Experiential Psychopathology - Dr John Howells

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III - Family Psychology & Family Psychiatry - Psychotherapy

The Benexperiential Process

From the above account, and more detail in the section on psychopathology, a number of conclusions can be drawn which have implications for the reversal of the pathological process in therapy:

  1. The pathological process seen now is often the result of adverse experience in the past. It can only be undone by a reverse active process – a beneficial experience which undoes the pathological process and establishes harmony. It must be active, and positive. Merely abolishing present stress is not enough. Similarly, in the physical field a deformity produced by excessive pressure on a limb in childhood, for instance, is not corrected by merely removing the pressure years later. Positive active corrective procedures have to be initiated. In general, therapeutic procedures have to emphasise the opposite of the pathological.
  2. Damage caused by an adverse experiential process in the past can be aggravated by continuing trauma in the present: sometimes the adverse process is set up by present trauma alone.

The individual may be vulnerable now to the same psychic noc-vectors to which he was habituated in the past. To influence psychic noci-vectors in the present is easier than to reverse the effects of psychic noci-vectors in the past.

Psychic noci-vectors in the past have usually ceased to function; thus attention has to be directed, not at them, but at the damage that ensued. However, knowledge of past damaging vectors may help to plan an ameliorating beneficial process in the present. To know, for instance, that a negative psychic noci-vector, the absence of touch in the past, is the basis of frigidity now, may allow the necessary positive agent to be activated. This principle is employed in benexperiential psychotherapy and in vector therapy. A psychic noci-vector can be affected by: (i) reducing its strength; (ii) changing its direction; (iii) reducing the time over which it operates; (iv) changing its quality; (v) opposing it by a contrary vector.

Some present psychic noci-vectors are active in the imagination. A person has the capacity to dwell on a trauma in his thoughts. It can thus dominate perception, and do so to such an extent that it is not possible to give the trauma its correct evaluation, as nothing in perception is available to compare with it. Thus a person has a feeling that his thoughts are out of hand, he cannot break the vicious circle, and cannot see his problems in perspective. Strong measures may be required, including forced thinking, to break the vicious circle and bring perspective.

3.      There is value in dealing with the sources of adverse experiential process in the preceding family by bringing them together with the presenting family member in therapy. This is easier with adolescents and young adults, but occasionally is possible with older adults. Should this prove impossible, the same situation must be dealt with in the absence of the preceding family – a more difficult task.

  1.  To re-experience previous traumatic situations is not necessarily beneficial; it may reinforce the effects of the previous trauma. It could be especially so if the preceding family is brought into the re-experience. To be therapeutic, the re-experience must be constructive and within the capacity of the individual and his therapist to make it so, whether it takes place with the preceding family or in its absence.
  2. The effects of an adverse process are recording in the memory apparatus; change must be directed at changing the memories laid down in it. The approach is through the same sensations which produced the memory, ie auditory, visual, motor, olfactory, gustatory, etc, or a perceptual experience which is an amalgam of some or all of these sensations.
  3. An adverse process has usually operated over a period of time. The reverse ameliorating process must also operate over a period of time. Rarely does pathology arise in a nuclear incident; rarely will catharsis relieve damage. In therapy, time is important and this will play its part whether the benexperiential process is achieved by psychotherapy or vector therapy. In psychotherapy it will operate with general procedures as well as with specific procedures.
  4. Not all the damage done in the past creates difficulties in the present family situation or, in the case of a single person, in the present individual situation.  Therefore, focal or partial amelioration may be employed, directed at the damage that creates difficulties in the present situation only. A partial task is clearly less time-consuming than a complete task and may bring an adequate functional result. The complete repair of a severely damaged person may be a massive undertaking.
  5. There are levels from which a disturbing process can arise and can be changed:
    1. In the preceding family – previous trauma.
    2. In the present and preceding families – present trauma acting on previous damage.
    3. In the present family – present trauma only.
    4. In the present and succeeding family – present stress acting on the children, who will form the succeeding family.

Therapy at level (i) is the most difficult. At levels (iii) and (iv) it may be possible to deal with the present situation so that the process does not pass to the succeeding families or, if it does, reaches them in an attenuated form. Herein lies the best opportunity for the eventual production of emotional health in society. Should therapy never operate at levels (i) and (ii) it would only deny the possibility of relief to the present generation of sufferers. If measures at level (iv) could be certain of success, they would by themselves guarantee a steady permanent improvement in the standard of emotional health of society.

  1. The essential part of the psyche to be damaged is the “idea of self”. To support and reconstruct the “idea of self” is central to any benexperiential therapy.
  2. To know the nature of the psychopathological process can lead to precise therapeutic measures. Without this knowledge only general blanket measures can be, and often are, employed. These general therapeutic measures, the G factor, may help, but not as quickly or effectively as more specific measures.
  3. Positive vectors are just as powerful as negative vectors. Love is as powerful as hate.

Positive vectors should be employed in therapy. These include praise, appreciation, encouragement, kindness, affection, respect, a sense of belonging, hope, security, worthiness (the opposite of guilt).

It is known that negative vectors do damage according to their power, repetition, and the length of time over which they operate. Equally, the effects of positive vectors used in therapy gain by their power and vividness, repetition, and by being allowed to operate over a lengthy period of time. Whenever possible, they should be precisely directed. However, even in a general blanket form they can be valuable.

In an imprecise non-directed form these positive elements in therapy are often present. They constitute a general factor, G factor. This factor is therapeutic, but not precise. Therapy should be directed and be more than the chance operation of the G factor. Therapy is often no more than this, and sometimes less, if, for instance, the therapist suffers from an unsatisfactory personality.

  1. Trauma produces insecurity and the need for defence. Theefore, therapy must not involve the threat of trauma and must produce security. The insecure cannot reveal the intimate situations that lie at the core of the damage to the “idea of self”. Precise evaluation of damage is the start of effective therapy. Attitudes change more readily when they are not necessary for the defence of the self. If insecure, the organism will cling to old attitudes. The family “on guard” cannot build new and better coping devices. This applies in reparative measures within or outside the interview.
  2. In pathology, the indicators are what the name implies – signs of the process of dysfunction. The process cannot be changed by changing the indicators; if the process remains the same and the indicators are changed, they will be replaced by a new set that are possible in the new circumstances. The process itself must be changed and only then will the indicators disappear. Thus, symptomatic relief is not enough and is desirable only to ameliorate the secondary effects of the symptoms.
  3. The damage did not occur in an interview situation. It does not necessarily need to be ameliorated in an interview situation; the right marriage partner, for instance, may achieve more than a therapist. Thus, though therapy can employ interview measures such as psychotherapy, it can use also extra-interview measures, such as vector therapy. Both may be necessary and are complementary.
  4. Attitudes from the past which clash in the present can arise from: (i) mechanisms for coping with trauma in the past, eg withdrawal; (ii) different living habits, eg different ideas of role of father. (ii) tends to alter more easily than (i), as habits are not based on the need to defend the self.
  5. There is a limit to the effectiveness of therapy. Some adverse experiential processes may have been so severe and damaging that their effects can only be ameliorated by very prolonged and powerful measures, if at all. To spend valuable resources on only a few people may bring minimal relief to society. Constant attention must be given to deploying resources where they can be most effective, eg the young respond more easily than the aged. Vector therapy and the salutiferous society bring the best value. We must practice the art of the possible.
  6. to contend with present trauma from noci-vectors, the therapist must assist the patient to use new, healthy efficient coping devices, eg:
    1. Putting the trauma in true perspective by applying standards and judgements and not exaggerating its power.
    2. Making realistic targets, thereby reducing the risks of trauma.
    3. Avoiding trauma that it is unnecessary to face.
    4. Side-stepping the trauma by a variety of techniques.
    5. Deploying assets, eg using past success to compete with present failure (“Look, you are good because you can do that”).
    6. Deploying support elsewhere, eg use of husband to share a potentially hurtful situation.
    7. Supporting, eg “We, you and I, will make a plan for coping with the situation.
    8. Forgetting, eg refusing to make a traumatic matter the topic of conversation.

All these, and more, are devices in directed therapy – not leaving possible improvement to the chance of the G factor.

N.B. ALL THIS IS CONCERNED WITH REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE. NO INTERPRETATION IS NECESSARY. NO FALSE AND FANTASTIC PICTURES ARE CREATED. ALL IS TRUE TO LIFE. THIS IS OF THE ESSENCE OF BENEXPERIENTIAL THEAPY.

  1. To relieve past trauma, it is best, as has been said earlier, to bring the preceding family into therapy. Attitudes are exposed, guilt is relieved, the “idea of self” is improved. The patient is older and does not need to accept the omnipotence of parents. But thee is a limit to effectiveness. It is not possible to make a family love when it does not; but it is possible to minimise the effect of the trauma this produces. Any result can sometimes be reinforced by limiting contact between the present family member and his preceding family, while mobilising help from his present family.

But the past may need management in the absence of the preceding family. The following steps are necessary:

  1. The damaging noci-vectors in the past and the ensuing damage must be revealed.
  2. The effects of the noci-vectors in the past must now be met by the opposite quality, eg if a man is sensitive to being ignored he must now be given the opposite – attention.
  3. The present family must stop reinforcing the power of damaging vectors, eg it must also cease to ignore and give attention instead.
  4. Any assets in the present family must be deployed to help a vulnerable family member. Usually, success will depend on the health of the family, but even a psychonotic family may have some assets that by chance fit the situation, eg a husband is incapable of taking the initiative in sexual intercourse; the wife changes roles and takes the lead in sexual intercourse.
  5. Situations can be relived in the interview situation with a therapist who represents not past figures but a positive person – the best of emotional influences. Positive vectors are generated in strength, over time, and with repetition.

The above can and does happen in daily life, but haphazardly without discernment. The aim of therapy is to practice it in a directed and precise fashion.

N.B. ALL THE ABOVE IS REAL LIFE EXPERIENCE. THERE IS NO INTERPRETATION. THERE IS NO FANCIFUL INVENTION. IT IS THE STUFF OF LIFE.

  1. The therapist must not only use the G factor, but also apply directed activity – all the techniques described for the management of present and past trauma. The capacity to undertake this precise directed activity distinguishes the trained therapist from others. His skill springs from the following attributes:
  1. He is trained in ascertained psychopathology in a sure and systematic fashion.
  2. He is knowledgeable about the nature, variety, and form of psychic noci-vectors.
  3. He has great knowledge of the unusual.
  4. He can make balanced judgements.
  5. He has great capacity to produce security through relationship.
  6. He is knowledgeable of his field.
  7. He is a positive person in his own right, and not just a figure on which other values are projected.
  8. Long exposure in a medical training to the anguish and pain of many and varied forms of serious illness will have inculcated, in the right person, the response of caring in an immediate fashion.

The preceding adverse experiential process will usually have taken place in the preceding family. Occasionally the family will be anomalous and have the features of a large group. In this case, this is the group that is the significant contributor from the past. Again, the present family group may be anomalous, but of no less significance.

Conclusion

The major aim of therapy is clear from our knowledge of experiential psychopathology. The adults come into the present family after suffering an adverse experience in their own preceding families. This adverse experience must be reversed in both parents to effect a harmonious family climate, so that it epitomes, going forth to succeeding families, will make a healthy psychic contribution to those families. The adverse process can be ameliorated by three main approaches: (i) Benexperiential Psychotherapy; (ii) Vector Therapy; and (ii) the creation of a Salutiferous Society. The three approaches are complementary and should be used together. Each will be discussed in turn.

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