Ian White’s Message:
I am not special. Or, at any rate, I am no more special than the next person. I did not manufacture the fabulously intricate neuro-mechanisms of the human brain, much less the human mind. I did not have a hand in developing the surging affective neuroscience paradigm that is providing a focus of some interest in our modern society – not only in professional circles, but also on the street with ‘ordinary’ people. I was not responsible for the development of some of the more esoteric approaches in psychotherapy that have burgeoned into fields such as hypnotherapy, EMDR, NLP and the like, whether useful or otherwise as therapeutic modalities. I certainly was not instrumental in the development of more Eastern approaches to therapeutic encounters. I didn’t invent trance. I didn’t invent meditation or mindfulness. I had no hand in the investigation and invention of emotional intelligence* (if there is such a thing) and its offshoot approaches.
*In affectological terms, "emotional intelligence" is an oxymoron. The deepest hard-coding of our affect unconscious has no ‘intelligence'. It only has an instinct to retain and survive.
So, I hope you are not disappointed in me and my admissions about all the things I didn’t invent. What did I do? What have I done to be able to claim the beginnings and development of Clinical Affectology and Af-x?
Affective Neuroscience has grown out of the psycho-neuroscientific field of human development. It has been with us for decades. Brilliant work. Important work to us all. But as brilliant as it is, and as important as it also is, it is rarefied in its academic language and absence of welcoming arms to the outsider. It has fundamentally remained a field whose sole interest is to examine, identify, classify and try to make sense of components of the human brain that cause us to be who we are, react in the way we do, tread the paths that we choose in life, relate to others in particular ways, and finally (and perhaps most importantly to us), create our individual affect relationships with our very selves – our “sense of how we should feel about ourselves.”
None of that has ever provided constructive answers that have been of assistance to psychotherapy. If anything, it has seemed to confuse and complicate the issue as psychotherapists seek to delve MORE into the human affect psyche in order to “fix it.”
I have engaged with the language of affective neuroscience and reconfigured it – without any loss of meaning, value or quality – and “taken it to the streets.” I have made it of more value to those of us who wish to investigate the importance of this new science in a practical and worthwhile way – a way that can help people quickly and effectively rather than simply define and analyse their affect states.
But affective neuroscience, whilst a ‘new deal’ in modern society, actually does not invent anything at all. It never will. It just is. It is like most other sciences. It investigates. It defines. There is nothing new to affective neuroscience, and as exciting as some of us might think it is, it’s simply an ever-growing and improving facility that helps us understand that which has been silent for so long. And like many sciences it simply provides descriptive narrative to something that already exists. And always has existed. It is valuable to help us see just how beautiful and perfect – yes, PERFECT – the human condition is.
More ancient aspects of the “healing arts” are also nothing new, and that’s self-evident. They have been with us as a species for thousands of years. Except on rare occasions, the benefits of certain styles of “inner reflection” of Ch’an and Zen therapeutic meditations are generally ignored by modern medical science, and I understand why that can be. But later years in Eastern therapeutic approaches have spawned some highly elegant notions about what it takes to help people self-correct in all aspects of life. Morita Therapy, Naikan and what the Japanese call “quiet therapies” have been shown to be “highly effective against the anxiety states and disorders (Japanese: Shinkeishitsu).”
Yet, they either do not need, or have chosen to ignore, modern affective neuroscience, even though their “successes” are attributed in large part to the effects their practice has on “the silent (affect) self.”
So … what to do with, on the one hand, a beautifully enlightening science that has no workable, applicable therapeutic process for ordinary people, and on the other hand, effectively workable (quiet) therapeutic approaches that “have no science” and do not enjoy the recognition of the person in the street?
The solution? Bring them together – marry them – to form a melded approach that involves the elegance of quiet, self-attentional forms of therapy, yet can stand solid with a contemporary scientific foundation.
My self-appointed task, then, over three decades, has been to act as:
Not much “new,” just “together at last.” But what is new and can be attributed to my work and developmental efforts is the myriad notions about what constitute unconscious dynamic layerings that may operate as the enemy and saboteur of therapeutic exchanges, processes and eventual outcomes – the affectology view of unconscious parts and task drivers.
So the long path of development and tentation that has led to this perfect marriage has not involved any new invention or miraculous creation that did not exist already, but it did involve hard-line deconstruction of many (but not all) of today’s professional myths and “rules of operation” that surround psychotherapy, and yes, medicine itself.
Those deconstructions have, from time to time, resulted in painful retorts and affronts from traditionalists, and as you possibly inquire more, you will see why. But, being from rebellious Australian convict bloodlines, I refuse to simply toe the line if and when I see that the line is not drawn on firm ground.
This development of the perfect marriage has also required a steady hand and a fixed eye. The eye has had to remain fixed on the range of totemic issues that are vital to the underlying philosophy of affectology, and the steady hand has been necessary to steer a course toward the aim without succumbing to the seductive lure of “doing what tradition requires of psychotherapy” (let me not burst into a story about Ulysses and the Sirens!)
Psycho-philosophers would say that I might be a follower of Dabrowski’s “Theory of Positive Disintegration” (TPD), moving and operating outside common values. They may be correct. After all, Dabrowski considered people who had that capacity (to not stand in the social line), “as to be quite likely to be on an accelerated development of their personality toward an ideal not given to them by society but created each by him/herself in struggles outwardly and inwardly. They are less likely to succeed in business but some may be more likely to have rich inner lives.”
Well, I don’t know about that, but I do know that blindly and thoughtlessly conforming to social and professional standards disallows any of us to create new vistas, to forge new paths in any field. Clinical Affectology is a creative contribution to society only in the sense that the “creation” has been merely a perfect marriage. And like good marriages, the overall beauty and value is always more than the sum of the parts.
For me, there has been great joy in taking this path leading away from the righteous conventions of a century and a half of analytical and diagnostic “talk” psychotherapy. The joy has been significantly marked and created by the reports of the many clients who have benefited from our work.
So, I am not necessarily all that special, just tenacious. I have sought to push, cajole and massage Clinical Affectology toward a goal where we are all capable of seeing the perfection and bewildering resources and capabilities of all of us: that’s you, me and all clients, and finding a way to brush aside the restrictions and limits that a judgmental society places on people, letting them be at last, what they were always meant to be. Our work is about what is right with our clients, rather than what is wrong.
Affectology and Af-x challenge the forms of psychotherapy that employ verbal exchange. Not because we are subversive, but because when the facts are followed and we can adopt an “it therefore follows” attitude to those facts, we happen to be right.