The Building of the Ego

Chris reports on his sound therapy progress

The past few weeks with sound therapy have been constructive, as we increasingly moved into the world of imagination. As the shaman says, “Sound is linked to memory,” and he’s really helped me by letting me release tension, from the present as well as the past. I remember hearing Ray of Light by Madonna at the end of my last session, which really describes his therapy in a nutshell.

What we did this time was the same six-color palette played in sequence, and the shaman gave me a “keyword” associated with each color. They were:

red: opposites
orange: movement
yellow: action
green: distance
blue: sound
violet: form

I didn’t know quite what to expect. A very interesting thing happened, which accelerated the time it took to achieve “zen” with the color therapy. Beginning with red (opposites), all the tension left me and I entered into a different space, a space that was not defined by my body but rather was defined by my “rational” mind, the part of me which had preferences and opinions. My mind was liberated, and while I did not enter into free fantasy or “lucid dreaming,” I was questioning things I took for granted, and how I defined most things against my body. At green and blue I was released completely from the present and concentrated on my memories, and I became aware of the life flowing in my limbs and the changes, I could see how my legs had become stronger but less flexible since I started treating the body like a machine.

Completing the session, for the second part the shaman gave two keywords or combinations, red (“opposites”) and each other color, eg. “opposites and distance.” Looking at each combination, you were forced to ask what is an opposite, and this freed me from judgment. I was always looking at how fast something moved, or how loud a sound was. With movement, I defined an upward motion versus a downward motion, but when it came to green (opposites and distance), things looked completely different. How far away is one person when talking to another person? What if you measure from one cell of the body to another, or one atom to another? Then the distance from one person to the next could be greater than “the length of a football field”. How you define your perspective is as important as the objective world you perceive. The issue of personal space: there is a limit somewhere between your body and someone else’s, where you can share your feelings without becoming a slave to every little outside stimulus.

When it came to “opposites and form,” red and violet, I pictured myself in a building, and the contrast between my body and the naked structure of an apartment building, and I saw myself fall through the building from the top to below the ground. The shaman told me that often in psychology a building represents the human ego, so I found a connection between the ego (the building) and the body, and the way to transcend the ego (the confines of the building) was to shift my focus away from my body. There the session ended. I didn’t especially enjoy being stuck in a building and was happy to keep my new awareness of the connections between my body and the physical world around me.

Palliative half-measures

My oldest “child” may be twenty-six years old and given a different label, but I share the same apprehensions as outlined by the New York Times article “Concocting a Cure for Kids with Issues.”

My middle “child” Alex (age 23) has been seeing a dermatologist to get to the bottom of his fairly mild eczema. $1600 later and several doctors visits and lab tests later, he is no more aware of what the underlying problem is than when he started. I have suggested that he look into gem therapy, which I think has real healing possibilities and if that doesn’t work, you move on to something else in your personally designed program for wellness.

The New York Times article says . . .
These parents often don’t trust the mental-health professionals who usually treat children with “issues,” as we euphemistically tend to refer to problems like learning disabilities, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism or other developmental difficulties. They find offensive the prospect of having a child “labeled” when his or her development doesn’t correspond to what seem like random, overly restrictive norms. They find the notion of putting children on psychotropic medication frightening and unacceptable. They want to find concrete causes for their children’s diffuse, often difficult-to-understand problems and, ideally, to find cures. They want their children to achieve, and they’re dissatisfied with what they feel are the palliative half-measures offered by pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists and learning specialists.

I like the use of the term “palliative half-measures.” It summarizes my frustrations over the years with conventional approaches.

Hothouse flowers

A mesmerizing story about Japan’s Chrysanthemum Throne hothouse appears today in the New York Times. As uniquely Japanese as the tale appears, what lies beneath is universal. Crown Princess Masako, who suffers from depression and is not often seen in public, now appears to have a daughter who may be showing early signs of nervousness.

Then there is the Washington Post story about Patrick Kennedy not seeking re-election for a ninth term. I give him credit for weathering the storm of the public eye for sixteen years despite having familial tendencies toward drink and manic-depression.

Kennedy says he intends to work for mental health and addiction issues from his home base of Portsmouth, Rhode Island. “As exciting and as meaningful as work is and as my career is, ultimately something clicked inside of me that there was something that was missing,” Kennedy says. “I want a fuller life.”

I wish him the best of luck. I can guarantee him a fuller life if he, for personal and professional reasons, decides to investigate the healing world of holistic mental health. He can also develop a reading list of the great inner life authors – Hermann Hesse, Kierkegaard, Neitsche, to name just a few. The Big Bang and energy medicine should be on the reading list, too. We are put here on earth to do more than simply cope with our problems. We can transform them.

“We grew up in a family where there was very little tolerance for self-exploration,” says a cousin, Christopher Kennedy Lawford. “I think now he has this freedom . . . to do some real exploration of who he is and what he wants to do in his lifetime. That’s a valiant exploration, and a needed one.

“Gandhi,” he adds, “said the man who conquers himself is greater than the man who conquers 10,000 armies.”

Orgone energy

Actor Orson Bean’s book, Me and the Orgone, about his experiences with orgone therapy under Dr. Elsworth Baker, is an interesting look at a little known therapy. My one disappointment with the book is that his therapy didn’t involve the use of the orgone accumulator box that was so popular with beat generation writers and poets. According to J.D. Salinger’s daughter, he used to sit for days at a stretch in the accumulator and drink his own urine. (Daughter obviously had “issues” with dear old Dad.)

Orgone therapy involves circulating the natural flow of energy around the body by pushing and pounding and pinching various places in the body to loosen the bodily armour (defense mechanisms) that build up due to life’s traumas and layer like scar tissue. The body adapts, but is locked.

The trauma that Orson’s Bean confided to in the book was how badly he felt when his parents got rid of his dog when he was about ten and that he never cried when his mother died. It was also obvious that he felt unfulfilled sexually and that was largely the reason behind his entering into orgone therapy. Three and a half years of orgone therapy once a week accomplished more than what ten years of psychoanalysis did for him. He felt released.

Orgone therapy involves the manipulation of what has come to be called putative (non-measurable) energy or chi. It can be consider a category of energy medicine and is cathartic in nature.

See also Psychiatric home remedies.

The relapse double standard

Trolling the Internet today for inspiration, here’s yet another example of what I consider a double standard for how differently schizophrenia is viewed from other mental health issues when it comes to relapse. When someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia relapses, cries go out that is is due to going off the drugs, which “everybody knows” someone with schizophrenia cannot do.

My point has always been that people will relapse if they haven’t effectively dealt with their problems. Yes, I know it is also true that the drugs create problems so that withdrawing from them can lead to re-emergence of the symptoms, but that’s not the point here I am making. Isn’t it time that doctors attribute relapse in schizophrenia to the same reasons alcoholics, sex addicts or depressed people relapse?

Based on the addiction model, several sex addiction treatment centers have opened in recent years — including Pine Grove in Hattiesburg, Miss., where rumors have placed Woods. Twelve-step programs, often the foundation of substance abuse treatment, are a staple of such facilities.

But they may not reach far enough, Kafka said. Many patients with hypersexual behavior relapse after 12-step programs, he said, because they haven’t addressed other issues in their lives. He believes that certain moods or psychiatric conditions cause sexual behavior to become disinhibited and abnormal.

This insight is not shared by the medical professionals I have had to deal with, who insist that relapse is the inevitable result of simply not being on the medications.

The article in its entirety can be found here.

Where are the mothers?

Are there any mothers out there who are willing to share their pre-natal experiences with a child who later received a diagnosis of schizophrenia?

When I started blogging about my son’s schizophrenia, I thought there might be other blogging mothers out there who were doing the same, but this doesn’t appear to be the case. There are many mothers who blog about their child’s autism, but where are the mothers who blog about schizophrenia? I am willing to widen my survey to include mothers of bipolar children (really, what’s the difference?). Mothers of bipolar children also are in short supply in the blogosphere.

Mothers need to be here and to be heard in order to do the job that mainstream psychiatry is unwilling to do. That job is to dig back into our emotional memory bank, into the pre-natal environment, to begin to piece together our child/ourselves story.

I thought that my ten month silent pregnancy was hugely significant in Chris’s later diagnosis, but the doctors were not at all interested. Not at all. So, I had to do the work myself, to piece together Chris’s unique life in utero and why I believe that the life before birth is very important, not in a pathological sense, but in finding a reason for someone retreating from life into a fantasy world.

We all know that there was something unique about the experience, and I suggest that if we think about it, we can pinpoint some unusual things about the experience from conception through birth. The reason I am interested in hypnotherapy, for example, is exactly because it can delve into the hidden world of the womb and even past lives. Try suggesting adjunct treatment in hypnotherapy to your mainstream psychiatrist and see where that gets you. They don’t want to go there. Most aren’t trained to go there. You appreciate perhaps more than they do the importance of the pre-verbal life.

So, where are you or your friends who have a story to tell about what was unsual/strange/remarkable about the pre-natal experience?

Satori system, post-traumatic stress and schizophrenia

The Financial Times copyright policy forbids distribution of this article by e-mail. You can google it using keywords Satori system, Financial Times and David Kaufman.

This privately developed technology is being used by the US military in veterans centers and in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is becoming widely available in US spas and the developers are partnering with Mental Health America to distribute 250,000 MP3 complimentary downloads to U.S. servicemen (emphasis, my own)

The Satori system uses alpha, theta and delta frequencies to induce relaxation by lowering brainwaves, lowering serotonin levels and bringing the body into a REM-like state. Lucid dreaming anyone?

The client winds down in a specially designed chaise longue type chair where vibrational energy is pumped in via headphones and four strategically placed transducers (which I suspect are located under the length of the chair and in contact with the body.)

I have written elsewhere (here, here, here and here) about Chris’s encouraging experiences with the sound shaman, using a different sound therapy approach but having in common the use of vibrational energy and sound to heal. According to the FT article, the Satori system helps disable your innate “fight or flight” response.

All of this is wonderful, but why isn’t Mental Health America making these downloads freely available to people with schizophrenia, their natural constituency? Come on, what’s the difference between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and schizophrenia? Dr. Loren Mosher said shell shock (PSTD) resembles schizophrenia but in PSTD it seems obvious where the stressors came from and in schizophrenia it is not so obvious. Okay, PSTD, like autism, is a hot topic, and schizophrenia, as usual, suffers from a dirth of outside the box thinking.

I will follow up with Mental Health America and see if not distributing the free downloads to their natural clients isn’t just an oversight.

Medication – the low hanging fruit

There was a strange book review in the New York Times last week by Abigail Zuger. She managed to heap praise while smugly writing with a “didn’t I tell you so” attitude on Judith Warner’s new book, We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.

Strange because the reviewer took such obvious delight in Ms Warner’s sadder but wiser girl perspective about how she naively thought that the overmedication of children was a fact, and gosh, six years later she couldn’t find a parent out there who was thrilled about medicating her with drugs. This is news?

Dr. Zuger, an assistant medical professor at Columbia University, is entitled to her opinions, but she is unfortunately trying to present her opinions as medical truth. They are just opinions but will be construed as fact because she’s a doctor. Treating troubled children is more than symptom management for a calmer classroom: the medications seem actually to change the structure of the brain, helping it develop in what all evidence indicates is the right direction. More children in treatment should spell the beginnings of a healthier adult world.

What? Dr. Zuger is equating treatment with drug taking, not with treating the underlying problem. The “changes the brain for the better” argument is dangerous thinking and has no scientific basis but it sure is promoted by pharmaceutical companies. They, together with medical professionals pushing the enhanced brain function, have turned college students on to the perceived benefits of self-medicating prescription drugs for the purposes of competitive advantage. (Mother’s tip: Dr. Abram Hoffer’s niacinimide remedy for schizophrenia gives you focus with side benefits, not side effects.)

More children in treatment will lead to even more children in unnecessary treatment as our college students have demonstrated. There is a “me, too” effect here, and who can blame them? Similarly, if I were a mother of a school age child and observed that all the other kids had this competitive advantage, I would be tempted to ask why should my child be denied this harmless drug that protects the brain and increases focus? That’s discrimination, isn’t it?

Dr. Zuger goes out of her way to paint a disparaging picture of naive but caring twits like me who think that young children’s mental health should be managed in a different way. After all, almost nothing is known about the effects of antipsychotic medications on developing brains, reason enough to stay away from them. The effects on developed adult brains are pretty awful, the effectiveness of the medications are being widely questioned by science, and then there is the obesity problem. Why would we foist the same problems on children?

The answer to why we do this despite knowing the risks is found in the same article. There are only 7000 child psychiatrists in the United States. Lack of insurance and/or geographical access to psychiatrist means that most children will never see a psychiatrist, or else that one psychiatrist you do have access to is going be extremely overworked. Time, money and access being a problem, it’s cheaper for psychiatry to go for the low hanging fruit. Medication is that low-hanging fruit.

I see it this way. Your child (or the child in you if you are an adult) is being sacrificed for the “easy” solution, which is always the cheap solution when society is looking for mass “fix-its.” Mental health, unfortunately, does not lend itself well to one size fits all solutions. Increasing the number of child psychiatrists is a good idea if children and families are helped to find non-drug ways of dealing with their problems. (The job I naively thought psychiatrists were suppposed to be doing in the first place.) If it leads to a proportional increase in the number of children on psychiatric drugs, the potential benefit has been lost.

So, let’s call medication what it is, which is a cheap intervention, but let’s not pretend that it is something more noble than it is or that medication will somehow “protect the brain” when there are other therapies and ideas out there that work and which don’t produce side-effects. The poorer you are, the better your chances that you’ll be handed a drug and told to go away.

Rethinking relapse

For every psychiatrist and patient who thinks believes that schizophrenia is a chronic biological disease that causes people to invariably relapse because of their “disease” after discontinuing their medication I am thrilled to present the following excerpt from the recent New York Times magazine article, Depression’s Upside

Consider a 2005 paper led by Steven Hollon, a psychologist at Vanderbilt University: he found that people on antidepressants had a 76 percent chance of relapse within a year when the drugs were discontinued. In contrast, patients given a form of cognitive talk therapy had a relapse rate of 31 percent. And Hollon’s data aren’t unusual: several studies found that patients treated with medication were approximately twice as likely to relapse as patients treated with cognitive behavior therapy. “The high relapse rate suggests that the drugs aren’t really solving anything,” Thomson says. “In fact, they seem to be interfering with the solution, so that patients are discouraged from dealing with their problems. We end up having to keep people on the drugs forever. It was as if these people have a bodily infection, and modern psychiatry is just treating their fever.”

I, too, relapsed the first time I tried to go off an antidepressant. I got back on the medication for a few months, rethought my exit strategy, looked further into homeopathic substitutes, and the next time I attempted to get off them, I was successful. For a while during this ordeal, I almost had myself convinced I was chronic. So what, then, is so special about coming off medications when the person is diagnosed with schizophrenia? The difference, I suspect, is stigma. Many doctors just can’t get out of their heads the idea that schizophrenia is chronic and that medications prevent someone from relapsing. They are afraid of the lurking beast. Rather than revert to treating the patient with understanding and empathy, they pile on drugs to prevent the scarier aspects of psychosis from rearing their heads. The meaningful but hard work of psychiatry is avoided in favor of prescription writing.

Coming off schizophrenia drugs should involve exactly the same thinking that this study has shown. In other words, you analyze the situation, you add more non-drug therapies (like CBT or other therapies I write about in this blog) and you resist the conclusion that most doctors are only too willing to hand you, that people with schizophrenia will always need their drugs because they just can’t function without them.

Relapse can mean that you are simply not there yet, that you haven’t yet developed the coping strategies and the self-awareness that is needed for a steadier toe-hold on life. It doesn’t mean that you are a chronic case. Relapse can occur while on the drugs or off the drugs but has a lot to do with your particular circumstances at the time. People often relapse witin a year of getting off their drugs. Relapse at this stage should not be attributed solely to the fact that the person is off the drugs. It is a dangerous connection to make. A far better way to look at it is to reason that maybe there are other things that you should be doing to develp your life coping skills, to make you more emotionally resilient. This is a strategy coming out of strength, not weakness. The weaker response is to succumb to the fear that there is nothing you can do to change, to admit that you are chronic and forever dependent on your drugs.

Alligators and humans

While in Florida Ian and I took an Everglades tour. I learned several odd and interesting things. One is that back in the 1980s one out of three adult males in Everglades City were involved in smuggling drugs from Colombia. Everglades City is tiny, more like a hamlet, but it does have an international airport (read Colombia-USA), as the guide cheerfully pointed out.

I learned that alligators are fresh water creatures, unlike crocodiles, which thrive in salt water. Florida has mainly alligators, but also a small number of crocodiles. According to our guide, an alligator stays under water a good deal of the time, but the soft membranes behind its eyes pick up vibrations through the water from the surrounding environment, enabling the alligator to sense what is on land. I began to wonder if the soft membrane in alligators heads are similar in function to the soft spots (fontanelles) in newborn humans.

Human fontanelles are known to serve two functions, to allow the baby’s head to ease through the birth canal and for rapid brain growth during the first two years of life.

It seems reasonable (to me, at least) that there could also be a third function to human fontanelles, that of sensing the environment, just as alligator soft spots do. The implication would be that babies in utero and in their first two years of life pick up much of the information in their environment due to vibration. Remember that the human ear is fully formed by the fourth month of pregnancy and then of course, there is the umbilical cord shared with the mother which also picks up vibrations from the mother and the environment.