Civilization: Psychology breakthrough, II

By LOU MARANO  |  Oct. 9, 2003 at 12:14 PM
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 (UPI) -- Second of two parts

The first installment of this two-part series described how Joe Griffin in Ireland and Ivan Tyrrell in England developed a new scientific explanation for the origin depression. They showed that depressed people, usually creative and imaginative individuals, worry so much and feel so stuck that they generate excessive rapid-eye-movement dreaming when they sleep. This uses up so much brain energy, the depressed person wakes up exhausted and unable to focus, locking the victim in a vicious cycle.

This explanation is set forth in their new book, "Human Givens."

Explanation is one thing. Efficacy of treatment is another. Griffin and Tyrrell started MindFields College -- in Chalvington, in southeast England -- which trains about 12,500 students per year from Britain's National Health Service and the various social services. What's the record of the new approach in the treatment of depression?

"Once you understand the relationship between dreaming and depression, it makes doing therapy with depressed people so much easier," Tyrrell said. "Today's worry is tomorrow's depression. And you can have an impact on people within 24 hours. We do it regularly. Just explaining the process makes people feel like less of a freak and gives people hope ... whereas before they were in ignorance about why they felt so awful."

"The treatment we recommend builds on elements that are known to have efficacy," Griffin said. By adding physiological calming, relaxation, and efforts to rebalance the sleep, Human Givens therapists get an even higher rate of efficacy. Hundreds of videos show "remarkable results," he told UPI.

"Just as dreams are always metaphorical, so using appropriate metaphors is central to good therapeutic practice," the authors write, "and many people's lives have been changed for the better just by hearing stories that reframe their experiences and give them a new unconscious mental map for charting their way through life's difficulties." Hypnosis, which is an induced REM state, can be effective.

Griffin was asked what he would suggest to a depressed person who doesn't have access to a MindFields counselor.

"Take physical exercise," he replied. "Keep your mind focused outwards off the negative introspection. Know the importance in bringing a bit of pleasure and challenge back into your life. Know that the tendency for black-and-white thinking -- seeing things catastrophically -- is exacerbated by high stress levels. Know that the difficulties you have in thinking and making decisions at the moment is a symptom of your depression, not a symptom of your brain being dysfunctional -- it's a temporary phenomenon."

The "Human Givens" of the book title is also the name of Griffin and Tyrrell's approach to human psychology.

"We come into the world with emotional givens and physical givens programmed into us by our genes to seek in the environment to fulfill," Tyrrell said. Emotional needs include:

-- the security of a safe environment in which to develop

-- giving and receiving attention

-- a sense of autonomy and control

-- being emotionally connected to others

-- being part of a wider community

-- friendship, fun, love, intimacy

-- a sense of status within social groupings

-- a sense of competence and achievement

-- meaning and purpose arising from being stretched in what we create and think.

"If those needs aren't met, for whatever reason, the person starts to suffer distress," Tyrrell said. "They don't develop properly. They can get angry, anxious, depressed, greedy, or whatever." That produces emotional arousal and worrying, which involves the imagination. "Dreaming goes into overdrive, and we have depression."

Griffin was asked whether questioning the quality of our relationships -- asking if we are getting what we need --isn't consistent with the Human Givens approach but also conducive to depression.

"Part of the price of the consumer society that we've created is we've put a consumer orientation onto our relationships," he replied. "And we're asking: 'Are you good enough for me? Are you performing well enough for me? Are you meeting my needs well enough?' Whereas if we could just see ourselves as having made a commitment to chart a life path with this person, and together we've just got to pull through this, and not have such high expectations of each other.

"You need to have somebody with whom you can be substantially yourself and who will be supportive of you. But you're more likely to get that if you are less judgmental about the person you are with. And you are more likely to be able to offer it to the other person if you're not running a ruler over them as to how well they're performing for you. We would take better care of each other."

Griffin and Tyrrell are increasingly convinced that schizophrenics are trapped in the REM state when awake. "Their dreaming mechanism has literally broken down, and it's spilling out into waking reality," Tyrrell said. The dream state is the province of the brain's right hemisphere, but if a person is trapped in a waking REM state, with reality happening all around them, the left hemisphere is still likely to be active.

"We suggest that, because the REM state operates through metaphor," they write, "the only way it could make sense of these independent left-brain thoughts would be to create the metaphor of hearing voices, or being watched, or spied upon by aliens -- which easily becomes paranoia."

Tyrrell said he has not worked with many psychotic patients, but many of the people he and Griffin have trained report success.

Tyrrell said if psychotics are cared for and calmed with little or no medication, fed properly, kept on a regular schedule, and focused on doing such practical things as crafts and gardening, it strengthens their left hemisphere. The recovery rate of patients so treated is three times higher than those treated with drugs, he said.

Griffin said some cultures accept psychotic phenomena as being more within the normal range of human experience than does Western culture. "Which, of course, would greatly reduce emotional arousal around (psychosis) and speed up the chance of recovery. The more emotional arousal, the more pressure you're putting on the REM state mechanism, and the more the REM state mechanism is going to be operating, producing psychosis."

Emotional arousal around the victim is one of the best predictors of a relapse, Griffin said. "But, of course, the families of psychotics and the people around them are totally stressed out. They don't know that their emotional upset is aggravating the situation."

But isn't it true, Griffin was asked, that if you reward somebody who is acting in a psychotic way with attention, you'll get more psychotic behavior?

"You will. That's absolutely right. ... You have to normalize their world -- make a connection to it -- and then refocus them on reality. The less attention you give them for psychotic behavior, the more therapeutic it will be. That's absolutely right.

"But the way to do it is to join up with their reality. Make an emotional connection. Make them feel secure. Build a feeling of trust. Keep their arousal down. And then refocus them on practical stuff in the environment. They're not totally in the dream state."

Griffin and Tyrrell also offer useful insights into addictions, the placebo effect, and curing post-traumatic stress disorder. Their metaphysical afterward on consciousness, reality, knowledge, and transcendence is highly theoretical but worth the effort.

"Human Givens: A New Approach to Emotional Health and Clear Thinking" is available at Information about MindFields College can be accessed at

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