Natural Therapy in Focus
Af-x Release Therapy.By Sudha Hamilton
What first attracted me to Af-x Release Therapy©, was the notion of respect for our own mind's ability to heal ourselves, inherent within its philosophy. Here, it seemed, was a process that put the onus on self-responsibility, instead of the almighty therapist. Having tried numerous therapies, I now have a greater respect for anything that puts me in touch with my own wisdom, rather than something that makes me dependent on someone or something else. It intrigued me, too, when I was told there would be only three sessions and I would not be required to speak much in any of them. This was definitely like no counselling I'd had before.
A Zen-like flavour pervaded my encounter with Af-x's founding practitioner, Ian White, with few words on my part and from him a confidence in my ability to "right my own mental and emotional cart." The silence growing within me was a welcome change from the usual chatter as I listened to him outlining the coming sessions. Why was I here? I suppose you could call it mild depression. I was also interested in experiencing this therapy. Closing my eyes and sitting back in my chair, I opened my mind to the words being spoken to me.
Af-x Release Therapy© is based on the work of the School of Affectology, developed by Australian psychotherapist, Ian White. Its roots are in studies are in studies of early childhood and the discovery that we develop a subtle emotional sense well before we begin to think conceptually. In the period of birth to 18 months, we're developing our feeling selves long before we learn words and how to think in a narrative way. We learn what feeling responses work for us and this is the basis of the development of our emotions. This information is stored by the limbic brain, there to be called on when we require an emotional response. The process is referred to as neuro-encoding. Many of the scientific studies of this early learning period are covered in books by Goleman, Damasio, LeDoux and others.
"Of course, our affect -meaning emotional reactions, are immediate and don't allow us to think about them because they are happening at a subconscious level - the reactions defy our rational selves," says Ian. "Through this we build a habit of feeling, that eventually grows into our own unconscious sense of self." Af-x Release Therapy© predicates that these first learning's have a powerful influence on how we react emotionally throughout our life, often without realising why. As these feelings are experienced pre-verbally, it is, Ian's view, ineffective for the client to attempt to "talk it out." "What is important is to allow the client to focus on, and safely reach, that inner feeling space, and it's only through silence and a quietening of the mind's chatter that this is possible," says Ian. "Once there, the subconscious mind's own sophisticated self-correcting gear is available to a simple 'reminder like' suggestion."
"So isn't this just hypnotherapy?" I put to Ian. "I prefer to use the term 'assisted self attention', or 'focus on feelings', as it's not necessary for the client to be in any particular state for the process to work, and the term 'self attention' also describes the meditative state, which I think is a closer fit for this work," responds Ian. "Also, what is integral to understand here is that, unlike hypnotherapists and all other counsellors and psychotherapists, we are not responding to a particular complaint voiced by the client, because of course the client has not said anything. The Af-x practitioner is appealing to the client's own innate ability as a perfect being to make the necessary adjustments to their emotional self."
As I hear these words and ruminate on being a 'perfect being,' memories of my own spiritual journey filter into consciousness. I remember being told stories by my spiritual 'master' about how insanity was dealt with in the East, in the time of Lao Tzu; how the suffere would be locked in a cell in complete darkness with no contact with any other person, meals being slipped under the door. It sounded barbaric but, apparently, it was often a quick cure as the inflamed mental state was not pandered to and an encounter with the"original face or self" was hard to avoid. The strict adherence of the client to the no-speaking approach in Af-x therapy and the self-attention consciousness of the meditative state ring a few bells for me, so I am not surprised to learn that Ian White trained as a Zen Bukkyo monk in his earlier years.
"Yes, I sat in Zasen in black hakama robes, being whacked on the back with an oak walking stick by the senior monk and scrubbing a sterile, perfectly clean floor over and over again, and all that other exciting stuff, but I never really took to it because it didn't deal with my impatience about helping bring peace to my fellow person," says White.
It is perhaps that focus that has led Ian to a life devoted to assisting in the healing of thousands through the development and refinement of Af-x Release Therapy©. Through the School of Affectology, Ian White has trained Af-x practitioners in Australia, the US and Europe. He and those who are using the therapy in their work have had particular success in dealing with those apparently suffering from the many forms of depression, as well as a host of other mental-emotional problems. Ian says, "One of the most important aspects of the Af-x approach is that we do not consider that ongoing psychotherapy is productive in changes for the better. In fact, ongoing therapy actually gets in the way of people making the mental and emotional change choices that bring about success."
"How do you monitor whether three sessions are enough or are effective at all?" I ask.
"Over the past 10 years, every Af-x client has been asked to participate in a feedback system," Ian ventures. "Questionnaires are sent out guaranteeing that the client's responses will remain confidential and anonymous. We just get the pure data and so we know in the majority of cases that it is working."
Many ex-clients have come forward to volunteer their personal stories about their experiences with Af-x. It's through this process that I am able to read through testimonials from clients who have visited an Af-x practitioner. Although these people range widely in age and circumstance, there's a common theme, which runs through their experiences. In nearly all cases, they were previously informed by health professionals that they were suffering from depression, panic attacks or stress and required medication. One testimonial in particular caught my attention - "Lisa's Story." I think it was because, being a teenager, Lisa (not her real name) conveyed her situation with that rawness and emotional honesty often seen in her age group.
Lisa's Story (age 17)
"For many years I suffered from what is known as clinical depression, a diagnosis I received from psychiatrists and doctors. From the early days of my problem, I was prescribed various antidepressants. I also suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. During this time, I thought about suicide on many occasions. Life seemed to be of no use, no purpose, and I didn't want to spend the rest of it living in the big black hole I seemed to exist in. I felt lost and alone. No one knew how to help me. Of course, many people tried to help, but for a long while I suffered alone, thinking I was beyond help; just willing myself to die. On more than one occasion, I attempted to take my life, never thinking I could find any solutions to getting any better than just coping from day to day, taking drugs and lashing out at everyone and everything around me.
"My friends and family were desperate for my recovery. Endless visits to the school counsellor seemed to make no difference. I spent many months 'in therapy' with a psychiatrist. Same outcome. Those many years of taking antidepressants and even alternative natural medication resulted in no answer. In fact, things were getting steadily worse. Quite apart from my depressive sickness, there was a steadily increasing pressure on me to get better. Pressure that people who had no idea of the loneliness of me applied. I know they had the best intentions, but they didn't know they were adding incredibly to my burden.
"Then my parents heard about Ian White and his work, which he called Af-x therapy. My parents had no idea how it worked and, quite incorrectly, translated it to me as being 'hypnotherapy.' This, of course, didn't help my expectations and I was opposed to the idea of seeing him from the start. In fact, I was very sceptical about the idea, I thought it would be another case of crazy person with crazy antics claiming to have all the answers. For this reason, I refused the treatment.
"After months of my family pleading with me to 'give it a go', I reluctantly agreed. In all honesty, that was merely to stop the pleading and give me an excuse to say to them, 'See, this didn't work, either!' I walked into his rooms, making it very obvious that I didn't want to be there and I was only there to 'shut everybody up'. Of course, I was determined to derail anything he was going to try with me. As a result of my many visits to other counsellors and therapists, I was certain I knew how to handle him to my own ends.
"But I was very surprised at his approach. Now, in hindsight, I would say I was pleasantly surprised. Ian was lovely and considerate of the fact that I had been pressured to undergo treatment. He talked about that pressure right from the outset and gave the impression that he knew all about how I felt about 'everybody trying to tell me what's best for me'. He made me feel very comfortable and relaxed and told me I was 'the boss'. In other words, he did not do or say anything I was uncomfortable with and I was given no reason to oppose the idea of going ahead with helping myself out of the dilemma.
"He explained the procedures of Af-x very clearly, removing any idea that there was 'a mystery' about what he had to offer. Ian explained he didn't want me to talk unless I wanted to ask a general question about the treatment. He explained why it was important for me not to try to put my problems into words. That was a great relief, because I had been trying unsuccessfully to put my problems into words for years. I had always left counsellors' offices wondering whether I had really explained things in a truthful way.
"After my third session I thanked Ian for his time and walked away wondering when and if I would notice any change. In some ways, even though I had enjoyed my time in the therapy, I still couldn't see how it could help to 'say nothing' and 'take notice of my self'. I did what Ian suggested and tried not to analyse what we had done in therapy. As a matter of fact, I tended to forget I had gone to see him.
"About a month later, I stated to feel very strong, physically and emotionally, and I decided to stop taking medication for my depression. I had depended on that medication for such a long time, that there was a part of me that seemed to be saying, 'Well, I'll stop taking it and that'll prove that I can do without it.' But that didn't happen. I started to notice that my energy levels were gradually rising and my desire for sleep was declining. I also started to notice I had a calmer and less aggressive approach to negative situations. My friends, my family and my teachers all noticed and commented on this change. I no longer felt a need to resolve my problems with violence, verbal or otherwise, and for the first time in my life I felt happy. Although I did not understand how the therapy worked, I remember on many occasions, the things he said and explained came back to me in those moments when I once would have become depressed or lost my temper.
"Today, eight months after my therapy, I am still not taking medication, I'm attending the gym three times a week and I seem to not react to things as I used to- angrily. I receive compliments all the time on how much I have improved in all areas of my life. At times, these comments are about changes that I think are obvious, but sometimes I'm surprised that people have noticed some of the more gentle changes to who I am. I feel like I have eventually found myself, and found the person inside that I once used to be, and found the person I can be."
The idea that we can undergo change without analysing it, talking it through and even intellectually understanding that change is baffling for many people. In many of the volunteered stories I read the most common response was: "I don't know how this thing worked but it did." Ian White talks about 're-education', that the work of Af-x Release Therapy© is all about re-educating our early emotional selves. This is subtle stuff and it doesn't employ any high tech gadgetry….well, except, that is, for the most sophisticated gadget of all, the human mind. Perhaps as we evolve further we will learn to value the finer workings of the human brain. At present, our models of our own consciousness are computers, which in truth are terribly inadequate.
For many people, the whole purpose of their visit to a counsellor is to pour out their problems, so this ban on words can be a major deterrent. Ian explains it's absolutely vital to the success of the therapy: "As soon as you listen to their story you are complicit in their world paradigm - the half truths, the snippets of pseudo self-help theories they've picked up and applied to their own situation; and you are caught in their web with them. The Af-x practitioner comes clean to the table and bypasses all this completely, working directly with the subconscious emotional mind." White likens this process to the Zen therapeutic approach of "holding the mirror firmly."
After speaking with Ian for many hours about his past training and personal experiences, I begin to get a picture of how this therapy has come into being. The development of Affectology has been a constant evolution of a work that began with a desire to understand the qualities of consciousness. Having at its core a profound respect for the 'perfection' of humankind, it's a therapy for a conscious age. Also, at that core seems to be a deep concern for the way society believes many of the damaging myths about our mental and emotional wellbeing.
How was it for me? I experienced an upsurge of self-belief immediately after the sessions, which I had over a three week period. My self esteem, which had been low, due to a failed relationship that had ended some 16 months before, felt markedly stronger at the conclusion of the sessions. While I was suffering only a low level of depression, the results were gentle and subtle, yet definite. As for curing 'the human condition', Ian White maintains strongly that our human condition is already perfect but needs some guidance for reflective emotional and mental healing. That's the nature of Af-x Release Therapy©.
There are now a number of practitioners who have been trained by the School of Affectology in Australia, the US and Sweden. Ian White is currently in Greece, training practitioners in Athens.
Appeared in WellBeing Magazine.