Thursday, April 30, 2009

Needed: Focus, Part 2

Picking up where I left off yesterday...

For fear of seeming superficial we direct our attention to life's dangers and horrors. Most of us want to belong to the ambient culture, especially the one that therapy has defined as "healthy."

We do it by showing enhanced awareness of everything that can and has gone wrong, to the detriment of what is going right.

To counter this unfortunate tendency, Winifred Gallagher prescribed directed meditation about the good things in life. To sustain herself through her cancer treatment, she retrained her mind to ignore the negative and focus on the positive.

When we feel threatened by potential dangers our minds are unfocused. When we have been traumatized we shift into pain avoidance mode and scan the world for cues that might signal imminent pain. Our eyes dart around, looking for signs of trouble.

To overcome that tendency we need to regain focus. And we need to get out of ourselves and out of the self-preservation mode that we fall in whenever we have suffered a trauma.

Then we can regain the focus and concentration needed to enjoy life and to work effectively.

Gallagher shows that we can, with sufficient work, gain some control over what our minds focus on, and that, by gaining such control, we can improve our mood.

It is an important lesson. Evidently, it derives from cognitive therapy. Less evidently, perhaps, it runs counter to the psychoanalytic practice of free association.

As a condition for treatment, psychoanalysis prescribed a lack of focus, a willful ignorance of the outside world. Its patients could then undertake an introspective journey into the hidden horrors of the forgotten past.

Also, psychoanalysts insisted that their patients say whatever came to mind, regardless of the effect it might have on any listener.

If an analytic patient made his thoughts into a coherent and logical statement, he was, by definition, allowing his thoughts to be censored. Thus he was not following the rule and was a bad patient.

Through the practice of free association, psychoanalytic patients were trained to speak in disconnected fragments, to be unfocused, to dart from one subject to another, looking for trouble.

By training people to master the unnatural habit of free associating, psychoanalysis was helping them to become socially dysfunctional.

If the therapy culture, with its focus on trauma and grievance, is mass-producing depression, then psychoanalysis, with its emphasis on a mind that speaks in disconnected fragments, is underwriting this production, one patient at a time.

The moral of the story is simple. If the culture is inducing habits that make you feel depressed, your mood cannot be analyzed as a product of a childhood trauma or poor parenting.

You might just be trying to be a member in good standing of a peer group that has bought into the therapy culture. And there is nothing abnormal about that.

No comments: