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Acceptance & Commitment Therapy has many practical uses, and one of the most common is in treating social anxiety. In the third episode in a series with “A Liberated Mind” author Dr. Steven Hayes, Daniel, Tana, and Dr. Hayes discuss how a type of cognitive behavioral treatment can help you overcome your social anxiety, and why paying attention to your thoughts before automatically responding to them can be helpful in any stressful situation.
For more info on Dr. Hayes book, visit https://www.amazon.com/Liberated-Mind-Pivot-Toward-Matters/dp/073521400X
Daniel Amen, MD:
Welcome to the Brain Warrior’s Way podcast. I’m Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen, BSN RN:
And I’m Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
The Brain Warrior’s Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit amenclinics.com.
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Welcome back everyone. We’re really having a good time learning some very important tips for how you can master your mind, so important. We’re here with Dr. Steven Hayes, author of “A Liberated Mind”, professor of psychology, teacher. He and I both teach together at the Evolution of Psychotherapy Conference coming up in December. It’s going to be a virtual conference given what’s happening with the world so you don’t even have to get in your car and drive down a highway. You can get Steven’s wisdom virtually, Evolution of Psychotherapy. I don’t know how many lectures you’re doing, Steven. I’m doing-
Dr. Steven Hayes:
Six, about in that range, too much.
Crazy, craziness. And we’ve been talking about ACT, acceptance-
Love that word.
… and commitment therapy. So let’s talk about it for people who have anxiety, whether it’s generalized anxiety or panic disorders where you started. So give us, if you could, some examples of maybe people you’ve worked with and then the process of getting well.
Well, the previous segments walk through some of the parts that are more over on the acceptance and mindfulness side. And so they probably feel a little familiar. We haven’t talked too much about connecting with a sense of self that watches and observes all of it. Now, I really want that because it looks to you and you buy into this narrative self story, which takes over parts of the mind in such a way we’re seeing it in the psychedelic therapy that we’re doing.
ACT is used very often. It’s like a thought therapy and it starts opening up sensory motor channels that have been inhibited by the narrative sense of self so that you literally don’t things that don’t fit your self story. It’s hard to say parts of the brain that are ancient with these new tools. So we want a sense of self there that is more spiritual I might say, less defined by form and more by pure awareness. The kind that is there that starts in this journey we’re on when your mama looks in your eyes and says, “Oh, you sweet baby,” and you dump natural opiates in your brain. Just by the process of being seen. Because we’re such social primates, it’s critical. And by the way, mama’s brain is doing the same thing and the only other creature that does it is dogs that have been co-evolving for a pretty long time. So we’re connected in consciousness and we want to open up to that part.
And so we try to do things that separate that content from the observer, the notice or the witness, the I here now-ness, so that when you have anxiety, when you have your body doing you’re doing, you have your mind telling you have to run, you have to fight, you have to hide, you can notice that and have a little bit of separation that’s not associative, but more perspective taking.
You can see it happening, learn from it, find out what’s inside it. So that’s one thing that I would do that I need to take the next step to what’s inside your anxiety struggles and I’ll give you a practical example of that.
That’s so interesting. As a child, I grew up with a lot of chaos and I just actually wrote a book about it. It’s called “The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child” and it’s really about overcoming trauma, chaos, grief, that kind of stuff in your earlier years. One of the things someone taught me and I don’t remember who taught me this when I was going through something really hard, but it sounds a little like what you’re describing and it really helped me. So I finally learned how to settle my monkey mind by learning how to meditate, which was not an easy thing for me. But someone taught me that if I could elevate, like imagine myself elevating out of the scenario and look at it from a 30,000 foot view or watch it like a movie, but not be in the movie, and then what would the characters do? What would you have them do? What are they doing? How is. It was mind blowing to me. It was such a simple thing, but I was like, “Wow.” It just, it really helped me.
Absolutely. It’s powerful and the model there’s a number of techniques in the ACT work and it’s even in the basic science. So I think I can explain a little bit in terms of our theory of cognition and the actual work that’s being done. Dozens of studies that make sense of what you just said. And by the way, I had the same experience. What I found inside my panic as I moved through was a scared kid under the bed, listening to my parents fight with my dad an alcoholic, my mom OCD and there was domestic violence. I was afraid he was going to hit her. And sometimes that happened or threats of it, very strong threats of it. So, it activated very primitive programming because my first panic attack happened in a psychology department meeting where I say full professors were fighting in the way that only wild animals and full professors are capable of.
I did not know where that emotional arousal came from because I had suppressed that memory so much, but I didn’t have easy access to it. I kind of said, now my parents fought, but I didn’t know that it… so if we take this part, this witnessing self which you just said, an example you, as a perspective, here’s this makes tools very simple if you understand the cognitive basis of it. There’s three relations that are learned when young children, I-you, here-there, now-then. They’re learned in that order. When they come together, as I-here-now, you’re able to extend consciousness verbally to you-there-then. We could imagine what it’s like right now to be in the wildfires in a particular state or starving or in a war zone, or part of the, what’s going to happen in the future with our children?
So when you shift time, place or person in terms of perspective taking, you’re tapping into what your contemplative practice is giving you, as if you’re doing follow the breath, for example, your attention takes it away. You catch the puppy moves, you connect with this I-here-now-ness and you bring it back. There’s a part of your mind that isn’t on autopilot. It isn’t programmed in that way. It’s just here now. And you keep touching that part and then bring your attention back to the present. Well, if I asked you, for example, go back to the question that you asked and what to do about an anxiety kind of thing. Let’s take… I’ll take my anxiety, which has to do with social anxiety and panic.
What I’m going to want to do is catch this witnessing self and look with a sense of self-compassion, self-kindness acceptance in the sense of receiving the gift of what my mind and body is doing. As I do that, I open myself up to the history. I tell the story in one of my TEDx Talks of actually finding the little boy under the bed, who I didn’t know was there at eight years old crying and saying something, “I’m going to do something,” and realizing there was nothing safe to do and packing up and just holding themself and crying more.
I’m a grown-up now. I’m a psychologist. I can do something. No, I couldn’t solve my parents’ problems, but I can walk into that hell of other people’s history and help them solve theirs. And so part of the shift here is inside your anxiety struggles, inside your self criticism, is a deep yearning for something that is values-based, which if you get this more transcendent sense of self in the room, you’re not threatened by your history and so you can learn from it.
I didn’t find this out about the values underneath my panic disorder until three years into ACT. I had to really convince my mind that it’s okay to be me, not by argument, by experience. And then it started opening up the doors to my history and I found things out. And what I found in there was that why I’m a psychologist. I found meaning and purpose. I’ve never met a social anxiety person who doesn’t want to be with people. You? I’ve never met a depressed person who doesn’t want to know how to feel and participate and be part of it. So underneath our pain is our purpose. flip it off.
Talk about pain to purpose.
Yeah. I actually titled my first TEDx that term, Pain to Purpose, because that was what happened to me in my pack struggle.
And I would want to do that with anxiety person. I would use this kind of witnessing self, this acceptance in the fusion techniques, then go into the pack but not as an end result with a secret message of when you diminish it enough, you can live now more like this is a passenger that will come along with you in your journey and that has important things to tell you.
I love that.
For example, that suffering matters in my own history and you really want to do something about it. Well, that gets me up in the morning.
I love that. All right. When we come back, we’re going to have one more session. I think we’re getting our own therapy.
I know. I have so many questions. This is so great.
We’re going to talk about ACT and depression, which has tripled since the pandemic started. It’s just horrifying. We’re here with Dr. Steven Hayes, author of “A Liberated Mind”, professor of psychology. You can learn more about ACT either by getting a copy of Liberated Mind or going to Steven’s website, stevenchayes.com. Stay with us.
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