The Evolution of CBT = Mindfulness – moving from changing projections to eliminating projections

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Quick summary: I am going to propose that we can use mindfulness interventions to increase our ability avoid projecting our beliefs onto a stimulus. I am also going to suggest that we can use mindfulness to increase our reflective ability so that we can become aware of our projections before we react emotionally or behaviorally to that projection (knowledge, judgment, belief, opinion etc). CBT offers an intervention which helps a person to change a belief that they are projecting onto a stimulus. This is effective as unhelpful beliefs encourage us to experience unwanted emotional reactions and they encourage us to engage in behaviors which are against our best interests… the replacement belief (the helpful belief) encourages more desirable emotions and behaviors. I am suggesting that mindfulness is the next step in the evolution of psychotherapy (even though mindfulness is thousands of years older than CBT – misuse of the word ‘evolution’ has been noted) as mindfulness can teach a person to notice and/or stop projection altogether or at least can help a person to manage his/her reactivity to the projection.

Simple version –

  • We unknowing put beliefs and opinions onto things that we look at or touch or smell etc and then we are automatically and unknowing affected by those beliefs and opinions…
  • We then feel a certain way or do a certain behavior for reason that we cannot always explain or understand…
  • We seem to be acting and emoting without any control… we feel controlled by our environment…
  • Mindfulness may be the way to learn how to stop ‘putting beliefs and opinions onto things.’
  • CBT may be unintentionally encouraging our habit of projecting.

 

Perhaps you are not truly being controlled by your environment… perhaps you are being controlled by your own projections (knowledge, judgments, beliefs, opinions etc).

I propose this question: We are a country of immense privilege and resource… why are so many so depressed and anxious… what is the common source of our suffering?

When a person interacts with something (a person, an idea, a place, an object etc) with any of their five senses they unconsciously place their beliefs, knowledge, opinions, history etc onto that something which is the focus of their attention… people engage in behaviors and experience emotions related to that very projection.

In this piece when I say that people “project there beliefs onto a stimulus” I mean that we unconsciously put knowledge and judgments onto whatever is holding our attention…

We therefore do not solely attend to reality; we attend to a reality influenced by our subjective perceptions.

  • Example 1, if you look at a snake you might place the following beliefs on it: dangerous, evil, annoying, scary, useless, must be avoided, must be killed, the snake is going to try and kill me, snakes attack people for no reason, that is an immoral object.
  • Example 2, if you saw a person with a sticker that labeled them as being in support of a political party that you dislike you may project the following beliefs onto him/her: dangerous, evil, annoying, scary, useless, must be avoided, must be changed, the person is going to hurt our country, He/she attacks people for no reason, that is an immoral object.
  • How might your projected beliefs influence your actions and emotions?

 

What’s the point? Why should I care about negative projections?

  • The emotional and behavioral reaction that you have to the stimulus is automatically affected by your projections… you can’t feel or behave differently until you alter your projections.
  • CBT then helps people to have different emotional reactions and to engage in different behaviors by helping a person to change what they project onto certain stimuli.

 

I was Reading Dan Siegel’s ‘The mindful Brain’ and I was in the middle of one of his more scientifically mind-bending chapters (neurologically complex and specific) that was explaining the current research surrounding the part of the brain that places or projects ‘knowledge’ onto a stimulus and the part of the brain that encourages reflection (which would be your ability to notice that your mind is projecting beliefs) and attention without projection (which would be your ability to see a stimulus without placing judgments, ‘truths’, opinions, analysis etc on to it).

  • For more about Dan’s work please visit – http://www.drdansiegel.com/ – I cannot say enough about this professional… his work is absolutely fantastic. I would say that his scientific ability is respected to be at the highest caliber… what I was pleasantly surprised to find was how engaging and artistic his personal narratives are… wonderful, intelligent, inspiring, revolutionary books.

 

It then hit me that from a neurological perspective CBT is calling on the same part of the brain to simply offer a different and “better” projection onto a stimulus.

In short, if projection is the problem, than CBT might be strengthening the part of the brain which was ‘responsible’ for the problem. Excuse my oversimplification – again this is just a theory.

CBT encourages a client to isolate negative or hurtful thoughts and beliefs. The client is then asked to replace those ‘disruptive’ beliefs with positive or helpful thoughts and beliefs.

  • Research seems to be suggesting that projections primarily come from a specific part of the brain.
  • The physical and functional qualities of the many different brain parts are affected by use. To dramatically oversimplify this concept this would mean that increasing the use of a part of the brain will increase that part both physically and functionally (just like your bicep).
  • CBT might (this is just a theory) be increasing (in size and function) the part of the brain responsible for projections – which is the source of the ‘problem’.

 

Again, what is the point?

  • ‘Negative’ projections cause suffering and CBT helps people to begin projecting more ‘positive’ thoughts and beliefs onto the relevant stimuli.

 

  • Some philosophies suggest that projections cause suffering despite whether the projection is positive or negative.

 

How suffering is caused by Positive Projections.

  • The suffering arises as projection eliminated the novelty of life… instead of living life we begin to live within our projections

 

  • These projections are known and understood and therefore do not require sustained attention or interest…

 

  • Everything then becomes very boring…

 

  • We loose our curiosity and our passion…

 

  • We require the novelty of ‘new’ things or activities such as material items to elicit excitement… but this does not seem to help our suffering.

 

Common Example of projections making life boring

 

  • Think about when you first met your partner or best friend etc… what did you feel? Were you curious about him/her?  of course this person has changed – did your partner become less interesting, exciting, attractive, intricate, or did you become less interested in him or her… is it possible that you lost your curiosity as opposed to her/him losing anything to be curious about? What would happen if you stopped judging your partner? What would happen if you stopped convincing yourself that you had all the knowledge necessary about your partner? What if you removed all of the beliefs and knowledge that you have about your partner and then you met them again ‘for the first time’… what would be different?

 

  • Remember the first time that you saw your house? What did you experience… what do you experience now?

 

  • How about your first time seeing the leaves change… the first time it snowed… the first time you saw the ocean… the first time you experienced a thunderstorm or saw a rainbow…

 

  • You may still have very positive beliefs about all these things, but for some reason they are not able to elicit the same excitement and curiosity out of you…

 

  • These things are just as exciting and inspiring as they once were but your projections are keeping you from experiencing them… this causes suffering.

 

Mindfulness encourages a client to strengthen there ability to reflect upon the thoughts, emotions and sensations which the mind and body experience without taking automatic action.

  • Mindfulness reduces automatic reaction to projections.
  • this increases control and freedom.

 

Mindfulness also teaches a client how to pay attention to a stimulus without placing a projection (judgment, belief, knowledge) onto that stimulus…

  • You learn to see the stimulus as novel as apposed to understood, quantified, known, defined, labeled, categorized etc.
  • This makes everything interesting, exciting, and inspiring.

 

Children tend to be more mindful then adults… they can look at a leaf falling from a tree with complete amazement and glee… through mindfulness an adult can grow to have a similarly novel experience with such a stimulus.

In conclusion

  • CBT teaches us how to change or alter our projections

 

  • mindfulness teaches us how to stop projecting or to stop reacting automatically to projections

 

  • Research is suggesting that mindfulness increases the mass and function of the part of the brain responsible for reflection and for attending without projection.

 

  • I theorize that CBT may be increasing the mass and function of the part of the brain responsible for projections (both ‘helpful’ and ‘unhelpful’ projections seem to come for the same part of the brain).

 

  • I am suggesting that CBT will evolve into mindfulness as mindfulness reduces the unwanted affects of both positive and negative projections where as CBT is designed to reduce the unwanted affects of negative projections alone.

William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.
William Hambleton Bishop
William Hambleton Bishop is a practicing therapist in Steamboat Springs Colorado.

2 thoughts on “The Evolution of CBT = Mindfulness – moving from changing projections to eliminating projections

  1. Excellent post. Mindfulness is revolutionizing CBT, and now Mindfulness-based CBT (MBCT) is becoming widely accepted for the treatment of depression and anxiety.
    CBT is a content based therapy that essentially tries to change unquestioned beliefs and negative thought patterns by reinforcing their opposites – challenging limited beliefs and replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts.
    Mindfulness Therapy is a process-oriented therapy that recognizes that the primary problem is not our thoughts/beliefs but our RELATIONSHIP to this contents. If that relationship is based on unawareness and compulsion then it will create suffering. If the relationship is based on awareness and freedom then we are not compelled to react and suffer. It is like a hot coal – You can stop the pain by throwing water on the coal…or you can simply not pick up the coal in the first place!
    Dr Peter Strong is a Professional Mindfulness Therapist who provides Online Counseling via Skype for the treatment of anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety, depression and emotional stress.
    Visit http://www.counselingtherapyonline.com to learn more.

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