Friday, December 18, 2009

Knowing Communicative Approach

The Communicative Approach was founded by Robert Langs. Psychoanalysis has turned reality on its head: We are taught to think of ourselves as distorters and misperceivers, unreliable slaves to our inner fantasies - especially when we are patients in therapy.
But the communicative approach has shown that it is more accurate and compelling to see ourselves as highly reliable perceivers, with the understanding that our most valid perceptions are experienced unconsciously and encoded in the stories we tell to ourselves and others. Knowing how to decode these stories is the key to a truly accurate view of the human emotion-processing mind and emotional life.
The full name of the Communicative Approach (CA) is "The Communicative-Adaptive approach." This highlights the two most distinctive features of the CA: first, that it is a new way to understand human emotionally-laden communications and second, that it has shown that the primary function of the emotion-processing mind is to cope with - adapt to - immediate emotionally-charged triggering events. 

What is the communicative approach?
The communicative approach (CA) was developed by Robert Langs MD, In the early 1970's. It is a new theory or paradigm of emotional life and psychoanalysis

that is centered on human adaptations to emotionally-charged events--with full appreciation that such adaptations take place both within awareness (consciously) and outside of awareness (unconsciously). The approach gives full credence to the uncons-cious side of emotional life and has rendered it highly sensible and incontrovertible by discovering a new, validated, and deeply meaningful way of decoding unconscious messages. This procedure-called trigger decoding--has brought forth new and highly illuminating revisions of our understanding of both emotional life and psychotherapy, and it calls for significant changes in presently accepted psychoanalytic thinking and practice.
The CA has exposed and offered correctives for much of what's wrong with our current picture of the emotional mind and today's psychotherapies-critical errors in thinking and practice that have cause untold suffering throughout the world. In essence, the approach has shown that emotional problems do not arise first and foremost from disturbing inner memories and fantasies or daydreams; nor do they arise primarily from consciously known thoughts and patterns of behavior. Instead, emotional disturbances arise primarily from failed efforts at coping with current emotionally-charged traumas.
The present-day focus by mainstream psychoanalysts (MP) on the past and on inner fantasies and memories has been replaced in this CA with a focus on the present, as experienced and reacted to consciously and unconsciously-in brief, the primacy afforded by MP to fantasy and imagination has been replaced by the primacy afforded by the CA to reality, trauma, and perception (especially unconscious perception).
Brief example: A patient tells her therapist a story about her butcher having his finger on the scale and cheating her. The therapist mistakenly tells the patient that her problem is that she sees men as trying to exploit her (an MP intervention-the problem is in the mind of the patient). But there is a trigger for the story the patient just told: The therapist had just handed the patient her bill. Consciously, the patient looked at the bill and accepted it as such. But she then thought of this story, which conveys an unconscious perception that her therapist has over-charged her-which he has.
As always, the unconscious mind knows what's really going on (it's incisively in touch with reality), while the conscious mind misses a lot (it's inclined toward defensive obliterations and denials-all conscious-system therapies self-explorations and therapies suffer from this deficit). The trigger of the therapist's over-charge evoked this encoded story in which the butcher is used to allude in disguise to the therapist (displacement is involved). Notice too that even though this error was not recognized consciously, it was registered unconsciously via unconscious perception and processed with a deep unconscious intelligence.
In general, we tell stories about another time, place and person (displaced tales) in order to convey in disguise our unconscious experience of an immediate situation with someone who is upsetting us. Direct readings of images and symbolic interpretations cannot uncover these critical disguised messages-they are revealed solely through trigger decoding. 
The second system, the deep unconscious system, takes in information and meaning through unconscious (subliminal) perception and processes these inputs unconsciously as well. Once the processing has been completed (and it's very rapid), the system emits encoded messages that reflect the nature of these adaptive efforts. Operating outside of awareness, the deep unconscious system is relatively non-defensive and quite in touch with the true nature of events and their implications-it seldom misperceives. It therefore serves as a highly reliable system for making emotionally-charged decisions-but doing so requires the use of trigger decoding in order to ascertain the nature of unconscious experience.
As a new theory of how we cope with emotionally-charged incidents and events-a theory of emotional life-the main features of the CA are:
*Humans have evolved and are designed mentally to cope with immediate emotionally-charged experiences-triggering situations.
*These adaptive thoughts and behaviors have both conscious and unconscious sources and features. We cope emotionally on two levels: first, directly and with undisguised awareness of what we are reacting to and how we are reacting (conscious system activities), and second, indirectly (reacting to one person when the response belongs to someone else) and without awareness of what we are reacting to unconsciously-this information is never directly recognized, but always is encoded in our stories (deep unconscious system activities).
*Because we are so terrified and disturbed by traumatic emotional experiences-much of it through their connection to harm and death-we use a lot of denial consciously. This denial-ultimately a denial of death-is self-protective, but very costly in self-harm and harm to others. Unconscious death anxiety unwittingly motivates many destructive decisions, choices and actions. All in all, the most powerful influences in our emotional lives are perceived outside of awareness (subliminally or unconsciously) and responded to similarly--without our knowing the deeper reasons for what we are doing.
*Perception has primacy over fantasy and memory-what we perceive at the moment is what we adapt to first and foremost. Past experiences and our memories and inner state affect how we cope, but our prime devotion is coping in the present.
*Unconscious perception is a basic human resource. Unconscious experiences are reflected in unconscious messages-messages that are disguised or encoded in the stories we tell to ourselves (daydreams), dream about, and tell to others. 
*Many of the most frightening things we perceive, and their most disturbing implications, are perceived unconsciously and conveyed through encoded stories. 
*These unrealized events/inputs strongly affect every aspect of our emotional lives.
*Decoding disguised messages in light of their triggers is critical to developing a sound picture of what you are reacting to unconsciously and the deeper reasons for why you do what you do and say what you say.
*By design, the emotional mind is made up of two systems: First, a conscious system connected directly to awareness. This system creates manifest or surface messages and is responsible for daily coping efforts. It is a system of 'What you say is what you mean.' The sequence is: conscious perception, conscious processing, conscious response. It also is system that screens out and denies many important emotionally-charged meanings and experiences because their implications are unbearable to behold. 
Second, a deep unconscious system that is connected to awareness solely through encoded messages. It is a highly perceptive system-we know the truths of our emotional lives unconsciously rather than consciously. This system creates encoded messages that must be decoded in light of the triggers that set them off. It is a system of 'What you say is not what you mean; what you mean is disguised/encoded.' 

Suggested Reading:
1.     Unconscious Communication in Everyday Life. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1983.
2.     Decoding Your Dreams. New York: Henry Holt, 1988 (Ballantine Books paperback).
3.     Rating Your Psychotherapist: The Search for Effective Cure. New York: Henry Holt, 1989 (Ballantine Books paperback).
4.     Take Charge of Your Emotional Life. New York: Henry Holt, 1991.
5.     The Evolution of the Emotion-processing Mind: With an Introduction to Mental Darwinism. London: Karnac Books, 1996.
6.     Death Anxiety and Clinical Practice. London: Karnac Books, 1997.
7.     Rules, Frames and Boundaries in Psychotherapy and Counselling. London: Karnac Books, 1998.
8.     Dreams and Emotional Adaptation. Phoenix, AZ: Zeig, Tucker, 1999.

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