New, From the Holistic Psychologist
Lepera is popularly known as the “holistic psychologist” on social media. Holistic is defined as “characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease.” With all of the academic divisions busy within their silos, there is a need for a holistic discipline. It’s possible for academics to not be aware of the connectivities between and among the disciplines.
In her book, Do The Work, LePera traces her journey towards self-actualization, self-awareness, and life satisfaction through clinical experience, research, and analogous stories. The book is inspiring and easy to absorb, thanks to LePera’s simplification of the complicated ideas presented herein.
Perhaps the most striking claim in the book is the declaration that trauma is nearly universal. The experience of trauma is not always characterized by abuse. Instead, LePera defines trauma as “an experience that overwhelms your ability to cope.” In this way, the experience is far more common than previously thought. However, her argument is compelling. When our coping mechanisms are overwhelmed, we start shutting off parts of our minds. We may develop illogical coping behaviors or learn to mistrust our emotions. Unresolved or misunderstood experiences or thought patterns cause issues in the long run.
The author uses analogous examples from her clinical practice as well. This is often helpful to readers.
After each chapter, there is a personal exploration exercise involving journaling and self-disclosure.
LePera has identified the following Holistic Psychology Principles:
- Healing is a daily event.
- Choice enables healing
- Holistic tools are practical and approachable
- Taking responsibility for your mental wellness can be empowering
We’re All IN IT
Our parents screwed us up. There was no way around it for them. They carried on the same behaviors, beliefs, and therefore, maladaptive coping strategies that now consume our lives.
LePera discusses at length how she can remember very little from her childhood. Several members of my family report this experience. She described her childhood as happy and structured. She was full of energy, referred to as a good child by her parents, never crying, always content and quiet. Her family’s motto was “family is everything.” She was the youngest of three, significantly younger than her older siblings.
However, her family was not very emotionally expressive. Instead, a result of the previous generation’s cold demeanor. Her family was emotionally avoidant. It was not acceptable to be outwardly emotional. When emotions did come out, they were explosive and usually angry. She had to have really done something wrong to incite this type of reaction. In this, she was taught to be emotionally avoidant.
She considers her trauma to come from not having her emotional experience seen or acknowledged by her family, especially her mother. As a result of the emotional avoidance, she was left with a sense that something was inherently wrong with her.
LePera drew her adult behavior and emotional settings to her experience as a child. This became the baseline for her journey.
Our mind creates the state of the body. LePera illustrates this using research on the placebo effect. Runners told they were given “doping” drugs to increase performance performed better than those who weren’t given the ‘drug.’ In the end, no drug was actually given. It was simply the mind of those given the placebo (sugar pill) that created the increased performance. This demonstrates the power of the mind’s expectations.
On the other hand, the nocebo is just as powerful. LePera shares a story of a man misdiagnosed with esophageal cancer. Shortly after, he died. At the autopsy, it was found that he did not have cancer in his esophagus at all. He died simply because he believed he was going to die. Alas, the power of the mind.
There is a certain connection between the body and mind. A mounting store of research backs this idea.
The mind-body connection is more proof of the need for a holistic approach. Psychology should consider physiological causes, for example. Otherwise, we are simply treating symptoms, not addressing causes. LePera sets this idea to the forefront. A symbiotic relationship between the body and mind is inherent and often not considered. One does not exist without the other and the influence exchanged between is powerful and not fully understood.
Among many interesting topics covered in the book is that of trauma bonds. This idea refers to “a repeated cycle of abuse, devaluation, and positive reinforcement.”1 How this manifests varies in degree and quality. The bond is physiologically based on the survival instinct of “freeze” (as in fight or flight). If it is not believed escape can be safely achieved, then staying, freezing, is the best defense.
If we had distant, erratic, or abusive relationships in childhood, we might seek out the same type of relationships in adulthood. This is reinforced by neurochemical responses to love and punishment. In the extreme, this was in the form of incest, domestic violence, and child abuse. When we are dependent on the abusive person or the one hurting us for love, we are forced to cope. We become enmeshed in this form of relationship dynamic. We are then not able to express our authentic selves.
The feeling of mental and physical activation in these relationships can be mistaken for connection due to the association between the activation and its connection to the source of love. Threats of stress can be mistaken for sexual arousal. A cycle of closeness and rejection begins. This experience can become addictive.
Signs of Trauma Bonds
- Obsessive pull into certain types of relationships even when it may be problematic long term.
- Needs are rarely met in relationships. Or, unawareness of what needs are required.
- Continual betrayal of oneself in certain relationships to earn love.
Almost anything will be done to preserve a relationship traumatically bonded due to the reinforcement cycle of punishment and love.
The idea of personal boundaries can often seem unrealistic to the person growing up in an enmeshed family. That is a family in which it is expected that the individual in the family gives up their needs and desires for the good of the whole. Often, a complete lack of separateness exists in these families. It is often not acceptable to spend time apart. No one is permitted to truly be themselves. Emotional activation is present throughout the family, providing the neurochemical response needed to reinforce the behavior. The fear of abandonment keeps the members in line. This is a specific example of a type of trauma bond.
Boundaries are a necessary baseline for forming a healthy relationship. Boundaries provide a sense of safety to be authentic. The drawing of boundaries allows the individual to honor their true, authentic person by not betraying who they are. Not having boundaries allows the authentic self to be betrayed in exchange for the hope of receiving love.
When I first came across this idea, I wrote it off as a “good idea”, from a psychological point of view. Yet, I didn’t believe it was something that could actually be executed.
As I view those around me and close to me, I see that boundaries are prevalent. Giving up desires and needs in this way causes a lack of authenticity in us as an individual. People end up unhappy in their lives due to not setting the appropriate boundaries and are simultaneously dumbfounded about why they have the experience.
LePera discusses three types of boundaries.
- Physical Boundary – May manifest as obsessed with physical appearance or completely dissociation with the body.
- Resource Boundary – Too giving and generous with resources. Out of belief the more selfless, the more love we will receive. Time can be an example. Sometimes, people can’t say no. Conversely, too rigid a boundary can result in a sense of confinement.
- Mental/Emotional Boundaries – The feeling of responsibility for those around us, an obsession with meeting the needs of others. On the other hand, there can be a complete lack of concern with other’s points of view making connection impossible.
LePera describes the importance of properly setting these important limits. She provides allegorical stories illustrating how the failure to properly set these boundaries looks in life.
Doing the Work…
LePera’s rise as the “Holistic Psychologist” seems to have hit a nerve in the current zeitgeist. The cliche often associated with therapy, “do the work,” doesn’t hit as a cliche in these times. In LePera’s estimation, it is exactly this daily practice of understanding a little bit more deeply where our sense of emotional pain is rooted and delving into the experience of the mind-body connection that defines the ‘work.’
Her insight into the individual experience is speculative at best, based on self-reports from her and clients. Yet, it resembles my experience and the experience of those close to me. This authentic, vulnerable depiction of consciousness seems to gain its power through its seemingly mysterious, unverifiable, yet universal experience.
The book takes these ideas to a practical level, providing journaling and self-awareness activities at the end of each chapter. This helps provide actionable tools to DO the work.
If you are overweight, depressed, lonely, filled with anxiety, looking to expand your consciousness, or attempting to heal from some wound psychologically or physically, this book is highly recommended for you.