with A. B. Curtiss
IS A CHOICE
THE BATTLE WITHOUT DRUGS
According to your book you became a psychotherapist to
cure your own depression? That is certainly how it turned
out. I am a board certified cognitive behavioral therapist.
I am a board certified hypnotist. I am a licensed marriage
family therapist in the State of California; I have earned
diplomat status in psychotherapy awarded me by the National
Board of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists. Before I opened
my own psychotherapy practice I worked in a clinic for seven
years under a clinical psychologist. But before I even started
to became any of these things about fifteen years ago I
already had spent almost 30 years of my life as a raging,
raging manic depressive.
Manic depression ran in your family? My father and
my brother were both diagnosed with manic-depression, as
I was myself as a young woman in my thirties. All three
of us were under the care of different psychiatrists on
and off over the years. My father and brother opted for
drug treatment. My father and my brother were both wonderfully
intelligent and interesting. They were creative, writers.
I was frightened by the outcome of the drug treatment that
my father and my brother underwent. It seemed to me that
drugs took the edge off of who they really were as people.
Drugs took the edge off of some vital creative energy, drugs
took the edge off of some essential spiritual life force
that I missed in them and that I was terrified I might lose
in myself if I took the same route of treatment. My father
ultimately died in a state of catatonic depression. My brother
was one of the highest paid journalists in NY City who wrote
for Fortune Magazine. But after 20 years of psychoanalysis,
ritilin, lithium and the rest and the best of what the psychological
community has to offer as an orthodox treatment for those
whom they diagnose with manic depression, my brother hasn't
been able to work in almost 20 years. So I refused drugs
for my own treatment. Then I stopped going to psychotherapists
and went back to graduate school and became one.
Okay but how can you say Depression a Choice? Depression
is real. Depression is painful. Depression is caused by
a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is a biochemically-based
physiological reality that exists in the body. But this
need not frighten us. If we think the thought lemon, we
salivate. Salivation is a also biochemically-based physiological
reality that exists in the body. We don't have to cut out
or tongue or take Prozac to stop salivating. We just have
to stop thinking the thought lemon. The way we stop thinking
the thought lemon is to think some other thought. Thoughts
cause the chemically-based physiological reality of salivation
and thoughts can uncause it. Thoughts cause the chemically-based
physiological reality of depression and thoughts can uncause
it. Since we can choose what thoughts we think, that makes
depression a choice. I wrote this book to teach people how
to get out of depression by using a system of mind tricks
I call Directed Thinking.
In Your Book you say that Directed Thinking is based
upon Neuroscience. All thoughts are bio-electrical but
they cause bio-chemical consequences in the brain. Stressful
thoughts of which we may or may not be aware trigger the
fight-or-flight response which is supposed to lead us to
forward action but ends, instead, in itself, a negative
feedback-loop of escalating panic, fear and depression.
But these feelings only exist in one part of our two part
brain the sub-cortex, the seat of all our instincts and
feelings. In the neo-cortex, the area of our cognitive faculties,
reason, language and math there is no depression because
the neo-cortex doesn't have the capacity for any feelings,
good or bad. Historically people have survived with brain
injuries to the sub-cortex and have totally lost the capacity
for any feeling. We can temporarily brain switch out of
our depression by functioning from the neo-cortex instead
of the sub-cortex and leave our painful feelings of depression
How do we brain switch? Neuroscience has demonstrated
that as an electrode can stimulate a part o the brain and
elicit a thought, so also can a particular thought elicit
neural activity in a particular part of the brain. The brain
is essentially a thought-thinking, feelings-feeling machine,
different thoughts directly accessing different parts of
the brain that contain different strategies that fund different
behaviors, feelings, concepts and emotions. The thoughts
we think, either thoughts we have chosen on purpose like
"I must remember the name of my new neighbor"
or thoughts that pop up automatically like "I am so
depressed", determine from which part of the brain
we function. To concentrate on any kind of neutral or positive
thought, even the thought row, row, row your boat, brain
shifts us immediately from the sub-cortex to the neo-cortex
because this is where we engage in verbal activity as opposed
to engaging in feelings. If we think a neutral thought long
enough we become cognitively discontinuous with our depression.
I thought depression was caused by an imbalance of chemicals
in the brain. Depression is really a mind trick. It's
a very complicated little trick. Of course if it weren't
so complicated it wouldn't have confused all the doctors
and psychiatrists for centuries. Because the mind can only
think one thought at a time, we have only one attention.
Since the pain of depression is so insistent, we give it
our one attention. And since all our feelings are located
in a separate part of the brain from our cognitive abilities,
we are temporarily disconnected from the totality of our
learning and experience. We feel lost, helpless and powerless
but in reality we are not helpless and powerless, it is
a mind trick. As for the chemical imbalance in the brain,
there are toxic chemical consequences to the brain of thinking
any stressful thought. It is anxious thoughts like "I'm
depressed" "I can't get out of bed" "Life
is terrible" which power up our chemical factory causing
the brain to turn out buckets of stress chemicals in the
brain called neural transmitters which cause the brain to
become more and more chemically imbalanced and the sub-cortex
sinks deeper and deeper into anxiety, panic and depression.
So tell me again, how is depression a choice? We
don't have to think a thought merely because it pops up
in our brain. Anxious thoughts are compelling by nature,
that is what makes our psychological defense system so efficient.
But nothing is actually forcing us to think them. We can
force ourselves to think neutral thoughts long enough for
the chemical factory to power down and the chemical balance
in the brain to right itself. This is what my book is about.
Directed Thinking re-engineers the brain away from it's
habitual depressive mind-set. This is my very message of
hope. Depression is not really a terrible illness. Depression
is a really terrible mind-set. We don't have to cure the
mind with drugs. We have to cure the set with Directed Thinking.
Directed Thinking creates new neuronal pathways in the brain
that we can take to get out of depression. Directed Thinking
shows us how to change our thinking patterns in order to
change our brain chemistry. The basic principle that allows
us to do this is the fact that as a human being we can only
think one thought at a time; and we can think any thought
we want. This principle is the basis for Transcendental
Meditation and hypnosis. The principle is based upon neuroscience.
If this principle were not true there could be no such thing
as medical hypnosis for brain surgery or forming anew habit.
We are not forced to feel painful feelings like depression.
Are you suggesting we ignore our feelings? We don't
have to. But we don't have to suffer them needlessly either.
When we brain switch out of depression, new thoughts and
new behavior cause new feelings, less stressful feelings.
Now, when our stressful thoughts stop and our chemical factory
powers down, the sub-cortex is no longer in a state of alarm
and good feelings can once more arise there. At that point
we can slide back down into our feelings any time we want
simply by simply paying attention to them again. And then
later when this part of our brain again gets in a state
of alarm, stressed, compulsive, we can slip right out by
brain shifting back into the reasoning part for a while.
And give ourselves a rest from the stress. We have always
played a game of psychic see-saw with our emotions and our
reason anyway, it is human nature. But some of us have let
depression be in charge of this natural process. We can
be in charge. We can make the choice. Of course if we don't
make a choice, depression will make it for us-what part
of our brain we are functioning from.
But why should we let our brain decide on its own?
We can decide whether we want up-feelings or down-feelings
by deciding whether we want to be up-brain or lower-brain,
neo-cortex or sub-cortex. We don't have to let our depression
bully us and decide for us. So basically you are saying
we can think our way out of depression? Thinking about our
depression maintains our direct neuronal connection to depression.
Directing our thinking to something else besides our depression
breaks our direct neuronal connection to our depression.
Anybody who is depressed could think of a single thought,
like "elephant" for instance that takes only a
second to do. Directed thinking can teach you how to expand
a short instantaneous break with depression into a neuronal
pathway out of it. When we cease to pay attention to our
depression, it fades because it is our attention to depression
that directly connects us, neurologically speaking with
the sub-cortex. Depression is totally dependent upon our
rapt attention to it. If we ignore our depression and think
about something else it goes away. The trouble is that depression
is hard to ignore. We have to train ourselves how to do
If depression is a further extension of the fight-or-flight
response which all of us have, how come some people don't
suffer from depression? People who say they never suffer
from depression do automatically what the rest of us have
to learn how to do. Like some people teach themselves how
to read or how to swim. After my lectures different people
have come up to me and said that they didn't think they
ever suffered from depression but after they heard me speak
they realized that whenever they start to feel depressed
they have always started to sing songs in their mind, or
repeated some Bible verse over and over. One man said he
imagines favorite football or basketball plays in which
he carries the ball. But these people never realized that
they did automatically what I was suggesting we train ourselves
to do with Directed Thinking exercises. Depression is caused
by a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is not our fault
if we get depressed but when we do get depressed it is our
choice to function from the part of our mind that does not
contain depression. And I wrote this book to show people
how to do that.