Many of us will seek therapy when we are looking for some kind of change to occur in our lives. Often we are wanting to change a part of us that we’re not pleased with: maybe a part that lacks confidence in certain situations (low self-esteem). Or a part of us that is not able to connect to others, or ourselves, or to meaningful work, social outings, or other projects.
Sometimes we want to change our lives in some tangible, outward-focused way: change our career path, or the kind of relationship we are having (or want to have), or how/where we spend our time.
Many people want to change those parts of themselves that use substances (tea, coffee, sugary drinks/food, cannabis/alcohol) or people (sex, relationships, social media) to shift our moods or states. And very much connected to this: we all want to change the amount of time we spend in low-energy, low-mood, or anxious states – states where we feel unsafe and/or disconnected. These are also the states where we often end up protecting ourselves through some kind of avoidance of the thing or person that is stressing us (flight), or getting into conflict with the situation or another person (fight).
Is it any wonder then that we become annoyed or frustrated at times with our Inner Party Poopers and Sociophobes, our Inner Control Freaks, Trolls, and Inner Critics, our Inner Drama Queens, and Binge-Eater/Drinkers, our Inner Procrastinators. Naturally we all want to try to changing these tricky parts in some intrinsic way.
Our motivation to do this is always appropriate and well-intentioned. These states and modes -even though they usually function to help us survive and cope with a world that is frequently Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous (VUCA) – often bring with them some additional suffering, even an intolerable amount of suffering. And isn’t it at this point that we, or other people start thinking about getting some help from a therapist?
THE PROBLEM WITH TOP-DOWN CHANGE
Although it is never described this way, top-down change is what most psychotherapy consists of. The top of our heads (our minds) share information or upsets with another mind, and work through narratives/stories about ourselves and the world, trying to gain through words and thoughts some renewed anchoring or grounding in our life.
But words and thoughts, you may have already noticed, are very slippery, changeable entities. You can hold one thought about yourself, or another person in the morning, and the completely opposite thought a few seconds, hours, or days later.
Think of something or someone you truly adore, and then ask your mind to come up with a “problem” or “challenge” connected to this person or thing. Notice how quickly the mind can come up with negative feedback either on request, or spontaneously, even for those things or people it is usually quite settled on.
Is it any wonder we struggle then with this negativity bias for people and situations we are ambivalent about? And the mind is ambivalent about almost everything! If this is the case, how do we build the change we want on the slippery, changeable quicksand material of the mind?
What if a more lasting peace of mind, the kind of peace of mind I think we are all looking for (safe, grounded, and connected) might be based more on having a strong, embodied autonomic foundation rather than just being able to “think better” or differently?
What if peace of mind is more of a bottom-up process, which comes about by monitoring, regulating and shaping our states throughout the day?
We sometimes do this through words (especially self-talk, but also co-regulating talk with a friend or therapist). But equally with experiential “gear shifts”: working into or out of the states we find ourselves in, or have been knocked into (triggered) by an external or internal event (like a thought).
Just like in a car, we adjust our speed through different gear-shifts in order to keep ourselves safe and on-track. We can also do this with our own emotional-cognitive systems (our minds and autonomic nervous systems).
Think about some of the most profound moments of your life, the kinds of experiences that psychologists would call “peak experiences”. These non-ordinary states often emerge from the kind of flow to be found in creativity, athletics, or sexuality, also during religious or spiritual rituals, in submersing ourselves in nature, or in intimate, close connections with friends and family.
How many of those experiences or peak states were achieved through a certain type of cognition or thought, as opposed to a whole-body, Autonomic Nervous System shift or submersion? And how did that shift occur? Was it driven by the mind, by words, or by a more experiential process, by focusing on doing something we found meaningful or pleasurable, sometimes even assisted by substances, helped perhaps by certain kinds of rituals or habits?
Now consider the kinds of changes that have emerged for you on the back of these experiences, shifts in perspective and understanding, maybe even in behaviour. This is the power of bringing bottom-up processing (experiential state shifts) into a top-down talking and thinking.
Which is not to say that we don’t do much talking in State Change Therapy. In fact we’ll do a lot of talking, especially in the first few sessions when we explore the ways in which your mind and autonomic nervous system has become dysregulated, either due to a circumstantial change such as losing a job, or the end of a relationship. Or maybe just as part of an ongoing struggle with an anxious, depressed, or some other too-much state.
State Change Therapy is a doing therapy as well as a talking therapy. Perhaps it can be described as doing, then talking about what experience we had in the process, and if that has shifted anything for us. Much of the doing you’ll be pleased to know is quick, fun, and interesting: sampled in our sessions as you would from a tasting menu in a restaurant, and then deepened with practice through the week following.
WHAT DO STATE CHANGE SESSIONS LOOK LIKE?
I usually incorporate some State Change Therapy into any work that I do (it’s one of my Four Factors). Some people like to do it as a standalone (6-10 sessions), which is especially helpful for those with ongoing depression and anxiety issues, but it can also be incorporated into any work we’re doing together on any problem or issue.
If you’d like to see an overview of how 10 sessions of focused SCT might look like, you can find an example of a 10 session course of SCT over here.
WHERE DOES STATE CHANGE THERAPY COME FROM?
State Change Therapy, like many 21st Century models is an integrative one, a therapy “cocktail” you might say, rather than a single shot approach like psychoanalysis or CBT.
Here are it’s ingredients (quantities vary according to the needs and personality of each client):
If you are interested in talking more about doing some State Change Therapy, or incorporating it into a therapy approach we are already using in our sessions, please do get in touch.