Getting Out of Depression Without Drugs: A Cognitive Behavioral Look at Depression
A. B. CURTISS is a board-certified cognitive behavioral therapist, a licensed marriage-family therapist, a certified hypnotist, the award-winning author of DEPRESSION IS A CHOICE, BRAINSWITCH OUT OF DEPRESSION, and the creator of ‘brainswitching’-- a system of mind exercises that works with the brain’s natural capacity for neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to rewire itself with new neural patterns in response to new thinking and new behavior. By repetitive use of simple techniques you can actually re-wire your brain to get out of depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Scientific proof of the brain’s neuroplasticity has been demonstrated by several neuroscientists in recent years. But Curtiss is the first to document the significance to depression of the natural process of pain perception and ways to manipulate the function of the feelings receptor station in the neocortex to get out of any depressive episode as an act of will.
“We need to understand how our own brain works,” says Curtiss. We need to know we have a thinking brain (neocortex) and an emotional brain (subcortex) and that depression is only in the emotional brain, never in the thinking brain. We need to know there are two kinds of thinking, passive thinking and on-purpose thinking. We need to recognize when we are doing one or the other because depression is the result of passive thinking.
When we know the process by which we get from one thought to another, and how we get into depression in the first place, we can better understand how to get out of depression. We need to understand and treat depression neuroscientifically for the biochemical event that it is. But all suffering, depression included, can be and should be understood in the larger terms of utilizing healthy brain functions, not just brain pathology. With directed thinking and brainswitching, you can get out of depression without drugs.”
Her books, Depression is a Choice: Winning the Battle Without Drugs and Brainswitch out of Depression: Break the Cycle of Despair, are highly recommended for those experiencing depression.
Questions and Answers
by Trung Nguyen
YOU WERE THE THIRD PERSON IN YOUR FAMILY, AFTER YOUR FATHER AND BROTHER, TO BE DIAGNOSED WITH BIPOLAR. AT WHAT AGE WERE YOU DIAGNOSED WITH BIPOLAR AND HOW DID YOU REACT?
I was in my mid thirties although I had suffered chronic depression since the age of 12. How did I react to the diagnosis? I simply ignored it and denied it. For some reason I was more afraid of taking drugs than suffering depression. I did not accept the manic depressive diagnosis because although I knew I was depressed, it was inconceivable to me that I might be also be manic at times. In hindsight, of course I can see it. But early on, when I was manic I thought that was my “good days.” It wasn’t until I was no longer troubled by depression that I was able to see my mania as well.
DURING THE 30 YEARS THAT YOU SUFFERED FROM BIPOLAR (MANIC DEPRESSION) AND DEPRESSION, WHAT WAS YOUR LIFE LIKE?
I was depressed a lot but it was “my secret” that I hid from everybody. I would generally be in a good mood for any social events my husband and I attended. We hosted or went to small social gatherings and holiday parties at least once a week. If I got a sudden attack of depression at a party, I went home immediately. I seemed successful to others although I suspect they also saw me as driven, compulsive and competitive. I kept the house clean and got my children off to school. Then I could sometimes spend the whole day, until the children came home, in a lassitude of utter and agonizing despair. I did housework in a kind of mute zombie trance.
Often after everybody left in the morning I would either crawl back into bed and pull the covers over my head, or lie face down and flat on the floor under my bed as if I somehow could just sink into the floor and disappear.
Sometimes I would curl up behind the clothes hanging in my closet and cry for hours. Only my husband and children knew. Though even they didn’t know the full extent of it because I generally felt less panicky and desperate in the evening when they were home. I did not believe that I did anything to cause my situation, and I did not believe I could do anything to help it.
YOU “WENT FROM ONE PSYCHIATRIST TO ANOTHER LOOKING FOR AN ANSWER” TO YOUR PAIN. WHAT ADVICE DID SOME OF THESE PSYCHIATRISTS DISPENSE THAT DID NOT AGREE WITH YOUR BELIEFS?
They all told me I was depressed and anxious but didn’t say exactly what they thought caused it. Mainly the doctors’ advice was that I would feel better and be better able to cope with my life if I took drugs. First they offered Valium, then, over the years, a succession of anti-depressants. It seemed wrong to me that drugs were any answer to my problem because nobody could tell me exactly what was my problem. They could only point to the symptoms. I already knew about the symptoms. I was trying to find the cause of my pain.
THIS IS A QUOTE FROM YOUR WEBSITE, “IT [DEPRESSION IS A CHOICE] DELINEATES THE PHILOSOPHY MY EARLY THINKING—HOW I THOUGHT AS A BIPOLAR, HOW I BEHAVED AS A BIPOLAR. THEN, AS MY UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORKINGS OF THE BRAIN EXPANDED, AND MY STUDY OF ANCIENT WISDOM ADVANCED, THE BOOK FOLLOWS THE SUBSEQUENT CHANGES IN MY THINKING AND BEHAVIOR.” --CAN YOU SHARE WITH US SOME OF YOUR THOUGHT PROCESSES AND BEHAVIORS AS A BIPOLAR?
It never occurred to me in all those years that I could pro-actively get rid of the depression when it attacked me and just get back to where I was before the depression hit. My life would be fine and then wham! Depression would strike and my life was instantly terrible. I completely identified with my depression as if it were my life. For instance, at the same time I suffered depression I also periodically suffered migraine headaches. I never “became” my headaches. I could always see my headaches were some temporary pain happening to me and that they would soon be over so I tried to get about my day and distract myself from the pain. In my mid forties I took a Silva Mind Control Course and learned I could, through visualization, mentally constrict the blood vessels in my brain, and send the extra blood supply to my hands and get rid of migraine headaches. But it never occurred to me that depression might be a similar thing, that there would be something I myself could do about getting rid of it when it occurred.
I believed my depression to be present reality when it happened. What could be realer than depression? So my life periodically became terrible. It did not occur to me then, as it did later, that when I was depressed I was never in present reality, that when I was depressed that meant I was stuck in some instant-replay neural pattern in my brain and that the answer was to immediately get myself out of that neural pattern and into some other neural pattern that didn’t contain depression.
I believed that it was depression that caused me to act sad, to isolate myself, to spend days in bed, to sleep in the same clothes for days, to speak in a weak, sad voice. I did not see these symptoms as chosen behaviors over which I had complete control, to do them or not to do them. Now I know that no matter how bad the depression is when it strikes, I can nevertheless be cheerful to others around me. Rather than “becoming my depression,” I turn away from it and ignore it, while I do exercises to get my mind back out of the neural pattern my brain had followed into depression.
The minute depression hits I start using a brainswitching exercise and refuse to think the depression. I immediately start to concentrate on objective things and turn away from any subjective thughts about how I feel. Sometimes I will actually look around for something, like a flower in the yard, to enjoy. I used to think I couldn’t enjoy something until I felt good. It never occurred to me that the very behavior of enjoying something, as an overt, on-purpose act, would bring on good feelings.
When depression hit I used to believe that my life was terrible. Now, when depression hits, I realize that my life is not terrible no matter what my brain is telling me. I know the reality is that I just feel terrible and I can change my thinking and then my feelings will change.
When depression hit I used to think “nothing was worth anything” including my unworthy self. Now, there is another neural pattern that sparks up at the same time depression hits. Through the natural process of learned association, when one little neural pattern goes “I am depressed,” another one pops up that says “time to do an exercise.” And I do. And the depression always goes away in a few minutes. Sometimes after the serious, painful depression goes I may still feel rather blah and stale on life for an hour or so unless I can get into something productive. So I generally make an extra effort to get myself involved in a project right away. Then I am not just okay, I am feeling really good again.
YOU DEVELOPED A NEW WAY AT LOOKING AT BIPOLAR AND DEPRESSION. DURING WHAT POINT IN YOUR CAREER OR PERSONAL LIFE, AND WHAT KNOWLEDGE DID YOU ACQUIRE THAT MADE YOU CHANGE YOUR THINKING?
The most important thing that ever happened to me, psychologically speaking, was the day I think I “hit bottom” with depression. I was 48. My psychiatrist couldn’t or wouldn’t fit me in, my husband was not able to leave his meeting and come home which he normally would have done, my two youngest children were in school (the other three children were grown up and gone off on their own). I was literally rolling on the floor with pain. I decided, for the very first time in my life, to be pro-active since it was obvious that, on this particular day, nobody else was going to “save me.”
I decided “do something.” For the first time in my life I decided to do something to fight depression instead of just going along with it. I decided to think a positive thought since I had been reading all these self-help books about positive thinking curing everything. The only thought I could come up with in my extremity was “green frog” and I clung to that thought for dear life as I went in and out of waves of depression. After about 20 minutes of concentrating on the thought “green frog,” the terrible agony of my depression actually faded. I was astounded. I wasn’t sure that “green frog” really did anything to do with the cessation of the pain, but I used it the next time depression hit, and the next time and the next time. Gradually it dawned on me that I could get myself out of depression whenever it came, so depression ceased to have the same power over me.
HAVE YOU PERSONALLY BEEN INVOLVED IN STUDIES WHERE PLACEBOS, SUGAR PILLS, WERE FOUND TO BE MORE EFFECTIVE IN TREATING DEPRESSION THAN THE ACTUAL DRUGS? IF STUDY AFTER STUDY HAVE CONFIRMED THE PLACEBO EFFECT, WOULD THAT NOT INDICATE THAT DEPRESSION AND OTHER “MENTAL ILLNESSES” ARE SIMPLY A STATE OF MIND AND DRUGS ARE NOT REQUIRED IN THE TREATMENT PROCESS?
I have not personally been involved in any such studies although I have read the research. I don’t think anyone disputes that mental illness is a state of mind. How does one get stuck in that state of mind is the question. All our thinking and behavior is determined by particular neural patterns that are sparking up in our brain at that moment. When we change our thinking, we change our behavior and feelings. Why don’t mentally ill people change their thinking? Not because they are unable to do it. They are unwilling to do it. Why are they unwilling? That’s the question.
Very few mental illnesses are caused by actual tissue damage of the brain. Every single thought we think has a chemical consequence in the brain. We are a bio-chemical entity. I see depression is a thinking disorder. We think our way into it and we can think our way out of it.
THIS IS A QUOTE FROM YOU BOOK, “DEPRESSION ALWAYS ENDS. NOT BECAUSE OF PROZAC. NOT BECAUSE OF PSYCHOTHERAPY. NOT BECAUSE OF PSYCHOANALYSIS OR SHOCK TREATMENTS. DEPRESSION ALWAYS ENDS BECAUSE IT IS IN THE VERY NATURE OF DEPRESSION TO END. THE ONLY QUESTION IS, HOW CAN WE GET IT TO END SOONER, THE WAY WE WANT IT TO, INSTEAD OF LATER, WHICH WE HATE?”
LET’S LOOK AT THE OTHER END: HOW DOES DEPRESSION BEGIN?
Learned association is the way we get from one thought to the other, from one train of thought to the other. If you think “salt,” the thought “pepper” is going to spark up in your brain. If you have practiced a piece on the piano, the first note you play will put you in touch with all the other notes to that piece which you have imprinted in your memory bank as a result of practicing that piece. The neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, are merely the boats that carry the learned associations from one neuron to another. A whole bunch of similar neurons sparking each other up make a thought pattern, or a mind set.
A negative thought is just a thought. Thinking is behavior. If one chooses to think a negative thought again and again, it is learned association that will spark up similar negative and downer thoughts in your memory banks. Too much negative thinking causes anxiety, the fight-or-flight response will be triggered and stress chemicals will be dumped into the brain to bio-chemically prepare your body for immediate action. Those chemicals are extremely hard on the metabolic processes of the body and very shortly you will feel the weak and helpless feeling known as depression.
If one has spent a long time in depression, that depressive neural pattern gets very strong in the memory banks and can be immediately triggered off by a sound, a color, anything. One can immediately be dumped into excruciating pain when the well-used depressive neural pattern is triggered off. In this respect, depression is very much like a post-traumatic stress syndrome.
YOU TEND TO AGREE THAT THERE IS A BIOLOGICAL COMPONENT TO BIPOLAR AND DEPRESSION. DO ANY OF YOUR CHILDREN OR GRAND-CHILDREN HAVE SYMPTOMS OF EITHER?
The biological component to bipolar is that creative people have more highly developed their imagination than non-creative people. The biological component to depression is that we all have a psychological defense mechanism called the fight-or-flight response that causes a chemical imbalance in the brain when it is triggered off.
I have five children and 13 grandchildren. Not one of them suffers from depression. They might get the blahs now and then, like everybody else, but no one suffers from bipolar or has taken any medication to get out of depression. Personally I don’t put much stock in the diagnosis of bipolar or ADHD/ADD as diseases. They are simply symptoms that come from lack of coping skills. But people can learn these skills. People either have developed coping mechanisms to live in the modern-day stressful world or they haven’t. People have either developed their capacity to focus on something and avoid getting distracted from their work, or they haven’t.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BECOME A COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPIST RATHER THAN, SAY, A FREUDIAN PSYCHOANALYST OR GESTALT THERAPIST OR PSYCHIATRIST?
There is no scientific or medical evidence that supports the existence of an unconscious mind that can control your behavior against your will because an on-purpose thought always trumps a passive thought.
There is no scientific evidence that supports present-day mental health diagnoses as diseases. The diagnoses are all theoretical not medical. Even gestalt therapy depends upon the existence of an unconscious mind that can force behavior.
Cognitive behavior simply relies on developing better thinking and behavior strategies to help you cope with daily life. When these coping strategies are developed, the symptoms of “disorders” like depression and ADHD disappear.
FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT FAMILIAR WITH CBT (COGNITIVE BEHAVIOR THERAPY), CAN YOU BRIEFLY EXPLAIN ITS METHODS AND HOW IT CAN BE EFFECTIVE AGAINST BIPOLAR AND DEPRESSION?
Most cognitive therapy trains people to change habitual thinking and reasoning strategies that don’t work; to question emotionally reactive, negative, and irrational thoughts, and to restructure them to be more pro-active, positive and self-affirming.
‘Brainswitching’ is a cognitive behavior therapy that uses mind exercises to manipulate neural activity in the brain during a depressive episode. Simple techniques power down the heightened neural activity in the ‘emotional brain’ (the subcortex) and enhance it in the ‘logical’ or ‘rational’ part of the brain (the neocortex).
How do you brainswitch? You choose a nonsense or neutral thought in advance,
to have ‘at the ready’ whenever depression hits. It could be a mantra, a repetitive word like yes, yes, yes, or a song like ‘Row, row, row your boat.’ Anything works. When depression attacks, when you feel yourself sliding into some gloom or anxious thinking, you immediately start saying your chosen exercise repetitively, over and over to yourself. You insist on your on-purpose thought. You continually substitute it for the thought ‘I am depressed.’
Brainswitching differs in principle from other cognitive therapy techniques
Helpful though it is, regular cognitive therapy is not as ideally suited as brainswitching to full-blown episodes of depression. During full-blown depression, ongoing neural activity in the ‘rational’ brain (the neocortex) is too temporarily overwhelmed for cognitive judgment. Brainswitching can be effective at any point in a depressive cycle, even when the emotional brain is fully agitated and the rational brain, has in effect, gone ‘off line’ because brainswitching uses just simple rote exercises that might consist of a single word. There’s no complex thinking or judgment involved with brainswitching as there is in other CBT.
Brainswitching is similar to the technique of doing simple math problems to stimulate neuronal activity and thus the blood flow in the thinking part of the brain in order to operate communication machinery by the brain alone, without the use of hands. This increased blood flow immediately lessens the pain of depression.
Brainswitching continually interrupts the thinking that you are depressed. If you break up or eliminate the thought “I am depressed,” you interrupt a negative feedback loop to the emotional areas that are running in high gear, taking away some of the fuel for the depressed feelings.
In that it focuses attention on internal experiences, brainswitching is similar to the cognitive behavior techniques of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). But while ACT emphasizes accepting these experiences as opposed to avoiding them, brainswitching can also quickly improve one’s internal experiences.
IT’S BEEN SAID THAT CBT (COGNITIVE BEHAVIOR THERAPY) IS A MIXING OF PHILOSOPHY AND PSYCHOLOGY. DO YOU FIND THIS TO BE THE CASE? IF YES, IN WHAT WAYS ARE THEY SIMILAR?
They are similar in the respect that they both advise you to recognize when your thinking is rational, based on objective feedback and evidence, and when your thinking is emotional, based upon subjective fears, habits, and cultural prejudices; and that the proper use of emotion is to assist reason, not overthrow it. Emotion alerts you to danger. Reason decides whether the danger is real or imagined.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PHILOSOPHY?
I think it is the philosophy of earnestness: Earnestness is the devotion of all the faculties,” said American author C. N. Bovee, “it is the cause of patience; gives endurance; overcomes pain; strengthens weakness; braves dangers; sustains hope; makes light of difficulties, and lessens the sense of weariness in overcoming them.” “Without earnestness,” said Scottish author Peter Bayne, “no man is ever great or does really great things. He may be the cleverest of men; he may be brilliant, entertaining, popular; but he will want weight.” Physics says it this way: “The degree to which a particle is likely to wander in an indeterminate way from the straight and narrow is determined by its lack of mass.”
IN YOUR BOOK, “DEPRESSION IS A CHOICE”, THERE IS THIS THEME THAT THE MIND—YOUR THINKING PROCESS, YOUR PERCEPTION OF EVENTS, YOUR INTERPRETATION OF YOUR LIFE AND SURROUNDINGS—IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT TOOLS IN BEATING DEPRESSION. WHY DO YOU THINK THAT SOME PEOPLE DON’T SEE IT THIS WAY AND THEY FEEL THE NEED TO USE MEDICATION TO SOLVE THEIR PROBLEMS?
They have been convinced by Parade Magazine, Oprah, Dear Abby and their own doctors that they cannot get rid of depression as an act of will and that are in danger of suicide if they don’t use drugs. However these same doctors are trusting the pharmaceutical salesmen who sell them the latest antidepressants. The doctors themselves do not study the research and they have no idea of the long-term effects of these drugs on their patients’ brains, emotions, intelligence or personality. And neither do the drug companies!
Let me tell you of one small incident of many that illustrate this. I was giving a workshop on brainswitching for the California Council on Family Relations at the University of California at San Marcos, California. One of the listeners came up after my lecture and said that she wanted to thank me for writing my book, Depression is a Choice.
The woman said she periodically went to a support group of women who had survived the loss of their homes after the wildfires in Southern California several years ago. She said that several months after the fire she went to a doctor to get something for her headaches. The doctor told her that she was suffering from depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome due to losing everything in the fire and the trauma of herself and her husband almost losing their lives, and he prescribed anti-depressants. The woman said, “I left his office with an armful of free samples, but I never took any. The doctor performed no tests on me whatsoever to make his diagnosis. How could he do that?” How indeed!
“But,” she went on, “I want to tell you that I am the only one in my group who didn’t take anti-depressants and after 5 years I’m doing so much better than everybody else. I’m fine and feeling great. All the other women in my group are still on anti-depressants and not doing well at all. I would love to give them your book, but they would just be offended.”
CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHAT DIRECTED THINKING IS FOR THOSE WHO ARE NOT FAMILIAR WITH IT?
Directed thinking is on-purpose thinking as opposed to passive thinking. Since your brain works by learned association, you can manipulate your own thinking and therefore your own moods by imposing thoughts on your brain that lead to the sparking up of productive neural patterns which you can use rather than the negative and anxious ones that pop up on their own. Since the brain is essentially a defense mechanism, if left to its own passive thinking, it will generally turn defensive, negative and anxious.
Although it is true that we create art, music, mathematics, and literature with the mind, this is not its bottom-line, fail-safe, core function. Our mind is naturally inclined to revert back to the precedence of its core primal instinctive defense mechanism (the subcortex) when we are not actively engaging the neocortex in some on-going, goal-driven activity like baking a cake or writing a paper.
If we are not using our mind on purpose, this instinctive defensive mindset emerges on its own, stealthily and seamlessly. If we are not aware of this latent, default-mode defensive capacity, we will not understand how we sometimes become anxious and paranoid for “no reason.” This evolutionary, negative and paranoid bent of our mind is not all a bad thing. We need a strong psychological defense mechanism. A tough guardian is supposed to be paranoid. You don’t see the secret service men who guard the president of the United States all laid back, joyful, and positive. No. When they are working, they are in a constant state of uneasy vigilance. They are frowning, squinting their eyes looking for trouble, looking for problems, looking for that one-in-a-million something that might go wrong.
To our own mind we are the president that must be protected at all cost. To protect us, our mind is always looking for trouble, chasing down the negative, peering into every dusty, dark neuronal corner. That is its job. And it is always on duty, even when we are asleep, or not paying any attention to what we are thinking. So what does this have to do with depression? When our mind gets too paranoid and anxious, the fight-or-flight response is triggered and stress chemicals flood the brain, causing a chemical imbalance.
The antidote to this is to switch from passive thinking to on-purpose directed thinking and do some brainswitching exercises—the best first aid for a depression hit.
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU DECIDE THAT MEDICATION WAS UNNECESSARY FOR BEATING DEPRESSION AND BIPOLAR?
I always thought that medicating your brain to change your thoughts made no sense since you can always think any thought you want. Medicating your brain to change your moods which are caused by your thinking makes no sense either. I never even considered it for myself. Now that I have heard from thousands of people who have been able to use my methods to get out of depression without drugs, and heard from those who have gotten off their anti-depressants with the help of their doctor, I am convinced that drugs are not necessary for anyone
HAVE YOU BEEN PERSONALLY ATTACKED BY THE MEDICAL COMMUNITY FOR YOUR VIEWS OF DEPRESSION?
No, I haven’t been personally attacked by any doctors. I’ve received some negative reviews of my books and perhaps some of them are from the medical community. I have gotten some negative reviews by some PhD’s, but there are many doctors who have bought my book and use it in their practice.
THERE IS A SAYING, THE TWO PS, IN THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY THAT, “IF IT CAN’T BE PATENTED OR YOU CAN’T MAKE A PROFIT FROM IT, IT’S NOT MEDICINE.” DO YOU THINK THAT THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY IS MAINLY CONCERNED WITH ONLY PROFIT?
In the movie “A Beautiful Mind” the brilliant mathematician John Nash cures his own schizophrenia. At the very end of the move there is the smallest tag line in his answer to the question, “How did you do it?” He responds that the medicines have greatly improved over the years.” This was a flat-out lie put in for the pharmaceutical companies who showcased the movie in New York for the HMO’s. The truth is that John Nash was forced to take drugs in the beginning and was not able to cure himself until he was able to completely give them up. He learned to focus his mind on his objective thoughts about the people and things around him, and taught himself to ignore any subjective thoughts about “voices,” or “the government,” or “saving the world,” which he said, “never came to anything.”
Only at the end of his life did John Nash decide to treat his mind as a tool for his own use, and thus take responsibility for it; thus discipline it instead of remaining the dupe of his own mind by giving it undue reverence as the final authority on objective reality.
As he got more and more in the habit of directing his mind instead of listening to it, John Nash became sane. Not that he no longer has irrational thoughts. But as he says, the “noise level is turned way down.” It seemed the noise level was down because he didn’t pay attention to random thoughts and let them procreate themselves into socially-alienating self-hypnosis. He didn’t just let thinking go on by itself and then collapse into his private dream as if it is the real world.
The point is not that we are a mind. The point is that we have a mind. Further, we are the link between our mind and the objective reality of the physical world we share with our fellow man. Depression is not objective reality, it is a panic room of the mind and the key to getting out of it is brainswitching.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE MAJOR CONCERNS AND SIDE EFFECTS OF PRESCRIPTION PILLS?
All I know personally about drugs is that shortly after my father and my brother, both in their forties, both writers, started taking them, they lost their jobs and were never able to work again in their field. Pills give you no wisdom, no life skills, no coping mechanisms. Whenever you stop taking them, you are right back where you were when you started. They are an escape from life, not an answer to it.
WHEN YOU WERE DIAGNOSED WITH BIPOLAR, WERE YOU ADVISED TO TAKE MEDICATION? IF YES, HOW DID MEDICATION CHANGE YOUR THOUGHTS AND BEHAVIORS?
I refused to take any medication.
AT WHAT POINT DID YOU TAKE A STANCE AGAINST MEDICATION? WAS IT A DRAMATIC EVENT OR A GRADUAL LEARNING PROCESS THROUGH PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OR THE EXPERIENCE OF THOSE THAT YOU TREATED IN YOUR PRACTICE?
From the first time, when I was offered Valium I refused to take it. The thought of taking something to make me feel okay when I wasn’t okay did not make sense to me. I wanted to be okay, not just feel okay.
FOR ANYONE WHO WANTS TO GET OFF MEDICATION, HOW WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THEY DO IT?
There are many people who get off medication after reading my book. I always suggest that they do so with the help of their doctor. There are withdrawal symptoms that can be dangerous.
DO YOU FEEL THAT THERE ARE SOME SITUATIONS WHERE MEDICATION IS NECESSARY FOR THOSE WITH DEPRESSION? OR IS IT YOUR VIEW THAT MEDICATION IS NEVER NECESSARY?
People need education and loving support when they are depressed and lacking the coping skills to get out of it. If psychiatrists and doctors no longer have the time to provide this, and if the person is to be left alone with no other reasonable help or support available, I would not refuse any kind of rescue to a drowning person just because they had not yet learned how to swim. But I think anti-depressants are extremely harmful. They may prevent suicide, or they may even cause it.
I was shocked to read the headlines a few months ago that read “Kids’ Antidepressants Called Safe.” I was further shocked to notice that everybody simply accepted this and parroted the news to each other. Didn’t they notice who paid for the research? The name was at the bottom of the article but I guess most people didn’t know that when research is funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that the name Johnson refers to Johsnon & Johnson. Most people don’t know that much of the research done by scientists at the National Institutes of Health is funded by pharmaceutical companies.
A friend of mine went to a psychiatrist with his complaint of years of depression to the point where he could no longer sleep. The doctor suggested that he start walking and keep on walking until he got tired. To my way of thinking that was much better than any pill. My friend did go for that walk. Then I gave him my book.
THERE SEEMS TO BE A TREND NOWADAYS TO MEDICALIZE BEHAVIORS AS MENTAL ILLNESSES AND DISEASES. FOR EXAMPLE, GAMBLING ADDICTION IS LABELED AS A DISEASE AND MENTAL ILLNESS AND THERE ARE NOW PILLS OUT THERE THAT ARE SUPPOSED TO HELP PEOPLE QUIT GAMBLING. AS A THERAPIST, DOES THIS CONCERN YOU?
This is symbolic of an addicted culture. We are the biggest drug users in the world today. Our traditional way of life is breaking down, we are looking for the easy fix, something to feel better, whether we are better or not.
LET’S LOOK AT THREE FACTORS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF INDIVIDUALS: NATURE, NURTURE, AND FREEWILL. OF THE THREE, WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE DECIDING FACTOR IN WHAT A PERSON BECOMES IN LIFE?
Nurture is often the deciding factor because people have a hard time succeeding when they are traumatized early in life. Their fear keeps them always on the defensive. If they knew they were afraid, they could access their courage. But not knowing they are afraid, they are too defensive to risk themselves and learn from their mistakes. They translate everything in terms of keeping safe by repressing their own fear, which would be very painful to acknowledge and feel directly. So their comfort zone is very narrow. Because they are so defended, it seems to them that they are not afraid, and that the other person is causing their problem. This results in inadequate social skills for work.
The deciding factor in a person’s success is if they can take full responsibility for their lives, blaming no one and no thing, and expecting no one or no thing to “save” them. To do this they have to get in touch with their repressed fear. Chapter 10 in my book Depression is a Choice describes how to get in touch with your fear. People can overcome both nature and nurture because of free will so I would say that is the overall deciding factor and humanity’s greatest gift.
THERE IS NOW A THEORY THAT MANY DISEASES/MENTAL ILLNESSES (EVEN DEPRESSION) ARE MAINLY CAUSED BY THE FOODS WE’RE PUTTING IN OUR BODIES. WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THIS?
Yes, this makes sense. Our bodies know when they are being fed toxins and the resulting anxiety can trigger the flight-or-fight response. Tissue could be damaged by what we eat. The use of Aspartame (sweetener) may be a huge danger to physical and psychological health if only half of what is claimed on the Internet is true. Our meat is full of hormones and antibiotics, our vegetables are doused with pesticides. I always buy organic food when I have the choice. I do not drink any kind of soda or diet soda, or any caffeine. I don’t drink any packaged juices. Since green tea is full of Vitamin K, a blood clotting agent, I don’t drink that either. I eat only fresh fruit.
WHAT ARE YOUR VIEWS ON OMEGA-3 FISH OIL, GINKGO BILOBA, ST. JOHN’S WORT, AND OTHER NATURAL SUPPLEMENTS?
I don’t know much about the food supplements other than fish oil and vitamins which I do take.
MEDITATION IS NOW A COMPONENT OF MANY THERAPY PROGRAMS. CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW MEDITATION CHANGES THE CHEMISTRY OF THE BRAIN AND ITS EFFECTS? DO YOU PRACTICE TRANSCENDAL MEDITATION REGULARLY?
I don’t practice trancendental meditation regularly. Trancendental meditation is the concentration of the mind upon a single thought. It is just another word for hypnosis except there is no accompanying suggestion to effect a particular mind-set to accomplish a task as in medical hypnosis for surgery, or trying to heal some bodily ill which is often the purpose of hypnosis and guided imagery under trance. In transcendental meditation, concentration upon a single thought is always a positive or neutral one and since a human being can only concentrate upon one thought at a time, the mind cannot therefore, think at the same time a busy or a stimulating or an anxious thought. Therefore the fight-or-flight response is no longer being triggered, and the stress chemicals cease to be produced. Since the emotional brain is not being stimulated, the neural activity in the subcortex slows down. The removal from the thinking of all stimulating or anxious thoughts causes the body to relax and the brain waves to slow down from beta level to alpha level. The body ceases to be in stress mode, or sympathetic mode and goes into para-sympathetic mode, the body’s resting and relaxed mode.
WHAT ARE YOU VIEWS ON THE FOLLOWING:
PSYCHIATRY: Lost in its own jargon, an example of methodized ignorance.
THE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY: Corrupted by profit motive.
MENTAL ILLNESSES IN GENERAL are behavioral problems: Ineffective strategies to avoid repressed fear.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ARE THE SYMPTOMS, CAUSES AND POSSIBLE CURES FOR THE FOLLOWING:
ADDICTIONS are self-medicating strategies to distract from the pain of repressed fears usually originating in childhood trauma. Cured by addressing fears directly and committing to quitting. The way the brain works, we can’t really quit doing something, we have to substitute one thing for another.
DEPRESSION: Caused by over-extension of the fight-or-flight response. One can’t really cure depression because it is part of the human psychological defense system. But you can get rid of depression whenever it attacks by brainswitching. Understanding how your brain works can give you an overview of depression which reduces the fear of it.
BIPOLAR: I do not think this “disease” is supported by scientific evidence since all the symptoms can be eliminated by practicing new thinking and behavior strategies.
ADD/ ADHD: I do not think this “disease” is supported by scientific evidence since all the symptoms can be eliminated by practicing new thinking and behavior strategies.
IN YOUR PRIVATE PRACTICE, HAVE YOU HAD TO TREAT ANYONE WITH A: DRUG ADDICTION, GAMBLING ADDICTION, ALCOHOLISM, PORN/SEX ADDICTION. IF YES, DO YOU THINK THAT THERE IS A COMMON CAUSE OR CURE FOR ADDICTIONS?
Except for depression, I do not treat addictions in my practice. I do think the common cause for addictions is to distract from repressed fear. It is a case of choosing to feel good about oneself without having to bother with the trouble and risk of accomplishing something good.
YOU HAVE YEARS OF PRIVATE PRACTICE. ARE THERE ANY MEMORABLE, GOOD OR BAD, EXPERIENCES THAT STICK TO MIND?
This one session illustrates what I mean by repressed fear. I wrote about it in my book Depression is a Choice.
A couple came into my office for psychotherapy because the wife complained that her husband didn’t seem to care about anything one way or the other. He seemed to have no feelings about what they did or didn’t do. She felt disconnected from him, and unloved. The husband was a young man of 26. He said that he had been sexually abused by his father from the age of 8 to 14. In his first session Joe said that he was a person that didn’t have strong feelings, good or bad, except for when he was depressed, and then he tried to commit suicide three times. In answer to my question, he said he certainly didn’t feel any fear of any kind. He wasn’t exactly sure what fear felt like because he was a Marine, and as far as he knew he wasn’t afraid of anything.
The young man was sitting about five feet in front of my desk and his body language was screaming at me how afraid he was. “With your permission,” I said, “I’m going to move my chair closer to you and you tell me if you start to feel uncomfortable at all.” I moved my chair to the side of the desk and began to move closer and closer to the young man. When I got to about a foot from him he shouted, “STOP. I’m uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable.” And indeed he was sweating and was quite red in the face. “That’s fear,” I said. “That feeling of discomfort that you are feeling now is the pain of fear. If you think back to a few seconds ago, you will remember feeling some gradations of that pain as I moved closer. It’s a natural defense mechanism to feel fear when a stranger is invading your space.”
As children we may have been victims of abuse and our only means of survival was to dissociate ourselves from it psychologically since we couldn’t save ourselves from it physically. The way we dissociate ourselves from our painful feelings is by switching to thinking about something else rather than what is happening in our present reality. But dissociating from painful feelings isn’t escaping from painful feelings. These repressed feelings hang around and drag us down in many ways, including depression.
If we have repressed fears we should dredge them up with therapeutic massage work, exercises, or sad music and finish feeling them. Just because we have fearful feelings does not mean that we should be afraid of them. The trick is to have our feelings without letting our feelings have us. We are much more powerful than our feelings and we shouldn’t collapse into them as if we were the helpless victims of them.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FINAL WORDS FOR OUR READERS?
No matter how depressed you are, something is always doable. Because depression is the idea that nothing will work, almost anything you do to get going with your day will help lessen your pain. Try to remember that when you are depressed there are many others “out there” that are trying to get going with their day as well. You are not alone.
I would love to hear from you:
A. B. Curtiss
P. O. Box 1193
Escondido, CA 92025