This is the first in a series of blogs written by Asha Clinton, MSW, PhD, and other members of the Advanced Integrative Therapy community. Their purpose is to talk about what’s possible in therapy today, and especially in AIT. We want to begin a dialogue with you so that, together, we can envision and, therefore, create the therapy of the future, a therapy that will heal people most effectively. If you are interested in what we write and have questions or comments, please send them to email@example.com, so the dialogue can begin. If you are an AIT therapist and wish to contribute a blog, please send it via email to again firstname.lastname@example.org. If it fits our purpose—spreading the word about AIT, understanding AIT better both theoretically and practically, creating new AIT innovations, and learning how to use it more powerfully—we’ll happily put it on this website.
BLOG #3: January 2018
The Purpose of AIT
Life is difficult for most of us. The promise that psychotherapy has held from its beginnings is the easing of some of that difficulty, the improvement of the quality of life we had before we began working on ourselves. Various people have attempted to change the lot of humankind, one of its cultures, or individuals through various methods: war, subjugation, the Golden Rule, benign government, genocide, love, political activism of various kinds, religion, and more. Although a few of the results of these attempts have been positive, the human proclivities towards acting out, violence, dominance, cruelty, and the like certainly continues to be with us. These proclivities wreak increasingly horrendous destruction as technology becomes increasingly capable of supporting them.
We have tried, in many ways, to better humanity’s lot through political and social means. We have too often failed because our approaches did not take the human psyche into account. Even passive resistance, whether in India under Gandhi or in the United States under Martin Luther King, has not fully vanquished the enemies of equality and interconnectedness. More biases continually come to light along with more people who hurt others with them; the same battle is fought again and again by different armies. I feel despair when I see this seemingly endless repetition of violence and abuse.
There is one method for addressing these social ills that has not really been attempted successfully because we haven’t had the tools. This method has tremendous potential both in sociopolitical and personal terms. It is the systematic removal from people of the causes and origins of their greed, their need for power over others, their acting out of their rage and violence through rape, homicide, totalitarian government, war, and other forms of cruelty, of their enraging sense of helplessness and hopelessness in life. That method is the quick, painless energetic removal of the traumas and traumatic patterns that cause such destructive behavior.
Each person who completes an Advanced Integrative therapy has lastingly removed or transformed many of the traumas and traumatic patterns, the negative beliefs and qualities, the complexes and negative archetypal constellations that are the seeds from which individual and then collective violence grows. The potential of AIT treatment is tremendous; each person who has been thoroughly treated with it has, by virtue of removing the past emotion, physical sensation, destructive behavior and belief—the causes of suffering– transformed their suffering into a state of peaceful presence. This means that the past’s toxic psychological poisons are no longer the lens through which they experience the present. And fantasies no longer substitute for a present larded with the past’s painful or enraging emotions.
We feel peaceful and content to the degree that we can sit together in a state of presence. When we are content and peaceful we are unlikely to make war or abuse prisoners, unlikely to beat our spouses or rape our children, or to rob or maim because, being fully in the present, we feel peaceful enough to discover more productive ways of accomplishing our ends. And to be content means to be detached, as the Buddha said, from both suffering and pleasure.
When the Buddha arose from the meditation that resulted in his enlightenment, he offered the Four Noble Truths. Here are the first three:
- All is suffering.
- Suffering is caused by desire and attachment.
- If one can eliminate desire and attachment, one can eliminate suffering (cite)
The reason that the thorough removal of traumatic causes and post-traumatic symptoms can have such far-reaching and positive effects is that its ultimate result is the removal of desire and attachment and the concomitant development of the individual’s positive qualities.
Please don’t read this as another tired piece of ideology or dogma. That’s not what it is. Read it as a vision or mission statement: that psychological health, presence, and contentment can by themselves improve the world. Each person who achieves such a state affects those around him, and some of those people go on to AIT therapy in turn and achieve that state as well, affecting those around them in turn. The ripple effect takes peaceful change further and further. This is a much different paradigm for change than sociopolitical revolution or evolution, but it is the only certain one I know. And I know because my clients and those of other AIT therapists exemplify it every day.
AIT is an integrative transpersonal psychotherapy, but it is implicitly also a non-violent method of sociopolitical change that requires simply that people be treated with AIT. The rest can follow as the night the day.
BLOG #2: December 2017
A PURPOSE FOR SUFFERING AND ITS TREATMENT
In this series of monthly Blogs, I and my colleagues at AIT will be writing about things that explain AIT and some of its workings and philosophy, aspects of it that seem of particular interest, or that might be useful to you. Many of these blogs will not be scientific discussions although there may be pieces of science imbedded within them. As I will explain in a later blog, I’m not at all sure that science can successfully study the human mind—though it can certainly study the human brain. But more of that later.
Today I want to talk about suffering. There isn’t much agreement about it or about how we should deal with it. The approach to it is probably different to some degree in every culture. In some cultures, suffering is seen as punishment for having made others suffer. In others, they believe that suffering is random and meaningless and has no message for anyone. In many, they say that it can and should be wiped off the face of the earth, and that human suffering shouldn’t exist. They create institutions like modern Western medicine— colossal edifices whose function– but not whose reality– is the removal of suffering. Yet others feel that the way to deal with suffering is for those who suffer to present a social facade that completely denies its existence. Still others prefer to look down on those who are obviously suffering because their suffering means they are somehow inferior. There are also a few cultures that understand suffering as meaningful, but what does it mean? Most people and cultures are probably in agreement with the idea that avoiding suffering is a good thing to do. After all, it really hurts! But how we define or value suffering probably doesn’t matter. Suffering itself is clearly universal, as is our need to define and understand it. But why does it exist in the first place and, more than that, is it or can it be made useful and positive in some way?
What does this have to do with AIT? It’s been clear from the morning that AIT began to emerge that its basic purpose was to remove the suffering that comes from trauma. Aside from the fact that, when we remove suffering we feel better—lighter, more buoyant, happier, more energetic, even blissful—why bother? Well, I think I’ve discovered a very good reason.
Trauma, as we define it in AIT, is
…any occurrence which, when we think back to it or when it is triggered by some present event, evokes difficult emotions and/or physical symptoms or sensations, gives rise to negative beliefs, desires, fantasies, compulsions, obsessions, psychoses, addictions, personality disorders or dissociation, blocks the development of positive qualities and spiritual connection and fractures human wholeness (Clinton 1999).
From this perspective, trauma includes any kind of physical, psychological, or spiritual wounding that human beings suffer as we experience our lives, from burning a finger on a hot frypan, to barely surviving a tsunami, to having parents who don’t love us, or being sexually abused by a member of the clergy. It includes being the only survivor in your platoon in Afghanistan, which so traumatizes you that you lose your belief in God—so you’ve lost God too. That is what trauma is; but what is the VALUE of being wounded or traumatized?
In some spiritual and religious traditions it is understood that, for spiritual development to occur, the more deeply a person experiences and, afterwards, works through their own suffering, the greater their spiritual development has the potential if becoming. Here is how some people think it works: There are two important centers in the human psyche. The first, the ego, well-known to many of us, is the chief of the conscious mind. It not only decides what needs doing, but arranges for it to be done. If it is damaged by trauma, its capacity to make good choices, use power for the highest good, take action, and much more can become damaged enough that its leadership is no longer in the highest interest of the individual, like a boy who grows up so traumatized by the poverty and violence that he has experienced that he chooses to join a gang and shoot and rob others too.
The other director is what we, in AIT, call the center, and what Jung, the great master of the unconscious, called the self. It is the spark of divinity in every human being as well as the CEO of the unconscious mind. It seems seldom to be affected negatively by trauma, and offers the ego the best guidance and direction it can find.
In a psycho-spiritually healthy person, center and ego are connected, and the center guides the ego in ways that are in the person’s highest interest. Then comes trauma. It is capable of damaging the ego to the point that, if it makes its own decisions, they are likely not to be in anyone’s highest interest. Traumas are capable of disconnecting the ego from the center so that, no matter what the center might advise, the ego doesn’t receive the message and is on its own. And then there are the traumas and their cognitive, physical, and emotional aftereffects. In a person functioning with minimal trauma, it is as if life happens, the center offers advice about the ego’s actions and decisions, and the ego, for the most part, takes the center’s advice. It is as if ego and center live on either side of a bridge, and their communication goes back and forth across that bridge. But given the existence of enough trauma and enough traumatic aftereffects—insomnia, acting out, panic attacks, deep depression, and more– it is as if the bridge and the ego have both been bombed, littered with debris, and the bridge possibly even blown up. Of course highly traumatized people cannot function well. They exist in a war zone that just keeps on bombing, a war zone in which they are cut off from command, and in which danger is everywhere!
But when a person lives life deeply and consciously, and she not only experiences trauma, but also works to understand and heal it, one result is often a deeper development of empathy, love and compassion toward herself and others. Indeed, one of the occurrences that many people experience as they walk the spiritual path is the dark night of the soul; they descend, often unwillingly, into the full depths of their suffering, sometimes for years at a time. It is called a dark night because, as it is happening, it can feel permanent, unchanging, hopeless, and certainly crazy-making.
But the person who survives it consciously, sanity intact, has often come to know from profound personal experience how painful it can be to live a human life, to feel alone and isolated, lost, sullied by one’s own awful acts or those of others, shamed, devalued, dismembered, abandoned and more. They know what having hit bottom feels like. And because they have experienced this in a very personal way, they can stand in the shoes of others who are having such an experience without judging them because the dark night of the soul—or any experience of profound depression or hitting bottom– is the great equalizer. If we allow ourselves to experience it directly, it can teach us that we are all the same, all damaged and imperfect, all vulnerable to the worst that life can bring, and all worthy of compassion and love precisely because of our imperfection.
For me, all this means that the experience of suffering, i.e., of trauma and its aftereffects, may well be NECESSARY for real spiritual development to occur. Trauma that has not been contemplated, understood, digested and treated in some way is less likely to produce spiritual development; rather, it can hinder it by making it harder for the sufferer to identify with the rest of us. That kind of sufferer may become more armored instead of gentler, more distrustful instead of open. But no matter how we therapists choose to treat trauma, it is the insights our clients come to in treatment in combination with the removal of traumatic emotions, sensations, and cognitions that can permanently disperse the traumatic pain and the unconscious identification of the sufferer with the feelings, thoughts and sensations he is suffering. Such trauma treatment becomes a form of liberation.
The cathartic shift we often see when, after an AIT trauma treatment, a client says, “I feel SO MUCH LIGHTER,” can also be an open door to spiritual development. The traumatic emotions, sensations, cognitions and resulting behaviors that have been connected to a skeleton of factual memories—what actually happened that was experienced as a trauma– are gone like fog lifting and evaporating after rain until the air is crisp and clear, the sun is out and the heart sings. It is no accident that we remove traumatic damage in AIT by treating emotions, cognitions, and sensations and that, when people work on spiritual development, the major things that fall away as they walk their spiritual path are emotions, cognitions, and sensations, the experiences that shackle us, like slaves, to the pain and the cultural conceptions of the everyday world.
I used to think of trauma as something that can—and frequently does—ruin or distort a life: How would Jim’s life be if he hadn’t lost his legs in Iraq? What kind of a life would Monica have now if her father hadn’t raped her when she was 6? And what would Judy be like if her parents had supported and encouraged her attempts to make it to medical school instead of telling her almost daily that she was stupid and disorganized and only fit to be a wife and mother?
Each time I thought how better our lives would be without trauma, I was fantasizing a reality devoid of particularly awful traumas, my version of Beaver Cleaver’s life. What I was also unconsciously inventing was a second fantasy about how wonderful life would be without the presence of trauma and the suffering it brings. But now I see trauma not only as something that can positively redirect a life towards spiritual development, but also as a necessary prerequisite for such development. In other words, trauma produces spiritual development if we work with It consciously. Could we develop spiritually if there were no trauma? Your guess is as good as mine.
We can learn to accept the spiritual necessity of being wounded. Recently I attended a meditation retreat at a Benedictine monastery in New Mexico and walked the Stations of the Cross there. I was struck anew that Jesus went through the experience of crucifixion. Could there be a darker night or a more nightmarish traumatic experience? But He died on the cross and then rose again, transformed, Divine. This felt to me like one religious tradition’s symbolic statement that being crucified—metaphorically speaking, now– is perhaps necessary for spiritual growth, and that only when we have understood and healed trauma can we rise and walk towards illumination, enlightenment. Only then can we become as Christ in the imitatio dei; only then can we live our lives in natural, free-flowing love and compassion, and do our small, very human version of dying so the sins of others are forgiven.
Because it treats trauma, AIT is a way of furthering the spiritual development of any human being in any—or no—religious or spiritual tradition. By removing the traumatic suffering that blocks development, and thus freeing people from suffering, it can help open that most sacred door.
Asha Clinton, MSW, PhD
BLOG #1: November 2017
THERAPY DOESN’T WORK, MEDICINE DOESN’T EITHER,
AND GOD IS FORGOTTEN!!
BUT BRING THEM TOGETHER WITH AIT AND HEALING HAPPENS
An inadvertent listener to the impassioned conversation at the next table in a restaurant, I heard a woman talking to her best friend about her problems. “Have you thought of therapy?” her friend asked. “No,” the woman said. “Therapy doesn’t work.”
I’ve heard this refrain at the hairdresser’s, at parties, on subways and transatlantic flights– almost everywhere. When I’ve had the chance to ask about it, I’ve most often been told that going to therapy may provide insight or better behavior but, in the words of the same woman, “It didn’t cure me or help me suffer any less” and, in the words of another, “The help it gave me didn’t last.” These and similar comments indicate that many people expect cure to be the result of a therapy, and that to them, cure means a lasting end to frequent or continual suffering. When I’ve asked people who didn’t feel that therapy cured them or reduced their suffering what kind of therapy they had had, they named virtually every modality I have ever heard of.
Of course, psychotherapy and each of its modalities works for different people to greater or lesser degrees. Clearly many people who enter therapy hoping for cure and a cessation to suffering work hard at it, but it doesn’t make enough of a difference for them. As a young practitioner, I shrugged this off thinking that maybe the people who complained about therapy were so disturbed that they really couldn’t be helped. Now, after close to forty years in practice, I look at it differently: Perhaps, through no fault of our own, we psychotherapists did not know well enough how to treat our clients because the theory and methods that could bring more success had not yet been discovered and developed. We are, after all, a relatively new discipline.
The situation doesn’t seem much different in medicine at this point in time. Conventional medicine offers many treatments for a great variety of diseases, but many people don’t get cured. Indeed, if the ads on TV are to be believed, many of the medications doctors prescribe are designed to lessen symptoms or extend life rather than cure illness.
Furthermore, the medical profession has been increasingly split between conventional medicine, which often uses toxic chemicals and toxic radiation to treat people, and functional or alternative medicine, which features natural substances and processes in its treatment methods. Some conventional doctors have told me that they don’t trust alternative medicine because its treatments often don’t work and are not backed up by scientific research; some alternative doctors have told me that conventional treatments are often so toxic that they produce more disease—and often don’t cure.
And then, there is integrative medicine, which “puts the patient at the center and addresses the full range of physical, emotional, mental, social, spiritual and environmental influences that affect a person’s health” (https://www.dukeintegrativemedicine.org/about/what-is-integrative-medicine/). The idea here is that these different approaches, working together, offer the best
chance of healing. In practice, the integrative approaches tend to include acupuncture, certain biofield therapies, guided imagery, hypnotherapy, mindfulness techniques, and yoga (https://health.usnews.com/health-conditions/heart-health/integrative-medicine/overview).
Clients and patients are left to find their way through a bewildering morass of conventional, alternative and integrative therapies, treatments and approaches. They need to decide what kind of treatment to have at a time when they are probably least capable, because of the shock, trauma, and dysfunction of receiving a frightening diagnosis and/or already being disturbed or ill, to make positive, health-enhancing treatment decisions. For example, one friend, faced with a terminal cancer diagnosis, had surgery at Sloan Kettering, was treated at alternative medicine clinics in Mexico, Ireland, and Arizona—each offering a different kind of treatment– and ended up on chemotherapy. What a mess!
And though, to many people, integrative medicine would seem to be the best choice because it combines a group of different approaches, it, too, has one of the drawbacks of many of its more conventional cousins: it does not necessarily address all the causes of a patient’s psychological disorder, spiritual malaise or disease. And once the causes are known, it does not yet necessarily treat them and their symptomatic effect on the client to the point of wellness.
AIT may be the first therapy that successfully discovers and treats the often multiple physical, psychological, and spiritual causes of an illness, psychological disorder, or spiritual blockage. More important, perhaps, the causes do not later produce recurrences because AIT also removes the connection between the causes and the disease or disorder that they have caused.
There is at least one aspect of this already complex situation that bears further mention: For the most part, Western practitioners have mostly treated psyches and bodies not only as if they were disconnected from each other, but also as if they were not intimately connected to a spiritual aspect which is as basic a part of every human being as are the body and psyche. This means, among other things, that illnesses and psychological disorders can have spiritual causes as well and that, if the spiritual causes are not discovered and treated, full healing may be far harder to achieve.
Advanced Integrative Therapy is a therapy, from the Latin therapia and the Greek θεραπεία, which literally mean “curing” or “healing” (Wikipedia). So AIT is not simply a psychotherapy, nor is it a method of spiritual counseling, and it is in no sense a type of medicine. It attempts, as far as possible, to discover and treat as many of the physical, psychological and spiritual causes of suffering as possible in order to produce healing and the removal of suffering. The idea behind AIT is that, if we treat enough of an individual’s suffering, that person will become peaceful, loving and much more likely to help than to harm.
In this sense, AIT is an internal approach to the development of peace both within individuals and among them. And because it has an established methodology which, through the use of many methods and protocols, it brings the ideas that began to develop in the last century regarding whole person healing into practical reality. In psychotherapeutic and integrative and functional medical circles, practitioners have wanted a way to actually do what their theory says: to produce healing by working on the whole human being physically, psychologically, and spiritually. AIT is the first, hopefully, of many such methods.
In upcoming blogs I’ll be discussing the ideas introduced here—and other ones that I feel are important as well– in much more detail. I’ll be telling you about the healing AIT has produced, because we at AIT want everyone to know about the tremendous transformative qualities of our work from direct experience; it is increasingly bringing us peace and health, and we want it to do the same for you.
Welcome to AIT!!!
Asha Clinton, MSW, PhD.
Advanced Integrative Therapy