Reading Dianetics, The Modern Science of Mental Health (so haughtily titled by Hubbard, yet I believe his bragging had been well deserved) was my first encounter with the Dunning-Krueger Effect. I thought the book’s main ideas were pretty easy to understand and I assumed everybody else who had been reading it understood it the same way as I did. In reality, I’m yet to meet a single person who has.
Hubbard, and all other regression therapy theorists/developers, are assuming the existence of a mechanism, within the human mind, that can reverse, at least partially, the effect of traumatic imprints. It makes sense, as an educated guess: a simple system to release excess pressure accumulated in the reactive mind, the lifeguard’s safety-valve. Any balanced system needs it.
Richard Adams, in his book Watership Down, describes such a (hypothetical) mechanism that is demonstrated by his intelligent, talking, rabbits: having lived through a great catastrophe, a survivor rabbit tells the story of the horrible experience he had been though to his fellows, who hadn’t. He relives it, relives the horror of his warren being destroyed by bulldozers, of him and other rabbits suffocating underground, tearing each other with nails and claws in a desperate attempt to get out….
As he is telling it to the others they are swept by his story, begin feeling those things themselves, reliving them in their imagination. They all express the horror, the struggle, they scream in terror as they are re-living it. A cathartic experience. After that they feel better, purged. Purged of the fear, purged of the tension held inside their minds buy all those locked and confused impulses generated by the catastrophe and by the knowledge that it happened – this is true especially for the survivor telling the story.
I don’t know what led Adams to come up with such an insight but I’m guessing that if, indeed, such a healing mechanism was built by evolution to help keep us from going insane as a result of accumulated trauma, that this is how it would work in its natural, primordial, state.
We have gone a long way since we had abandoned our natural way of life, of hunter-gatherers. A long way along which we have shed much of our natural knowledge of ourselves, replacing it with various cultural imperatives. Maybe this explains, at least in part, our tendency to so easily believe in whatnot, in all sorts of superstitions – having lost our connection to our own nature, we seek to replace it with something that would fill the void. With ideas that would make us feel better about the actual things we are missing.
In any case, we have also lost, not completely but to a varying extent, in different cultures, the ability to use this healing mechanism. As children we use it naturally – we wail, we cry (it’s almost impossible to overestimate the importance crying has for our health, though some have tried; simply put, it’s cry or die (of cancer or of heart disease, later in life)). We thrash about, we even may have a tantrum. But as adults we learn to repress these things – there is no room for them in modern society, no tribal gatherings, no mass mystical experiences, anymore. Thus, instead of using this mechanism the way nature intended we end up abusing it, telling boys that boys don’t cry, shaming children when they express things that are not tolerated, culturally. Burying it under layers of debris.
And this is why regression has been so problematic, why this wild herb from the world of alternative medicine has never been cultivated – well, this and the fact mainstream science won’t touch it with a stick: it goes completely against our cultural intuition, against everything we’ve been told, programmed, to believe, about human nature.
So many people seemed to have discovered this simple mechanism, over the course of the 20th century. But it’s one thing to stumble upon it, and it’s a completely different thing to reverse-engineer it successfully, to create a working, effective therapy. Ironically, it was the evil maniac (Hubbard) who had done the best job of it, with his ‘modern science of mental health’. All the rest have failed to create meaningful models of the (neurotic) mind or a therapy that works.
Like I told one shrink, once: “I’m sorry I’m a hard person”; she replied “I’m sorry for you, that that’s how you are”, and I said: “I’m sorry for your science, that all it can do about it is complain”. And this is the problem with all the resat of them: they do not understand the mechanism that makes different people react differently in the same situations, they don’t understand where our genetic basic personality ends and where the programmable parts of it – especially the ones programmable by trauma – begin.
They are all still playing the old meme game – trying to discipline us into healthier patterns of behavior (without even having a concrete definition of what ‘sane’ means, outside of a relative, cultural, context) – assuming free will and choice, they never completely take off the educator’s hat, never allow their patient to take off their guards and express the deepest animal feelings they have that we all repress in the day-to-day.
In my further discussion of regression therapy and of its principles I will be using Hubbard’s Dianetics as a model, since, in my view, and not fully researched as it may yet be, it is still the only sound approach to regression therapy in existence today.
Like I’ve already mentioned, the traumatic incident lies at the core of our neurotic programming. So, in order to de-program ourselves, we need to re-experience the locked memories contained within our traumatic memory bank.
This is done simply by sitting in a chair, in a quiet room, with a person that will keep you safe, that you trust with your feelings – which creates the therapeutic environment. You must be allowed to express anything in that room, must feel confident that it will not disturb anyone, including your therapist, and that no one will disturb you. Then you close your eyes and might talk for a bit about your day, about whatever’s on your mind, to ease into therapy mode.
And then you do what the rabbits did, a few paragraphs above: you throw your mind back to an unpleasant even in your past and relive it.
A note on re-living: in order for it to be therapeutic reliving must not be absolute, like in the case of hypnosis. The patient must always be conscious and aware of the reality to which they are temporary turning their back.
This is different than remembering. Although most people can’t do it naturally in their neurotic state, the idea is to strive to ‘move down one’s own timeline’ and to ‘go through’ the ‘recording’ of the event, re-living it, expressing your feelings, in it, then doing it several more times until it has lost it ability to effect your behavior.
As you keep going over it, you make contact with more and more of its contents. New content is revealed, and the emotional attitude of the patient towards the event changes, as pain is being released. When running incidents of emotional loss a patient may express a whole gamut of emotional attitudes towards it, but if the incident is powerful enough, they will need to cry over it to release the charge.
You do it with all traumatic memories and, voila – therapy done, neuroses gone. But, of course, it’s much more complicated that it sounds. Recorded trauma has structure and it is actively resisting therapy. In order to do that it uses the same patterns and stocks of command phrases that generate the neurotic behavior itself.
All personalities have their own idiosyncrasies, their own irrational way of doing things, of circumventing the areas within their minds where trauma has taken residence and that are no longer available to them for normal functionality. Behind this behavior are the incidents themselves, with their remembered failures and warning signs, and programmed commands (speech).
This generates resistance to therapy. It makes it impossible to just ‘slide down the timeline’, within a person’s head, and relive one incident after another, smoothly. I will leave the in-depth discussion of this aspect of therapy for a future article. For now I’ll just say that repetition, going through events, and through the things that block us from creating emotional contact with them – aspects of events; this simple, basic technique is what is used, with some adjustments, to overcome these obstacles. Repetition. The principle is ridiculously simple, when you think about it.
More about structure
Hubbard claimed traumatic events – engrams, he called them – were organized in associative chains. Similar events of a physical nature (illness, injury, various deprivations in infancy, etc) worked together when one of them was triggered, and every such chain had an addition in the form of a chain of loss events attached to it. The more loss events such a composite chain contained, the more powerful and more likely to be triggered the underlying physical events became. In some cases, chronic triggering could occur, putting the traumatic pattern in a constant state of activation.
This has a logic, of sorts: the more failure we’ve accumulated, the more cautious we must be in the future.
When trying to access events on such a composite chain, you need to start with loss events, which are usually from later in life, higher up the chain. You start as close as you can to present time, maybe with recent incidents of moderate discomfort. You start where the patient’s awareness lies. This is delicate work, where the therapist must be at their most sensitive. You need to gently pick off loss events, from light to heavy, but, basically, in the order they present themselves, and then, when none are ‘ripe for picking’ anymore, you start looking for earlier, physical, events, on the same chain.
Luring the monster out of its cave
The first way in which regression therapy differs from normal psychotherapy is that, in RT, the patient is in control of the session. They and the therapist are equals. This principle manifests itself in several ways.
Firstly, the therapy needs to bring results. If there is no improvement in the patient’s condition it’s always the therapist’s – not the patient’s – fault, or there’s something wrong with the theory. Seconds, since we are autonomous automatons and not, for instance, cars being brought for maintenance into a garage, everything that happens in therapy must be on a level that makes sense to us, and we – the patient – must be in control of the flow of the session. The therapist must approach us with care, like a zoologist seeking to lure out an animal that’s been hiding in a cave.
Before we delve into this parable, a little more about structure: it is hard for us, as a therapist, to guess or to figure out the exact order in which events will ‘reveal themselves’ in the course of therapy. The Second Brain has its own logic, and it will reveal different events at different opportunities, making them vulnerable to re-living. it’s like it is telling us: if you can untangle this then you may proceed. The therapist must be sensitive enough to identify them but more than anything else, they must let the patient guide them, for therapy can only happen at the point when the patient’s attention is at, at any given moment.
Therapy is carried out in the form of a conversation, with the patient, eyes closed, looking inwardly, at their own experiences, at their emotional world. They tell the therapist what they feel, what they think, what they remember or what they are re-experiencing. The therapist asks questions, guiding questions, is constantly interested in what the patient is trying to express – creating an interactive atmosphere – and is gently pushing for the patient to reveal memories and feelings, to move the process along. When an event seems ripe for the picking, and is taking up the patient’s attention – always a sure sign – the therapist encourages the patient to go through it a few times, to re-experience it, until all emotional charge is discharged from it; and so forth.
The monster hiding in the cave is your Second Brain with all its welts and bruises and humiliations, but it is also you. In your neurotic state you cannot separate your trauma from your rational mind, you identify with what it is saying. The role of the therapist is to lure the neuroses out, make them feel safe enough to reveal themselves, and, by doing that, they become vulnerable to the good old repetition technique.
In the process, while overcome by traumatic imprints, the patient will often project their repressed feelings on the therapist. Again, this is something that is frowned upon, in all other approaches, patients are taught not to do so, but it is an essential part of the therapy and it must be allowed. This is the monster coming out, expressing itself, attacking the therapist (verbally, not physically, of course). Behind this projecting lie the true feelings, the actual incident that needs to be re-experienced, and this is its way of defending itself. The therapist must let it take its course, when it happens, it’s the only way to move forward.
Hubbard, after his theatrical fashion, created a code of behavior for the therapist to follow during a session and outside of it, in their interaction with their patients: never to criticize the patient; to be reliable; to always be on the side of the patient, being their true ally; not to engage in interpretation of the patient’s experiences, at least, not with the patient; to never question any of the information the patient is giving you (the therapist), even if you are running past lives with them and you are confident they are making it up (knowingly or unknowingly) – the patient must discover it on their own, with the therapist only guiding them towards what they believe are key events, or feelings;
Violating any of the above-listed rules will scare the monster back into its cave. All our lives we have been criticized for our little irrationalities, for our neuroses, for stepping out of line, so we hide them, we deny them, we protect ourselves from aggravation. The goal of the therapist – and what I’m trying to carry across, in my monster-in-a-cave parable – is to create an environment that is opposite to the one we experience day to day, that will make the patient feel safe to reveal their past failures and hurts.
Though some questions may remain unanswered, it is time to wrap this up. I will continue this discussion in my next article.
Until then, Peace out.
(Previous: The Mechanics of Trauma – Part II)