Learning to control actions is the first step in re-educating the brain; it the simplest way to achieve this and, although it may often seem almost childish at first, it does provide appreciable results. If we observe the way psychasthenic patients carry out their dailyactivities, we notice a remarkable lack of clarity and precision. It is as if their thoughts were elsewhere most of the time, or they were incapable of thinking about what they are doing while doing it. This makes their actions hesitant - you get the feeling they lack any kind of determination.
Let’s look at an example: A psychasthenic wants to get something from his room, but by the time he gets to his room, he often forgets what it was he came for; if the object is in a locked drawer, he will take it out and then forget to close the drawer, or lock it, and so on. All actions are carried out in an altered state of consciousness, without purpose or determined will; the patient is not able to retain the initial impulse, which was to retrieve such and such an object,
and see it through to the end.
You can imagine how inconvenient this is in everyday life; in addition, all these semi-conscious acts have repercussions on the brain; the mind tires of trying to remember what it is supposed to be doing; the constant uncertainty troubles the patient, and leads to a loss of self confidence.
We do not begin by asking patients to control all their daily activities - this would be impossible - but simply to perform a certain number of predetermined actions every hour. In a relatively short time, the constant repetition of predetermined, controlled actions creates a kind of cerebral pattern which patients find very useful. Before we proceed to the re-education of actions, we must first understand what it is we are asking of patients. A controlled action must be “conscious,” which means that patients must be absolutely present and concentrated on what they are doing.
This should exclude all distractions from interfering. That is the first point. The second important point is the following: during a consciousact, the brain must be uniquely receptive; its function is to record precisely what is taking place; the brain must “feel” the action and not think it. This distinction between feeling and thinking clearly distinguishes a controlled, conscious act from a non-controlled one. Thinking an act means emitting energy, while feeling it means receiving energy. By developing this receptivity, sensations become accurate instead of distorted, as is often the case with neurasthenic patients. Patients must get into the habit of looking clearly at what they’re seeing, of listening to what they hear, and of feeling what they do.
Here is how to proceed: Vision Vision becomes conscious when you simply allow the vibrations of the object you are looking at to penetrate your eyes. You should feel as if you are absorbing the object without making any effort to do
so, without having to stare hard at it. You are not looking for details; your mind should grasp the object in its entirety, and create an image which becomes very clear with a little practice.
HearingThe same goes for hearing: you have to allow the sound you’re listening to to penetrate you, and learn to open your ears without making any forced effort. You could listen to the ticking of a clock for a moment, or the noise of a moving tram, to reinforce your awareness of hearing. Perceiving sounds in this way makes patients less irritable, since
they can become indifferent even to unpleasant noises, when they perceive them consciously. This simple procedure works very well when treating noise-related phobias.
TouchThe first sensation which is perceived, whether cold or hot, hard or soft, will be the most conscious. The object presented to the patient should not be analyzed. Patientsshould only be asked to report their initial sensation. Other
senses (taste, smell) are treated in the same way. Movement control Every action become conscious if the movement involved in the act is perceived in its totality.
For example, to lock a drawer, you have to realize that turning the key completes the action; or if you put a coin into your wallet, you have to understand that it is really there. True awareness excludes all uncertainty: you know that the drawer is locked, or that your wallet really contains the coin. Thinking alone, without conscious awareness, will always open the door to doubt and all its consequences.
When re-educating the mind to be more conscious, it is useless to try and work with complicated actions; the best actions are those which are carried out most frequently, and on a day to day basis. By using such actions, patients can stop their thought process for an instant and become totally conscious of what they are doing, which calms the mind and allows it to rest. walkingWalking merits special attention because it allows for the frequent application of conscious activity, despite the complexity of the movement involved.
Conscious walking usually creates an impression of suppleness and certainty; it does not occur until coordination of the various sensations involved in the act of walking has been achieved by the brain.
To do this, you must proceed in successive stages. First instruct patients to perceive the sensation of their foot touching
the ground, then the movement of the leg, and finally that of the entire body. Breathing is also involved, and should be adapted to the movement. Also don’t forget that vision and hearing are a part of walking as well.
Conscious walking can make patients less tired, and dispel dizziness in some cases. It has been successfully used in the treatment of agoraphobia. Voluntary actsWe consider voluntary acts as a special class, slightly apart from other actions, and very useful as far as training is concerned. We naturally agree that all conscious acts are at the same time voluntary, since they are carried out by choice, but we do make the following distinction. When we ask patients to perform an act consciously, we are asking them to simply concentrate on the sensations produced by the act, for example the sensation of bending an arm or touching a light switch. In acts which are qualified as voluntary, patients concentrate more on the feeling of their desire to perform the action -i.e. they feel they want to bend their arm, or raise it to close a light switch.
Getting a patient to stand up as a conscious act can be translated into the following verbalization: “I feel myself getting up.” If the act is voluntary, the patient will verbalize it this way: “I feel myself wanting to get up.” Making this distinction may seem overly subtle, but it does have its uses, since it is the first step in re-educating the faculty of willpower.
And there is a difference in cerebral vibration which can be detected when using the technique of hand application. The waves will be stronger for voluntary acts than for conscious acts. So patients should be taught to perform various voluntary acts during the course of the day, and learn to distinguish them from purely conscious ones. When they awaken in the morning, they should get up voluntarily, and go to bed in the same way; they should leave their dwelling place because they want to go out, and so on.
Physical effect of controlling actionsNow let’s look at how controlled action affects psychasthenics. At first, it may seem as if this constant effort to concentrate and act attentively is completely abnormal, placing an added strain on patients
and adding yet another unhealthy symptom to the list. However, what may be true for a balanced mind is not necessarily
true for a non-controlled mind. Psychasthenic patients, therefore, can develop very useful habits through voluntary action. If their actions are carried out properly, they feel more in control, become calmer and weigh their actions more carefully. With their brain constantly occupied with something concrete, they experience less and less anxiety.
Their self confidence is given a boost, and they get into the habit of controlling what they think and do. The more patients are made to perform precise conscious or voluntary acts, the faster they will find that the effort and concentration required, which is somewhat difficult at first, soon diminishes; conscious action will no longer be work, but a practical habit, which becomes progressively more natural and normal.
Also, conscious or voluntary actions make a deeper impression on the brain; patients can more easily remember what they did, and this, in turn, serves to gradually strengthen the faculty of memory which was completely lacking beforehand. A common error for beginners is to make too much of an effort to make actions conscious. On the contrary, controlled actions should be relaxing, since the brain has to concentrate on only a single idea or sensation - that of the action being carried out. To summarize, controlled movement results in: 1. Patients being fully conscious of the action they areperforming;2. Clarity of thoughts associated with the action;3. The feeling that the act is desired or voluntary.
In addition, patients are obliged to concentrate on the present moment, which relaxes the brain and allows it to rest. As far as sensations are concerned, control teaches patients to receive impressions as they are, without distorting them by thinking too much; it heightens receptivity, and in so doing helps patients exteriorize more easily.