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

Thanks for reading the two previous posts, “So what did you learn at your conference?” (Day 1 of 3) and (Day 2 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 previous posts, 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 26th, Day Three:

Plenary Session #1: Post-Romantic Stress Disorder by John Bradshaw, MA. John Bradshaw has been called “America’s leading personal growth expert.” This New York Times bestselling author has created and hosted four nationally broadcast PBS television series based on his bestselling books. His latest book is Post-Romantic Stress Disorder (HCI Books).

For the past four decades, John Bradshaw has combined his exceptional skills as the role of counselor, author, management consultant, theologian, philosopher, and public speaker, becoming one of the leading figures in the fields of addiction/recovery, family systems, relationships, spiritual and emotional growth, and management training. John brought the phrases “dysfunctional families” and “inner child” into mainstream society. His dynamic training and therapies are practiced all over the world. A much sought out speaker, John has truly touched and transformed the lives of millions. He was elected by a group of his peers as ‘one of the most influential writers on emotional health in the 20th Century.

John gave a very good and humorous introduction to what seems to be a very good book, Post Romantic Stress Disorder: What to do when the honeymoon is over and new discoveries about lust, love and saving your marriage before it is too late. John spoke about the two major parts of his book:

Part I: Mother Nature’s Old Black Magic: During this phase John mentioned Mother Nature’s job is to get people to meet, mate and procreate. John referenced the work of Helen Fisher, by stating that during the first 18 months of a romantic relationship, the “PEA Cocktail” of Phenylethylamine, Dopamine and Norepinephrine work to create a frenzied euphoric experience that provides energy, well-being and contentment, not too mention elevated levels of testosterone, which governs the sex drive. In addition, the combination of the neurochemicals also decrease serotonin levels, which could trigger obsessive thinking about the other person. John stated that “when people are in-love, their testosterone levels rise to atypical heights, only to return to their normal levels when the in-love ‘spell’ wears off.”  John states this phase is marked more so by Lust than by Love, and that Lust seen in this manner is a “complete brain program” that ensures that we give Mother Nature the babies she needs to carry on our lineage to ward off extinction.

John pointed out that during this stage people are not prone to leave their partner.  However, when the romance wears off and children “create a breach” into the primary relationship, and the other-worldly sex diminishes causing one to think he/she have “fallen out of love,” and if you have not established a solid sense of self to give to the other, what do you do? John stated this is when couples tend to experience post-romantic stress and may label their marriage as unhappy, with some couples”throwing away a good enough” marriage because they feel stuck and think they are incompatible with each other. John mentioned this is when other neurochemicals like Oxytocin and Vasopressin, neurochemicals that promote attachment and bonding, need to be facilitated and experienced, which helps the couple to do the necessary work of creating a strong relationship, which he spoke about in Part II of his book.

Part II: The “Work of Abiding Love: Building Your Attachment Program:  John stated there are multiple tasks for the couple to address as they work toward building a strong relationship and marriage.

First, the couple needs to work on “growing up,” which includes “exorcizing your ‘hauntings’ by repairing your wounded inner child’s developmental dependency need deficits.”  Among other tasks, during this stage the couple needs to learn how to argue effectively, which John said the Awareness Wheel (page 17) is really key to helping a couple to move past this part of their relationship “blockade.”

A second task for the couple is to “Transition to Independence,” which among other things means the couple will need to “work on their repair mechanism in general, while also focusing on enriching and/or salvaging their sex life in particular.”  John states this is partially accomplished by implementing these behaviors (and others discussed extensively in the book) to repair a relationship:

  1. Use “I” messages and avoid “you” messages.
  2. Listen empathetically.
  3. Focus on one thing at a time.
  4. Edit yourself and omit nasty overtones.
  5. Tell your partner what you can and want to do rather than what you can’t and won’t do.
  6. Offer positive appreciation when possible.
  7. Practice easy to do “cherishing” behaviors.
  8. Call a “stop action” if emotional flooding is imminent.

Finally, as a way to enrich their sex life, John suggests that a couple talk in specific, concrete and in most cases, graphic detail regarding what arouses them during their lovemaking. Doing so helps to create an erotic love map where the chances of enjoying reciprocal pleasure are increased. He stated “think of it like having an itchy spot on your back. If you wanted them to scratch your itch, you would tell them what needed scratching and have them experiment until they found the exact spot.”

Plenary Session #2: The Purpose of Worry and How to Manage It by Margaret Wehrenberg, PhD.  Margaret is the author of The Anxious Brain, The Neurobiological Basis of Anxiety Disorders and How to Effectively Treat Them, The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques, The 10 Best-Ever Depression Management Techniques and The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques Workbook. She earned her M.A. studying psychodrama and bioenergetics, and has years of experience as a certified drug and alcoholism counselor, especially working with adults who were traumatized as children, before earning her Psy.D. and beginning a private psychotherapy practice focusing on anxiety disorder treatment in Naperville, Illnois. Dr. Wehrenberg blogs for Psychology Today.

Margaret’s one-hour session was packed with practical and helpful information regarding how to assist others overcome personal challenges with fear, anxiety and worry.

Margaret mentioned “the sense of anxiety is the human response to ambiguity and that this drives us in the direction of problem identification and resolution.” She further mentioned “anxiety is a condition that looks for relief and when the sensation of anxiety exists without cause, the brain scans our environment for cause, and it will usually find it.”  To this point, she added “people seek relief by seeking reassurance and Internet searching is becoming a major source of anxiety-increasing reassurance seeking.”  Margaret shared that if the anxiety can be “de-bunked,” or it becomes obvious that the worry is not going to happen, then we experience brief relief.

Margaret described worry as being different from fear, by validating that fear is the response to a threat that usually prompts us to action. When the threat is removed, then our physical and mental sensations return to a “normal” balance when our discomfort is eliminated. She did state that when a threat is perceived, our behavioral inhibition system is activated, leading us to react with one of the “fight, flight or freeze” protective responses.  Margaret validated that fear does prompt “escape attempts” and that even the anticipation of feeling fear leads to “pre-escape” behaviors, like avoidance.

To help people deal with their fear, anxiety and worry, Margaret suggested looking at what she calls the “cognitive mis-steps.” Cognitive mis-steps leads people to think “if it is possible, then in all likelihood it is probable.” To illustrate this point, she asked us to think about the last time we had a persistent and nagging cough; if it does not go away, we may feel anxiety, which may lead some of us to consult “Dr. Google” (Internet searching) because our anxiety is leading us to think that our cough could be a precursor and symptomatic of us having throat cancer.

To deal with the cognitive mis-steps, Margaret mentioned “just because it is possible does not make it probable.” Ask yourself “Is this real?  If it is not real, then it is probably anxiety.” Furthermore, if it is not real, then the real work becomes to work on “thought stopping” the automatic thoughts connected to your anxiety. She suggested if it is a real problem, then you could make a plan that has a real solution as an outcome.  Planning then acting on that plan provides solution-focused thinking that leads to constructive outcomes. “If you cannot make a plan, it is a worry” and the remedy to worry is to implement worry-elimination strategies.

“Cognitive control” is achieved by combining thought stopping strategies with thought replacing strategies. Thought replacement strategies are always planned and used consistently. “Engage in NIKE™therapy – Just do it” is what Margaret encouraged. Examples of Thought replacement strategies are:

  1. Sing a song: this is the best thought replacement strategy because the whole brain gets involved in the process of redirecting your thoughts.
  2. Be prepared to recite an inspirational or positive thought: Quote AA slogans, read 12 Step prayers or other inspirational pieces of literature that could replace your anxious thoughts.
  3. Ground yourself and re-focus on work or people around you: Where are you going to lunch?  What do you wish to order? BBQ? Seafood? Pasta? Focusing on the details of other aspects of your life tends to redirect your focus on something that provokes anxiety.
  4. Practice the “Two P method” (Pleasant and Productive) thought replacement list: Create a list of things pleasant to you and that prompt you to do something productive with your energy.

Margaret mentioned that if your brain thinks what you are focusing on is important, then it is important!  If our sympathetic nervous system is firing us up to fight, take flight or freeze, then we need to take action to get off the neurochemical highway, and one of the best ways to do this is by thought replacement.  Mindfulness is also a wonderful antidote that leads to thought replacement, as it helps us to do what we are currently doing (versus worrying about what may not happen in our future). Breathing (“In 2, Out 2-4-6-8-10”) and exercise will help our cause, as they get the energy and tension out of people who Margaret described as “intense worriers.”  Exercise also promotes mental relaxation and a change of focus by doing something that is fun.

Finally, Margaret mentioned that if a person has legitimate guilt about life issues, then Steps 4, 5, 8 and 9 of the 12 Steps provide a great antidote to one’s guilty feelings. Margaret encouraged the person to:

  1. Write down what you did wrong (Step 4: “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”).
  2. Talk it over with someone safe (Step 5: “Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs”).
  3. Decide what will make restitution (Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all”).
  4. Then make the restitution (Step 9: “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others”).

Plenary Session #3: Priming: Using the Hidden Power of Language for Superior Client Outcomes and Self-Improvement by Clifton Mitchell, PhD. Clifton is Licensed psychologist and Professor of Counseling at East Tennessee State University. Author of Effective Techniques for Dealing with Highly Resistant Clients, and has published in many journals including the Journal of Personality Assessment, Journal of Psychological Type, and the Professional School Counselor. His research includes investigations of subliminal message tapes, stress and coping, PMS, and personality styles. He has trained thousands of mental health professionals in the management of difficult, perplexing legal and ethical issues in a game show format.

I attended Cliff’s plenary session and his two breakout sessions, as he provided insightful information that continued Dr. Wehrenberg’s focus on using your brain to overcome challenges in life. Being a college professor, I admit his info took me back to my Doctoral program days, but I always find information about how to use your brain power effectively fascinating.

In this one-hour session, Cliff stated his premise: “to greatly increase the probability that what you say to others and to yourself gets you what you want, remember this cardinal principle which governs our thoughts: The mind moves you and your listener in the direction of the dominant thought regardless of whether it is stated in the positive or the negative.”  

Cliff elaborated by saying that “we must overwrite our conscious thought (our dominant thought) with another conscious thought if we wish to achieve a goal; if we don’t program our brain, our thought computer, then we’ll go where our brain tells us to go.” This is the crux of Priming research and Cliff’s stated “we need to tell our mind what to do, instead of what not to do; when we do this, our brain tends to accomplish our objectives.”

Cliff stated that much of human behavior originates in the sub-conscious mind and the sub-conscious mind is controlled by our dominant thoughts. According to Cliff, we should be talking to the sub-conscious mind about our dominant thoughts and if we could control the dominant thought, then we could control our mind and our behavior.

Cliff gave negative dominant thoughts (underlined below) and positive examples (after the word “versus”) of how we program ourselves with the following thoughts:

  1. “Don’t forget to…” versus “Remember to…”
  2. “Don’t hesitate to call…” versus “Call when you need me.”
  3. “You can’t miss it” versus “You will see it on the right.”
  4. “Don’t give me a hard time” versus “Thanks for cooperating.”
  5. “Don’t lie to me” versus “Tell me the truth now.”
  6. “You will not fail” versus “You’ll succeed.”
  7. “Don’t be nervous” versus “Remain calm and relaxed.”

To create positive priming thoughts and behaviors Cliff stated:

  1. Make a present tense statement of you doing the desired behavior with the precisely worded dominant thought.
  2. Repeat the present tense statement to yourself 500 – 1000 times daily.
  3. Give it 2 – 3 months to take effect.

Cliff stated to not argue with a negative distortion in your mind; if you argue with a negative distortion it becomes the dominant thought.

For counselors, Cliff mentioned that the words we use will be the words others will use in their life.  He referenced studies that indicated subjects who were primed with words like “polite, considerate and respect” were less likely to interrupt  in conversations where other subjects were primed with words like “rude, obnoxious and inconsiderate.”  Cliff also wrote on the board the word “S – H – O – P,” asked us to say it out loud (“SHOP”) then asked what do we do when we come to a green light? (If you said “stop” you are not alone!).

Cliff closed the session by providing helpful hints as we interact with others:

  1. If you program the mind it needs to be present tense versus future tense.
  2. Be therapeutic when you are priming others.
  3. Consistently state and frame the positive that clients are doing versus the negative.
  4. Use high level empathetic statements and responses.  Ask “what are you looking for?” “What do you need?” and “What are you searching for?”
  5. Use embedded suggestions and “commands” in your dialogue with others.
  6. Carefully observe the client’s reaction when you are priming them.
  7. Our job is to plant seeds and talk to the subconscious.
  8. We are encouraged to consistently change the input in the mind in order to change the output in the behavior.

Breakout Session # 2: Effective Techniques for Dealing with Highly Resistant clients: Questions and “I don’t know…” Responses by Clifton Mitchell, PhD.

The content in this session focused on helping counselors with their counselees, however, I think the principles provided by Cliff are beneficial for any person who wishes to help a friend work through an issue by practicing and/or adding these skills with their already existing active-listening skills.

Cliff started by encouraging us to help our clients to “do the unexpected; do something different,” because we wish to disrupt old patterns by presenting new patterns of thinking and behaving.  He encouraged us to “slow the pace” with our clients, and to increase the use of silence and “space” between our words.  He stated this creates “pressure” for the client to fill the space, during which he/she is given the space to “do the work” and talk through issues they are there to talk about.

Cliff also encouraged listeners to “focus on details” as “the devil is in the details, but so are solutions” and that focusing on the details gives the counselee the opportunity to process something that he/she may not have ever addressed but now needs to look at and talk through with us.

Cliff mentioned we never help a person until the problem is defined around a specific person, place and time, and encouraged us to write all the problems impacting the client on paper (to create a visual), following up with the statement “this is what I see; you pick the one area that you’d like to start on.” Cliff also instructed us to “seek emotionally compelling reasons for change; people do not change because of logic; people only change when they have an emotionally compelling reason to do so.”  To this point, Cliff encouraged the listener to use Rogerian tactics like empathy, warmth and unconditional positive regard as we label the emotion that the client is feeling/expressing and “pull it forward” when we mine for emotionally laden statements. Cliff stated “change results from a crystallization of discontent and that anxiety is the gap between the now and the later; try to help the person to fully experience anxiety now in order to get rid of it later.”

Cliff also instructed us to create mutually agreeable goals with the client and to “get into a consumer advocacy position with them.” Our job is to listen, state or restate the situation the client is in, the options available to them and the potential consequences connected with the issue at hand, then encourage the client to make a decision and move out of the client’s way.

Finally, Cliff encouraged us to “let not knowing be o.k. in the session.”  He said that when the client feels relief that they don’t have to have all the answers at any given time, then he/she may open up and share additional thoughts and feelings. Cliff also encouraged us to ask the client to “inquire what a wise friend would say” about his/her predicament (i.e., “If I had this problem, my colleague would say this…” or “You have some friends…what would they say about this?”). Bringing in a 3rd party into the room may help the client to move beyond feeling stuck.

Thank you again for reading these posts regarding the 21st US Journal Training Conference I attended.  I hope that by reading these entries, that you have taken away some nugget of truth and insight that has helped you personally or in your relationships with others.

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.

TeleHealth/Video counseling sessions are available for those who prefer to meet online – Dr. McGill

Businesswoman presses button psychological counseling online on virtual screens. technology, internet and networking concept.

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