrative network is needed for linking to triggers; a powerful thematic pool will carry a strong and emotionally important message, while weak networks tend to be inconsequential.

THE CONCEPT OF POWER

Studies done in self-processing classes and in our formal scientific research have revealed the importance of power in one’s mental economy, emotionally charged choices, symptom formation, and healing. Research-wise, it proved possible to develop several mathematical measures of direct and cyclical power, as well as the power of deep influence and of communicated themes. The resultant findings lent credence to the idea that the exercises in the self-processing class are quantifiable with respect to overall power. This encouraged the thesis that power could also be measured crudely on the clinical level, and this position has held up well in the course of this work.

 

14. Self-indicators and triggers

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The instructor has now ensured the best possible thematic pool for the exercise. With this accomplished, he or she should next deal with the students’ side of the background equation: the self-indicators or markers. As we know, this refers to their current emotional issues (mainly those of the origination narrator) and especially to any impingement that a class member has made on the frame of the class. The principles related to identifying self-indicators are fairly straightforward. They begin with the need to list the main active self-indicators, especially those related to the frame of the class. As noted, frame-related self-indicators must be classified in terms of their frame-securing or frame-modifying attributes, as the case may be. Summing up indicators gives everyone a sense of the emotional state of the origination narrator and the other class members, and their current position vis a vis the frame of the class. The summary statement should be made by the class and later confirmed or reworked by the instructor. Beyond that, the following points may be of help:

 

15. Linking triggers to themes

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The entire self-processing exercise culminates in the transposing or Unking process, in which a trigger is selected, its implications identified, and the themes of the narrative pool are extracted from their manifest context and allowed to connect to or cascade over the trigger and its ramifications. The basic assumption is that these themes are constituted as valid encoded perceptions of the teacher in light of the meanings of the adaptation-evoking triggers that he or she has created. Those images that do not formulate sensibly as unconscious perceptions of the teacher are almost always encoded models of rectification or correctives and, secondarily, self-perceptions of the self-processing student himself or herself and, more rarely, of other members of the class.

The linked statement is made by transposing pertinent themes from their manifest context into their latent, trigger-related context. The statement that links triggers to themes is always narrative in nature and structured in terms of cause-and-effect; it is descriptive rather than technical. It begins with the teacher’s intervention, simply and descriptively stated, and moves across the relevant themes, formulating them as logical adaptive responses to the meanings of the activating trigger. The model interpretive statement from a teacher goes something like this: “I did this or that, and you experienced it in that and this way, and you then reacted to that experience in this and that manner and recommended that and this corrective to resolve the situation.” Indeed, we can propose a model of this kind because it captures the adaptive functioning of the second unconscious system which is consistent in ways uncommon for conscious coping.

 

16. The self-processing tutorial and personal self-processing

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We have completed our development and study of the self-processing class. We turn now to the two modes of individual self-processing…the self-processing tutorial, which includes the possibility of teaching self-processing by telephone, and personal self-processing. After exploring these two self-processing modalities, I conclude with a few final perspectives related to the vast new territory that we have explored.

THE SELF-PROCESSING TUTORIAL

The principles of self-processing apply fully to the self-processing tutorial. There are, however, some qualifying considerations for this modality compared to the self-processing class, and I will discuss the main ones.

The self-processing tutorial is a one-to-one situation that eliminates all third parties from the self-processing situation. As a result, this modality is in most instances more secure than a self-processing class. The specific frame does, of course, depend on the parameters of a given tutorial experience. The total security of the frame may be altered if the referral source is contaminated or If the tutorial is carried out by telephone (see point 4 below) … the ideal frame calls for a professional referral and direct in-offlce contact between student and teacher.

 

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