Last week we published part one of our interview with J.A. Leyrer, MSW, a colleague who has recently retired after working in drug and alcohol rehabilitation for thirty years. Ms. Leyrer was a pioneer in the field of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy who combined the concept of mindfulness with traditional CBT techniques to guide clients through their journey of self-discovery. Here’s part two of that interview.
GVT – As I listen to your description of the two minds in each individual functioning simultaneously, I can feel it happening inside me. I never saw my own mental function this clearly. I’m sure everyone who hears you speak becomes more aware of being able to watch themselves think. It’s like sitting on your own shoulder and watching yourself go about your business. Can you teach people to become more aware of this duality?
JAL - Yes, I think we can. In my practice, I used simple mindfulness techniques taken from Buddhist practices and yoga to help my clients make a start. I would help them focus solely on their breathing for example. This simple practice is designed to slow down the thinking mind by focusing on a bodily function that doesn’t require thinking. In other words, you activate your limbic (feeling) center when focusing on an autonomic function, and this quiets your problem-solving cerebral cortex. This gave clients their first experience of being conscious without thinking and being able to slow down the relentless stream of thoughts that plagued their mind. This technique was often a real breakthrough for people suffering from undue free-floating anxiety.
GVT - Your success in helping addicts overcome their addictions is well documented. How did you incorporate these, if you’ll excuse the expression, “New Age” insights into your traditional practice?
JAL - I was a traditional CBT practitioner. Mindfulness is nothing more than a cognitive technique that I saw, frankly, as an advance in CBT theory. It is really another CBT method of self-discovery designed to help clients discover the source of the fear that is driving them to seek relief in drugs and alcohol.
GVT - It seems to me that everyone, not just people who are abusing substances, could benefit from learning to control their thinking mind. Why were you in the minority when it came to utilizing these “New Age” insights?
JAL - Psychotherapy is a relatively new profession. I would say that we have been working out the scientific underpinnings for about thirty years and will continue to do so "ad infinitum". It takes time to develop insights, utilize them carefully in controlled environments like universities and hospitals, and come up with professional standards that protect clients and practitioners. Psychiatry, for example, has only recently abandoned its Freudian model in favor of a medical drug-based model. That shift took about 60 years. More and more psychotherapists and social workers are beginning to utilize mindfulness techniques in their practices.
GVT - How about the general public? Wouldn’t it help everyone to be made aware that they have two minds fighting for attention?
JAL - Spiritual teachers have been talking about mindfulness all the way back to the Buddha. Eckhardt Tolle’s recent book The Power of Now covers the topic in a refreshing style. This information, however, will be considered “New Age” and remain in the shadows until the scientific community embraces it more fully. Then, I think it should be taught in elementary school. Imagine the suffering that could be prevented if children were taught to control their ever-vigilant problem-solving minds through meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness practices. Drug addiction alone could be almost eradicated; not to mention the high school drop-out rate and the soaring divorce rate in this country. We are fast becoming a dysfunctional species. We must find out why and take measures to correct the trend.