Written by Thedy Veliz for the Science of Psychotherapy
Operationalizing empirical research and clinical practice to support fulfillment and purpose
While I currently work as a psychotherapist, I use my training and work experience in engineering design and financial management in order to develop and deploy the interventions that I use with my clients. To me, psychotherapy is not just about ameliorating the symptoms that motivate clients to seek treatment. Instead, my job is to help clients to develop the insight and understanding of their life history in order for them to make the required changes to integrate all aspects of their experience. Once I am able to accompany people through uncovering, processing, and integrating their life history, and how they have compensated for such unexplored dynamics; they are able to change their course from the pursuit of pleasure and happiness towards fulfillment and purpose.
Symptoms Require Connection Instead of Correction
In a nutshell, my approach conceptualizes symptoms – whether it’s depression, anxiety, obsessions, compulsions, defiance, hyperactivity, lack of attention, or substance use – as the person’s inability to self-regulate due to a dysregulated stress response system. In a recently published book, Thomas Boyce, MD identified a highly reactive phenotype which he refers to as “orchid” children and which comprise 15-20% of the population (Boyce, 2019). When there is a “good-enough” (Winnicott, 1953) “goodness of fit” (Grobstein, 2009), these people are able to thrive as the same developmental dynamics that resulted in their symptomatology have also gifted them with high intelligence, creativity and a kind heart. However, when the goodness of fit is poor, these people fall apart resulting in tantrums, behavioral and emotional problems, risky behaviors, drug use, problems with the law, school expulsions, and at times suicide.
For these people, instead of labels and diagnoses (which reinforce their primitive narrative), we need interventions that provide empathy through co-regulation by utilizing what Daniel Hughes, PhD refers to as “connect instead of correct” (Hughes, 2009) since dysregulated people are not able to hear, think or learn as their executive function capabilities are hijacked by an over reactive amygdala.
The Key to the Amelioration of Symptoms Pertains to How we Attend
While we all use both hemispheres of the brain, Iain McGilchrist, MD has documented in his book The master and his emissary how we have progressively evolved towards a world that leads with the left side (McGilchrist, 2009), which has resulted in unprecedented technological advances while eroding our ability to experience a more “integrated, empathic, relational and embodied sense of relationship” (McGilchrist, 2019, p. xi).
The Relational and Developmental Neurogenomics movement guides people towards this forgotten more relational approach to living through a paradigm shift “from left brain conscious cognition to right brain unconscious affect (Schore, 2012, p. 3), and applies to people of all ages, and all types of relationships (e.g., familial, friendships, intimate, professional).
Finally, my approach makes a distinction between healing and coping, and assumes that we might have been focusing on the wrong problem as the solution to our clients’ symptomatology might not be about bringing forth new tools, but about a fundamental change in the way we attend to the world that we live in (McGilchrist, 2019).
Keywords; Psychotherapy, Relational & Developmental Neurogenomics
Boyce, W. T. (2019). The orchid and the dandelion: Why some children struggle and how all can thrive. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
Grobstein, P. (2009, January 3). An examination of the relationship between infant temperament and attachment [Web log comment]. Retrieved from https://serendipstudio.org/exchange/ps2007/examination-relationship-between-infant-temperament-and-attachment.
Hughes, D. A. (2009). Attachment-focused parenting: Effective strategies to care for children. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
McGilchrist, I. (2009). The master and his emissary: The divided brain and the making of the western world. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
McGilchrist, I. (2019). Ways of attending: How our divided brain constructs the world. New York, NY: Routledge.
Schore, A. N. (2012). The science of the art of psychotherapy. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
Winnicott, D. W. (1953). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena: A study of the first not-me possession. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34(2), 89-97.
About the Author: Thedy Veliz is Founder and Chief Relational CatalystSM of People Systems, a leadership & human development private practice in Los Gatos, California, USA. He developed the Parent-Child Relational Neuropsychotherapy ProtocolTM which he uses to direct his work with youth, adults, families and couples who are experiencing symptoms caused by relational, behavioral, and emotional challenges.