I watched this BBC programme with a growing sense of frustration and then one of growing sadness. Astoundingly, to my mind, there was no contribution from either a psychotherapist or even a counsellor.
Throughout its 50 minutes or so despite throwing around the word “emotion” there was no attempt to define either the word or what an “emotion” was – how to identify such an animal. Given that working with various emotions is the stock-in-trade of my profession this absence of perspective and experience baffled me. Which is odd because the majority of my clients, and Mr Malone as well on the basis of this programme, come to me with a burning desire to understand themselves more and to be able to make change.
Then again, maybe not. It seems that an actual definition of emotion was either not thought required or perhaps not wanted. In the world of modern “hard” science if you can’t weight it, measure it, record it or see it then it doesn’t exist.
Mr Malone talked about emotions as if they tossed us around like the sea does, in fact he said this whilst sitting on a beach and gazing out to sea. My job, our job, as therapists is to help people to take more control. To recognise their own ship as it’s tossed around on a personal sea, to recognise that there are engines and sails, that maps and a compass exists, to use the swells and currents of those emotions to their best advantage.
Another thing I noticed was this focus on neurons and the heart’s “little brain”. Not that these cells are aware or can make decisions. The link between heart and mind was described as a “marriage” – to me this misses the main point that we are all onesystem and this continual reduction into bits is now both getting in our way of understanding who we are and taking us down rabbit holes that lead nowhere. For heart and mind are as much in a marriage as are actors on a stage, with the exception that neither heart nor mind decided the parts they play nor can they change the script, only how and which bits of the script are presented.
Just as a side issue you can find these neurones all over the body especially in the gut which is why many people feel nauseous when taking anti-depressants. Just as we are one system so we also have a balance, what the biologists call homeostasis which are the processes that maintain that balance. What we call “emotions” are the sensations that we can interpret as change. This change can be a new balance in new circumstances or out of balance so that we can make any necessary adjustments, in behaviour or thinking.
Curiously, Mr Malone talks about how we are made with very little reference to evolution – that process by which each day we change in subtle ways the better to achieve our goals. The main way we have developed is as a system of many different parts each doing an essential job or jobs. However, when each job is taken in isolation and then put back together what we get is a mosaic rather than a free flowing dynamic life.
My first response was to feel let down by the programme. Then I got to thinking how this, perhaps, represents the psychotherapy profession; keeping itself separate from main stream biological and psychological thinking. Maybe that’s another programme.
How the heart and mind, together and not in competition Mr Malone, and the rest of the complete body interact is what makes us human as does how we interact with others around us; human, animal, plant and inanimate objects – we all form part of system that transforms and is transformed. By all means make the best use of modern technology but don’t fall into trap in believing that the full and only answer lies in the MRI, the electrical current or the lab.
I’ll make you an offer Mr Malone; if you really want to find out what makes us human then look, feel and explore within you, and I’ll be more than happy to help as guide and partner on a shared expedition. Then you’ll discover what makes you human, for every journey like this is personal and subjective.
And now I see there is a programme about how the gut has “intelligence” and Horizon is looking at our senses and another programme about a “ruptured brain”. Is there any hope that someone might bring all things together so that we can appreciate just what it is to be human?
I am not holding my breath………