13 July 06

Psychotherapy With Dr. O’Malley (Part 4)

On Dr O’s desk were Principles of Neurology, The Human Mind Explained, and a copy of Scientific American Mind.
The session began with Dr O reading my thought journal, which detailed the joy I felt on seeing my sister and father, and the disappointment and tension surrounding the special visits being cancelled due to the hostage situation.
“How did you deal with these feelings during that time?” Dr O asked.
“Using cognitive techniques,” I said. “I tried to look at it as an activating event over which I had no control, something I shouldn’t get stressed about.”
“Did that work?”
“No. When it comes to things that upset my family, I get upset myself.”
“Is that normal or abnormal?”
“Normal for most people.”
“You were looking forward to those visits for a long time. Then something happened and you had no control over events. Your hormones responded. Did you cope with it?”
“My anxiety was up. My thoughts became depressed. I felt lousy. But I wrote and wrote and wrote. I felt better towards the end of it. I guess I tried to go with the flow after the shock wore off.”
“It’s more than just going with the flow. Going with the flow is what put you in prison. It’s about increased self-awareness. It’s about how you express your energy.”
“How so?”
“Let’s take a pilot as an example. If a pilot gets into a conflict at home, he’s going to take that negative energy with him. If he gets in a conflict day after day then that negative energy is going to compromise his ability to fly a plane safely.”
“I see. So did I express the negative energy of the hostage situation in a good or bad way?”
“What did you do with the energy?”
“I wrote.”
“There you go. You answered your own question. Didn’t you thrive on chaotic energy in the past? Isn’t uncertainty a theme of the stock market? And partying? Couldn’t that have blown up in your face at any time?”
“I do enjoy the wild fluctuations of the stock market. You said that a reason for my partying was the need for cheap thrills. But the hostage situation was different. My family suffered. And that was upsetting.”
“And how do you feel about that now?”
“I accept what’s happened, and because I didn’t get to see Dad for as long as we'd planned, he is coming back in October with my mum and aunt. So now I’ve got something to look forward to again.”
“When do you get out of prison?”
“I’m eligible for deportation in November, 2007.”
“A year and a half. It’s time for you to start planning.”
“The prospect of getting out is comforting. During the hostage situation it was in the back of my mind that I’ll be out soon, and not have to deal with all of this.”
“All this what? The torrent of absurdities? If someone on the street had to deal with what you’re dealing with they’d be running down the street screaming. ‘This can’t be! Someone can surely fix this!’ Yet in here, things that may be difficult for outsiders to deal with happen all the time. Because of this environment you’ve gained skills that will help you when you are released. Your level of resilience is way up. You’ve matured. You now have an ability to bounce back from all sorts of things. You’ve learnt these things the hard way, but what’s important is that you’ve learned them. Some people may go through life never having learned the things you’ve learned in here. Something you have to consider for when you hit the streets is that issues you had to deal with before your arrest have been on hold.”
“Viktor Frankl compared the released prisoner’s experience to divers' bends.”
“But his experience was in the late 30s and early 40s. He used his prison experience to help people when he got out. His techniques were nothing new. That knowledge has been around for millenniums.”
“Reading the ancient Greeks, I see how they have been recycled by various contemporary schools of thought.”
“Which Greeks have you read?”
“More than I can remember or pronounce. The preSocratics and plenty of Plato and Aristotle.”
“And how does studying them work for you?”
“I think it enhances my critical-thinking skills.”
“The atomists seemed to be early physicists. The principle of conservation of energy, in that it cannot be created, destroyed or divided, ties in with the Hindu belief that everything just is.”
“But there’s still plenty we don’t know. When we thought atoms were the smallest particles along came electrons, protons and neutrons – and then stuff like quarks, neutrinos, muons, gluons, bosons, and all kinds of obscure little elements. We revised Newton. We’re revising Einstein. It’s an evolving process. At least what you’re learning will help you when you get out. Most people go out with what they learn here, and they don’t have a lot. If you are willing to accept a broad-based view of yourself and take it to the outside world, you’re going to have a lot of potential to do well. It’s about accepting yourself, knowing when to hold your head up, and knowing when to be careful.”
“I’m used to going overboard.”
“But you’re learning to affect yourself, to modulate who you are most days. You’re not trying to change the lives of thousands of people, which is what got you in prison.”
“Isn’t that under control because of the environment I’m in? I keep myself to myself here.”
“That’s here. If you ran around grandiosely inside here the thugs would just as soon crush you. It’s a good adaption you have reached. You blend in. You are learning to remain humble, which wasn’t your previous inclination.”
“I still have to work on my humility.”
“We all do. You have to allow yourself to have humility. You have to put it into practice and not struggle with it. Looking at your thought journal, I can see you are making progress with this. You’re getting a grip on your natural inclination towards grandiosity. When you’re on the streets do you want to be the person who runs to a window and jumps out or the person who walks to a window, relaxes, and enjoys the view?”
“I want to stay sane if that’s what you mean.”
“Keep focussed, day to day, on your ups and downs, realising your emotional shifts like you did during the hostage situation, when the world was screwed up. When there was a crisis. And a response, and a crisis for everyone else. Look at what DOC did. They stopped everything. They assessed the situation - is it safe or unsafe? They determined it was safe and eased up a little bit at a time, gradually. It’s the same for you, your gradual ease, your slowly increased ability to think more broadly. And you’re starting to do it. The results are clear in your thought journal. You’re showing a willingness to be who you are, without having to dress yourself up.”
“How far have I got to go?”
“The rest of your life. We all continue to evolve, to observe and learn from life’s plusses and minuses. Take Viktor Frankl. He got out. Not unscathed, but he took what he learned to help others. Everything you do affects your brain – including this talk therapy.
Until next time, I want you to keep up the thought journal. You’re making progress. You’re reshaping your brain. And I’d like you to consider the dynamic interplay of energy when you’re doing yoga.”
“OK. Thanks for that. I feel I’m learning a great deal from you. You’re taking everything I’ve learned to deeper levels.”
"No. The person taking it to deeper levels is you.”

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Copyright © 2005-2006 Shaun P. Attwood

1 comment:

htrouser said...

Really interesting and illuminating, as ever. I've really enjoyed your blog, and hope you keep writing when you get out.

One question on inmate self-help (or the lack thereof): your path here is literature, self-education, yoga and psychotherapy. The reforming/redeeming practices most touted in the mainstream for people in prison seem to often revolve around religion (at least in the US), whether in terms of religious-run programs in prisons or personal conversion. What do you see other inmates doing, in terms of positive approaches to dealing with prison? How influential are religious groups inside? Do you know people who are taking a less orthodox approach to coming to grips with their situation? Are there many others like you reading secular philosophy to improve their lives?

Hope that's not too incoherent! As ever, I look forward to your next entry.

- Htrouser, another Brit in the US.