Tools & Skills Introduction
The following six pages are the first major addition to this site since going live in October 2009. The original pages represent my perspective on some of the major mental health issues we face throughout our lives and suggest that psychotherapy is an experience each of us needs to undertake. I describe the impossibility of resolving our mental health problems–fears, depression, anxiety, phobias–on our own.
None of us will get very far on a solo journey of self-discovery and analysis. We cannot journey inside ourselves to the places we need to go for resolution and change. For the same reasons we cannot do open heart surgery upon ourselves, the process of self-discovery gets to a point that is too painful, and we stop. In our self-analysis we will only be able to look into ourselves until it hurts too much. At this point our subconscious defenses automatically mobilize and send us off in an avoiding direction. This is not a conscious choice; rather, this is a subconscious defensive reaction.
However, there ARE activities that you can do, on your own, which are a wonderful complement to the psychotherapeutic journey. These involve physical and mental relaxation, gaining an awareness of thinking patterns that distort our reality and learning how the defenses serve both to protect us yet also isolate us.
The first four of the following pages involve relaxation protocols. If you listen to and practice these on a regular basis, you will be mastering skills that can bring an increasing sense of calm into your life. When you are stressed or angry or frustrated or unable to sleep restfully, employing a learned relaxation response can ease you through these difficult situations while maintaining a sense of calm and control.
A person can discontinue the addictive and destructive drugs prescribed for sleeping once having learned how to relax their body and gain control over thinking.
The work of attaining and maintaining mental and physical health is a lifetime endeavor. We must gain a certain mastery over our body if we are to achieve a state of health. We must learn how to control the parasympathetic nervous system, that is, the functions of our body which can be controlled via conscious awareness and practice. These functions are heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and extremity temperature–meaning the temperature of our hands and feet. Learning to control these functions will facilitate mental and physical relaxation and can serve as a major defense against stress-related disorders.
These protocols are not to be listened to while driving or engaged in any physical activity. They are also not to be used as background music. These protocols are to be listened to in an organized and scheduled manner, so be able to isolate yourself from noise and others. Use a headset if you have one; if not, get a good pair.
The Relaxation by Induction audio file is 17 minutes long and is a protocol for general relaxation to be used when stressed, distressed, anxious or ‘wired’. If you have difficulty sleeping, this exercise will be useful for listening to half an hour before bedtime. Listen to this every day for several weeks then perhaps less often. Once you are able to ‘place’ yourself in a state similar to what you experience while listening, then you may use this protocol as a refresher.
The Progressive Relaxation file is about 36 minutes long and is an important skill to incorporate. It involves a directed series of states producing tension in muscle groups and releasing that tension to gain sensitivity over those muscle groups. None of us have this kind of awareness without this type of practice. Keeping the body relaxed can only be accomplished through practice. Perhaps 3-4 times a week for several months will enable you to learn this type of sensitivity.
The last two are Autogenic Training exercises, 24 minutes long and the ‘short form’ which is 13 minutes long. Once you have mastered the long form, then practice with the short form. Autogenic training involves learning a series of self-statements to facilitate relaxation. It is the most time-consuming exercise to master; but once learned, you will have the skill to induce a deep state of relaxation upon command.
Many of the stress-related illnesses can be avoided with the practice of these skills.
The final two pages are not audio files. The Cognitive Distortions page lists the numerous thinking errors we make that distort our reality and make communication difficult, if not impossible. Aaron Beck is given partial credit for this list, and it can be found all over the internet. I feel these are important enough to include a list in my tools section.
Lastly, the Psychological Defenses page will be my attempt to describe some of what goes on with you subconsciously, that which operates totally outside your awareness yet essentially directs your life. The greater awareness you have of these unconscious functionings, the greater opportunity you will have to confront them, challenge them, knowing they are protecting what must be experienced.
These pages are for your help and betterment. I wish you good effort.