“So what did you learn at your conference?” (Day 2 of 3)

Thanks for reading the previous post, “So what did you learn at your conference?” (Day 1 of 3), which highlighted what I learned at the 21st Annual Counseling Skills conference in Dallas, Tx, over September 24th – 26th.

As mentioned in the first post, I wanted to share a few of the helpful things I picked up and learned from the speakers. My hope is to integrate these points into my life personally and professionally, and I hope that you are able to find some of the information helpful for your own life and your relationships as well.

September 25th, Day Two:

Plenary Session #1: Whole-Brain Strategies: From Reactivity to Resilience by Tina Payne Bryson, PhD. Tina is the Co-author (with Dan Siegel) of two New York Times Best Sellers: The Whole-Brain Child and
the just-released No-Drama Discipline. She is a pediatric and adolescent psychotherapist, the Director of Parenting for the Mindsight Institute, and the Child Development Specialist at Saint Mark’s School in Altadena, CA. She keynotes conferences and conducts workshops for clinicians, educators and parents all over the world. Dr. Bryson earned her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, where her research explored attachment science, child rearing theory, and the emerging field of interpersonal neurobiology.

I am listing Tina’s website here (www.tinabryson.com) as her book The Whole Brain-Child:12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind, could become a must read for parents and adults who are endeavoring to produce healthy environments and outcomes for their children and themselves. Tina talked about how our brains are shaped by genes and experiences and how parents, teachers, clinicians and healthy friends are the “brain architects” for our children (and for adults). She quoted her mentor, Dr Dan Siegal who mentioned “where attention goes, neurons fire, and where they fire together, they wire together.”

Tina spoke about the differences in the two hemispheres of the brain (left and right) and that one of the many jobs of our corpus callosum (the bundle of nerve fibers in the brain that joins the two hemispheres) is to ensure that each side of the brain does not take over or dominate the other side. I had never looked at my brain working in that manner and thankfully, Tina’s right: I am so glad for the opportunity to experience this balance!

In looking at the Left side of the brain, Tina mentioned this is where our Logic, Linear, Linguistic and the Literal originates, and tends to be rigid, focused and narrow. These are not negative qualities but necessary qualities. Tina mentioned in her humorous way that the Left side of the brain functions “like a chicken pecking grains out of pebbles” and when we consider emotions, is like an “emotional desert.” On the other hand, the Right side of the brain is where our Emotion, Intuition, Autobiographical Data, Whole Picture content, the Random, Non-Verbal and View of Self tend to dominate. Regarding emotions, the right side of the brain may demonstrate and reflect the “emotional tsunami” versus the emotional desert we tend to see with our left hemisphere.

Regarding the whole brain, Tina spoke about how her work focuses on helping people to function in an integrated manner. “Even though the two hemispheres are separate, different and distinct, our work is to seek how we could ‘link’ the two sides and get them working together as a coordinated and harmonious team.” Tina referenced her work with Dr Siegal by providing their definition of Mental Health: “It is like a River of Well-being that flows between the banks of Chaos and Rigidness.” She mentioned that when we are Flexible, Adaptive, Coherent, Energized and Stable (FACES), then we are most apt to flow on the river versus getting stuck on the banks.

What helps children (and us) to remain in the flow of the river of mental health is to practice “Connecting and Redirecting.” This is accomplished by integrating a “right-left-right-left” encounter with the person where we connect with the person emotionally and empathetically (Right Brain) before we redirect them to engage in some form of behavioral change (Left Brain). We accomplish this by helping the child “tell their story” by encouraging the use of words to explain their reality, while simultaneously providing non-verbal comfort, soothing touch, connection via facial expressions and tone of voice and also empathic speech to connect with them (Right Brain). When the connection has been established, we go back to the left brain functions by using words to discuss logical explanations and solutions (Left Brain). Tina mentioned this form of Integration helps to soften us and move us back from a reactive and nervous state to a functional, attached and integrated state.

Finally, Tina discussed the 4 S’s: Safety, Security, Soothing, and being Seen (deeply and empathetically) as necessary ingredients that promote secure attachments within relationships. She stressed that regardless of one’s past, research is bearing out that Neuroplasticity (how the brain forms new ways of operating) continues over the lifetime, but is enhanced or achieved by: (1) Engaging in the Mass practice of constructive behaviors (2) Novelty and being exposed to new and unique experiences that promote learning (3) Focal Attention (4) Unlearning Old ways of doing things (see Dr Mitchell’s work on Priming in the next post) and (5) Getting basic Sleep and Exercise.

Plenary Session #2: The Brain Fix: Using Neuroscience as a Metaphor for Recovery by Ralph Carson, PhD. Ralph is involved in the clinical treatment of addictions, obesity, and eating disorders for over thirty years using a neuropsychobiological approach. With a BS from Duke University and B.H.S. from Duke University Medical School, coupled with a BS in nutrition from Oakwood College and a Ph.D. in nutrition from Auburn University, he offers a unique understanding of health, wellness, exercise, and nutrition and how they all affect brain health. He currently consults with numerous addiction and eating disorder treatment centers throughout the country as well as being a highly sought after speaker at various conferences and workshops. He is an active board member of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP). Working with Academy Medical Systems, he developed workshops for professional groups throughout the U.S. on topics such as exercise therapy, sports nutrition, eating disorders, and childhood obesity.

It was great to see Ralph again, as he provided great lectures on Food, Nutrition and the Brain when I was at Pine Grove Behavioral Health (Gentle Path). Just like then, he provided very helpful information to all in attendance today. Ralph started by saying the Brain is very forgiving and cited the life of Terry Wallis, a person who regained consciousness after being in a coma after 19 years. Ralph mentioned the Brain is constantly searching for ways to heal itself and food as nutrition (“food does not become nutrition until it passes through the lips”) is a vital part of the brain’s ability to heal itself.

Ralph discussed that sugar (Glucose) plays a vital part in the healing process of the brain, which does most of its restorative and healing work during Stage 3 and Stage 4 of our sleep cycle. Ralph mentioned “Glucose is the most important nutrient in this process and is the only energy that the Brain uses efficiently.” Glucose works in tandem with a growth hormone that is only secreted during these stages of sleep.

In order to maintain the necessary level of Glycogen in the body to help with the restorative process of our brain during our sleep cycles, Ralph mentioned that it is our goal to keep our Liver “saturated with glucose for as long as possible until it is needed.” Our Liver provides Glycogen for 4 – 5 hours, which means if we wish to give our Brain the energy it needs deep into the night for the critical Stage 3 and Stage 4 reparative process, then we need to provide our body with the appropriate food(s) at strategic times to maintain the right amount of Glucose in our system.

Ralph mentioned finding the right “template” for each of us “guarantees energy” for the brain to do its healing. He suggested giving your body a snack at 10:00 pm, which maintains Glucose in your body for 3 – 4 hours (until 2:00 am), then your Liver kicks in with its stored Glycogen for 4 – 5 hours (from 2:00 am to 7:00 am), which gives the Brain what it needs and then you are able to replenish your body with the appropriate nutrition it needs in the morning.

Ralph suggested that 4 – 5 feedings per day, with the appropriate combination of complex carbohydrates ensures there will be enough energy for your brain to heal (remember, snack at 10:00 pm). Finally, Ralph suggested that the daily intake of 2 grams of Omega-3 Fatty acids will help in the overall process of healing the Brain as this provides necessary fats to assist our neurons with the transmission of signals and promotes “membrane fluidity” within our Brain.

I missed out on receiving a free copy of Ralph’s latest book, The Brain Fix, however, in light of hearing his presentation I have seriously reduced my caffeine intake and made adjustments to my what I eat and when I eat it as well.

Breakout Session #1: Heroes and Fame: Signifiers or Canaries in the Cage by Pat Carnes, PhD. Pat is a Senior Fellow at The Meadows and Executive Director of The Gentle Path, a residential treatment program for sexual addiction in Wickenburg, Arizona. He is founder of the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction (IITAP) and Gentle Path programs. With more than 30 years in the sexual and addiction treatment field, and author of numerous titles including the groundbreaking bestseller, Out of the Shadows, he continues to spread his extensive knowledge as a speaker, presenter and interview subject.

More than anything, Pat is a friend and a mentor in my life and as I have shared with him, I have much gratitude for him changing my life personally and professionally and I am thankful that thousands of people have been helped because of his contribution to the field of sex addiction treatment and I have been apart of that assistance largely because of his selfless investment in my life.

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In this session, Pat talked about how pastors, politicians and corporate leaders are vulnerable to compulsive behavior and encouraged clinicians to look closer at how the fusion of sex, money and power along with unresolved trauma could be causative factors that drive some people to ruin.

He started the session by saying our body remembers the trauma we were exposed to in our past, right down to a cellular level (“the more abused you were as a kid, the more potential addictions you may have as an adult”). Pat mentioned that trauma and addiction are the number one health problem we have in this country and coupled with alcohol, sex and other vices, certain high-profile people seen in the picture above could develop an entitled mindset where pleasure becomes an expected way of life.

Some of these people bought into Gladwell’s Outlier’s theory (10,000 hours of focused work achieves expertise in any field) and tend to have challenges managing change and success. Most develop an addiction to stress and may have “handlers and trusted helpers” who wish to advance their own agenda at the expense of the high-profile person. Many have vulnerabilities to addictions in addition to possessing deep wounds concerning affirmation and validation.

Pat then states that the same fear that could cause a person to develop maladaptive behaviors is the same neurochemical that under the right circumstance, could help the person to excel constructively. Pat mentioned that “the human brain loves a challenge and that people of greatness use their brain in the same way that addicts do: with focus.” What makes the difference between ruin versus resilience? Pat stated it was “focusing on things that matter.”

Pat cited the work of Daniel Goldman in Focus: the hidden driver of excellence, which speaks to the person achieving a balance of inner, other and outer focus where the brain is stimulated by focus and attention but also by engaging in rest, relaxation, meditation and even “mind wandering.” Pat closed the session by drawing upon the work of Joseph Campbell (very humorous video), wherein he made the point that “the brain only changes when it feels safe and when there is a story and a narrative that makes sense to a person.”

“In order to regain focus and traction in therapy, the person needs to experience 5 things: (a) a correction of the cellular function, that is, remove the toxins present in the brain (b) Neurostimulation (c) Neuromodulation (d) Neurorelaxation and (e) Neurodifferentiation. These behaviors integrate knowledge into the brain that it then codes into networks we call belief systems or paradigms” (which are values and principles that determine how we will live our lives).

Breakout Session #2: Sacred Sexuality: Integrating Personal, Emotional and Spiritual Values in Sexual Intimacy by William DeFoore, PhD. William G. (Bill) DeFoore, Ph.D. is an author, counselor, coach, consultant and president of the Institute for Personal & Professional Development. In his role as a Licensed Professional Counselor, Dr. DeFoore believes in the self-healing power of each individual, and he facilitates this healing with thirty-five years of experience in a broad variety of therapeutic approaches.

I appreciate William’s “sex positive” views on the subject of sexuality, as my work tends to focus on how sex becomes addictive and damaging to self and others. I realize that many of us for the reasons William addressed in this session, could learn a bit more regarding how to bring this special, vital and necessary part of our life to life, and in the process experience the sacredness that he states is achievable.

William defined “sacredness” as “being dedicated and devoted exclusively to a single use, purpose or person, who is worthy of our respect and dedication.” He also mentioned that sacred sexuality is more likely to occur “in a container of intimacy and love that offers deep and growing pleasure that is healthy for the mind and soul.”

William spoke of how our sexual journey has 3 interacting areas:

a) Our sexuality has Natural Origins: In that we are born with the equipment, and that we have natural urges and desires to love and be loved.

b) We all have a Desire for Authentic Connection: There is an instinct for procreation and a want to fulfill our natural urges. We also have a need for love, belonging and to feel safe in the world we live in, which is likely to be achieved when we develop and experience “a sense of family” with a companion or partner.

c) Unfortunately there are Diverse Influences that come in between “A” and “B”: Some of these diverse influences facilitate shame and/or fear-based puritanical or unhealthy religious approaches with our sexuality, in addition to experiences where neglect, violation, abuse or exposure to demeaning media messages surrounding our sexuality is seen.

These diverse influences could create harmful “disconnects” in our sexual journey where suppressed toxic messages about sex could lead to “acting out” or compulsive, addictive, violent or abusive behavior, or, behavior in an area that does not get much attention but could be just as harmful: “acting mechanically” when it comes to our sexuality.

William defines “the mechanical act” as meeting biological and some emotional needs, but often occurs without a sense of connection with the other. He also states mechanical acts are much “easier” than making love and could feel like a violation, especially when sex is called “casual” because casual sex usually ends with someone getting hurt in the encounter. He stated that the need for greater stimulation typically occurs when sex is mechanical; this results in behavior marked by more distraction and disconnection versus love and intimacy.

William then presented an “Emotional Wellness Framework” which acknowledges the powerful connection between sex and emotion. William mentioned that sexual intimacy requires emotional intimacy and emotional stability, which are better achieved when we take the time to look at how our personal history may be impacting or prohibiting these areas of development. William provided a graph that highlighted how our need to love and be loved could be encased in pain, sorrow, fear, anxiety, anger, withdrawal and compulsively, which all promote disconnection from one’s body in addition to pretending and performing when it comes to sex.

To counter this, William stated that we need to be able to “look inside and become aware of what is going on” and work to develop the capacity to manage the emotions listed above.This form of “inner focus” promotes self-awareness, self-management, well-being and healing. When these ingredients are used for introspection, more than likely our body as a system begins to “open up.”

To practically accomplish this, William presented his “Emotional Intelligence Framework,” which is composed of the domains of Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness and Relationship Management. It is in these domains that we have the opportunity to examine our old beliefs, unmet needs, expectations, fears, “evolution of behaviors,” strengths, weaknesses and relationship attraction patterns.

When we look at ourselves through these domains we give ourselves the opportunity to learn:

  1. Our responsibility for emotional healing.
  2. How to engage in healthy forms of self-soothing.
  3. How to self-motivate ourselves to continue this personal and necessary discovery work.
  4. The necessity for a positive view of ourselves and others.
  5. Why listening and empathy skills that are necessary for emotional intimacy are important.
  6. Why positive and respectful communication facilitates the type of intimacy that we want to enjoy.
  7. Conflict resolution tools and assertiveness skills.
  8. How to collaboratively work as a “teammate” with my partner.
  9. What personally arouses me, especially when it comes to my desire and orgasm.
  10. We have the opportunity to develop “healthy fantasy” about my partner or spouse.
  11. Why I need to understand my partner’s history of unmet needs and desires.
  12. To develop and express a positive view and image of my partner and spouse.
  13. To develop sensitivity and caring behaviors in the context of our relationship.
  14. To create romance and have fun in the relationship.

William quoted Harville Hendrix by stating “the best thing you could do for your own growth is to meet your partner’s needs and to be fully committed to this endeavor (I hear love your neighbor as yourself here), and to work on a shared vision for and of the sexual relationship.”

William also mentioned the need and utility of “Therapeutic Tools” that could help in the development of sacred sexuality, which are:

  1. Explore your sexual history and your earliest awareness of sex. Look at your parent’s view and orientation about sex; delineate between their beliefs and yours. Embrace and take what you can use, leave the rest, including any unhealthy parent-child dynamic that erodes your sense of what healthy intimacy is for you.
  2. Take a sexual inventory, which is composed of a chronology of your sexual experience to increase your awareness about your sexual development.
  3. Facilitate sexual/emotional healing experiences by emotionally releasing your parents or caregivers for their negative, neglectful or abusive behaviors surrounding your sexuality.
  4. Integrate images that help you release shame you have surrounding your sexuality (images that depict you reclaiming, redeeming then practicing healthy ideas regarding the sexual health that you wish to create and experience).
  5. Replace old beliefs with new beliefs about sexuality (deactivate and eliminate self-limiting beliefs and reprogram your mind with empowering ideas that validate your need for safety, creativity, care, confidence, love and fulfilling orgasmic experiences with your partner).
  6. Cultivate the belief you could develop and experience a fulfilling sexual connection with your partner.
  7. Integrate imagery and mental rehearsal that depicts being safe with your partner, making love to your partner and engaging in loving, positive and contained fantasy directed toward your partner.
  8. Develop healthy masturbation practices that involve healthy touch without harmful fantasy content.

Finally, William mentioned adopting positive attitudes (assume the best of your partner, cultivate the desire to please, be playful, upbeat, positive and respectful at all times). In addition, work on developing helpful “techniques” that facilitate sacred sexuality (allowing plenty of time, the use of aromas and music, explore the areas of sensuality, sensual touch and massage, being wise with toys and games, positions and variety, when to talk and when not to talk, in addition to when a “quickie” is great and when it is not). William encouraged us to experience a full body orgasm and to bask in the afterglow of the sexual experience we have the opportunity to create.

Thanks again for reading this post regarding what I learned at my conference on Day Two. As time permits, please visit and read “So what did you learn at your conference?” Day 1 of 3 and Day 3 of 3.

Thanks for visiting and please visit the other blogs written by Dr Ken McGill: Daily Bread for Life and “3 – 2 – 5 – 4 – 24″ for additional information that could be helpful. I welcome your comments below or via email and your favorites, your retweets and your “+1’s” if you have a brief moment and find the information helpful. Again, it is my desire to provide the very best info for your consideration.


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