Subject: Redefining Therapeutic Success Date: rev2019-07-16a
“The success of our teachers in life – whether they are our parents, teachers and other students in school, religious leaders, bosses at work, or the powerful academia, political, and business leaders who set the stage for our lives – is in their ability to empower us with the skills and abilities to think and to feel good, and to help us move our thought and debate up into the mammalian brain. Here, a ‘what feels good, is good’ mentality can evolve into broader and greater awareness of both short and long-term consequences, and decision-making and action can mature into greater complexity and imagination. With such education and personal development, ‘what feels good, is good’ can have a compassionate foundation for existence.”
Dear Health Care Professional:
Symbiotic Psychology: The Synergy Between Mind, Body, Emotions, and Consciousness outlines a new paradigm of emotional understanding. Rather than demonizing emotions as aberrant, destructive, out-of-control and in need of regulation because of an emotional disorder, Symbiotic Psychology understands emotions as an evolved sensory system, akin to the sense of pain, giving conscious feedback of a state of physiological biochemistry. Emotions, instead of being regulated by cognitive behavior, are used to guide cognitive behavior for the health and well-being of the individual.
The basis of healing and well-being is the maintenance of a healthy biological ecosystem. Evolution has provided all species with a very unique and misunderstood system of biofeedback that lets each individual be aware of their own biochemical balance and a system of guidance for the care and preservation of this balance. But, because of a lack of precise definition, meaning, and use of terminology in the literature, scientific analysis and experimentation misrepresent this system. In this book I carefully define terminology and give an order and structure to cognition, physiological biochemistry, emotions, and consciousness.
The biologically evolved system of emotions is a system of individual guidance for health maintenance and well-being, which has been misinterpreted until now. The following discussion, Symbiotic Psychology: The Synergy Between Mind, Body, Emotions, and Consciousness, provides a unique scientific argument and rationale that emotions have evolved as a biological system with correlative connections to the (a) knowing of physical and mental strength, agility, and vigor, (b) the actuality of physical and mental strength, agility, and vigor and (c) the positive emotional feelings of pleasure, joy, and happiness. But what actually are emotions?
A person feels an emotion. Emotions are an introspective awareness of a bodily state of being. Analogous to the ‘check engine light’ on the dashboard of a car, a person perceives an emotion. The perception of the light brings a cognitive awareness of an undesirable condition of the engine. We want the light to change, to not indicate a problem; it would be inaccurate to say the light is out-of-control and in need of regulation. The light is not in itself aberrant nor destructive and in need of regulation and control. The light is indicative of potentially serious, damaging and destructive conditions within the engine. This potential damage will probably be actualized if the light is ignored, covered up, or deactivated through some artificial means. The light is indicative of a ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ condition of the engine. Similarly, it is inaccurate to say that emotions are out-of-control and in need of regulation.
The Handbook of Emotion Regulation (Gross J., 2014) implies within its title that emotions are something to be regulated because emotional disorders exist where emotions are aberrant, destructive, and out-of-control. Gross uses the term emotional regulation to mean “shaping which emotions one has, when one has them, and how one experiences or expresses these emotions” (Gross, 1998b). But this characterization is flawed. It would be better to characterize the situation as follows: there is a need to shape the cognitive activities of “situation selection, situation modification, attentional deployment, and cognitive change” (Gross, 2014) in order to regulate these processes for a healthy outcome. It is the processes of “situation – attention – appraisal” (Gross, 2014) that need to be regulated. Therefore, it is these cognitive activities that should be identified as aberrant, destructive, and out-of-control. The nature of the disorder is cognitive and, therefore, there is a need for cognitive regulation.
The distinction between emotional regulation and cognitive regulation is critical. Within severe mental illnesses such as psychotic mania or suicidal depression, whether emotions are being regulated or cognition is being regulated can be very consequential, especially with the use of pharmaceuticals. Both the patient and the therapist use emotional feedback as a meaningful measurement and understanding of the cognitive processes being utilized by consciousness. But emotions that are demonized as aberrant, destructive, and so out-of-control that they must be regulated and brought under control, cannot also be used as a trusted feedback mechanism. This mechanism evolved over millions of years for the individual’s health, well-being, and survival. Medications and practices that aim to regulate and control emotions invalidate the very therapeutic process that aims to rely on this mechanism for healing.
Within the Handbook of Emotion Regulation (Gross J., 2014), discussion of the sequence of “situation – attention – appraisal – response,” suggests that situation, attention, and appraisal are causal to the effect response. But what are the cause/effect relationships within this emotional response, that is, between the “experiential, behavioral, and neurobiological response systems?” (Gross J., 2014) Gross’ views about cause and effect are unclear. The same lack of clarity arises within the all-encompassing cause/effect order within the “environment” of “thoughts, physical reactions, moods, and behaviors” of Mind over Mood (Greenberger, D., Padesky, C., 2016). This lack of a distinct cause/effect order lies in part, or maybe because of, the commonly accepted cause/effect relationship as illustrated in Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond (Beck, J., 2011) where emotion is characterized as causal to the effect physiological response.
If emotion is causal to a physiological response, then it makes sense to regulate emotions. But if the definition of emotion encompasses the physiological response, this would imply that emotions are causal to emotions. Furthermore, the effect phenomenon of emotional responses is without a clear distinction about what the conscious “I” is perceiving and when this occurs within a sequence of events. The significance and importance of consciousness’s perception of a good or bad feeling emotion or mood is not addressed within these models. Psychological, psychiatric, and pharmaceutical therapies, on which biological health and well-being are dependent, are based upon altering cognitive behavior to change emotional biology, but integration of the discussion of these neural networks and circuits with a concept of the conscious individual “I” needs greater clarity.
Can we reorganize and alter the elements of cognitive behavior therapies without changing the basis of success of these therapies, that is, in their ability to change cognitive activities and cognition, which thereby changes emotional experiences and their correlative physiological biochemistry? What if, rather than viewing emotions as causal within a loop which produces the physiological and biochemical responses in the brain and body, we were to view cognitive activities as the producers of these physiological and biochemical responses? Emotions could then be understood to be the perception of these physiological/biochemical responses. The conundrum of emotions both triggering physiological/biochemical responses and being the response to physiological/biochemical changes is relieved, and the research on the effectiveness and success of cognitive behavior therapies is maintained as follows:
An experience within an environment of core beliefs stimulates thought and other cognitive neural network activities. These cognitive activities (perception, recognition, conceiving – which includes imagination and inspiration – and reasoning) initiate a biochemical/physiological reaction within the brain and body. It is this physiological biochemistry of the brain/body that actuates the neural networks of emotional perception that consciousness perceives, experiences as emotions, and uses to further modify cognitive activity.
Negative feeling emotions are indications that abusive and damaging cognitive behavior is creating unhealthy and destructive biochemical conditions. Furthermore, these damaging biological conditions would worsen if emotional behavior were not to be acknowledged or were to be deliberately suppressed or ignored. This would be especially concerning if emotions were to be managed and controlled by pharmaceuticals, which could easily make any therapeutic discourse of cognitive behavior misleading and even invalid because of the lack of a true cognitive/emotional correlative relationship.
There is a key difference between the paradigms of “emotions guide cognitive behavior” and “cognitive behavior regulates emotions.” Within the construct of “cognition regulates destructive emotional behavior,” it is the intellect which identifies, determines, and defines destructive emotional and biological behavior as well as identifies, determines, and defines the cognitive behavior which causes this destructive emotional behavior. Within the construct of “emotions guide cognitive behavior,” it is the very presence of negative emotions which identifies, determines and defines destructive cognitive and biological behavior. If emotions are the perception of physiological biochemistry, then negative feeling emotions are the indication of very real aberrant and destructive cognitive and biological behavior.
Emotions provide meaningful and necessary insight into a person’s cognitive activities and their resulting constructive or destructive biological and physical activities. Both the therapist and the patient can use emotions to guide personal, psychological, and psychiatric activities. That which feels good is good (biologically), that which feels bad is bad (biologically). Intellect’s role, rather than to define and regulate aberrant and destructive emotions, should be found in its creative capacity to define cognitively that which is wanted and desired and which feels good, while in keeping with personal and, to some extent, societal and religious ethical codes of behavior.
The great advantage of this adjustment of a paradigm is that now cognitive behavior therapies may very well prove to be a more effective and robust tool in the treatment of severe bipolar and psychotic disorders, suicidal depression, and other very demanding illnesses. With emotional guidance training and with a new battery of pharmaceutical medications emphasizing cognitive self-management, true healing may become the new norm. These new pharmaceuticals should only be used as a temporary crutch to aid the patient’s conscious control of cognitive behavior as guided by his/her own emotional guidance.
Well-being and the success of any professional therapy, mental or physical, is not defined by the absence of illness but by the presence of health, vigor, and joy along with the necessary cognitive skills, abilities, and motivation to nurture these conditions by employing one’s own emotional guidance.
Symbiotic Psychology: The Synergy Between Mind, Body, Emotions, and Consciousness outlines a new paradigm of emotional guidance training.
Beck, J. (2011). Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond. New York, NY: The Guilford Press
Greenberger, D., Padesky, C. (2016). Mind over mood. New York, NY: The Guilford Press
Gross, J. (1998). Antecedent- and response-focused emotion regulation: Divergent consequences for experience, expression, and physiology. Journal of Personality and Psychology, 74(1), 224-237.
Gross, J. (2014). Handbook of emotion regulation. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.