#378 – Emotional Medicine with Penelope Young Andrade LCSW

Penelope Andrade

Penelope Young Andrade LCSW is the author of Emotional Medicine Rx: Cry When You’re Sad, Stop When You’re Done, Feel Good Fast. Founder of the San Diego Center for Psychosynthesis, her “Transformational Talk Radio” and her popular advice column, “Transformational Talk,” have reached thousands of listeners and readers in southern California. During a devastating divorce, Penelope discovered an essential distinction between narrative driven and body led emotion enabling her to experience every sad, mad, scared feeling as a delivery system for well being. Her emotional medicine prescription integrates powerful elements of both traditional and alternative therapies including: Mindfulness, Family Systems, Psychosynthesis, Eidetic Imagery, Bioenergetics, Biodynamics, Somatic Experiencing (SE), Tantra, and Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP.) She has been an adjunct professor at San Diego University for Integral Studies, University for Humanistic Studies, and the Natural Healing Institute. She and her husband, Arturo, developed the VIVO Oral Focus™ method for body oriented self-soothing. Penelope lectures and trains therapists and lay audiences throughout the world, inspiring people about benefits of Emotional Medicine.

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  1. phwaap
    Posted November 22, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    It’s great that more and more Western therapists are discovering body-centered approaches. I must say, however, that I disagree entirely with Penelope’s evolutionary assessment of these techniques. It really is more a cultural (re)discovery in the West of introspection. As Joseph Campbell and Jung recognized, the Enlightenment’s coup-de-tat, installing rationalism, science, logic, etc., in the place of the historic interpretation of Judeo-Christian dogma, left the West with no psychological/spiritual recourse. We’d burned at the stake, marginalized, and dismissed the mystics who could have helped us here.

    Only recently have we begun to “be [our] refuge,: with the help of all those people who have gone East or come West beginning early last century. All of these techniques — DBT, Somatic Experiencing, Mindsight, MBSR, and the guest’s — have mindfulness as their foundation. Penelope indicated surely the Buddha must have known about this stuff and, indeed, it’s spelled out clearly in the Anapanasati Sutra. Just read Buddhadasa Bhikkhu’s second lecture on this sutra in his freely available book/pdf Mindfulness with Breathing: Unveiling the Secrets of Life and experience it directly. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to experience that the long, refined breath calms the mind and emotions, staving off the spiral into anxiety or depression:

    “If we can train the breathing, then we can control the emotions, that is, cope with the happiness and pain of our lives” (p. 24)

    Further, recent studies (e.g. Zeidan, F., Johnson, S. K., Gordon, N. S., & Goolkasian, P. (2010). Effects of Brief and Sham Mindfulness Meditation on Mood and Cardiovascular Variables. Journal Of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 16(8), 867-873.doi:10.1089/acm.2009.0321) on Vipassana alone after three sessions decreases negative affect significantly.

    If people in the West spent 20 minutes a day focused on their breath, therapy would be mostly about skill development, rather than symptom alleviation via Big Pharma and re-traumatization as in catharsis. She’s exactly right that cathartic work is largely narrative driven, re-traumatizing, and comes from a confrontational perspective. A much better approach is Somatic Experiencing’s titration and body awareness, allowing short-circuited trauma to run it’s course naturally.

  2. Gloria
    Posted November 22, 2013 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    I so identified with Penelope’s experience of seemingly never-ending crying. There was a period in my life when I felt like a bottomless well of grief and despaired that I would ever emerge from it. Meditation and depth psychological work, especially working with dreams, is what eventually pulled me through. The depth of my grief was rooted in childhood experiences but it is also partly rooted in my own personality style. I feel that I have by and large dealt with the childhood issues but I am still a very empathic person by nature and it has been largely the mindfulness practices that has helped me get a handle on that.

    I think a large part of the problem is that our culture generally is not comfortable with the expression of emotions and so we are taught at a very early age to suppress them. It is the conditioned suppression of emotions that causes them to become attached to a story and erupt in the most inconvenient of ways and to also become somatised as illness and disease of various kinds.

    I recently had an experience of exactly what Penelope described with the body processing an emotion efficiently if left to its own devices. My cat is terrified of the vacuum cleaner and always takes off to a safe place as soon as it comes out but the other day when she took off she ran straight into the pipe and banged her little head quite hard. I tried to pick her up but she kept running away from me. I left her for a half hour but she still didn’t want to know me. Another half hour later and I approached her and she was purring and responding like her old self. Animals don’t have the narratives but they do have the body memories and obviously also the body intelligence to process the pain.

    I also appreciated the thoughtful comments posted by phwaap. The cross fertilisation of eastern style mediation practices and western style psychological practices have brought benefit to us all.

    Another thoughtful and respectful interview David. I liked what Penelope said at the end, that in your pre-interview chat you told her she was amongst friends and I think that is why you have such a great rapport with your guests and are able to bring out the best in them. Also loved your story about when your twin boys were born and you felt an upwelling of love that you felt might overwhelm you. It goes to show that it is not just so called negative feelings that we feel can overwhelm us but the positive feelings too. When we learn to regulate our negative emotions, it can generalise to all feelings and emotions, so that we are not at the mercy of being overwhelmed by any of them.

  3. Posted November 25, 2013 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    In response to phwaap’s wide ranging and thought provoking comments:

    Thank you for engaging with my interview so thoroughly. I am assuming my evolutionary assessment with which you “entirely disagree” is related to my comments about the value of humankind’s passage through the state of patriarchy en route to introspection as described Julian Jayne’s book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. The time to which I was referring was 2,000 BCE with the patriarch Abraham not the installation of rationalism by the Enlightenment.

    As someone for whom being burned at the stake and fear of the Inquisition resonate deeply in my psycho/bio/historical/genetic makeup, I still sense an internal tremble about the heresy of proposing that emotional experience and body wisdom are essential for well being and spiritual evolution. I, too, grieve the loss of the midwives and mystics who could have helped us find our way back to interiority sooner than later. I am grateful for the revisioning of Christianity through the elevation of the role of Mary Magdalene. (See, among others, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity by Cynthia Bourgeault and
    Mary Magdalene: A Biography, by Bruce Chilton.)

    Although I consider myself quite knowledgeable about the healing power of emotion, I am not as learned in the works of Jung and Campbell or the study of the evolution of consciousness. Is phwaap suggesting Jung and Campbell posited that prehistoric people had previously arrived at levels of introspection proposed by Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed millennia later? I’d love a reference here. I can’t help thinking about Ken Wilber’s description of the pre/trans fallacy in which trans-ego spiritual states are confused with pre-ego child like states. Bottom line: Although Jayne’s lucid work makes intuitive and evolutionary sense to me; I am always open for new learning. School me!

    About the Anapanasati Sutra and the immense healing power of the breath: Thanks for this reference. I too wish that everyone could discover the benefits of meditating for 20 minutes per day, learning the long breath, taking their Emotional Medicine Rx and using the insights of SE, MBSR, EFT, AEDP, etc in ways that suited them so we could give Big Pharma a run for their money. (phwaap probably knows of Dr. David Shannahoff-Khalsa, here in San Diego at UCSD who has done extensive research and writing about healing breath work and other Kundalini practices. See his latest book: Sacred Therapies: The Kundalini Meditation Handbook for Mental Health. )

    Since you, pwhaap, seem to be very knowledgeable about Buddhist writings, I wondered if you have ever come across any sutras in which mindfulness is directed specifically to the movement of emotion through the body as I’m describing in Emotional Medicine. I would appreciate any references.

    As a clinician, I’ve discovered it often takes clients time to heal emotionally,relationally and settle the nervous system after trauma before the capacity and will to meditate regularly comes on line. Emotionally focused, somatically based, relational psychotherapy sometimes needs to come first. Gazing at an empathic face and experiencing a supportive psychotherapy relationship which can undo aloneness are useful for emotional regulation (see the work of Diana Fosha, The Transforming Power of Affect). Additionally, when the sympathetic nervous system is in a state of high arousal or if someone has asthma or other breathing disorders, it can be counterproductive to focus initially on the breath.

    This is one reason my husband Arturo and I developed the VIVO Oral Focus kit for body oriented self soothing. I guide people through a brief sensation focused process (10 minutes) to shift mental states from distress to ease. We did a year long pilot project to test this kit in a 5 day application at Sanoviv Health Institute in Baja (see my website under “Audio Downloads” section for more information.) Our preliminary results verified this use of sensation focus without any mention of breath as another viable method for reducing anxiety and increasing resourcefulness.

    I’m interested in the study mentioned about 3 days of Vipassana training significantly decreasing negative affect. I can only access this by paying $50.00 for 24 hour view. Do you have a copy you could provide gratis?

    About Somatic Experiencing (SE) as an alternative to cathartic work: Yes narrative driven catharsis work can re-traumatize. However, body led cathartic work can heal. Allowing anger, grief and fear to move briefly through the body often leads to profound insights about self, others, and the world we live in. Just as importantly, it also leads to a sense of empowerment, and liberates the ability to take life enhancing action.

    The insights of SE permeate EMRx. For emotional medicine (and catharsis) to work, it is imperative a person be able to tolerate being present with body experience. Working through frozen, numb states is required to free the flow of emotional experience. In my book I describe step by step how to cooperate with the rolling series of sensations we call emotion and safely tolerate the impact of emotional experience.

    Of course once open to emotional flow, no matter how brief, things might get (temporarily) messy. Emotional impact is potent stuff. Lives can change, the world can change. (I’m thinking of Joanna Macy’s encouraging of deep catharsis of grief, anger and fear about our ecosystem’s increasing degradation. See her book World as Lover World as Self and http://www.workthatreconnects.org)

    I’ve worked with some clients well versed in SE and Vipassana practice who have used sensation focus to avoid emotional impact…a kind of spiritual bypass. Rather than deep six deep emotional catharsis entirely, I suggest we add body led, mindful catharsis work to somatic therapies.

    Clinically, cooperating with rather than resisting embodied emotional experience leads to less symptoms of distress mentally and physically as well as greater capacity for love and joy. Sue Johnson and Les Greenberg who developed Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and EFT for Couples have complied extensive research to demonstrate this. (See the International Center for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy website, http://www.iceeft.com for links.) The writing of Allan Schore, e.g. The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy, is rife with research demonstrating the efficacy of the healing power of emotion and therapeutic relationship.

    Another reason I am such a champion for healthy emotional experience is that it requires surrendering ego control while still maintaining awareness. This ability to let go of control while maintaining awareness, is spiritual practice of the first order. In John and Ann Firman’s revisioned Psychosynthesis language, this ability is called Immanent/Transcendent awareness. Extrapolating from Richie Davison’s research showing how mindfulness practice positively benefits brain functioning and structure, I believe that exercising the muscle of immanent/transcendent awareness/attention during emotional experience leads to similar results.

    In response to Gloria’s heartfelt and thoughtful comments:

    Thank you too, Gloria, for your response to my interview. I agree that our culture does not support emotional expression. Your notion that it is this suppression of emotion which leads to the tyranny of narratives is a good point! Our pedagogy, our religious and cultural institutions have too often been designed for control rather than authentic experience, self expression and evolution of consciousness. I appreciated your description of how animals (and by implication our own animal natures) know how to self regulate.

    Gloria’s suggestion that people fear intense positive experience often as much as intense negative experience is something I’ve found true. Surrendering to intense positive experience requires similar letting go of ego control while maintaining distinct awareness as to sad, mad, scared experience. As a result of an historic and endemic anti-pleasure impulse in our culture, we have not been supported in learning how to allow the waves of healing pleasure the body is always poised to proffer to pulse through our experience.

    I’ll conclude by quoting Jung (though not a Jungian scholar, I’m definitely a fellow traveler). “Emotion is the chief source of all becoming conscious. There can be no transforming of darkness into light and apathy into movement without emotion.” Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype (1938).

  4. phwaap
    Posted November 27, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I didn’t take your comments on evolution as necessarily referring to the period of ~2000BCE, nor did I pick up on the patriarchal overtones. It’s hard to reconcile an historical view of the Abrahamic narrative with the evidence. In any event, I don’t think it can be seriously argued that the trajectory of Western and Eastern religions since that period, with respect to “interiority,” have proceeded equivalently at all. Western religious institutions have consistently found ways to externalize notions such as ” the kingdom of God is within you.” Campbell’s distinction that the West seeks a proper relationship to the divine whereas the East seeks identity with it is still apropos. Only in somewhat esoteric approaches, e.g. alchemy, do we find maybe an equivalent approach in the West.

    I haven’t come across any suttas that discuss “movement of emotion through the body” specifically. (I’m not positive but by “movement” you sound like you could be implying harnessing, shuttling, etc., rather than simply observing.) On the other hand, one might wonder where emotions are not discussed in the texts! Coming to terms with emotion is really foundational. It might be worthwhile to search and browse some of the results on accesstoinsight.org or suttacentral.net. Also, in the previously mentioned work, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (http://www.what-buddha-taught.net/Books5/Buddhadasa_Anapanasati_Unveiling-the-Secrets-of-Life.pdf) discusses in detail how the breath generates feelings and emotions, Cf. the section “Breathing Away the Emotions”. Gil Fronsdal, too, in The Issue at Hand http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/documents/iah/IssueAtHand4thEd.pdf) has some good discussion on mindfulness and emotions.

    I’m not quite sure what to make of your statement that “sensation focus to avoid emotional impact [is] a kind of spiritual bypass.” I think I know that behavior to which you refer but that isn’t Vipassana. The SE practitioner I work with wouldn’t say that qualifies as SE either. In fact, the very idea of mindfulness is that one makes a decided effort to remain here-now with the emotions et al (this is the first Noble Truth after all) and not “bypass” into valuations! An awareness/recognition and acceptance I take to be different than an “immersion into” the emotions, which is where some cathartic work seems to devolve. I guess I don’t see how “body led, mindful catharsis work” is not already a part of many “somatic therapies.”

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