Reply To: Psychotherapy with LH patients

  • Mike Todd

    June 19, 2023 at 1:45 pm

    Thanks, Don.

    It wasn’t my intention to derail the discussion. I get pleasure – in terms of a dopamine-mediated sense of achievement as well as a serotonin-mediated sense of contentment – from thinking about things and, if I’m lucky, from seeing relationships between ideas separated by time, space and other contexts. This pleasure influences my mood and disposition, which in turn influences my behaviour. Let me fill in some real-life blanks to connect what I’ve just said with the theme of this discussion.

    At present I’m caring, more or less round the clock, for my mum (aged 90) who’s about five months into recovering from a near-fatal right hemisphere haemorrhage. I begin each day, around about 4AM, with 30-45 minutes of mindfulness-based meditation, followed by a few hours of reading and thinking about fairly beefy ideas, by which point my mum is awake and ready to be washed, dressed, breakfasted and entertained with a few hours of conversation before lunch.

    I find that meditation, reading and thinking – does it all count as contemplation? – puts me in a frame of mind most conducive to compassionate caring. Looking after my mum requires a great deal of patience and empathy: in addition to significant physical impairment, she has experienced a hefty cognitive and psychological knock from the haemorrhage; thankfully, and rather miraculously, she appears to be on the way to putting it all behind her, but there are still trying times every single day.

    I don’t believe I’d be able to adequately care for my mum day after day without the morning routine I mentioned, which includes a large slice of intellectualising. Last year the same routine also bolstered my own recovery from an extended period of mental illness; and there are many accounts of people across the ages rescuing themselves from private hells by having a good think about things, e.g. Boethius. Is it possible that intellectualising may be therapeutic for some of us?

    I’m aware that intellectualising is classed as a coping mechanism in some literatures, but the usage there appears to refer to abstracting one’s psychological state and thereby effectively distancing oneself from it. That’s not at all what I do each morning. To put it in a nutshell, I find that using my intellect (intuiting, rationalising and synthesising) goes hand in hand with, and can’t really be separated from, feeling good about myself, others and the world at large. How does that square with your view?

    I’m not in any sense devaluing other approaches which aren’t conceptual or even cognitive in nature. In fact, I believe that thinking and feeling (and raw experiencing) are complimentary and ideally should be integrated.

    Anyway, I’ve explicated overmuch here and elsewhere, so I’ll close with a figure. I like to imagine our evolution (spiritual or otherwise) as a work of poetry penned by the cosmos, and to borrow from my favourite poet: A poem begins with a lump in the throat; a homesickness or a love sickness. It is a reaching-out toward expression; an effort to find fulfillment. A complete poem is one where an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.

    More on that theme here: