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December, 2016

What is Empathic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

 

The new combination of CBT, the power of empathy and the addition of how to change brain chemistry naturally is an integrative therapeutic method I have developed over the last 35 years. This unique psychology perspective will provide you with the most comprehensive approach to balance your mental and physical health while reducing stress significantly.  CBT corrects distorted thinking and empathy calms the emotional brain so we can use this capacity to perceive others and ourselves accurately and thoughtfully. How we perceive is directly related to how much stress we accumulate. In addition this approach teaches you how to produce your own natural brain chemicals that create calm, focused energy to do and be the best you can be. These three components produce a synergy that enhances our lives and releases our potential.         Studies indicate that Americans have fewer friends; trust has decreased as well as the degree of empathy shown to others, while prejudice has increased and race relations have deteriorated.  Half of Americans lie awake at night due to job stress and three quarters indicate they suffer from emotional or physical stress symptoms daily.

We have become a society that places a great emphasis on achievement, status and appearance and far less on character and relationships. Many people have learned how to achieve, but they do not know how to love and make lasting deep friendships, and this lack of love and relational connections is the missing ingredient that plagues their lives. Our political climate, with presidential candidates emphasis on aggression, insults, lying and lack of integrity is symbolic of the lack of empathy, low trust and high stress in our current society.

 

The Three Components of Empathic CBT

Empathy

Empathy is the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another. Empathy is not an emotion or a feeling but a capacity that is innately present.

We are born with this capacity, and if not developed, it will atrophy like an unused muscle. In recent years, research on empathy has exploded. We now know we have empathy neurons, called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons send messages to our limbic system, the emotional center of the brain. The empathic connection then releases the neurotransmitters dopamine (creating a sense of desire), endorphins (pleasure and relaxation), and oxytocin (compassion and connection).

We also know that stress, both acute and chronic, impairs empathic accuracy, as worry about stressors draws a person’s intellect away from deciphering behavioral cues in everyday interactions.

Because empathy is truth oriented and gives us the opportunity to perceive clearly and objectively, it is the ideal complement to Cognitive Behavior Therapy.

The deep emotional learning that holds onto past hurts—the brain’s negative feedback loop—can only be released and understood permanently with empathy. When we are hurt we are emotional and stressed, cortisol is released, which records our experience in a deep part of the brain. We then perceive similar situations to the ones that hurt us through our old emotions, not through our thoughtful, more accurate empathic lens, thus making for distorted perceptions. We put old faces on new faces.                                                               We can correct distorted thinking with CBT techniques, but the emotional part of the brain will return to negativity over time if the situations that hurt us deeply are not understood and resolved on both the emotional and cognitive level. Several outcome studies have indicated that CBT is effective in the short run, but traditional talk therapies are more effective in the long term. Combining the use of empathy with CBT assures the best outcome with the least amount of time.

Brain Changes

Do you remember every time you were hurt deeply in your life? I am guessing your answer is yes. Do you remember each time you have been given a compliment in your life? Probably not. Your hurts are stored in the emotional center of the brain, buried deeply so you will be protected in the future. Problem is they lead to theories about human nature. A negative view of life is formed as a result of hurts experienced in childhood or adolescence and this negative view is re-activated when you are stressed in adult life.  A negative view creates cognitive bias, and you live your life believing the distorted fictional story you wrote about yourself at a time when you could not possibly see yourself and you’re potential accurately.

This negative perspective creates stress and the stress hormone cortisol is prevalent in your system. High levels of cortisol kills neurons in the memory center of the brain, the unfortunate result is your ability to think clearly or creatively is compromised. Cortisol also binds negative memories, making for a stubborn entrenched view of yourself that is not very flattering.

Empathic CBT will teach you how to change neurochemistry naturally, producing the hormones that provide a calm, focused state of mind rather than those that cause distress and discomfort.

CBT

CBT has been documented as being effective with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, low back pain, substance abuse, fibromyalgia and some personality disorders .There has been less evidence-based research on stress and CBT.

One of the criticisms of CBT, despite its overall success, is that the changes created may not endure due to the lack of focus on emotionally conditioned learning, which we know is quite difficult to extinguish. Empathic CBT addresses this issue comprehensively so that the emotional, conditioned negative learning can be understood in depth and changed in lasting fashion.                                          De-Stressing Your Life

Empathic CBT will take you on a journey that has the potential to affect both your thinking and emotional brain. First, empathic CBT will provide exercises that will allow you to uncover the origin of your learned reaction to stress, especially focusing on how you typically perceive that leads to stress. Secondly, empathy exercises will help you see yourself and others accurately. Lastly CBT will then help you reverse false beliefs and as you perceive yourself and others more clearly you will become calmer and more relaxed as you learn to produce feel good chemicals rather than stress hormones. You will now be in a position to perceive accurately rather than projecting worry forward based on old conditioned ways of responding.  Empathic CBT will free your mind of old views that have produced stress and compromised your life. In the process you will uncover positive aspects of your personality that have remained hidden under the clouds of stress and old conditioned ways of relating.          Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D, Ph.D.

               Author of The Stress Solution: Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience. www.balanceyoursuccess.com

 

 

 

 

 

The Stress of Prejudice

The Stress of Prejudice

Whenever we encounter someone who we have an inherent prejudice against, whether conscious or unconscious, we begin to experience a degree of stress. When we are stressed we release the stress hormone cortisol, which limits our capacity for empathy while also causing repetitive negative thinking. If you have prejudices against several types of people it is likely that your cortisol levels will be consistently high. In addition to causing negative thinking excess cortisol also causes weight gain, inflammation, hair loss, breaks down muscle tissue, causes flabbiness, depression, anxiety and memory loss.

                           The Origin of Prejudice

Once you realize that we all have probably learned inaccurate views of others early in life we have the opportunity to change our perceptions from fear based to truth based. We live in a time where people are highly stressed, have low trust levels, fewer friends and prejudice in our society has reached significant heights.

When our perceptions are distorted stress becomes prevalent. One of the greatest achievements our minds can accomplish is to be able to perceive others and ourselves accurately.  Children idealize their parents and other authority figures early in life, if one of your parents, uncles, aunts, and older siblings repeatedly talks disparagingly about a particular race, culture or religion the likelihood that you will be influenced by these incorrect preconceptions is quite probable.

Not long ago, at the pleading of his mother, I interviewed her son who had become a white supremacist. As I entered my waiting room I was greeted with  “So you’re the WAP doctor my mother wants me to see”. He was obviously trying to provoke a reaction, and when he didn’t get the response he expected he began a rampage about how the blacks, Hispanics and Jews have ruined our country and if I had a brain in my head I would understand the truth about what is happening rather than being one of the liberals defending them.

It wasn’t difficult to observe that Chris is a quick reactor, and quick reactors are ruled by their emotions not by their thoughts. The key to understanding prejudice is using empathy to uncover the root of bias and the negative physical effects it causes.

                        Empathy-The Salve for Prejudice

Empathy is the capacity to understand and respond to the unique experiences of another. It is not an emotion or a feeling but a capacity that is innately present. Empathy is part of our genetic endowment; it is essentially our ability to read others accurately, to see beyond the surface into the soul of another human being. Empathy is often confused with sympathy. Sympathy, as opposed to empathy, occurs when we identify with another persons’ experience even if we do not know if our experiences are similar. You hear a neighbor is being transferred to Texas and you immediately respond and say how sorry you are that her family has to move. She responds by telling you that she is going to work for her sister’s clothing chain as a buyer and it’s the job of a lifetime, plus she and her husband will be near family and close to her old university and college friends. You realize, with embarrassment, that your quick reaction was not factual but emotional, projecting how you would feel rather than slowing down and gathering the facts.

The Story behind the Story

As I tolerated Chris’s aggression, and aggression is almost always a sign of insecurity and fear of vulnerability, he was able to tolerate my asking a few questions. As I asked a few historical questions he revealed that he grew up outside of Boston in a poor neighborhood. His alcoholic father left the family when he and his brother were in grade school, his mother worked two jobs and the boys were often left alone to fend for themselves. I mentioned that I sensed his hatred of Blacks seemed to run very deep. He told me that he and his brother were the only white kids riding the bus to school and they were taunted and bullied all through grade school. As we returned to the origin of old hurts, his anger and distorted view of African Americans became clear. His childhood pain-loss of his father, overwhelmed mother, being taunted on the bus and in school-led to the cognitive distortions of overgeneralizing, black and white thinking and emotional reasoning (being ruled by emotions rather than objective thinking).

Empathic Listening

My meeting with Chris proved revealing for several reasons. When Chris was in his aggressive mode, his intensity caused the release of the stress hormone cortisol, cortisol blocks our ability to be empathic and as I mentioned earlier causes repetitive negative thinking. When I was able to slow down the conversation, ask open-ended questions and get to the root of his prejudice we were relating in a much calmer, more open fashion. Empathy releases the hormone oxytocin, also called the love hormone, or the connecting hormone. While cortisol makes us fearful, oxytocin makes us feel comfortable, secure and in a position to give and receive empathy. Oxytocin reduces anxiety, reduces the release of cortisol, reduces addictive craving, and most importantly reduces aggression, fear and bias.

Empathic listening is slow listening, it is thoughtful and fact based. As Chris talked of his earlier traumatic experiences he was initially angry but when I pointed out how he seemed to be using anger to hold back tears he softened and began to talk more rationally. I complimented his intelligence and commented that I doubted that he truly believed Barack Obama was an unintelligent man, as he had stated earlier. I didn’t ask him to agree with our president’s views, but rather asked him to tell me what he experienced when he heard President Obama speak. After some back and forth he said, “ Ok I admit he’s not dumb but he is wrong about how to run this country”.  We agreed to limit the political discussion and we also agreed that one prejudice Chris had maintained most of his life was not true. And lastly we agreed that if one prejudice turned out to be based on old hurts, not facts, the possibility of other prejudices being in the same category were worth exploring.

My brief encounter with Chris was similar to many I have had with people who are plagued by prejudices. As indicated earlier prejudice increases stress, stress releases the hormone cortisol, and cortisol limits the ability to be empathic and also causes narrow, biased repetitive thinking. Empathic interactions release the compassionate hormone oxytocin, which in turn limits the release of cortisol, and creates a sense of safety and security, allowing for old hurts to be uncovered and resolved. Empathic CBT provides a formula for un-learning prejudicial thinking and restoring the ability to perceive accurately.

 

Arthur P. Ciaramioli, Ed.D. Ph.D.

   Author of The Stress Solution: Using Empathy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Reduce Anxiety and Develop Resilience.         http://www.balanceyoursuccess.com

 

 

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