Background to my interest in teaching children with autism

A Spiritual Side to Psychotherapy, continued

In 1958, a psychiatrist by the name of Joseph Wolpe published a book entitled Psychotherapy by Reciprocal Inhibition in which he described a learning-based deconditioning procedure known as Systematic Desensitization.  In essence, it involves teaching the client to relax and then, while relaxed, to approach the trigger stimulus (event) at a rate which is slow enough for the client to be able to maintain the relaxation.  Assuming that the event is not currently harmful, this results in the eventual pairing of relaxation and the event, which teaches the body/mind that its proper response to that particular kind of trigger stimulus is relaxation rather than arousal.  That is, the client learns at a gut level that there is no need to get “all cranked up” about that particular kind of event.  Hence, no more distress!

Shortly afterwards, Albert Ellis and Robert Harper published a book entitled A Guide to Rational Living in which they described a cognitively-based approach to treatment in which the client is taught to challenge his or her negative thinking on the grounds that it is erroneous or non-rational B based on such erroneous beliefs, for example, as the belief that it is necessary (as opposed to desirable) to be unfailingly perfect or the belief that it is necessary to be universally loved B since erroneous beliefs put the client in conflict with the laws of the universe and invariably contribute to his or her becoming distressed (“shooting oneself in the foot,” as it were).

Albert Ellis (A New Guide to Rational Living, 1975) identifies a number of different “negative” thoughts that, because they put the individual in conflict with the laws of the universe, contribute to his or her distress.  These thoughts – beliefs really – always include value judgements or evaluations of the way things are:

  1. I don’t get the love that I want to get, and I should get the love that I want.
  2. I am not perfect, and I must be perfect (or at least close enough to it that people can’t criticize me).
  3. Certain people are bad and should be punished.
  4. The world is not the way I want it to be, and it should
  5. External events cause most human misery and must be controlled in order to create happiness and avoid sorrow.
  6. The unknown is potentially dangerous, so it should be feared.
  7. Taking responsibility for what happens is scary and should be avoided.
  8. You can’t always know what is the right thing to do, so you should turn your life over to someone or something stronger than yourself (Kaufmann calls this “Decidophobia,” the fear of making fateful decisions).
  9. The past determines the present, so I should not be held responsible for what I do with my life.
  10. Leisure is more precious than any other activity and should be sought out whenever possible.

Such irrational beliefs (what Ellis calls “shoulding on yourself”) put the individual into conflict with the laws of the universe – the world, for example, cannot always be the way that you want it to be – and inevitably lead to frustration, disappointment and distress; whereas challenging these irrational beliefs and substituting more realistic beliefs for them leads to harmony and contentment.

Both of these approaches work remarkably well.  Both, however, take a reasonable amount of time, and we keep searching for methods which are quicker and even easier to apply. One group of these newer treatment methods are known as “energy-meridian-based therapies” — Thought Field Therapy (Callahan), Emotional Freedom Technique (Craig), Be Set Free Fast (Nims) and Matrix Work (Clinton).

Quoting from a book by James Durlacher (Freedom From Fear Forever, 1994):

“Some five thousand years ago the Chinese began observing a phenomenon of energy in the body that they eventually called CHI (pronounced chee), which means “life force.”  They found this energy flowed through the body from the chest to the hands, from the hands to the head, from head to the feet and then back to the chest.  They found that there were no anatomical channels (tube-like conduits) as there are with arteries.  However, the energy seemed to flow along particular lines or pathways [which they] called meridians.

They found there were points along these energy meridians that, when stimulated, could balance or transfer energies to make them flow freely and evenly, restoring normal function to various parts of the body.  This could be accomplished by several methods, including using finger pressure, using sharp bamboo slivers, using fish bones, burning of herbal substances (moxabustion) on the skin surface, and using metal needles [and, as you know, the use of metal needles (at least in this country) is known as acupuncture].  Over the years, the various points along each meridian were numbered and named in accordance with what occurred and what organs were affected when they were stimulated.

It was also observed that each of the meridians had a specific emotion connected with it, and that if a person had an over or under abundance of that emotion, balancing the ener­gies could restore the person’s normal emotional balance.” (pp. 39-40)

In 1966, a chiropractor by the name of George Goodheart found that:

“…another way of stimulating the various points of the energy meridians was to percuss (tap) the point with the finger tip.  He described the procedure as a way to relieve pain and presented his results in 1979 at the annual summer meeting of the newly formed (1974) International College of Applied Kinesiology.” (p. 41)

Shortly afterwards, a psychologist by the name of Roger Callahan contacted George Goodheart, took the applied kinesiology training, and began to adapt applied kinesiology to psychological problems.  In 1981, he published a paper called “A Rapid Treatment for Phobias,” and Thought Field Therapy was born.

Now, as was previously mentioned, the Chinese found that specific meridians were associated with specific emotions.  Thought Field Therapy is based on the premise that the cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body’s energy system, and that these negative emotions can be eliminated by tapping on various (acupressure) points on the energy meridians to restore the energy balance while thinking of the disturbance, just as proposed in Chinese medicine so many years ago.  That in itself was hardly original; however, Callahan does seem to have added one important piece to the puzzle of emotional disturbance and its treatment, and that is the idea of Psychological Reversal.  It was his experience that tapping at certain places on the energy meridians was successful in rapidly eliminating emotional disturbances in approximately 60% of cases.  In trying to understand why the success rate wasn’t higher, he came to a couple of conclusions: first, that progress was being blocked by a kind of low-self-esteem-related self-sabotage and, second, that this self-sabotage — which he called “psychological reversal” —  could be eliminated, at least temporarily, by having the patient say “I accept myself even though I have this problem” (stating the specific problem that the client consciously wants to eliminate) while tapping or rubbing on certain energy-system-related points on the body.

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