08 March 06
Psychotherapy with Dr O’Malley (Part 1)
Psychotherapy with Dr. O, a cognitive behaviourist and neuropsychologist, has commenced.
When I arrived at his office a Mozart concerto was playing.
After exchanging greetings, he began by reading some homework he had assigned me when I was at Medical viewing my mental health records.
Look at what you are doing with yoga, and how you use it to confront mental health issues. How could you do better?
My emotions seem to depend on two things: activating events and my interpretations of those events. Mental yoga has taught me that I have the power to choose whether or not I become upset about events over which I have no control.
Siddha Yoga teaches that activating events are kriyas, (purification processes) necessary to restore karma. If something bad happens, I shouldn’t mope. I should appreciate that I’m having a kriya, that the Shakti (cosmic force) is cleaning out samskaras (impressions that misshape current thoughts) to restore my karma. If I suffer a depression, I can wallow in self-pity and exacerbate the condition, or I can choose to recognize – and maybe even rejoice – that the Skakti is cleaning out the depression and restoring karma.
This approach is similar to Stoic philosophy taught by Epictetus, who pointed out that people are disturbed not by events, but by the views which they take of them.
If I feel stressed, I can use yogic breathing (full belly breathing with active exhalation as opposed to shallow chest breathing) to calm down. Concentrating on breathing instead of on a stressful event can enable me to relax.
I am striving to do better by following Socrates’ advice – know thyself – and by learning cognitive and yogic techniques to manage my flaws. I’ve discovered that one of the causes of my wild partying may have been the need to self-medicate depression and anxiety problems that I never knew existed until I received professional help after being arrested. I aim to do better by learning, and putting that knowledge into practice.
The first thing he said after reading my homework was, “Do you ever feel like you’re a fish out of water?”
“In here or before my arrest?” I asked.
“Yeah. Since I was a teenager.”
“How was you family life?”
“Normal. Good parents and a younger sister who I teased a lot.”
“Why did you do drugs?”
“Perhaps so I wouldn’t feel like a fish out of water, to self-medicate depressions triggered by relationship breakdowns - I don’t know all the reasons.”
“Which drugs did you use?”
“Club drugs: Ecstasy, Special K, and GHB. We were a modern-day Ken Kesey and the Pranksters.”
“Do you know how Ecstasy works?”
“It raises serotonin levels, and may cause brain damage when abused.”
“How long have you been doing yoga for?”
“My sister, Karen, sent me a beginners’ book not long after my arrest. It must be over three years now.”
“Yoga systems have been around for over five-thousand years. Yoga can help the brain. The Dalai Lama had neuroscientists monitor the brain-wave activity of Buddhist monks, and they found increased gamma-wave activity. By exercising the brain through techniques such as yoga, we know that you can restructure certain parts of the brain.”
“Yes. The brain is malleable in small but significant ways. For example, a brain scan of a musician listening to music will show more biochemical activity in specific areas of the brain, that when you or I listen to music.”
“Wow! So we really can workout and reshape our brains?”
“Yes. And that’s what you’ve been doing with the yoga you’ve written about. There are many types of yoga. There are strange yogic paths that some people take.”
“Like Aleister Crowley?”
“Yes. He did, but tell me what you are looking to get out of these therapy sessions?”
“I want to understand myself better. I don’t want to go through life having runs of success followed by knocking everything down. If I can understand my past mistakes, I’ll be less likely to repeat them in the future.”
“Yoga and psychotherapy should give you a growing awareness of yourself. You must learn to be happy in the present – with or without success. You certainly shouldn’t be beating yourself up – whether consciously or subconsciously. I’m going to have you do a PSI [Personality Assessment Inventory] test this week, and we’ll go from there. Do you have any questions?”
“Yes, why is it every time I get going with psychotherapy, the doctor gets moved? Will you be here for the foreseeable future?”
“I’d like to say yes, but frankly, with DOC, you never know. DOC is like a glacier moving incredibly slowly, and every now and then a fragment chips off, and you never know if you will be in that fragment.”
“Well, I hope they keep you here. I like the cognitive approach, and I think I could make a lot of progress with you."
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Copyright © 2005-2006 Shaun P. Attwood