Editor’s note: Steven Hoskinson, MA, MAT (pictured at left) is a consultant and trainer who employs and teaches a mindfulness-based approach to trauma treatment called Organic Intelligence. His continuing education presentation for GoodTherapy.org, titled Organic Intelligence and Exposure Therapy: Implicit Memory Integration Without Flooding, is scheduled for 9 a.m. PDT on July 24, 2015. This event is available at no additional cost to GoodTherapy.org members and is good for two CE credits. For details, or to register, please click here.
I remember in grad school in clinical psych, there was a change in the way heated discussions took place. In particular, ways of winning such discussions became more psychologized. Like the spells cast at Hogwarts, the “You’re PROJECTING!” was one of the more common attacks. The pejorative nature of projection stems from the understanding from Freudian perspectives of projection as one of the more primitive defenses. In his authoritative review of the topic, Vaillant (1992) describes how:
… for Freud, the defenses of denial, distortion, and projection were the defenses of psychosis. At the opposite end of the continuum, sublimation, altruism, humor, and suppression were the defenses of maturity. Between these two groups of defense mechanisms were splitting, hypochondriasis, turning against the self, phantasy, dissociation, repression, isolation, undoing, displacement, and reaction formation—defenses that Freud believed to be the hallmarks of neurosis. (p. 9)
In the understanding of Organic Intelligence (OI), projection—rightly encountered—is instead a uniquely potent means toward reassociation. The protective value of projection from OI’s perspective is honored and respected. Instead of interpreting or unveiling the unconscious process, OI proposes to build state-specific ego-strength until the projection’s value becomes ego-syntonic, and integration becomes a matter of course. It’s the difference between a person feeling vulnerably exposed, and feeling supported and self-discovered.
Rather than providing insight, per se, OI aims to shepherd observable physio-emotional states according to a protocol which aligns with subtle but naturally occurring organismic trends toward increased coherence (a “shaping” paradigm of positive reinforcement). Toward this end, one of the most helpful aspects of Organic Intelligence (OI) as a clinical approach is that, as a systems approach, it clearly defines the three actual and distinct organizational phases of the nervous system: chaos, complexity, and coherence. (This will be discussed during the webinar, and is also covered at OrganicIntelligence.org.) This is important for clinicians because in-the-moment nervous system phase determines the intervention that’s needed. We can see the three phases in this diagram:
The main question, therefore, becomes attunement. For instance, an ego-strengthening comment, such as, “So you were able to set that boundary with your partner,” could be a helpful reflection when the system is in Phase II— it may support a more positive affective state appropriate to that Phase. In Phase I, such a reflection’s effect would be nullified in the system’s disorganization and tendency to associate things with negative affect or increased intensity. In Phase III, it would create a particular state extrinsically, when the system is intrinsically processing, and thus disrupt all-important intrinsic reorganization. As well as emotionally, interventions must thus be systemically attuned in order to be effective, and OI helps clinicians identify the recognizable signs of these phases in order to provide this deep, organismic attunement.
In particular, the above graphic suggests that ego-strengthening must go hand-in-hand with fundamental mindfulness: that of a basic orientation to reality. This certainly includes the capacity for affect regulation through various mental, physical, or psychological actions—like tools of helpful thinking, behaving, and attentional focus, such as is found with proven tools of cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, yoga, moderate exercise, medication, etc. However, the fundamental context for a person’s use of these proven tools is the fundamental awareness of oneself in the moment. On a practical level, OI promotes the particular aspect of mindfulness: attention to the environment through the senses—simply coming back to our senses!
In contemporary psychotherapy—with notable exceptions like those found here, positive psychology, and Ericksonian utilization approaches—the focus of attention most often lands in pathology or the preoccupation with “what’s wrong.”
In contemporary psychotherapy—with notable exceptions like those found here, positive psychology, and Ericksonian utilization approaches—the focus of attention most often lands in pathology or the preoccupation with “what’s wrong.” Elsewhere, I discuss this as a biological reflection of trauma—when the amygdala creates a self-stimulating loop of emergency alert and priming for what’s wrong: “the what’s wrong attention.” Organic Intelligence says: Trauma means unintegrated resource. In other words, what’s wrong is the priming of the attention toward what’s wrong—and this is what’s wrong. However, our neurophysiological system is actually making self-organizing efforts to bring us back to balance all the time. These obvious efforts are mostly missed due to the compulsion to see what’s wrong. Self-soothing remains conceptual until—with the right knowledge and accompaniment—one can change the concept into the lived experience of good feeling in the felt sense. This is the aim of many traditions, including the initial conditions of OI treatment protocols.
The relationship to projection is clear: given enough here-and-now orientation, one can allow the projection process to occur. If one can allow the projection process to take place, freed from the “it’s wrong” association, then one has the possibility to see the material whose aim is integration. In other words, projection places one’s experience “out there”—at a safe distance, where it can actually help us recollect our relationship to it. Once there is sufficient ego-strength developed, and a sufficient degree of neutral awareness*—one can begin to experience aspects of oneself which are projected. Carl Jung knew this when he said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” However, it is of course not only that which irritates which reflects us back to ourselves; it can also be what inspires us, what is admirable, and what is numinous which we can reclaim via projection.
* The work of establishing this ego-strengthening, the stabilization of a relatively neutral, embodied awareness, is a task common to psychotherapy. We recognize that the more disoriented or fragmented the person in therapy, and the fewer the resources available, long-term support is increasingly necessary. Establishing these “initial conditions” may occur over months or years with those who are most disoriented.
Vaillant, G.E. (1992). Ego mechanisms of defense: a guide for clinicians and researchers. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
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