McGilchrist's Elegant Solution

In his admittedly complex, but nevertheless remarkable, 2013 book, The Master & His Emmissary, Scottish brain researcher Iain McGilchrist further clarifies the diverse functions of the left and right brain hemispheres. The book is over 900 pages long, and one probabably needs at least a post-grad-level education to appreciate and make relatively complete sense of it. But if one does make sense of it, it becomes evident that the author is onto something like the “holy grail” of psychiatry and psycotherapy, as well as understanding why society can be “schizophrenogenic.”

It all comes down to breaking through our culture’s powerful instructions to use the beliefs and past experience stored in symbolic language mostly in the left brain hemisphere (of most right-handed people) to interpret phenomena perceived mostly by the right hemisphere, and make decisions upon the basis of those interpretations… without further right-hemispheric observation.

Although the more existential schools of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sufism and even Essene Judaism knew nothing of hemispheric division of brain function, they all knew that the word is not the thing itself. They all proved to be correct in assuming that observing was more functional than ignoring, especially at the level of checking on the effectiveness of one’s belief-driven judgments, evaluations, appraisals, analysis, explanations, attributions of meaning and interpretations of perceived phenomena… hopefully before enACTing the conclusions based thereupon.

What we see in schiz is the gross and very obvious inability to make rational sense of empirical observation. (The pros call this “loose association.”) But what I see throughout the common cult-ure is very widespread – if more subtle – disconnecton of the dots leading from perception through appraisal to behavior. Moreover, I see it on a spectrum from relatively more complete and accurate dot-connecting to relatively incomplete and inaccurate dot-connecting that most people accept as “not quite nuts.”

Sounds interesting. Wish I could read.

Since the advent of cognitive therapy with Albert Ellis’s Rational-Emotive (Behavioral) Therapy (REBT) in the 1950s, we have seen that observing to notice to recognize to acknowledge to accept (the existence, not the correctness) to own to appreciate (the implications for coping with stress) to understand and then question “magical thinking” produces therapeutic results about 75% of the time.

Aaron Beck, Donald Meichenbaum, Jeffrey Young and Martin Seligman developed cognitive approaches into Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy in the '70s and '80s… and Wayne Dyer built a career on it with his Your Erroneous Zones, one of the biggest best-sellers in self-help history (for good reason).

But REBT and CBT did not go far enough, especially for those whose anxiety, depression, mania and/or PTSD had built complex edifices of ego defenses called “character (or personality) disorders.” Something more was needed, and the so-called “mindfulness” movement that more or less began at the same time with Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Marsha Linehan’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

By combining CBT with Edna Foa’s traumatic memory procession methods, the mindfulness people unwittingly compelled the left and right brain hemispheres to begin to communicate with each other to overcome the stone wall between perception, interpretation and the accuratizing function of re-perception.

(Francine Shapiro’s Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) was doing the same thing in the late 1980s, but it only works on overwhelming stress from the past without providing tools for more accurate interpretation of the present.)

The upshots of McGilchrist’s (and Louis Cozolino’s and Michael Gazzaniga’s) research and books have not yet become widespread at the psychotherapeutic method level, but they’re on the way. New technologies are far more rapidly conveyed in the digital era than they were 20-30 years ago. And more and more of this stuff is popping up at the major psychiatric and psychological association conventions.

If you’re sufficiently driven, however (there are times when it helps to be hypomanic), you can start throwing hand grenades at your (understandable) learned helplessness and start Googling all this stuff, 'cause it’s all out there in the www. This is pretty much exactly what I started doing after a decade of being In The Soup back in 1994… and I am NOT in the soup anymore.