A record-breaking crowd of 4,500 attendees celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Networker Symposium this year, drawn not only by the prospect of exploring psychotherapy’s latest advances, but by the hope of making sense of their role in healing a deeply polarized society. What follows are some of the moments that captured the distinctive flavor of this year’s gathering.
Rich Simon on The Search for Connection
In his welcoming remarks, Networker editor Rich Simon contrasted the anticipation of the usual calm and safety of the Symposium atmosphere with the disorientation and apprehension many therapists are feeling these days.
In his welcoming remarks, Networker editor Rich Simon contrasted the anticipation of the usual calm and safety of the Symposium atmosphere with the disorientation and apprehension many therapists are feeling these days.
To put it bluntly, there’s something about this conference of therapists, even about being a therapist in the first place, that seems deeply incongruous with this strange second decade of the 21st century. After all, this Symposium is premised on the belief that ongoing, intimate, face-to-face dialogue—carried on in real time and real physical space between real people who trust and respect each other—is actually important for emotional healing and human well-being. Not only do we believe this, but we somehow manage to make entire careers based on this odd conviction.
How totally reactionary and out of step with the “real world” is that? Everybody today knows that all communication between earthlings should be instantaneous and involve no direct contact—the preferred modes being Twitter, Snapchat, WhatsApp, Instagram, WeChat, HeyTell, Talkatone, Kik, Line, and Viber, to name a few. Any interaction that takes more than, say, a minute or two—long enough to text somebody, long enough to read a reply—strains the outer limits of our 21st-century attention span. Besides, who has the time to concentrate and focus on a single, boring, ordinary, human when an infinite proliferation of enticing, ever-new and ever-changing voices and images are a few clicks or thumb presses away?
This all-pervasive digital culture has enormous power to shape our consciousness and connections with each other, without our even being aware of it. Take the way our leaders communicate with us. In the 1930s and early 40s, Franklin Roosevelt gave his famous fireside chats—live, informal radio talks about the important issues of the day. Families gathered together around radios all across America—the citizens of the whole country, basically, listening to this one calm, reassuring voice, talking candidly about the state of the nation and the policies he was pursuing. Even during the worst days of the Depression and World War II, people were reminded not to succumb to fear, not to give up hope, but to retain confidence both in the country and in themselves as Americans. Above all, he unified people with his message. We’re all in this together, he said. In fact, as he put it, “the basic idea of society and of the nation itself [is] that people acting in a group can accomplish things which no individual acting alone could even hope to bring about.”
The novelist Saul Bellow recalled hearing, as a young man, a fireside chat while walking in Chicago one summer evening. “The drivers had pulled over, parking bumper to bumper, and turned on their radios to hear Roosevelt. They had rolled down the windows and opened the car doors. Everywhere the same voice, its odd, patrician Eastern accent, which in anyone else would have irritated Midwesterners. You could follow without missing a single word as you strolled by. You felt joined to these unknown drivers, men and women smoking their cigarettes in silence, not so much considering the President’s words as affirming the rightness of his tone and taking assurance from it.”
Now, 80-odd years later, our current president tweets in the middle of the night, releasing off-the-cuff, 140-character messages that explode like incendiary devices, leaving social and political firestorms in their wake. But what could be more characteristic of our time than these out-of-the-blue tweet-storms? They reflect a culture geared to speed, isolation, social and emotional detachment, with a deep, underlying sense of free-floating anxiety, yearning, depression, and sheer boredom, which often gets expressed in the spontaneous combustion of online flame wars among people who may not even know each other.
Of course, one reason FDR’s voice had so much resonance—he was like a therapist for the masses—was that it was just about the only public voice that everybody could listen to at one time. The Americans of the 1930s didn’t live their entire lives in cyberspace. They didn’t have access to news and infotainment—real news, fake news, celebrity news, lifestyle news, sports news, crime news, business news, health news, news ad infinitum.
But this explosion of media culture is antithetical to what you might call the Therapist Culture. You could say that we’re so old-hat, so outdated, so anachronistic, so out of touch, that we actually like to meet people in the flesh and talk to them in person. We like making conversation—the more the better! In a sense, this is our job description—we make a living talking to other people. And this conference testifies to the fact that even when we’re not at work, we go to some effort and expense to talk and listen to our colleagues, directly and in person. In fact, look at us: we fly across the country just to engage in this weird behavior.
And while here, we engage in even more weirdness. We sit in lined-up chairs, or on the floor in some cases, just so we can listen quietly while another colleague stands on a stage to talk to us about talking and listening to people. If so moved, we may ask serious, polite questions, listen to answers—and engage in more conversation about conversation, always mindful that this is a tribe that places special value in talking and listening, especially with people with whom we disagree, as a fundamental expression of our humanity.
We’ve designed this conference with an awareness that we’re a professional tribe that delights in deepening and extending our capacity for emotional connection. And we’ve been on a quest to bring you the new clinical methodologies, sources of creativity, and scientific advances that will shape the future of our field and prevent us from becoming an anachronism. Now it’s your turn to pursue your own individual quests and focus on what matters to you at this stage of your personal and professional journey. I wish you luck in finding the answers to all your questions along the way, and hope you encounter some happy surprises as you discover answers to ones you didn’t even know you had.
Brené Brown on The Physics of Vulnerability
Bestselling author Brené Brown’s opening keynote address ignited the Symposium audience with its call to take risks and have the courage to be vulnerable. This excerpt from her most recent book, Rising Strong, captures the heart of her message.
When it comes to human behavior, emotions, and thinking, the adage “The more I learn, the less I know” is right on. I’ve learned to give up my pursuit of netting certainty and pinning it to the wall. Some days I miss pretending that certitude is within reach. My husband, Steve, always knows I’m mourning the loss of my young-researcher quest when I’m holed up in my study listening to David Gray’s song “My Oh My” on repeat. My favorite lyrics are What on earth is going on in my head? / You know I used to be so sure. / You know I used to be so definite.
And it’s not just the lyrics; it’s the way that he sings the word def-in-ite. Sometimes, it sounds to me as if he’s mocking the arrogance of believing that we can ever know everything, and other times it sounds like he’s pissed off that we can’t. Either way, singing along makes me feel better. Music always makes me feel less alone in the mess.
While there are really no hard-and-fast absolutes in my field, there are truths about shared experiences that deeply resonate with what we believe and know. For example, the Roosevelt “man in the arena” quote that anchors my research on vulnerability and daring gave birth to three truths for me:
• I want to be in the arena. I want to be brave with my life. And when we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.
• Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.
• A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.
I don’t think of these as “rules,” but they have certainly become guiding principles for me. I believe there are also some basic tenets about being brave, risking vulnerability, and overcoming adversity that are useful to understand before we get started with the Rising Strong process. I think of these as the basic laws of emotional physics: simple but powerful truths that help us understand why courage is both transformational and rare. Here are 4 of the 10 rules of engagement for rising strong.
1. If we’re brave enough often enough, we will fall; this is the physics of vulnerability. When we commit to showing up and risking falling, we’re actually committing to falling. Daring is not saying, “I’m willing to risk failure.” Daring is saying, “I know I will eventually fail and I’m still all in.” Fortune may favor the bold, but so does failure.
2. Once we fall in the service of being brave, we can never go back. We can rise up from our failures, screwups, and falls, but we can never go back to where we stood before we were brave or before we fell. Courage transforms the emotional structure of our being. This change often brings a deep sense of loss. During the process of rising, we sometimes find ourselves homesick for a place that no longer exists. We want to go back to that moment before we walked into the arena, but there’s nowhere to go back to. What makes this more difficult is that now we have a new level of awareness about what it means to be brave. We can’t fake it anymore. We now know when we’re showing up and when we’re hiding out, when we are living our values and when we’re not. Our new awareness can also be invigorating—it can reignite our sense of purpose and remind us of our commitment to wholeheartedness. Straddling the tension that lies between wanting to go back to the moment before we risked and fell and being pulled forward to even greater courage is an inescapable part of rising strong.
3. This journey belongs to no one but you; however, no one successfully goes it alone. Since the beginning of time, people have found a way to rise after falling, yet there is no well-worn path leading the way. All of us must make our own way, exploring some of the most universally shared experiences while also navigating a solitude that makes us feel as if we are the first to set foot in uncharted regions. And to add to the complexity, in lieu of the sense of safety to be found in a well-traveled path or a constant companion, we must learn to depend for brief moments on fellow travelers for sanctuary, support, and an occasional willingness to walk side by side. For those of us who fear being alone, coping with the solitude inherent in this process is a daunting challenge. For those of us who prefer to cordon ourselves off from the world and heal alone, the requirement for connection—of asking for and receiving help—becomes the challenge.
4. We’re wired for story. In a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, there’s a surprisingly simple reason we want to own, integrate, and share our stories of struggle. We do this because we feel the most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories—it’s in our biology. The idea of storytelling has become ubiquitous. It’s a platform for everything from creative movements to marketing strategies. But the idea that we’re “wired for story” is more than a catchy phrase. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak has found that hearing a story—a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end—causes our brains to release cortisol and oxytocin. These chemicals trigger the uniquely human abilities to connect, empathize, and make meaning. Story is literally in our DNA.
My hope is that the Rising Strong process gives us language and a rough map that will guide us in getting back on our feet. I’m sharing everything I know, feel, believe, and have experienced about Rising Strong. What I learned from the research participants continues to save me, and I’m deeply grateful for that. The truth is that falling hurts. The dare is to keep being brave and feel your way back up.
Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, is a research professor at the University of Houston, where she holds the Huffington Endowed Chair at the Graduate College of Social Work. She’s the author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers, including Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, and is the founder and CEO of The Daring Way.
From the book Rising Strong by Brené Brown. Copyright © 2015 by Brené Brown. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.
William Doherty on Therapy in the Age of Trump
William Doherty offered an expanded vision of therapy and outlined concrete steps therapists can take as “connectors and trust-builders” to address the stress and anxiety many clients—and therapists—are feeling in the current political climate.
In November 2016, the Age of Trump dawned, and the psychotherapy profession will never be the same—or so I hope. Nearly every therapist I know is feeling personal stress and dealing with clients whose reactions range from reliving experiences of being bullied to fears of deportation to a sense that the arc of the moral universe no long seems to bend inevitably toward justice. We’re seeing families and friendships fracture along political lines. I do know some therapists who are glad that Trump ascended to the presidency, but they, too, are concerned with the polarization in the country and the tearing of the social fabric.
This is bigger than Trump and the November election. It’s the culmination of at least two decades of increasing divisiveness in our culture and politics, where those who differ are seen as dangerous enemies, not just misguided opponents. So how do we respond as therapists and citizens? For starters, we can acknowledge that the membrane between the personal world (the traditional domain of therapy) and the public/political world has ruptured all around us.
In truth, the personal–political membrane was always a fiction, as feminist and ethnic-minority therapists have long pointed out. Most of us, though, could do business as usual without inviting clients to share their reactions to what was going on in the public sphere. But now we need new tools like the ones my colleagues and I have been developing. Call them door-openers. One is to inquire, at the outset of a session, whether clients are following what’s going on in the political world right now, and if so, how it’s affecting them. The result is that many clients open up about anxieties and relationship strains they hadn’t previously shared, probably because they thought the therapy room was supposed to be a politics-free zone—as we ourselves may have believed. Another is an open letter for the waiting room or a therapist’s website. Here’s an example of a letter I’ve put out into the world:
We’re living in troubled times. I feel it, and most people I know feel it. I’m writing this note to let you know that I’m open to talking about something not always brought up in therapy: how what’s going on in the public and political world is affecting you and your relationships, and how you’re coping.
• After a divisive presidential election, a lot of people are upset and feeling discouraged by the political infighting in this country.
• There’s great uncertainty about what the upcoming years will look like. Some people are feeling alarmed, insecure, and threatened, while others feel hopeful that necessary change will happen. And those two kinds of people are often at odds with one another.
• I see both liberal and conservative members of our community feeling as if their values are no longer acceptable in the public arena—and to some of their friends and family.
The list could go on. For now, consider yourself invited to bring your concerns about the public world into our conversations in therapy. No expectation or requirement that you do so, of course—just if you think it might be helpful.
I’m here to listen, support you, and help you figure out how to manage today’s stresses while living a life that’s in keeping with your personal and community values.”
Once clients open up, then we can help them cope with political stress just as we do any other kind of stress: through buffering methods like reducing exposure to the 24/7 news cycle, refusing to be baited by people who just want to goad them, and self-care efforts. The other kind of coping—active coping—is about helping clients enact their civic values in the world via action steps, such as getting better informed through reputable sources, donating to causes they support, volunteering to help others, getting politically active, or (as one client decided) being kinder to society’s “others” in public. And when clients are having powerful, dysregulated emotional responses to the political situation, we can help them unpack how it connects to their personal journeys.
I see our job as helping clients avoid the twin dangers of being either numb/reactive or agitated/reactive in the face of political stress. The middle is where we’re aiming for ourselves and our clients: being grounded/responsive, where we’re in touch with our feelings and can act thoughtfully according to our values. Therapy like this can be an incubator for an empowered citizenry in a democracy—being neither victims nor flamethrowers.
Then there’s the world outside the consultation room. I feel passionately that we’re healers with something important to offer our neighbors and communities. In my own part of the country, I’ve been doing depolarization workshops. One stands out in particular: 13 hours over a December weekend in rural Ohio with 11 Hillary supporters and 10 Trump supporters. The goal was to learn if people could better understand their differences (beyond stereotypes) to see if there were common values and to share, if possible, something hopeful with their community and the larger world. For me, it was like couples therapy with 21 people—intense, painful, illuminating, and ultimately gratifying. At their spring reunion, the group decided to stick together and create a new kind of town hall meeting where people actually listen to one another.
In our offices, we promote the kind of personal agency that’s necessary for a self-governing, democratic people—a people whose worlds are public as well as private. We therapists are connectors, trust-builders. We understand the complexity of the human spirit. We know that embracing differences is difficult but life enhancing. If we expand our vision of therapy and the role of the citizen therapist in society, we can contribute to a flourishing democracy where people can be agents of their own lives and builders of the commonwealth.
William Doherty, PhD, is a professor and director of the Minnesota Couples on the Brink Project and the Citizen Professional Center at the University of Minnesota. He’s founder of Citizen Therapists for Democracy. His books include Soul Searching, Take Back Your Marriage, and Medical Family Therapy with Susan McDaniel and Jeri Hepworth.
Joan Borysenko on Psychotherapy of the Heart
Joan Borysenko, a pioneer in the integrated healthcare movement, emphasized the importance of therapist self-care and the fundamental principle that “we can’t give to another that which we don’t have ourselves.”
Parker Palmer, who wrote The Courage to Teach, talks about the difference between a relationship that’s soul to soul instead of role to role. It’s the soul-to-soul relationship that heals, and the healing goes in both directions. Our work as therapists can gain a new dimension when we get rid of the idea that someone is the healer and someone is the healee, because every single patient, every single client whom we see, affects us.
As quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger said, “If you could measure the sum total of the number of minds in the universe, there would be just one.” And now we’re beginning to see that in the field of medicine. In fact, Larry Dossey, a physician who was formerly chief of staff at Medical City Dallas Hospital, writes about three eras in our understanding of healing. The first is understanding the physical body as a machine of sorts. The second is understanding that the mind not only affects the body, but that the mind and body are a unified field. The third is that, beyond the fact that my mind affects my body and vice versa, your mind affects my body, and my mind affects your body, because there’s only one mind.
In the quantum world of nonlocality, there’s no distance. This is demonstrated in Bell’s Theorem. Let’s say that there’s a molecule of salt—sodium chloride. When it’s sprinkled on your food, eaten, and then excreted, the two atoms of the molecule are broken apart. The sodium may be in one place and the chlorine somewhere else. But even in separate places, if the sodium rotates, so does the chlorine. Everything is connected in what Albert Einstein called a “spooky” way that’s beyond the Newtonian physics of gravity and larger forces.
I believe that we’re connected with our clients not only when we’re in a room together, eyeball to eyeball, but also in a quantum sense. That means that even when we’re at a distance, we’re never actually separated. The therapist–client bond is a sacred relationship, and most people don’t realize that it lasts forever. In the movie Avatar, the characters say “I see you” to express their most intimate connection with each other. To see each other deeply is to be each other. There’s a quantum entanglement.
Attachment theory echoes something Plato understood a long time ago when he discussed three parts of the soul. Part one was reason, what modern brain science identifies as the activity of the prefrontal cortex. The second part was eros, what brain science locates in the limbic system. The third part was thymos, the hunger for recognition. This is where the frontostriatal pathway comes into play, connecting the medial prefrontal cortex—where some aspects of self-awareness reside—to the ventrostriatal pathway, which is part of the motivation and reward circuit. We know that when this pathway is weak, psychiatric difficulties are increased. When we reduce a client to a diagnosis—a role rather a soul—it’s the antithesis of working with this pathway.
The desire to know oneself and to be known and respected is a central human motivation, the unseen water in which all good therapists swim. We know how to be with someone so that they feel seen in times of uncertainty, in times of pain, in times of joy. Even when we’re apart from them, we can be the safe place. That makes a big difference, and there’s just no substitute for it.
This kind of loving support induces and sustains the self-healing mechanisms of the body. It reduces inflammation, the final common pathway for virtually every illness, and increases human growth hormone, which knits up the “raveled sleeve of care,” to use a Shakespearean phrase. It even knits up the raveled sleeve of DNA. When the body makes cancer cells, for instance, human growth hormone can prevent some of those mistakes in DNA replication. Love increases not only endorphins and endogenous cannabinoids, but it increases the secretion of nitric oxide—no, not laughing gas, that’s nitrous oxide. Nitric oxide allows your arteries to relax to reduce your blood pressure and improve your circulation. At the same time, love enhances your motivation for well-being, living a good life, making positive choices, and taking care of yourself.
So, my friends, you and the kind care you offer are the medicine. Our first duty as therapists is to keep our medicine fresh and flowing freely. When we let ourselves get burned out, we lose the vitality and healing power inherent in the soul-to-soul connection.
In response to a young activist who wrote to him for advice, the great Catholic mystic Thomas Merton responded, “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work because it kills the root of inner wisdom, which makes work fruitful.”
Burnout—at its core—is really a spiritual crisis, where you lose your motivation and your capacity to connect. It leads to fatigue and getting cynical about your work and the results of your work. When you’re feeling emotionally drained and used up, the best part of your day starts to become when a client cancels.
Burnout creates a loss of empathy, and stress-related complaints begin to take hold of you. Back pain is a big one. So are digestive complaints, headaches, body aches, crushing fatigue, immune problems—the whole gamut of body–mind ills. These can be accompanied by loss of self-worth, diminished performance, and sometimes substance abuse.
Now for some good news. One of my favorite books is Anam Cara, which means “soul friend” in Gaelic. It’s by the late poet-philosopher John O’Donohue. In it, he says, “Your identity is not equivalent to your biography. There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s a seamlessness in you, where there is a confidence and tranquility in you. I think the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that kind of sanctuary.” Just feel into that place—your own inner sanctum. If you can be a soul friend—an anam cara—to yourself, then you can give this priceless gift to your clients.
As therapists, we’re a sanctuary for those who come to see us, and our craft as healers is a true practice of the heart. But we have to guard the sanctuary of our own heart so that we come to sessions with the best medicine within us. We can’t give to another that which we don’t have ourselves. So let’s vow not to succumb to the violence of overwork, or become too occupied with the crazy scene unfolding around us in the political spectrum. Always remember that it’s not only technique, but also your presence, the numinous quality of heart and soul, that’s so essential to the healing work we do.
Joan Borysenko, PhD, is a Harvard-trained cell biologist, licensed psychologist, and spiritual educator. A pioneer in mind-body medicine and psychoneuroimmunology, she’s president of Mind-Body Health Sciences, LLC and a New York Times bestselling author of 17 books.
Daniel Siegel on The Science of Consciousness and the Future of Psychotherapy
Neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel challenged the audience to move beyond the limiting concept of the “separate self” and apply the science of consciousness to get the mind to rise above the brain’s inborn, evolutionary vulnerabilities.
For much of modern human history, the way we’ve thought about the mind and brain reflects the top-down idea that physiological brain activity determines everything that goes on in what we call the mind. But scientists have learned over the past few decades that the human brain is only part of the much bigger story of what the mind is. In other words, the mind is much broader than the brain.
As I see it, “the science of consciousness” is the key to getting the mind to rise above the brain’s vulnerabilities, which—if not altered or modified—will probably destroy the planet. After all, the perspective of the mind as a product of the brain alone, or the self as only emerging from the skin-encased body, leads us to an isolating sense of inhabiting a “separate self,” which desensitizes us to our impact on each other and on the planet. It’s that narrow understanding of the self that fuels us-versus-them conflicts all around the world and propels us to treat the Earth like a trashcan. So it may well be that our very survival depends on the evolution of the human mind—and contributing to that shift in consciousness really needs to be a primary focus for our field from now on.
The key to this conception is to realize that the human mind is, in a very real sense, much bigger and more expansive than the skull that we imagine (in our wrongly limiting way) to house it. Specifically, relationships are the sharing between people of energy and information flow. The brain and its whole body are the embodied mechanism of that flow, and the mind is the self-organizing process that regulates that flow—and what you do with your mind can change the structure of your brain. When we move that structure toward integration, we’re cultivating well-being. One of the most powerful, science-supported methods for bringing about such neural integration is the practice of mindfulness.
Research has shown that the practice of mindfulness meditation strengthens the same circuits that aren’t functioning in various psychiatric disorders, especially developmental trauma. As the brain becomes more integrated, people experience better physical health, less burnout, more intentional strength, and greater relational empathy. Physically, meditation and the state of mental presence are associated with optimized levels of the enzyme telomerase, which repairs the ends of your chromosomes as well as the epigenetic alterations that decrease inflammation.
So science has revealed that the mind can change the molecules of the body. But, obviously, the state of the mind is what makes all the difference. Mindfulness meditation helps the mind develop the capacity to be aware and present in the moment, open to what’s happening around you and within you as it’s happening. Being mindful—being present—facilitates integration and leads to a state of being that’s flexible, adaptive, coherent, energetic, and stable. FACES is the acronym I like to use to summarize this state of being. FACES is the outcome of a system that’s integrated, a state revealing the flow of harmony in our inner and interpersonal lives.
But what might this state of integrated consciousness look like if it could be applied to a whole society? I had an unexpected opportunity to see something like this when a group of us recently took a trip to Namibia, home of the tribes that seem genetically most closely related to the first Homo sapiens from which we’re all descended.
One night, sitting around the campfire, I asked the translator to ask one of the villagers a question. “Here in Namibia,” I said, “there’s horrible drought, famine, and many endemic diseases that are resistant to medications. And yet the people of every village we’ve visited seem very happy. Can you ask why they’re so happy?” My translator posed the question to the villager, who said something I’ll never forget. He said, “We’re happy because we belong. We belong to each other in our community, and we belong to Earth.”
Then the villager asked the translator a question for me. “Where you live, do you belong?” I was struck silent, and I thought, You know, I can spend a whole day, even in our small town, and not meet anyone I know. There’s so little that connects me to others or to the Earth unless I make an intentional effort to make it happen. I thought about the studies that show people—at least in the United States—are some of the most unhappy on the planet, even though we’re richer, have more food, and own more stuff than the citizens of any other country. It made me realize that we have a fundamental problem of not belonging.
Belonging isn’t giving up our identity, as many of us assume. Rather, it’s developing a sense of connectedness. Belonging emerges with honoring differences and promoting linkages as part of a larger whole. What does that mean and how does it fit with the findings of modern brain science and our task as psychotherapists? What you are is energy and information flow. Who you are is how that flow goes through you as a conduit and also how it’s shaped by how you construct things. You’re a conduit and a constructor. You’re more than just a singular noun. You’re an emergent process—so you and your clients are a plural verb. Where is your mind? Within and between. How do you make an integrated self? Cultivating the awareness that you’re both a Me that’s a differentiated bodily self and a We. You’re a MWe.
Think about what would happen if just the people in this room were to say, “We’re going to raise the next generation of children and adolescents—and maybe even try to reach the adults—to help them realize a broader, more integrated identity that’s not just a Me. I’m not just Danny, and you’re not just Billy or Sarah. You’re all the people who preceded you and all the people who will be here after your body is gone.
The world is waiting for us to get to the next stage of the evolution of the mind. That means moving beyond the old idea that the totality of the self is entirely contained by, and is synonymous with, the physical body; beyond the old idea that each individual self—your self, my self—is completely separate from other selves, not to mention the rest of the physical world. That’s what Albert Einstein called an “optical delusion” of consciousness. And it’s in getting beyond that delusion that we can begin to embody the more integrated sense of MWe that will make possible a kinder, more compassionate, more connected world, where we belong to each other now and we belong to the future.
Daniel Siegel, MD, is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, founding codirector of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, and the executive director of the Mindsight Institute. His latest book is Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human.
Photo © Dylan Hintz