Depression

Depression-5-Christian-Jonathan-Haverkampf-common-mental-health-conditions

Depression

Christian Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D.

Depression is one of the most common medical conditions, which can interfere significantly with a person’s quality of life, relationships and ability to work. Several effective treatments are available, including psychotherapy and medication. This article contains a brief overview of both areas, while focusing on psychotherapy, particularly Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT), as developed by the author.

Keywords: depression, treatment, psychotherapy, psychiatry

Contents

Introduction. 5

Adaptation. 6

Genetics. 6

Psychotherapy. 7

The World is Not Enough. 8

Negative Thoughts about Oneself 8

Medication. 9

Major Depression vs Reactive Depression. 10

Stress. 10

Depression and Health. 10

Age. 11

Differential Diagnosis. 11

Computer-Based Treatments. 12

Communication. 13

Inside-Outside Reflection. 14

Connectedness. 14

Social Connectedness. 15

Social Identification. 15

Depression Treatments and Connectedness. 16

Adolescents and Young Adults. 16

Technology and Connectedness. 17

Autonomy and Connectedness. 17

Connectedness and the Elderly. 18

Connectedness and Groups. 18

Causes of Depression. 18

The Monoamine Hypothesis. 18

Communication Factors. 19

Symptoms. 20

Physical Symptoms. 21

Treatment. 21

Medication. 21

Psychotherapy. 22

Separating Thoughts from Emotions. 22

Body Work. 23

Communication-Focused Therapy®. 23

Change. 24

Analysing Communication Patterns. 25

The Process. 26

Communication Patterns and Structures. 27

Transfer. 28

Meaning. 29

From Meaning to Meaningfulness. 29

Motivation. 31

Interacting with the World. 32

Powerlessness. 32

Insight into Communication. 33

Building the Sense of Self 34

Resonance. 35

Relevance. 35

Communication Exchange. 36

Experimentation. 37

Observing. 37

Integration. 38

Values, Needs and Aspirations. 38

Internal Communication. 39

Meaningful Messages as the Instrument of Change. 39

Broader Experience. 40

References. 41

Introduction

Depression affects a good size of the population. Although it is relatively common and the impact of the individual quality of life can be enormous, there is still a stigma attached to it. A common belief is that it is not treatable, which is in the vast majority of cases untrue. Another misconception is that it lowers a person’s intelligence or changes one’s personality, which is equally untrue. While someone suffers from depression, the ability to focus and concentrate may be reduced, it does not lower a person’s cognitive abilities when the person recovers from the depression. However, the most serious misconception must be the one that there are no effective treatments. In truth, there are many effective treatments available, but their effectiveness often depends on matching the correct treatment modality to the right patient.

The proportion of the global population living with depression is estimated to be 322 million people—4.4% of the world’s population—according to a new report, “Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders: Global Health Estimates,” released by the World Health Organization. The report also includes data on anxiety disorders, which affect more than 260 million people—3.6% of the global population. The prevalence of these common mental disorders is increasing, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, with many people experiencing both depression and anxiety disorders simultaneously. Depression is, in short, the leading cause of disability in the world (Friedrich, 2017).

Depression is also one of the most common comorbidities of many chronic medical diseases including cancer and cardiovascular, metabolic, inflammatory and neurological disorders. (Gold et al., 2020)

Some possible pathophysiological mechanisms of depression include altered neurotransmission, HPA axis abnormalities involved in chronic stress, inflammation, reduced neuroplasticity, and network dysfunction. All of these proposed mechanisms are integrally related and interact bidirectionally. In addition, psychological factors have been shown to have a direct effect on neurodevelopment, causing a biological predisposition to depression, while biological factors can lead to psychological pathology as well. The authors suggest that while it is possible that there are several different endophenotypes of depression with distinct pathophysiological mechanisms, it may be helpful to think of depression as one united syndrome, in which these mechanisms interact as nodes in a matrix. Depressive disorders are considered in the context of the RDoC paradigm, identifying the pathological mechanisms at every translational level, with a focus on how these mechanisms interact. Finally, future directions of research are identified. (Dean & Keshavan, 2017)

To accommodate, they learn to censor themselves, to devalue their experience, to repress anger, to be silent. Examining moral themes in depressed women’s narratives, Jack demonstrates how internalized cultural expectations about feminine goodness affect women’s behavior in relationships and precipitate the plunge into depression. In a brilliant synthesis, Jack draws on myth and fairy tale for metaphors to further our understanding of women’s depression. (Jack, 1991)

Depressive disorders are frequently associated with significant and pervasive impairments in social functioning, often substantially worse than those experienced by patients with other chronic medical conditions. The enormous personal, social, and economic impact of depression, due in no small part to the associated impairments in social functioning, is often underappreciated. Both pharmacologic and psychotherapeutic approaches can improve social impairments, although there is a lack of extended, randomized controlled trials in this area using consistent assessment criteria. (Hirschfeld et al., 2000)

Adaptation

Many functions have been suggested for low mood or depression, including communicating a need for help, signalling yielding in a hierarchy conflict, fostering disengagement from commitments to unreachable goals, and regulating patterns of investment. A more comprehensive evolutionary explanation may emerge from attempts to identify how the characteristics of low mood increase an organism’s ability to cope with the adaptive challenges characteristic of unpropitious situations in which effort to pursue a major goal will likely result in danger, loss, bodily damage, or wasted effort. In such situations, pessimism and lack of motivation may give a fitness advantage by inhibiting certain actions, especially futile or dangerous challenges to dominant figures, actions in the absence of a crucial resource or a viable plan, efforts that would damage the body, and actions that would disrupt a currently unsatisfactory major life enterprise when it might recover, or the alternative is likely to be even worse. These hypotheses are consistent with considerable evidence and suggest specific tests. (Nesse, 2000)

Genetics

Data are from 2,302 adolescent sibling pairs (mean age = 16 years) who were part of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Although genetic factors appeared to be important overall, model-fitting analyses revealed that the best-fitting model was a model that allowed for different parameters for male and female adolescents. Genetic contributions to variation in all 3 variables were greater among female adolescents than male adolescents, especially for depressed mood. Genetic factors also contributed to the correlations between family and school environment and adolescent depressed mood, although, again, these factors were stronger for female than for male adolescents. (Jacobson & Rowe, 1999)

Psychotherapy

There are many kinds of psychotherapy, but they all derive from the concept of the ‘talking cure’ developed by Freud and Breuer. Over time, various brands have been developed, but the interaction between the patient and therapist, insight, reflection, and learning are still the basic building blocks of psychotherapy or counselling.[1]

Depression very often does not come ‘out of the blue’, and it is important to understand the factors that contribute to it. While some people have a greater predisposition for depression than others, psychological factors usually play a significant role. The three main schools of therapy are cognitive-behavioural, interpersonal, and psychodynamic therapies. Major differences are that the first one focuses more on learning and the last one more on insight and understanding, but many practitioners combine elements of each of them. I have developed a communication-focused approach, that works with both insight and learning, which is described in more detail below.

Depression comes with negative thoughts and feelings, where one influences the other. It can begin with difficulties and interpersonal problems, such as in a relationship or at the workplace. The more one doubts oneself, s self-critical or blames oneself, the more the spiral of depression reaches down. Communication patterns often change, both on the inside and the outside. Internally, ruminations, negative feelings, despair, hopelessness, and doubts can lead to increasing questioning of oneself to the point where one feels a physical pain or pressure. In severe cases of depression, the communication reaches a point where internal communication, feelings and thoughts flatten out. Depression does not necessarily mean that one feels sad all the time. In the more severe cases, it means that one feels less to the extent that one cannot cry anymore and feels a physical pain of emptiness. Thoughts about ending everything, as in self-harm, can occur quite frequently. They need to be taken seriously, and one should look for immediate help, which can also include a hospitalisation where a more intensive treatment and a secure environment are possible.

The outside communication reflects the internal communication to a large extent. And often it has become impossible on the inside to take a step back from the ruminations and circulating negative thoughts and watch what is happening from the outside. This step back would, however, be very important. Most often people then try even harder to run with their head against the invisible wall. The brain’s job is to think and to solve problems in the world by thinking through them. In a rumination the brain tries to ‘think its way out’. However, this usually just makes it worse. To get the view from the outside of what is happening and to find new strategies through changes in perspective are important steps in therapy.

Psychotherapy should address various factors, such as current stressors, unresolved conflicts, also internal emotional ones, past experiences, and patterns of relating with oneself and the world around. Identifying own needs, values, and aspirations in helpful in finding a life ath that is more aligned with what satisfies and makes happy.

Psychotherapy should be tailored to the individual needs of the patient. The main task of the therapist is understanding. All psychotherapeutic techniques are really a support towards this goal. As every patient is different, one begins in some ways from scratch. Being empathetic, mindful and aware of the other are crucial towards understanding the dynamics, needs, and suffering a patient is experiencing. Understanding can be accomplished in many different ways. Some focus more on the narrative, some on the interaction and communication patterns, others more on behavior patterns, or on past experiences. But all this is just to help the therapist understand in a way, that tools for healing can be applied/

The World is Not Enough

Often in depression there is the sense that nothing is very helpful anymore. One feels alone with a situation where there does not seem to be a way out. One experiences feelings that are unpleasant, as mentioned to the extent of being painful. The internal communication revolves around questions that can lead deeper and deeper into depression. As our mind is programmed to solve problems, it pursues the questions as far as it can. However, if the questions are the wrong ones, this will not lead to a resolution.

Negative Thoughts about Oneself

Depression and risk for depression are characterized by the operation of negative biases, and often by a lack of positive biases, in self-referential processing, interpretation, attention, and memory, as well as the use of maladaptive cognitive emotion regulation strategies. (LeMoult & Gotlib, 2019) Depression is in that sense different from fear or anxiety in that one has negative thoughts about important attributes about oneself, such as personality, resources, strengths and weaknesses. At the same time, it is important to realize that this is I not directly about the innermost core sense of self. It is more about the facilities one has than about the feeling of self. Thus, one approach of the therapy is to connect with oneself on the level of the felling of self, which is below the surface of personality and skills (Haverkampf, 2010b). Straight forward mindfulness exercises in combination with any therapeutic approaches that also pay attention to communication can accomplish this. As the self is one’s perceptions of the internal flows of information (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2018a), the ability to take back a step and observing, while connecting with oneself is a key skill.

Medication

There is little doubt that medication is effective in depression. Increasingly, we also understand why it works, and how. The challenge can sometimes be to select the right antidepressant for a specific patient, but the miss rate usually declines with experience of the therapist. Generally, the side effects are low or non-existent and over a couple of weeks to a few months there is in about seventy percent of cases a marked improved in mood, motivation, focus and the energy to engage in activities. Sleep, appetite and other parameters can improve as well, depending on the medication selected. If a drug does not show an effect, or only an unsatisfactory one, after some time, it is often a good idea to switch the antidepressant, which frequently works.

When it comes to medication, it is important to understand that an antidepressant has usually other effects aside from its effect on mood. This also needs to be fitted to the patient. As mentioned, when psychotherapy was discussed, a depression is not the same for everyone. There are different types and flavours of it, which are unfortunately not capture adequately by the diagnostic systems we have. So, there can be a patient with severe mood lows and paralysis in life with a history of depression in the family, while another patient experiences anxiety and panic attacks with depression in the background after a relationship breakup, and a third one who does not feel that low, but who has severely disturbed sleep, libido and appetite in waves. In all those cases one would diagnose depression, but the treatment could be very different, both on the psychotherapy and the medication side. Understanding the patient, the individual history, the fear, needs, symptoms, aspirations, and more, is important not only to select and plan a course of psychotherapy, but also as regards the medication.

Good communicating is the foundation of good medicating. It not only indispensable in building compliance, but also in selecting the right medication. Too often the profile of a drug does not fit the patient. For example, a patient with insomnia may benefit more from an antidepressant that also has a sleep-inducing effect or another patient with anxiety may find it easier to gradually and slowly titrate up a softer serotonergic antidepressant. Potential or current pregnancy leads to its own unique considerations. Although randomised controlled trials on pregnant women are ethically impossible, we have a lot of data on women who took various antidepressants in pregnancy.

Even with medication one should not lose sight of the overall situation the patient is in, the patient’s past and desired future. The medication needs to fit in. For a patient to whom an active sexual life is a major factor in the level of quality of life, a medication that is very likely to impact libido negatively may be an inferior choice if there are other good alternatives.

Major Depression vs Reactive Depression

A depression, if it is not primarily a reaction to a life event, is called in psychiatry a major depressive disorder (MDD). It is a condition characterized by at least two weeks of low mood that is present across most situations. (APA, 2013) It is often accompanied by low self-esteem, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, low energy, and psychological pain without a clear cause. There may also be false beliefs and – in the more severe cases – acoustic or visual hallucinations. Major depression needs to be differentiated from sadness. Depression often actually means the subjective absence of feelings, such as sadness. Patients often cannot feel themselves anymore as before, which can cause additional anxiety.

Another form is the reactive depression, which occurs as part of several conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These forms of depressions are discussed within the articles on these conditions. The following will focus on the depression, which is not primarily a part of these conditions, the major depression.

Some people have periods of depression separated by years in which they feel normal while others nearly always have symptoms present. The first line of treatment is a combination of psychotherapy and medication. Some common antidepressants are mentioned below. This combination has allowed most patients to live normal lives and in the clear majority leads to a significantly higher quality of life.

Stress

There is growing interest in moving away from unidirectional models of the stress-depression association, toward recognition of the effects of contexts and personal characteristics on the occurrence of stressors, and on the likelihood of progressive and dynamic relationships between stress and depression over time—including effects of childhood and lifetime stress exposure on later reactivity to stress. (Hammen, 2005)

Depression and Health

Major depression significantly affects a person’s family and personal relationships, work or school life, sleeping and eating habits, and general health. Major depressive disorder can negatively affect a person’s family, work or school life, sleeping or eating habits, and general health. Between 2-7% of adults with major depression die by suicide (Richards & O’Hara, 2014) and up to 60% of people who die by suicide had depression or another mood disorder (Lynch & Duval, 2010). But depression has also been linked with several physical health conditions, such as cardiovascular and autoimmune illnesses. These conditions make up a large share of the costs society incurs when depression remains untreated. Depression causes the second most years lived with disability after low back pain. (Vos et al., 2015)

Age

Depression can strike at any age, and the main tools we have, psychotherapy and medication as well as supportive therapies, mostly apply to all ages. However, the psychological issues for the different age groups can seem quite different. What may be an identity crisis in college aged adults can be a deeper crisis for meaning and purpose in the middle-age. The reason why I used the word ‘seems’ is because the underlying motives are not really age specific. Self-connectedness and connectedness with the world run like a thread through all these different manifestations. The identity crisis in young adults and the search for meaning in the middle-aged mean that one’s own basic parameters, the needs, values, and aspirations and information about the world feel insufficient. These feelings are a need for greater internal and external connectedness. It is important to keep in mind, however, that these two themes are just gross oversimplifications to cast the spotlight at the core theme of connectedness.

As mentioned, depression is common in older adults. (Kok & Reynolds, 2017) Efficacious psychotherapies for late-life depression exist, but are underutilized in part because of their complexity (Alexopoulos, 2019). Although antidepressants may effectively treat depression in older adults, they tend to pose greater risk for adverse events because of multiple medical comorbidities and drug-drug interactions in case of polypharmacy (Kok & Reynolds, 2017). They are also rather ineffective in treating depression of demented patients, but long-term use of antidepressants may reduce the risk of dementia. However, confirmation studies are needed. (Alexopoulos, 2019)

Differential Diagnosis

A diagnosis is only a tool in working out a treatment that offers a greater likelihood of success. It is important to keep this in mind because in medicine frequently a diagnosis seems to be an end in itself, but it should not be. Depression, a lowering of various feeling and cognitive states, is something that has been around for a very long time. However, increases in complexity and demands in the world quite often lead from stress and burnout to symptoms of depression. These demands can come from professional, personal and social areas of life.

There are many conditions, somatic, psychiatric or iatrogenic, which can induce symptoms similar to that of a depression. A host of other possibilities should thus be considered, and, if appropriate, be actively searched for. In most instances the situation is quite clear, especially in an outpatient setting, but even here it is advisable to explore alternative explanations aside from depression. At the same time, about 85% of patients with depression have significant anxiety, and 90% of patients with anxiety disorder have depression. (Tiller, 2013) In some cases, a patient may also suffer separately from a depression and another condition. In other cases, the full symptoms of depression occur as part of the condition, such as in a schizoaffective disorder, which combines both, the symptoms of a psychosis and a depression.

One should also not forget that medication can also induce depression-like symptoms, even though they do not match those of depression fully, such as the emotional flattening observed sometimes in several antipsychotics (Haverkampf, 2013b) In any case, a full list of the somatic and psychiatric medication the patient takes should always be scanned for anything that could lead to the symptoms the patient is experiencing.

Computer-Based Treatments

Psychotherapy aims at changing how patients communicate and process information, and the important tool are information and communication. Helpful and meaningful information can be provided in many forms. Some people who suffer from depression, anxiety, or OCD work successfully with self-help books. This is essentially a one-way communication, and the hope is that the information presented changes a perspective, a way of thinking or acting, reflection and insight, and internal and external communication in general.

There are also internet-based treatment applications. While a book cannot provide feedback, a computer-based system can do so to some extent. However, a patient cannot assume or hope that the computer will offer real understanding similar to that of another human being. While programs that mimic therapists have been around for a long time, as one only needs to think of ‘Eliza’ from the late 1970s, they can hold the illusion only for a limited time. ‘Eliza’ was a very short program, by today’s standards, running on 8-bit computers with small memory even for the time, but it was ingenious. It would take sentence fragments and ask the user ‘How do you feel about …?’or ‘Tell me more about …’ and the like. The effect was really striking, which also illustrates how easy it can be to convey psychological support in real life.

A computer-based system also cannot replicate the many information channels that are usually available in human interactions. Still, internet-based systems have shown to be of some use in the treatment of depression. Josephine and colleagues conducted a systematic review of randomized controlled trials investigating internet- and mobile-based interventions targeting adults with diagnosed depression. They found that these interventions significantly reduced depression symptoms in adults with diagnosed depression at the end of treatment and at follow-up assessments when compared to waitlist conditions. (Josephine et al., 2017)

One should also not forget media that show human connection. The stereotypical image of the lovelorn on a couch self-soothing with ice cream and watching a film is not so far from the truth. Self-soothing is often underrated in working with depressed patients, and the movie temples of Hollywood’s golden age, where people could experience connectedness with themselves or others, have become the on-demand streaming services of today. My home is my cinema, where I can be distracted and feel connectedness. Good movies are those where one can feel connectedness between the characters of some kind, whether in the positive or in the negative. In the milder and more moderate forms of depression the withdrawal from others is usually accompanied with a greater need for connectedness. A greater need for connectedness, coupled with the negative thought and feelings about oneself, such as self-criticism, self-blame, and guilt, actually lead to greater withdrawal. The auto regulation seems to malfunction, which can be corrected through psychotherapy, for example. However, in some cases, a change in scenery, such as travelling abroad, or a provocative book brought about the needed change.

Doing things for oneself that make one feel better is vital in depression, because it helps regain a sense of control over the own feeling states. What makes depression worse is the sense of helplessness and powerlessness in ending the state. Often this is what prolongs or maintains it. Children self-sooth autonomously by, for example, using a finger, or by asking a caretake for help in the form of a hug, a pacifier, or something else that aligns with the present needs. In both cases, internal and external communication is important. In the former, it is the internal reading and processing of signals and the self-soothing activity, in the latter communication with the outside world is added. As both, internal and external communication are linked, they reflect each other.

Communication

Since communication is the main instrument we have for diagnosis and treatment, words play an important role. Sigmund Freud highlighted the importance of ‘mistakes’ people make in everyday language that reveal something about unconscious content, and the deeper meaning of jokes people make. The rich symbolism in myths and sacred texts often relies on the subtle meaning of words and word constellations. Depression does not create content, but it has an impact on content and on how content is processed. The shift in focus towards negative thoughts and feelings could have the function of pushing the individual towards the positive, but this becomes more difficult because of the disconnectedness one experiences internally and externally in depression. Thus, meaningful communication and connectedness can help to bridge the depression by enabling the move to the positive.

Communication is also important in identifying the type of depression. Communication patterns give away the fingerprint of the condition (Haverkampf, 2010c, 2013a). However, content can be helpful as well. The words individuals use in their communication can give us an insight into depression. Eichstaedt and colleagues showed in their study that the content shared by users on Facebook could predict a future occurrence of depression in their medical records. Language predictive of depression included references to typical symptoms, including sadness, loneliness, hostility, rumination, and increased self-reference. (Eichstaedt et al., 2018) As the world is becoming technologically more connected, more information is available on what and how one communicates. This could be used for good

Again, understanding and empathy are important in identifying where the depression affects the internal communication flows. Through its impact on information flows and processing a mental health condition can be identified. Depression has effects on the flow of cognitive information associated with thoughts, information associated with feelings, information associated with sensation, and so on. Psychosis, for example, also has distinct effects, one of which is the failure in separating whether a source of information is inside or outside the person. Connectedness is usually a good thing, but this really requires that we are all smart enough to make the most and best of it. This smartness in turn requires connectedness.

Inside-Outside Reflection

The communication patterns in the outside world and those on the inside are closely linked. So, the disconnectedness a patient with depression is experiencing can be felt on the outside and on the inside. Helping the patient to achieve greater connectedness in the outside world can so also transfer to better connectedness on the inside, while helping the patient to better connect with himself or herself also improves the connections the patient has with others. In Communication-Focused Therapy®, for example, awareness, reflection, insight, feedback, and experimenting with communication follows similar rules for the internal dialogues as well as for the outside dialogues (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017b)

Connectedness

The feeling of connectedness with others is a powerful antidote to depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions (Haverkampf, 2020b). Important is that one feels connected in a meaningful way. One could feel lonely in a crowd of people or even when with family and friends. Meaningful connectedness means that one feels understood by others, that communication really works. The human touch is at its most powerful if one is in the presence of people where worlds can connect. A shared history can make connectedness easier in some cases, but by itself it is not enough. Connectedness between individuals requires interest and the effort to try to understand the other. However, it is effort well spent, as connectedness, both internally and externally, can decrease fear and other feelings, that often are at the foundations of the various conditions mentioned.

Why is connectedness so important? When we are connected, we lessen the effect of time and external circumstances. Connectedness happens in the present moment, and the feeling is about the now rather than the past and the future. Also, the more connected we are, the less will be our fears and anxieties. The fear of death is a fear of disconnect, and by feeling connectedness we reduce the sense of disconnect. Depression and anxiety, though in different ways, are also related to the internal sense of connectedness. This does not necessarily require the actual physical proximity of others, but the feeling of being connected into the world. Various mindfulness techniques and approaches that work with feeling at home in the body and in one’s environment can be helpful because they can increase the sense of connectedness.

Social Connectedness

Connectedness is different from mere social support. In a testing model in 272 college students, indirect paths to self–esteem and depression through the mediating variable of social connectedness were more strongly supported than direct pathways from social support or social competence to psychological outcomes. (Williams & Galliher, 2006) However, in a meta-review of fifty-one studies, the strongest and most consistent findings were significant protective effects of perceived emotional support, perceived instrumental support, and large, diverse social networks. Little evidence was found on whether social connectedness is related to depression, as was also the case for negative interactions. (Santini et al., 2015) A secondary analysis of a waitlist-controlled trial with 29 patients was conducted to evaluate treatment response and process of change in social connectedness within a 10-session positive activity intervention protocol—Amplification of Positivity (AMP)—designed to increase positive affect in individuals seeking treatment for anxiety or depression. The AMP group displayed significantly larger improvements in social connectedness from pre- to post-treatment compared to waitlist; improvements were maintained through 6-month follow-up. Within the AMP group, increases in positive affect and decreases in negative affect both uniquely predicted subsequent increases in connectedness throughout treatment. However, experiencing heightened negative affect throughout treatment attenuated the effect of changes in positive affect on connectedness. Improvements in connectedness predicted subsequent increases in positive affect, but not changes in negative affect. (Taylor et al., 2020) A convenience sample of rural residents in a western Colorado county. Self-reported survey data collection with hierarchical multiple regression analyses. The investigators found that the more socially connected a person felt, the better they perceived themselves as physically and mentally healthy. Additionally, the more socially connected the individual felt the less depressive symptoms they reported. Spiritual perspective was not found to correlate significantly with either self-reported depression or perceived health. (Galloway & Henry, 2014)

Social Identification

Cruwys and colleagues ran two studies. In Study 1 (N=52), participants at risk of depression joined a community recreation group; in Study 2 (N=92) adults with diagnosed depression joined a clinical psychotherapy group. In both the studies, social identification predicted recovery from depression after controlling for initial depression severity, frequency of attendance, and group type. In Study 2, benefits of social identification were larger for depression symptoms than for anxiety symptoms or quality of life. (Cruwys et al., 2014)

Depression Treatments and Connectedness

Trials with psylocybin for treatment-resistant depression also support the link between connectedness and depression. It has been argued that connectedness is key in understanding the effectiveness of psychedelic drugs against depression, and there is preliminary evidence to support this. (Carhart-Harris et al., 2018) In a study with twenty patients enrolled in an open-label trial of psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression, it was reported that medications and some short-term talking therapies tended to reinforce their sense of disconnection and avoidance, whereas treatment with psilocybin encouraged connection and acceptance. (Watts et al., 2017)

Adolescents and Young Adults

Much of the data on the association between depression and connectedness comes from school and college settings. Data from Waves I and II of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health)  indicated that higher school connectedness and getting along with teachers were significantly associated with fewer depressive symptoms. (Joyce & Early, 2014) In a study of students at an international university in Japan, a high prevalence of depression was associated with acculturation stress and social connectedness. (Nguyen et al., 2019) In an American study of 248 students aged between 15 and 20 years old showed that family ritual meaning was positively related to social connectedness and negatively related to depression. Social connectedness was negatively associated with anxiety and depression. Family ritual meaning was found to be negatively linked to both depression and anxiety symptoms via social connectedness. (Malaquias et al., 2015) However, recent literature suggests that school connectedness may be a key determinant of adolescent mental health. The relationship between social connectedness and low mood was reduced by the inclusion of self-esteem  and peer attachment style. Peer attachment style was the largest predictor of low mood. (Millings et al., 2012) In a 2001 population-based sample of 4746 students in public schools, adolescents’ perceptions of low parental caring, difficulty talking to their parents about problems, and valuing their friends’ opinions for serious decisions were found to be significantly associated with compromised behavioral and emotional health. Interventions aimed at improving the parent–child relationship may provide an avenue toward preventing health risk behaviors in youth. (Ackard et al., 2006) In a longitudinal study of 142 youth recruited from an emergency department, who screened positive for elevated levels of bullying victimization, prospectively, family and school connectedness were negatively associated with depression and suicidal ideation. Across time points, community connectedness was negatively associated with suicidal ideation. The three subtypes of interpersonal connectedness among victimized youth (family, school, community) were associated with depression and suicidal ideation. (Arango et al., 2019)

Technology and Connectedness

a systematic review of recent research addressing the associations between adolescents’ sense of social connectedness and Internet technology use. Although Internet technology might provide additional opportunities for adolescents to seek emotional connection with friends and school, this study suggests that real-life social skills are still a necessary foundation for them to use technology in a beneficial way. (Wu et al., 2016) Hwang and colleagues investigated whether social connectedness on a support website protects older adults against depressive symptoms over the course of a year, above and beyond the protective effect of offline social connectedness. 197 adults aged 65 years or older. The more messages older adults read on the web-based forum for the first 6 months of the study, the less depressed they felt at the 1-year follow-up, above and beyond the availability of offline support networks at baseline. This pinpoints the substantial potential of web-based communication to combat depressive symptoms in this vulnerable population. (Hwang et al., 2021) Results from a study by Grieve and colleagues suggested that Facebook use may provide the opportunity to develop and maintain social connectedness in the online environment, and that Facebook connectedness is associated with lower depression and anxiety and greater satisfaction with life. Limitations and future directions are considered. It is concluded that Facebook may act as a separate social medium in which to develop and maintain relationships, providing an alternative social outlet associated with a range of positive psychological outcomes. (Grieve et al., 2013) A multidatabase search was performed. Papers published between January 2005 and June 2016 relevant to mental illness (depression and anxiety only) were extracted and reviewed. Results: Positive interactions, social support, and social connectedness on social networking sites (SNSs) were consistently related to lower levels of depression and anxiety, whereas negative interaction and social comparisons on SNSs were related to higher levels of depression and anxiety. SNS use related to less loneliness and greater self-esteem and life satisfaction. Findings were mixed for frequency of SNS use and number of SNS friends. Different patterns in the way individuals with depression and individuals with social anxiety engage with SNSs are beginning to emerge. (Seabrook et al., 2016)

Autonomy and Connectedness

The relationship between autonomy–connectedness, and depression and anxiety was investigated in 94 primary mental health care patients and 95 psychology students. All participants completed the Autonomy–Connectedness Scale–30 (ACS‐30), the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), and the Symptom Checklist–90 (SCL‐90). Results indicated that the primary mental health care group compared with the control group scored lower in Self‐Awareness and Capacity for Managing New Situations, and higher in Sensitivity to Others. Women compared with men had higher levels of self‐reported Sensitivity to Others. Regression analyses showed that both (low) Self‐Awareness and (high) Sensitivity to Others predicted depression, as well as anxiety; also, (low) educational level had predictive value. These results indicate that low autonomy–connectedness might be a risk factor for depression and anxiety. (Bekker & Belt, 2006)

Connectedness and the Elderly

Relationship of loneliness and social connectedness with depression in elderly: A multicentric study under the aegis of Indian Association for Geriatric Mental Health. The study sample comprised 488 elderly patients (age ≥60 years) with depression recruited across 8 centers. About three-fourth of the elderly patients with depression also have associated loneliness. Loneliness is associated with higher severity of depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms. Severity of depression is associated with loneliness but not with social connectedness. Lower social connectedness among elderly females with depression is associated with higher loneliness, but this is not true for elderly males with depression. (Grover et al., 2018)

Connectedness and Groups

In a further study, Kaniuka and colleagues examined depression and anxiety as mediators of the linkage between perceived stigma and suicidal behaviour, and the moderating role of LGBTQ community connectedness. Among their sample of 496 LGBTQ persons, psychopathology mediated the association between perceived stigma and suicidal behaviour. Connectedness moderated the relation between perceived stigma and depression, and between perceived stigma and suicidal behaviour in the anxiety model. (Kaniuka et al., 2019)

Causes of Depression

Its impact on functioning and well-being has been compared to that of other chronic medical conditions such as diabetes. The biopsychosocial model proposes that biological, psychological, and social factors all play a role in causing depression. The cause is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. (APA, 2013) Risk factors include a family history of the condition, major life changes, certain medications, chronic health problems, and substance abuse. (APA, 2013) About 40% of the risk appears to be related to genetic variations.

Lifetime rates are higher in the developed world compared to the developing world. Maybe a heightened stress level in a more complex living and working environment contributes to that, but it may also be a lower rate of diagnosing this condition in the developing world.

The Monoamine Hypothesis

The monoamine hypothesis has been partially questioned, but it is still the leading, and also most coherent, hypothesis there is in providing a biological explanation for depression, as well as some anxiety disorders. Over time, its emphasis on particular neurotransmitters has shifted to a limited extent, while the focus on the neurotransmitter serotonin has endured. The monoamines are serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. The antidepressants act on the neurotransmitter levels or on the receptors.

Serotonin is hypothesized to regulate other neurotransmitter systems; decreased serotonin activity may allow these systems to act differently and become less stable. According to this hypothesis, depression arises when low serotonin levels promote low levels of norepinephrine, another monoamine neurotransmitter. Some antidepressants enhance the levels of norepinephrine directly, whereas others raise the levels of dopamine, a third monoamine neurotransmitter. These observations gave rise to the monoamine hypothesis of depression.

In its contemporary formulation, the monoamine hypothesis postulates that a deficiency of certain neurotransmitters is responsible for the corresponding features of depression. The main effect is, however, believed to be due to changes in the receptor densities on the cell membrane rather than the changes in the neurotransmitter levels. This also explains why antidepressants can take a few weeks to work. This may be the time needed by the cell to change the receptor density and patterns in the cell membrane through recycling and protein synthesis.

Communication Factors

Humans are constantly in a web of relations with other people. External communication from birth and even before influences how information is processed in the brain and how an individual communicates and interacts with others. The individual learns certain communication strategies and patterns that are shaped over time in response to the environment, internal communication and the biology underlying the neuronal network.

As children we pick up communication patterns from our parents or other important people in our lives which can then be internalized and also influence how we communicate with ourselves internally. And this process continues throughout or life, practically with every interaction we have with others. Our awareness of the flows of internal information then give rise to the sense of self.

Trauma committed by people can have such a devastating effect on individuals because of the communication it contains. Being exposed to someone who communicates that they negate our worth as a human being, our autonomy and integrity, traumatises and hurts us deeply. There need not be physical scars in a somatic medical sense. Our mind and our body form a union, however, and harm to one also harms the other. The body is the means that we can communicate with ourselves and others, while the mind connects us mentally with others. If that delicate fabric of connectedness between ourselves and others is torn or ruptured, we lose some of the safety and security it gives us. Trauma can be healed when we understand that its nature is in the communication that cause it. Awareness, insight, adapting communication patterns and learning new ones, as well as feedback are helpful in overcoming trauma (Haverkampf, 2016, 2020a) as they are in recuperating from depression.

Symptoms

A person having a major depressive episode usually exhibits a very low mood, which pervades all aspects of life, and anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure in activities that were formerly enjoyed. Depressed people may be preoccupied with, or ruminate over, thoughts and feelings of worthlessness, inappropriate guilt or regret, helplessness, hopelessness, and self-hatred.

Changes in the communication with oneself and others changes when an individual is depressed. This is a consequence of the symptoms of depression but often works also to deepen and prolong the condition. Loss of interest in things that were once enjoyable, seeing less meaning in activities and events and withdrawal from the world, and to an extent from oneself, are often the result and may worsen the depression, while more communication with oneself and others can help to reverse the depression.

In severe cases, depressed people may have symptoms of psychosis. These symptoms include delusions or, less commonly, hallucinations, usually with negative and unpleasant content. A good indication that a psychotic symptom is maintained by a mood disorder is that the value of the content of any delusions or hallucinations is consistently in the direction of the mood disorders, such as negative content in a depression or alternating positive and negative content in bipolar disorder.

Other symptoms of depression, which are commonly observed, include

  • poor concentration and memory
  • withdrawal from social situations and activities
  • reduced sex drive, irritability,
  • insomnia
  • and thoughts of death or suicide (which requires immediate professional help).

Insomnia is a common symptom. In the typical pattern, a person wakes very early and cannot get back to sleep. Hypersomnia, or oversleeping, can also happen. In an atypical form of depression, it is even possible that a patient experiences primarily insomnia, loss of concentration and poor memory retrieval, without a clear lowering in mood.

Physical Symptoms

The physical symptoms of a depression are often underestimated. A depressed person may report multiple physical symptoms such as

  • fatigue
  • headaches, or
  • digestive problems.

Appetite often decreases, with resulting weight loss, although increased appetite and weight gain occasionally occur. Family and friends may notice that the person’s behaviour is either agitated or lethargic.

Treatment

The two types of treatment, for which there exists broad empirical and conceptual support, are medication and psychotherapy. Generally, the best approach is to use both together. However, in very severe cases of depression only medication may be feasible, while in cases of mild depression psychotherapy may be sufficient.

Medication

There are various groups of antidepressants, often with regards to their function on neurotransmitters and neuroreceptors. The selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs) are the ones most commonly used. They can also help against anxiety and panic attacks, as well as various other symptoms and conditions, such as emotional instability and eating disorder. Examples are escitalopram (Lexapro®) and sertraline (Zoloft®). The serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors can also help against anxiety, but may be more activating, which can lead to increased nervousness and anxiety in the beginning. The best way to reduce an increase in anxiety in the first days, which can happen with most antidepressants, is to start the medication at a very low level and increase it in small increments in patients with anxiety, especially if there are also panic attacks.

Psychotherapy

As already mentioned, there are various brands of psychotherapy which are designed to help in the long run. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), as well as Gestalt therapy and others, are also focused at the short-term, while psychodynamic psychotherapy aims at a more permanent resolution of the depression in the long-run. (Haverkampf, 2017a) Communication-focused therapy (CFT), which was developed by the author to more closely work with the mechanism that underlies many forms of psychotherapy, communication. (Haverkampf, 2017f)

Psychotherapy should be targeted at the long-run. Short fixes for depression often do not work, and only in the short run. The reason is that a patient’s interaction patterns with herself and the environment often need to change, which requires some time. Good communication helps against a depression, but it often requires a change in perspective, as well as awareness and reflection, which ensures an enduring effect but requires time.

There is a significant amount of research which shows that the effect of psychotherapy may to a large extent be due to the personality and communication approach of the therapist, and there is a debate to what extent the specific viewpoint of a school of psychotherapy plays an actual role in the outcome of psychotherapy. This is one reason why communication-focused therapy (CFT) puts an emphasis on the communication patterns and dynamics that unfold, and are induced to unfold, in a psychotherapeutic session.

For any form of psychotherapy to work, it has to lead to some form of change. To achieve a lasting adaptive and helpful change, it has to come from the patient himself or herself, because if the change is not in sync with the patient’s basic parameters, any change will over time revert back, either to the state before the therapy or a state that is somewhere half-way between the pre-existing one and the desired state. If change is lasting nevertheless, it is often due to factors outside a manualized and structured therapy. One explanation could be that even a manualized approach contains elements that may help the patient to develop in a direction that correlates with the patient’s basic needs and aspirations on some level.

Separating Thoughts from Emotions

In many schools of psychotherapy there is unfortunately an almost complete separation between thoughts and emotions. However, from a communication perspective they both are signals, containing information. When a thought triggers and emotion, or an emotion leads to certain thoughts, it is in both cases some meaningful information which leads to new sets of information. This is also useful in the therapy, because communication patterns that apply to one kind of information also apply to the other.

The uncrossable dividing line between thoughts and emotions has largely contributed to a situation where we understand neither. We could arbitrarily categorise information, but it still does not bring us closer to understanding the dynamics in which the information, or the categories of information, flow. For example, a question as one of the most powerful communication tools can elicit an emotional signal in a person without a cognitive thought, because it is information which can under certain circumstances be retrieved directly.

Regarding both, emotions and thoughts, as bundles of information does not reduce their individual qualities, but these qualities are part of the information that makes up the thought or emotion. Whether a message is emotional or cognitive cannot be extrinsic to it. However, where a piece of information flows is in a sense intrinsic to it. Thus, the thought of pain and the feeling of pain can be quite similar in information content, but where the information flows in the neural network, and in what way, may be vastly different.

Body Work

Focusing on the mind often neglects the wider dimensions of the body. In a study with a group of women with major depressive disorder, experiences of yoga were that it served as a self-care technique for the stress and ruminative aspects of depression and that it served as a relational technique, facilitating connectedness and shared experiences in a safe environment. (Kinser et al., 2013)

Communication-Focused Therapy®

Communication-Focused Therapy (CFT) was developed by the author to focus more specifically on the communication process between patient and therapist. (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017b, 2017f, 2018b) The central piece is that the sending and receiving of meaningful messages is at the heart of any change process. Communication processes are at the same time the instruments of change and their target. Any therapy needs to lead to change in some form. (Haverkampf, 2010b)

register them as emotions; thus, severely depressed patients are as in-capable of experiencing sadness as of feeling joy. Their feelings are diffuse, are not registered as emotions, and are not properly identified. (Bucci & Freedman, 1981)

Change

Change can include changes in acceptance levels, new insights, learning processes and more. All these aspects are determined by communication processes and some are communication processes themselves. For the acceptance of a certain situation or emotion, for example, with the aim of reducing conflicting emotions and anxiety, one needs to learn about the situation or emotions and identify them and then put them into context with information from memory and use internal and external communication flows to reflect on them.

There are various factors that may stand in the way. If fear inhibits the information retrieval from memory this will not fully work. However, this fear is again a signal, information that is transferred from one point to another and triggers certain information processing patterns. If these patterns are not helpful in supporting the larger goals of need fulfilment with respect to the internal and external world, they can lead into such stationary and change inhibiting dynamics as indefinite loops, or vicious cycles, in which a fear signal just leads to another fear signal, rather than inducing change. These dynamics include

  • looping of information
  • disconnects
  • misdirected information

and many others. They are a consequence of inhibited change. To break out of these communication predicaments, changes in communication patterns are needed that compensate, interrupt, reconnect, or act in another positive way.

Michael feels a lump in his throat. His therapist looks at his with an encouraging trace of a benevolent smile. Michael is not helped much by it, he feels under even more pressure. The therapist than finally asks a question, while Michael is about to despair. “Described the lump.” At first Michael does not know what to do with this question. However, he begins describing the lump and develops increasing investigatory spirit in doing so. After he has been talking for a little while, Michael discovers that his narrative has actually shifted to talking about his feelings …

CFT aims, among other things, at reducing the fear of information retained in memory or communicated from others. This requires more meaningful information rather than less which can be communicated more freely as the fears or other inhibiting factors decrease. The freer and more open the communication processes become, the easier it is for autoregulatory processes to counter unhelpful diversions from health affect states. However, this requires insight, reflection and experimentation in therapy.

The goal is thus not to simply provide information, to communicate information from one point to another, but to understand the flows of information, to better use communication patterns and to recognise if something is not working. The objective is really to understand flows of information rather than to get caught in a specific content. Since change comes from the detection, decoding and processing of meaning in a message, a patient suffering from depression, and several other mental health conditions, will see a decline in symptoms over the time, the better he or she becomes in spotting meaning.

Many popular forms of psychotherapy, such as Cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT), psychodynamic psychotherapy and Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) define a format in which communication patterns take place that can bring about change. However, they do not address and work with the communication processes directly. In psychodynamic psychotherapy, communication constructs like transference and counter-transference have been formulated, which focuses on the outcome of communication processes. CFT in contrast attempts to focus on the process itself.

CFT attempts to analyse how information is exchanged, the various channels involved and how meaning is generated. Messages do not have to be contained in words, they can also be transmitted by facial gestures or any behaviour of the send. To contain meaning they have to be relevant to the recipient and have the potential to bring about a change in the recipient.

Analysing Communication Patterns

The first important step in therapy is to create awareness for communication in general. Humans are sending and receiving countless of messages every minute, and most of this runs automatically. However, for messages that can be processed by higher brain functions, whether from internal and external sources, there is the option to make these communication processes conscious. Particularly in interactions with other living organisms, particularly humans, communication patterns have evolved that facilitate the exchange of meaningful information between one brain and another. While most of this communication is outside consciousness, there are processes that let some of it pass the filter and bring it into consciousness. Creating greater awareness means putting the focus on these flows of information by observing the observable. For example, if a patient focuses just on her right hand, for example, while she is talking or on the timber in her voice, this creates awareness for a small aspect of the information in her interaction with another. Becoming aware of a thought that is repeatedly coming back and is followed by a feeling of anxiety may lead to the observance of internal communication flows. While the majority of the information exchange in the human body, particularly on a cellular body, is not accessible to conscious awareness, the aggregate result is.

Paul is at home alone. It is close to midnight, he feels low and cannot sleep. He does not really know why. The day has been good overall, but sporadically a melancholic feeling strikes, as if out of nowhere. He looks at the clock in the living room, as the hands seem to stand still. Everything is still. It has been an intense week, and it is maybe the first time when everything seems to quiet down. In this stillness, he notices something new, a tension he cannot put his finger on. It seems as if from nowhere and he cannot identify it.

Rather than thinking about, he just sits there, experiences, is open and curious. The point of tensions takes on more detail, and he feels he can make out some context, bits of emotions and thoughts, faint signals that are becoming more defined. While he is curious about what they may grow into and become, he enjoys the changes that are taking place before his inner eye …

The Process

The emotional signals contained in a message are important because own emotions one becomes aware of can contain a lot of information. The brain uses a lot of information to form an emotion. To yield an emotion of sadness requires not only the information that a relationship has ended, but also the information about the relationship itself and potentially the relationships before, including information from interactions with one’s parents, and so forth. In a therapeutic setting, all this information can be helpful to adapt strategies, or to design new ones, and help the patient to integrate all this information into his or her life.

The communication between therapist and patient gives clues about thought patterns and beliefs, which affect how messages from others are interpreted and how own messages are assembled and communicated. It also helps to get an idea for how a patient constructs meaning. What someone sees as meaningful and relevant is largely determined by own needs and wants, but also past experiences. When the patient begins to form new communication patterns or adapts old ones, it is helpful to help in identifying patterns that have worked well for him or her in the past. Sometimes new ones have to be constructed from scratch, if a patient has been socially isolated for a while, for example. It is then useful to rely more on the therapeutic interaction as a model to train new communication patterns. In some patients who have suffered from depression for a long time with social isolation this may be necessary, but also important to maintain the patient’s motivation for the therapeutic work.

The importance of awareness is that it gives the patient a greater sense of hope and control when the depression causes hopelessness and despair. The journey patient and therapist take together in exploring and experimenting with communication in itself has a major antidepressant effect. It requires openness and insight which cannot be manualized. Communication has, however, universal rules which can be understood and worked with.

Communication Patterns and Structures

Communication patterns are basic units of communication dynamics which make spontaneous communication in everyday situations possible. A certain form of question may be such a communication pattern, which humans use instinctively without further thinking about the pattern they are using. Some basic communication patterns may be hardwired, but many are also learned. Since they all have to adhere to basic laws of information exchange, the patterns themselves adhere to certain rules. The author has focused more specifically on the origin and nature of communication patterns elsewhere. (Haverkampf, 2018c)

An awareness of communication structures and patterns begins with an inventory of what is there. An analysis reveals the constructivist nature of conversation, how the therapist uses rhetorical devices in an interactive manner to pursue his therapeutic agenda and how the dialogue is a systemic process. However, it goes deeper as the same laws of communication do not only apply in the external world but also in the inner realms of a person. This makes communication less constructivist, but as natural processes that follow universal laws.

Humans interact on millions of communication channels at one point in time. Cells have their communication channels, and every information coming into the system and leaving it uses communication patterns. Communication has certain rules, and in a context communication patterns emerge that help the organism survive, evolve and prosper. A language can be seen as sets of symbols and signals that are used within communication patterns. We all communicate in patterns because they make communication more efficient within a given context, However, people spend little time observing and reflecting on their communication patterns on the inside and in the external world.

Two cardinal symptoms of depression are ruminations and selecting negative information. Many therapeutic approaches focus on the negative, for example, and try to unlearn them. This may work in the short-term but often fails in the long-term if the communication patterns with oneself and the world do not change. An external pattern may be how one could ask for information that could dispel the negative thoughts or an internal testing of the information. All these are modifications in external and internal communication patterns because they change which and how information is sent, how it is received and how meaning is extracted from it. All these steps can either be adaptive or maladaptive. Depression comes with maladaptive communication patterns which then cause even more maladaptive communication patterns. The way out is to create awareness for, reflect and experiment with these communication patterns, at first in a therapeutic setting and then in the real world.

Passive social media use (PSMU)—for example, scrolling through social media news feeds—has been associated with depression symptoms. More time spent on PSMU was associated with higher levels of interest loss, concentration problems, fatigue, and loneliness. (b) Fatigue and loneliness predicted PSMU across time, but PSMU predicted neither depression symptoms nor stress. (Aalbers et al., 2019)

Facebook depression is defined as feeling depressed upon too much exposure to Social networking sites (SNS). Researchers have argued that upward social comparisons made on SNS are the key to the Facebook depression phenomenon. Our literature search yielded 33 articles with a sample of 15,881 for time spent on SNS, 12 articles with a sample of 8041 for SNS checking frequency, and 5 articles with a sample of 1715 and 2298 for the general and the upward social comparison analyses, respectively. In both SNS-usage analyses, greater time spent on SNS and frequency of checking SNS were associated with higher levels of depression with a small effect size. Further, higher levels of depression were associated with greater general social comparisons on SNS with a small to medium effect, and greater upward social comparisons on SNS with a medium effect. Both social comparisons on SNS were more strongly related to depression than was time spent on SNS. (Yoon et al., 2019)

A search of PsycINFO, Medline, Embase, CINAHL and SSCI databases reaped 13 eligible studies, of which 12 were cross-sectional. Findings were classified into four domains of social media: time spent, activity, investment and addiction. All domains correlated with depression, anxiety and psychological distress. However, there are considerable caveats due to methodological limitations of cross-sectional design, sampling and measures. Mechanisms of the putative effects of social media on mental health should be explored further through qualitative enquiry and longitudinal cohort studies. (Keles et al., 2020)

There are growing concerns about the impact of digital technologies on children’s emotional well-being, particularly regarding fear, anxiety, and depression. A growing body of research confirms the relationship between digital media and depression. Although there is evidence that greater electronic media use is associated with depressive symptoms, there is also evidence that the social nature of digital communication may be harnessed in some situations to improve mood and to promote health-enhancing strategies. Much more research is needed to explore these possibilities. (Hoge et al., 2017)

Transfer

Considerations of psychopathology and a greater understanding of child and developmental psychology provide a greater insight into the question how depression may be transferred from mother to child, for example. (Goodman, 2020) From a communication perspective this is easily understandable. The child’s first experiences of the world internally and externally is shaped through the communication with others, mainly the primary caretakers. Depressed parents have been found to interact with their children differently, in ways that affect child development. Depressed mothers have been found in some studies to use less emotion and expressivity in their language with their babies. Non-verbal communication is especially important at an early age, and depressed mothers tend to make less eye contact. Through withdrawal, depression can also lead to a wider social disconnect, which can then affect both, the mother and the child.

Meaning

Individuals suffering from depression often see less meaning in the things they do. In therapy an important part is to rediscover meaning and find it in the things that are relevant to the patient. Relevant is anything that is close to his or her values, basic interests, aspirations, wants, wishes and desires.

Information that contains meaning has the potential to bring about a change. This means it that it has to contain something that is not entirely predictable. If we were fully certain of that piece of information, it could not lead to change. Thus, any therapy that does not work with meaning and meaningful information must be quite useless and ineffective. Even a highly manualized and structured therapy contains some novel information, which can be relevant and meaningful to the patient. In fact, practically all interactions with other people contain some elements of novelty, relevance and meaning. If communication is all pervasive, chances are high that there will also be some meaningful communication.

By focusing more specifically on the communication process, it is possible to increase the density of helpful change, and thus to make therapy more effective. A positive effect is also that as the patient experiences the relevance and practical workings of the therapeutic process, motivation and optimism about the positive outcomes of therapy increase. These effects come through connectedness, but also increase connectedness in the future.

Meaning is here used in the sense of understanding the information behind information, its symbolic content. For example, even the simple sentence “How are you?” can have a broad range of meanings from “Hi!” to “Are you feeling better?” Our thoughts and feelings affect how we decode meaning. They affect the questions we ask about another’s comment and the context in which we understand it. This applies to our own internal communications, and external ones. Learning communication in different contexts is like learning foreign languages.

Important is also how we interpret our own thoughts, the meaning we give to them and to our feelings. How we interpret our own thoughts, the internal communication in general, influences how we see ourselves. Thus, by changing our internal communication strategies we can also affect how we feel about ourselves. Primarily cognitive and psychodynamic psychotherapies offer many strategies in this area, while the former tends to be more manualized and the latter organically growing out of the psychotherapeutic work.

From Meaning to Meaningfulness

To be able to help patients with depression it is important to understand the road from meaning to meaningfulness. While meaning is relevant content, meaningfulness is a measure of how much relevant content one sees in something. At the same time, meaningfulness can be a feeling, which imputes relevance to something, a relevance, which, as has been described above, contains hope for some change in emotional, cognitive or other state or process. The importance in getting patients to see more meaningfulness has been borne out in many studies. Carstens and colleagues, for example, administered in their study the Sense of Coherence scale and the Beck Depression Inventory to fifty patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder and to fifty control subjects. Significant negative correlations were found between scores on Depression and total scores on the Sense of Coherence scale as well as all three of its subscales (Comprehensibility, Manageability, and Meaningfulness). A significant positive correlation was found between scores on the Sense of Coherence scale and age. Of the three subscales, a low score on Meaningfulness was the best predictor of scores on Depression. (Carstens & Spangenberg, 1997)

How do we achieve the perception of more meaningfulness? That is linked to the ‘demands’ of our basic parameters, our needs, values, and aspirations. Identifying them through information we already have about ourselves from the past, in terms of situations that were fulfilling or unfulfilling, and through observation and reflection on our communication patterns can make it easier for us to find what is meaningful to us. Once things that are meaningful are identified, one not only gravitates more towards those things, but can also seem more of them in present activities and situations.

As an example, consider a social get together, a party, where people stand around and talk to each other.

Last year, Randy felt uncomfortable at Bob’s birthday party, particularly on a day where he does not feel his best. Bob always invites lots of people Randy does not know. He would stand there and do his best to mingle. Was that not the point of it to mingle? But Randy was not entirely sure what he was doing at the party? Yes, sure, he wanted to have a good time, had to have a good time, but it would be over after a couple of hours anyway, and then he would be by himself again.

Since last year, Randy had looked into Communication-Focused Therapy and several other therapeutic approaches, which seemed to help people. He also worked with a therapist. He found out that he likes being with people and is interested in them at a deeper level, rather than just pleasantries. He probably had learned at home not to look into things too deeply. Don’t scratch the surface. But that did not lead to very fulfilling relationships.

This year, Randy is at Bob’s birthday party again. He walked into the main room. He sees a woman looking at a photograph hanging at the wall. Since last year he has discovered his interest in other people’s lives, their perspectives and insights. He walks over to her and talks about the photograph, and asks what she thinks about it? How she feels about it? An hour later they were talking again about things that were important to them. This was a new experience for Randy.

What this everyday occurrence illustrates, that if one zooms in on the meaningful, such as talking with another human being about what they find important, it is less likely to get caught in the meaningless, small talk for the sake of small talk. While small talk fills an important role in building relationships, one needs to see it only as a transition phase, in which the focus should already be on the next phase in relationship building. Far too many people, particularly those with social anxiety or depression, stay in the small talk for its own purpose state. One reason may be, what we already discussed under the topic of connectedness, the longing for connectedness and, at the same time, the apprehensiveness about it. Ways to see more meaningfulness are powerful antidotes to this dilemma.

Meaningfulness is frequently something that is seen within the context of one’s life story, or part of the life story. However, it should not be dependent on the story, because the story in turn depends again on the individual needs, values, and aspirations, the basic parameters of the person. On the other hand, a story is a frame for communication that takes place within it. At the same time, the communication dynamics that develop within a story are meant to get the person closer to the fulfilment of the individual needs, values, and aspirations. Thus, identifying the latter can help to construct a story, in which more meaningfulness can be found. It is in the story where past present and future can come together and support one in the creation of more meaning and more meaningfulness. Stories, as long as they are flexible and align with oneself, can also speed up the decoding process of messages and facilitate communication.

Motivation

Decreased motivation is a central symptom of depression which often makes therapy more difficult. It is no different in a communication focused approach. Experiencing what is possible in therapy can raise motivation significantly, but this requires at least some motivation to begin a therapy and makes it through the early stages. A communication focused approach may have the advantage here that it has material to work with from the time the therapist opens the door and makes eye contact with the patient. Another advantage on the motivational side is that a communication focused approach places emphasis on the interaction between patient and therapist, and thus the relationship, which helps to motivate the patient to wait and see what the therapy has to offer.

Motivation often comes when one has already started on a task. This is even more true in depression. Once one is engaged in a task, the depression tends to become less of an issue. The thoughts and feelings we build up before engaging in a task can be coloured significantly by mood and other factors, so that depression can influence the motivation and initiative to begin on a task quite directly. Here it is again to zoom in on what is really important to oneself, and also to see the communication aspects when one engages in a task. Any task is an interaction with the environment and with oneself, and as we already discussed, our communication or interaction patterns with the environment shape the enjoyment and satisfaction we derive from it. One valuable task in therapy is to look at, reflect, and experiment with these patterns.

Interacting with the World

At the core of Communication-Focused Therapy® is interaction. Interacting with the world is an important pillar in moving away from depression. Anything that helps to interact with the world in a meaningful way can help to overcome negative thoughts, feelings, and ruminations, as well as to find energy, initiative and motivation again. But how to get back into the world if one cannot find the energy and initiative to do so, and the world seems bleak?

As already mentioned, an important part in reintegrating in the world is just to do things. Action. However, it is not mindless action we are looking for, but mindful action; the kind that gives one the feeling of progressing rather than regressing. The first steps are often the most difficult steps, and anything that helps us to get moving is usually leading one in the right direction. Important from a Communication-Focused Therapy® perspective is to examine the pattern one usually used to interact with the world and to see where changes can be helpful. One often also needs to develop new ones, either in combination with old ones or by themselves. Through experimentation one can then adjust them so that they fit and are effective in getting one’s needs, values, and aspirations met in the world.

Powerlessness

The feeling of powerlessness is one of the hallmark features of depression, which often leads into a vicious cycle, which further paralyses the patient. This powerlessness often goes hand in hand with a sense of disconnectedness. After all, communication is how we can exert power by changing our environment and ourselves. As depression inhibits meaningful communication, the latter can help overcome the sense of powerlessness.

Particularly problematic can also be the feedback a depressed person receives from others, which can maintain the depression. Coyne tested the hypotheses that (a) normal Ss respond differentially to the behavior of depressed patients, (b) this differential response is due to the fact that the target individuals are depressed, and not that they are patients, and (c) this pattern can be related to the symptomatology of depression. Each of 45 normal female undergraduates conversed on the telephone with either a depressed patient ( n = 15), a nondepressed patient ( n = 15), or a normal control ( n = 15). It was found that following the phone conversation, Ss who had spoken to depressed patients were themselves significantly more depressed, anxious, hostile, and rejecting. Measures of activity, approval responses, hope statements, and genuineness did not distinguish between S groups or between target groups, but important differences were found in the Ss’ perception of the patients. It was proposed that environmental response may play an important role in the maintenance of depressed behavior. Furthermore, special skills may be required of the depressed person to cope with the environment his behavior creates. (Coyne, 1976)

Insight into Communication

In many instances, reflecting on one’s communication patterns and strategies with oneself and others in concrete situations leads to insight about them. This is quite practical in nature. Observing communication patterns and trying out new ones is an important part of therapy. Since communication has different components one can focus on its components:

Person A

  • Selecting information for a message (e.g. I am not OK with our weekend plans because I rather stay in the city; I need to communicate this to my partner)
  • Encoding the information in a message (I will say it to him verbally; I want to be clear but cautious because we had a fight yesterday and he is feeling low today)
  • Sending the message through a communication channel (using the speech system to say the words)

Person B

  • Receiving the message through a communication channel (using the auditory system)
  • Decoding the message into information (my partner is unhappy)
  • Processing the information further (is she unhappy with me? I better don’t go there.)

It is obvious from this example that communication has failed, as the feeling “I rather stay in the city” gets converted into “is she unhappy with me?” Some vital information is not transmitted even though both individuals have the capability to communicate anything they want. It is not difficult to imagine that person A could be an anxious person and person B a depressed person. The communication patterns they use may have served some function in the past, as they both seem to be protecting themselves from some negative emotional consequence. However, in the present they do not promote a more optimal outcome, which could take into account both their needs, values and aspirations. On the other hand, it is also easy to see how awareness, reflection and experimentation with new communication patterns can resolve the problem, reduce the anxiety in A and lift the mood of B. That is what a communication-oriented therapy should do.

Maladaptive communication pattern can lead to the perception of more negative consequences and less meaning in the world. The former can be a filtering and interpretation deficit, the second often follows the first in the form of a disconnect or disengagement from the world. Insight does not have to lead to a change of current communication patterns, but in many cases also the development of new ones. In practice, this may also include considering situations which can facilitate better communication patterns, as the communication patterns one uses also depends on the communication patterns of the people one interacts with. This is also the basic dynamic when an individual is constantly exposed to other people who are stressed, anxious or depressed. Especially in infants and children who are still in the process of acquiring and forming communication patterns, an anxious parent, for example, can pass on some of the maladaptive communication patterns to the child. Depending on any helpful communication patterns already in memory and the effectiveness of autoregulatory processes, the child may adopt less of the maladaptive communication patterns than it might otherwise.

Observing and insight into internal and external communication patterns are both important. An individual suffering from depression is less likely to see messages as relevant and meaningful if the communication patterns that make up the feeling of being oneself have been compromised. The feeling of being oneself is itself the own observation of internal flows of information or communication. There is thus a strong link between internal and external communication patterns, which also explains how individuals can spiral into a vicious cycle of depression where engaging with the world can make the internal sense of dread and depression even greater, and vice versa. For example, a depressed person who pushes himself or herself to be more outgoing in a social situation often feels worse in the end.

Building the Sense of Self

Seeing relevance in a message requires knowing what one needs, wants, as well as one’s values and aspirations. In short, it means knowing some basic parameters about oneself. When the self becomes more meaningful, the motivation and desires to learn or try out something new, including therapy, increase. To give the sense of self texture requires awareness and identification of the own needs, values and aspiration, thereby attaching more subjectively perceived value to it.

The sense of self is awareness of certain communication flows in one’s own body. These information flows can be sensory, emotional or other signals from cognitive processes or from memory. This is the reason why internal and external communication patterns play such an important role for the sense of self because they influence these information flows. If a patient uses an external communication pattern which interferes with social exchanges, the information flow from the outside world in this respect will be reduced which has as effect on the sense of self. Thus, exposure to meaningful communication and improvements in communication can be very effective in treating the symptoms of depression. Negative perceptions of oneself are reduced and the interactions with the environment improve, which in itself has an antidepressant effect. As the moods lift concentration, focus and memory problems tend to decrease because things feel more relevant consciously and subconsciously.

Resonance

Resonance is when new information becomes meaningful because of the information the other person possesses, whether consciously or subconsciously. The interaction between therapist and patient is meaningful to the patient if what is happening resonates with the values, basic interests or aspirations of the patient. This also means that the therapist, consciously or subconsciously, needs to have a good sense of the patient’s values, interests and aspirations, of what is relevant to the patient, which can also show in the symptoms and the situations in which the symptoms are triggered.

In therapy, patient and therapist look for resonance because it is necessary for the communication of meaning, which brings about a change in the patient. Often resonance can only be guessed by either patient or therapist, and it takes some amount of communication to find resonance. A good starting point is listening to what the patient is saying and otherwise communicating, since it reflects the information the patient already has, and which represents the foundation for resonance.

Depression makes the own information, particularly the emotional information less accessible, which can also lower resonance. However, while in most depressed patients resonance may become narrower, it does not cease to exist. Reflecting with a patient on everyday activities can help to find spots of resonance. If the therapist then uses an inquisitive and interested communication pattern to get information on what about this activity is valued, needed or aspired to by the patient, the patient’s internalization of this pattern can help to form more adaptive communication patterns which can help against and prevent a depression.

Relevance

Depression makes everything seem less relevant as it reduces the spectrum of information that is available, including emotional signals. Less available information leads to less resonance, and thus less meaning which is extracted from messages form internal and external sources as well as less openness to new messages. Looking at a tree may, for example, not be as enjoyable anymore. The visual information about the tree still arrives in the brain as it always did, but the information stored in memory about the good feelings associated with a tree is tuned down. The actual tress has not changed, but it has become less relevant to the person.

Less relevance also means less focus, which could support an evolutionary explanation of depression. In times of stress, it can be helpful if one sees less relevance in the situation and withdraws. However, this may not feasible in the world we live in today. One cannot just leave one’s job form one day to the next. Rather, a common response to stress is often to work even harder, which can the lead into burnout.

Relevance is a connection one has with things, people and situations. If something is relevant to what one needs, wants, values or aspires to, one is more likely to be open to information associated with it. If one values being in a relationship, for example, one is more likely to be receptive to messages from a partner, if they are seen as relevant to the maintenance of the relationship. Although, one may not have enough information to judge what is relevant, and therefore focus on the wrong messages, or one may not understand a message. All this can be remedied with better communication patterns which lead to better information, and exposure to meaningful communication.

Changing a situation or one’s perception of it requires taking stock of one’s needs, wants, values and aspirations and then to make a change. If one is working in a job which does not seem relevant to oneself, an option, aside from quitting and finding another one, is to assess if a change in the work or one’s perspective of it is possible that could align it more closely with one’s needs and wants. This can be worked out in therapy. But whatever action one takes, just the doing it already helps against depression.

In therapy, rebuilding relevance through new communication patterns which bring a different focus and more useful information changes how the own person and the world are seen. It also puts the focus on better sources of meaningful messages. For example, if a patient gains the insight that he values staying in touch with a particular group of friends because they share his interests, he is more likely not to decline a lunch invitation by someone who is a part of that group. At lunch, this friend may tell him then what the other members of the group have been up to, which may help the patient with his own career choices as he shares their interests. Raising the level of resonance, and thereby the relevance one sees in oneself, others, activities, things and so on, is very effective in the treatment of depression and other mental health conditions because it lets through more and better information to make better decisions and raises the mood as the world as a whole seems more meaningful now.

Communication Exchange

Meaning is built within the communication processes in the therapy. The interaction between two minds can give rise to a dynamic, which carries the flow of meaningful messages and brings the process forward. Motivation for the process is usually maintained if the messages feel relevant and meaningful to the patient in the present. If emotions or thoughts about the past are brought to the centre of attention, they are important to the extent that they are still relevant in the present. This relevance depends on the emotions they can induce in the moment.

The exchange of messages can be influenced by both partners to the interaction. The depression can be felt by both, since it interferes with the construction and free flow of messages. As long as the therapist is open and receptive to the patient’s messages and tries to understand the communication dynamics and the patient sees the process as relevant, it can move forward. Since the patient and therapist have different neuronal networks and past communication (life) experiences they can induce change in each other through the communication of meaningful messages.

Experimentation

Experimenting with communication patterns is a central element of Communication-Focused Therapy®, which is shared by therapist and patient. As a therapist, one has to continually find new ways of doing things, mostly quite spontaneously in the situation. This is where creativity is an important skill of the therapist. At the same time, the patient needs to learn to also experiment with different ways of doing things, particularly in communicating and interacting with themselves and the world around them. Depression, anxiety, OCD, fears, psychosis, and many other conditions, lead to a narrowing of the breadth of communication and interaction patterns. The result is often a rigidity in these patterns also within oneself. Thoughts and feeling become more monotone and lead back to themselves in endless cycles. It seems as if there is no way out of them. A reset often can be helped by several techniques that bring the focus to new and potentially meaningful information, such as in mindfulness practices, for example, where one may focus on an object and investigate it mentally at deeper and deeper levels. One positive outcome is to prevent thoughts spirals triggered by irrelevant questions. Also, new information of any kind is like a ray of sunlight shining into the prison cell of depression. One at least has to grapple with the fact that there is a sun out there, which leads toa greater desire for change. Action for change may be much more difficult to accomplish in more severe cases of depression, but new meaningful information can contain a chance for change.

Core benefits of experimentation also include practice of great flexibility, which can break the rigidity in depression and lead to the openness, which lets through more meaningful information from more sources. This increases the perceived connectedness with oneself and the world, which is a powerful antidote against depression, fear and anxiety. Experimentation also helps to instil the connectedness with more life through constant change.

Observing

Observing is a skill that usually leads to many of the other skills. Important is the ability to observe without asking any specific questions. The communication patterns we use today have their origin in our past interaction and experiences on a bed of biology. Observing our own actions and those of others in various situations help to bring us insight into the underlying dynamics we repeat again and again in interactions with others, as well as the patterns we repeat within ourselves. Some of them work and some less so. An important and very basic question is whether they serve the aim of greater connectedness with ourselves and others, whether they help us to identify more closely our own needs, values, and aspirations, and whether they support us in achieving these basic parameters with others. Communication is how things are create, evolve, and are put into practice in the world, and the more one feels one understands and can make one’s communication patterns work for oneself and others, the less helpless, alone, and powerless one feels. Thus, working with them has a direct effect on the feelings that underlie and come with depression.

Observing one’s internal communication patterns has a similar effect on the feelings of depression from the inside.

Integration

As change in the communication pattern occurs, the information flows within the individual also change. Since the self is a reflection on these communication flows, it can bring about a change in how a person experiences the own self. In the long run, the identified meaning is integrated into the self, which, depending on the meaningful information perceived, can make the self itself more meaningful and valuable. One derives meaning from interacting with oneself and with other people, and this is also how people build their sense of self. Thus, while personality stays largely constant, the sense of self can get a boost from exposing oneself to the right communication environment.

Values, Needs and Aspirations

Depression blurs what feels important to a patient, and the fit between values, needs and aspirations and the current life situation is usually reduced. Whether in professional or personal life, getting what one needs, values and aspires to makes happiness, contentment and satisfaction more likely in the long run. If I value helping people, I know what makes me happy and gives me satisfaction. Communication, whether internal or external, is the instrument, that makes individuals aware of these basic parameters and helps them to pursue them.

The basic parameters, values, needs and aspirations, change little over time. One may alternate between being hungry and not being hungry within hours but eating as a basic need does not change and nor does someone who is happy with being a vegetarian. To some extent these basic parameters seem to be built into our biology, and it is not the therapeutic task to change them but to arrange the world around in such a way as to be able to live one’s values, needs and aspirations. Working with and improving communication with oneself and others usually accomplishes that.

Internal Communication

Exploring interests, values, needs and wants requires becoming sensitive to one’s own thoughts, emotions and physical sensation, to be open and receptive to the information coming in from one’s body and mind. It is about feeling what makes one feel good and what does not. At the same time, it has to make sense and should fit together. If specific values and needs appear to be in conflict with each other, a combination of emotions and rational thinking is often helpful. For a depressed patient, this may not be an easy task, but to bring more structure and sense into a seemingly chaotic and disconnected world, can be helpful.

Internal communication can be practiced in therapy. Since there is a correlation between the communication with others and one’s own internal communication, rehearsing and going through communication patterns in therapy, is often helpful to the patient outside of therapy, not only for the interactions with others, but also for the interaction with oneself. Values and needs can be clarified by talking to someone else and engaging in soul searching on one’s own. An important experience in therapy should be that one can clarify one’s needs and values by reflecting and communicating about them.

Meaningful Messages as the Instrument of Change

Communication in its various forms needs to be the target of therapy because it can be fined tuned and a change here can bring lasting change. The author has described this elsewhere (Haverkampf, 2017b, 2018b) Communication-Focused Therapy has been developed by the author for several psychiatric conditions. (Haverkampf, 2017g, 2017c, 2017e, 2017d, 2017h, 2017i). In depression, the desired change is for a broader emotional experience, seeing more relevance in oneself, one’s thoughts, emotions, and in the world as a whole. Adjusting, discarding and forming new communication patterns can lead to a reduction in symptoms that is more permanent than techniques the focus less on communication.

The actual instrument of change are, however, the meaningful messages which, provided they are encoded, sent and decoded, induce the change. As information in a message resonates and is processed with the already existing information, meaning is created which leads to changes in the future.

Broader Experience

If there is more meaning in oneself and the world, it is easier to focus on aspects of oneself and of the world. This expands one’s experience of oneself and of the world around. Seeing more relevance and more sources of novelty and change in the world, increases one’s experience of the world and makes this experience richer. However, it also requires that one engages with the world, which may be difficult due to anxiety cause by fears and other unresolved emotions. However, working with communication early in the therapeutic process often reduces any anxiety quickly as the patient learns to become aware of and experiment with communication and appreciates and gains insight into the predictability of communication.


Dr Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D. MLA (Harvard) LL.M. trained in medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy and works in private practice for psychotherapy and counselling in Dublin, Ireland. He is the author of several books and over a hundred articles. Dr Haverkampf has developed Communication-Focused Therapy® and written extensively about it. He also has advanced degrees in management and law. The author can be reached by email at jonathanhaverkampf@gmail.com or on the websites www.jonathanhaverkampf.ie and www.jonathanhaverkampf.com. He is also a frequent guest on www.askdrjonathan.com.

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[1] Both terms, psychotherapy and counselling, are often used interchangeably. In academia and research ‘psychotherapy’ has been used traditionally more frequently. Many patients, however, find the term ‘counselling’ less stigmatizing and ‘pathological’. I will use the term psychotherapy as a matter of habit and convenience.

Connectedness

Connectedness-3-Christian-Jonathan-Haverkampf-life-improvement-series

Connectedness

Christian Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D.

Connecting with others and others in a meaningful way is a requirement for happiness and success in life. Many mental health issues are the result of disconnectedness. Connectedness requires engaging with oneself and the world and being open to meaningful messages from others. In this sense, connectedness serves as a foundation in the creation of meaning. Since meaning has the potential to induce change, connectedness not only helps realising one’s needs, values and aspirations but also to adapt better to the world, which increases the level of well-being and happiness.

Keywords: connectedness, communication, psychotherapy, psychiatry

Table of Contents

Introduction. 4

The Illusion. 5

Beyond the Illusion. 6

The Happiness of Connectedness. 7

Connectedness to Find What Makes Happy. 8

Disconnectedness and Fear. 9

Needs, Values and Aspirations. 10

The Call of Happiness. 11

The Ego. 12

The Fear of Disconnect. 12

Curiosity and Wonder. 13

Peace. 13

A Disconnected World. 14

Intimacy. 14

Example: The Romantic Date. 16

Avoiding Rejection. 16

Communication Structures. 17

Clarity and Openness. 18

Transition. 18

Communication about Communication. 19

Relational Uncertainty and Communication. 20

Digital Communication. 21

Communication Styles. 21

Transition and Uncertainty. 23

Not Communicating. 23

Connectedness is also a Feeling. 24

The Stability of the Self and One’s Values. 25

Alignment. 26

Knowledge and Focus. 26

Connecting Across Time. 27

Connecting the Inside and the Outside. 27

References. 29

Introduction

Connectedness with other people allows us to change our world. It broadens horizons and understanding, and generates positive feelings. Returning the smile of a stranger makes the world a better place and conveys understanding, while empathically understanding a loved one can be a special moment for oneself and the other. Connectedness is when we exchange meaningful information with another person over time. Any feelings or thoughts associated with it are the consequences of information flows.

When looking at another person we feel something special in that person and in ourselves at the same time. All this is due to our ability to translate meaning into messages, encode, transmit and decode information and translate the messages back into meaning. Resonance, how information within oneself is brought to interact with the new information, plays an important role in the awareness and identification of meaning.

Connectedness with others expands how we feel about ourselves. Exploring the other is similar to exploring ourselves. There is a feedback between the outside and inside worlds.  Connecting to another means opening up to flows of information in both directions. Feeling is an aggregate of all the information that we are exchanging with the other person. With a wink or another small gesture, a massive amount of information can be shared with another person, all at once. This may also cause fears  to surface that one is becoming more vulnerable because of the insight another person might gain, and insight into an area we may not want to make visible.

Why do we need to connect? It is not only about the connection itself, but also the feelings and the peace that can come with it. In a connected world where information can flow freely between people, negative feelings are reduced. The goal of life is greater connectdness and more fluid information flows across the world. Connectedness is thus an expression also of hour humanity and our connection with life on this planet overall. Information scuttling back and forth only stops when life stops. Conenctedness is thus life sustaining. There ia tremendous power in connectedness, which many people unfortunately cannot explore to the fullest. Fears can stand in the way of connecting with others. Maybe we have learned from our past experiences not to fully trust ourselves or others, not t fully trust either. This can make it more difficult to connect. However, once we can see how we are connected with the world and with others, the fear decreases. It may take a leap at first, but experiencing this connectedness makes it easier to be connected.

The feeling of connectedness can also have an effect on the other person, which can make any interaction with them easier. Radiating contentment and happiness tells a love interest or a business partner that we feel confident in ourselves and trust them, which makes these encounters more rewarding for everyone involved. It also helps form bonds and relationships with other people. A first important step is the openness to experience the contentment and happiness one could feel within oneself. This may sometimes not so easy, because of the things we feel we have to do to attain these feelings. But once we realize that these feelings actually serve the connection with another person, they become easier.

The better we can communicate with ourselves, the better we can communicate with other people. Openness and empathy help to understand others, but also show that one is at ease with oneself. Happiness is an important prerequisite to be able to engage in fulfilling interactions, and this requires connecting with the own happiness on the inside. With the right information we can activate centers of the brain that allow us to feel more happiness. The information from connectedness lets us do this as well.

The Illusion

Everything outside connectedness is really an illusion. When we connect with ourselves and with others, real and meaningful information can flow. This is the information that maintains life and our connectedness into life. Where no meaningful information flows, it is our mind that projects meaning into it, where there is non, however. This meaning is then coming form ourselves rather than the person or object outside. However, when we connect, and there is a meaningful exchange of information, we begin to see beyond the illusion. If we see, for example, a rock on our way and certain thoughts and feelings come up in us, that is really because we are connecting with ourselves, while having the sensory information about the rock, rather than us connecting directly with the rock.

The illusion can also apply to oneself. If we feel we may appear in a certain way to someone else or to ourselves, these thoughts really come from connecting with ourselves. The only way we can really know what someone else things about us can only come from connecting with the other person, by, for example, asking them. Thus communication helps us experience reality more deeply rather than the illusion of what may seem real. We often go through life making assumptions about other people, including whether they like us or not or if we cause another person distress, without knowing whether this is just our projection of self-criticism into the other person or if it is true. Since you cannot mind read, the best option is often to ask and talk about it. One does not even have to ask about it specifically, but can put a question or s statement out there, whose acceptance or rejection by the other shows if the feared assumption is true or not.

Experiencing connectedness itself means getting in touch with something very fundamental to life in general, which can be described as the all-persvasive devine. When we go beyond connecting with a pecific person, but feel a general connectedness with everything, feelings of separatedness, loneliness, helplessness, and anxiety usually wither away. This in turn can make it easier to connect with a specific person as the anxiety to do so decreases.The uncertainty leading to anxiety and fears is reduced when there is more and better information about oneself and the other person. Meaningful communication with oneself and others through greater connecteness provides this information and thereby reduces anxiety, fears, doubts, helplessness, and powerlessness.

Beyond the Illusion

When you feel connected with everyone and everything you have moved beyond the illusion of a concrete thought concept, and many everyday fears begin to fall away. How should I feel connected with an angry neighbor? Important is that you do not just connect with the present form and attributes of the neighbor, their personality, emotional state, and so forth, but with what underlies both of you. You are both human beings and you are both alive. From there one can then go beyond form and sense that fine existence that suffuces everything. Feeling grounded in this common existence can be helpful in regulating fears, anger, and other emotions that can stand in the way on one’s path.

What did I mean by the ‘fine existence’? It is one of the many things that religion and physics can agree on. In physics, even empty space is by no means ‘empty’. In quantum field theory, for example, a quantum vacuum is the state with the lowest possible energy and generally contains no physical particles. However, according to quantum mechanics, the vacuum state is not truly empty but instead contains fleeting electromagnetic waves and particles that pop into and out of the quantum field. So, even the seemingly informationless contains information in the form of these transient events. We are never alone, even, and maybe particularly, in the seemingly ‘empty’. Maybe it is apparent absolute emptiness that provides a clearer view on the true essence of things. In true connectedness one is plugging into this essence that underlies all, which is the ultimate reality and no illusion.

Whether you are on a date or in a high stakes situation in work, you will notice that the more you plug into the deepest layers of understanding and connectedness, communication with the other will also be much more meaningful because you are going behind external appearances and forms that would just slow you down. Communicating about them without seeing them as the ultimate goals and reasons for the interaction with the other, will free you of fears and make it less likely that you are getting side trick by the irrelevant. It also makes it easier for the other person to understand you, as you understand the other person better.

The Happiness of Connectedness

Happiness is an emotion we often feel when we are engaged in something that is meaningful and valuable to us. When we are engaged in something that is meaningful, that contains the promise of something novel that can change us, we feel happiness. Whether solving a science problem, observing another person, having sex or talking to someone else, we are engaged in processes that produce new meaning, new information, and often a sense of happiness. Communication with oneself and others, the exchange of meaningful information, is ultimately what leads to more meaning and greater happiness.

To create meaning with another person, however, also means that one has to contribute something meaningful. In a situation where people are on a date, for example, there needs to be an actual exchange of information to create more meaning, and, as a consequence, more connectedness. Happiness is often a result of this.

Connectedness can come in many shapes and forms, but it appears that the more meaning can also be generated about the relationship through meaningful communication, the more satisfying the relationship is. For example, in ‘friends with benefits’ who lack the deeper romantic relationship, one would expect that there is less satisfactions and less communication in some areas. And this was also shown in a study using an online survey (Lehmiller et al., 2014). In this study, friends with benefits, who were also found to be less sexually exclusive,

  • had a lower frequency of sexual interaction and were less sexually satisfied,
  • generally communicated less about sex than romantic partners did, and
  • communicated more often about extradyadic sexual experiences.

In other words, happiness has a lot to do with meaning, and communication is how we feel more meaning. Memories of laughter with friends can make us smile because the information has meaning to us. It resonates with other information that we have on the inside. The emotions are triggered because this memory links to our needs, values and aspirations. The brain also associates it with other information, which can trigger positive emotions.

Unfortunately, there is much unhappiness is our world because of disconnectedness, internal and external. Wars, social injustice, and many other phenomena that plague our societies have psychological roots that can be traced back to how people connect with themselves and others. Unfortunately, we do not learn in school how we better get in touch with ourselves and others. We learn to operate on information, but usually in a very narrow, external, and technical way. We spend much more time on how to do research at a library than identifying our own needs, values, and aspirations, only to haunt us after decades in personally unfulfilling work. Learning how to better communicate with oneself and others should be considered an important toolset for survival and happiness.

Connectedness to Find What Makes Happy

Connectedness with oneself and others is closely related. Through connection with ourselves and others we can gain insight into the things and activities that can increase our happiness, satisfaction and contentment. However, the connection with oneself, also on a feeling level, is fundamental to this discovery process. Without this internal connectedness, it is impossible to find insight into one’s own basic parameters of needs, values and aspirations (Haverkampf, 2017b, 2018f). Many people feel the pressure from what they think the world expects of them. Simply internalizing external expectations will not bring happiness. My thoughts and actions have to make sense in relation to how I see myself and what I value.

The right information can increase happiness. Throughout life we learn what works and what does not work. All this is valuable information. This does not mean one needs to make a lot of mistakes, but that one should be where there is high quality information. Connecting with oneself and others makes it more likely that one acquires the right information. The more information I have about options in the world and what I truly value, the easier will it be to find greater happiness in the world. Meaningful information, which can be anything from a fact to an emotional signal when engaging in a task, coupled with reflection about it leads to better decision making, greater success in all areas of life, and a greater sense of happiness, contentment and satisfaction. Connectedness is a very important aspect.

Disconnectedness and Fear

Disconnectedness causes fear, but at the same time fear can lead to a greater disconnect. People are often afraid to approach on another. This may have to do with how they see themselves. If one is self-critical or has learned not to show too much of oneself, whether emoions or otherwise, the apprehensiveness in making contact or deepening contact is often greater. Thus an internal disconnect in feeling one’s strengths and resources can then lead to an external disconnect.

Many types of fear and anxiety become less intense or vanish when we feel connected with others around us (Haverkampf, 2017b). This is something that can be observed in the fear of flying, for example. If I am talking to others on the airplane as it takes off, and even if the topic is my fear of flying, the anxiety will be lower. Even if the anxiety is a shared anxiety, it usually helps to reduce the anxiety. Sharing it is helpful, but if I also feel that the other understands what I experience, the effect on the anxiety will be even more powerful.

An important objective in therapy is to help patients in building the skills to experience better connectedness, which is one of the main components of Communication-Focused Therapy® (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017a) Greater connectedness helps to build greater self-confidence and sense of self-efficacy and offers significant protection from anxiety, low mood, and other mental health issues. Clinically, there are also indications how patients with OCD can benefit from greater connectedness. Even psychosis can be more manageable for the patient if they experience a more solid connectedness with themselves and others. Since all the conditions mentioned come with feelings of instability and overlap with fear to some extent, greater connectedness can reduce fear also indirectly.

Needs, Values and Aspirations

One’s values and basic interests determine what is valuable to oneself. Happiness requires that one engages in an activity that is meaningful and of value to oneself. Engaging in these activities and situations brings more positive emotions, happiness, and a greater sense of fulfilment in life. Wants and Needs that create greater happiness correlate with one’s values.

The basic values (Haverkampf, 2018f), the needs, values and aspirations are an important foundation in connectedness because they determine whether the connection will be maintained and intensified. The benefit from a communication is greater when needs, values and aspirations are shared. Since information about them is exchanged in everything one does, it would be difficult to hide them. Maybe sometimes people feel misled by a connection with another person, but it is often that they are ignoring signs which are there to be detected.

At the same time, conectdness should further what one truly needs, values and aspires to. Some of those things are material to keep us alive, but many are beyond the material. Many entreprenerus who built successful businesses and large companies did so because they enjoyed working on something and the challenge as well as changing the world. Money is a poor end in itself. What drives people is to do what is meaningful and relevant to do them, and one’s true needs, values and aspirations.

On the other hand, internal connectedness is needed to better identify the own needs, values and aspirations. Memory can be an important tool. I can remember what I enjoye in the past, which helps me identify what I may also enjoy in the present and in the future. Our needs and value stay relatively constant over time, as long as they are authentic in the sense that they represent what you want and not what you think you need to fulfill another deeper need or meet a deeper value. Unfortunately, much of what people believe that they want or need is just something that appears to contain a promise of fulfilling a deeper need. You may think of someone who is pursuing ‘a career’ in order to be respected and loved. There is nothing wrong witch achievement, but many feel they need to have a career without being able to say where the journey should go and how it satisfies their authentic needs and values, the ones that align with who they are. A general problem in most modern societies is that there is little emphasis on the question of self-awareness and self-knowledge that goes beyond the impaatives of the ego.

The Call of Happiness

Almost everyone strives for happiness in life, and the pursuit of happiness is enshrined in the US constitution and many other important documents, but many people feel it is beyond their reach. Some may suffer from a mental health condition like depression, which reduces the amplitude of one’s felt emotions overall, including happiness, and may require treatment. A larger problem is possibly missing direction in life and decision-making, which often is a result of being disconnected from oneself. If one feels what is valuable and meaningful to oneself, this leads to actions and thoughts that generate greater happiness.

Disconnectedness is widespread in our society. People often try to connect with others before they connected with themselves, which makes it impossible to connect with another on a deeper level. The magic word here is resonance. When we have information about ourselves in the right form, when we have awareness and insight into ourselves, we can recognize it in other people. This also allows to see the uniqueness of the other person. Experincing the uniqueness of the other person and the common thread behind it can lead to more positive feelings and make us happier.

However, the connectedness with others is also a reflection of the connectedness we have with ourselves. Connecting with oneself means perceiving a whole universe within oneself. Unfortunately, to many people who do not fully connect with themselves see an inner desert rather than rich, open and wide spaces that contain many magnificent objects. As our external world is built on information, so is this internal world. While information is already built into our brains biologically, they are constantly suffused in oceans of information that they are exposed to from all directions. It is not just or even primarily the information from the outside world that shapes our thoughts and feelings, but how we process this information. And this is the beauty of the nervous system’s reality, that information changes information by altering how it is processed. If I am told the ending of a book, I will read it differently, have different thoughts and feelings while reading it, and even remember it differently in the future, which can have a real impact on my future thoughts and behaviors and literary buying choices. And the cycle continues.

The Ego

The ego is in much literature see as something that needs to be destroyed, or at least seriously truncated, in order to find happiness. Our ego is what clings to things and causes much suffering. At the same time, it is important to remember that people with ‘huge egos’, classic narcissits, to whom it is never enough, actually need to compensate for the perception of a weak and somewhat fragile ego. As the ego is where much of the action in the wrold, good and bad, comes from, whould we really get rid of it? One answer to this question that we cannot, because it does not really exist. It is merely a figment of our imagination, something that makes sense to us within the marvelous information processing dynamics of our brain. But to realise that it does not really exist, helps to focus on the real issue. What we perceive as ‘ego issues’ are really an experienced disconnectedness from ourselves, and as a result from the world. With greater connectedness, these pathologies of the ego disappear, because connectedness replaces them with a healthy experience of oneself.

The Fear of Disconnect

One reasons for the ego may be to prevent us from disconnecting, yet at the price of making a disconnect even more painful. The ultimate disconnect an organism faces is, of course, death, at least in most modern Western societies. It is easily forgotten that not long ago, just a mere couple of centuries, in Europe and elsewhere people saw themselves more as a part of a whole, as integrated to a larger degree into the rhythms and cycles of nature. The birth of the separate individual as autonomous actor as we know her or him today is a fairly recent invention. And it may be the greater focus on the individual and individual histories, memories, and accomplishments that provides us witha greater pressure to achieve and the sense to ‘make the most’ of one’s life, but at the same time increases the visibility and sense of being an island disconnected from others. All of these consequences of a certain brand of individuality, without the psychology and spirituality to complement it, contribute to anxiety, depression and burnout in many. As I have explored in greater depth in my book The Lonely Society (Haverkampf, 2010e), it is not the technological advances in communication or greater flexibilities in communicating which are causing the problems, but the lack of communication in society about communication. It is not taught in school, and everyone is too busy in having a socially acceptable career to pause and reflect on how to use the tremendous powers of communication to effect real change within and without.

The fear of disconnect from the world and others often drives people to withdraw even more. Why expose oneself to potential hurt? However, the real antidote is a greater connectedness with others and the world. Helpful is here often to start communicating about communicating, which is done in psychotherapy. I have developed Communication-Focused Therapy® particularly to address this, whereby greater awareness for communication patterns, reflection, experimentation, and feedback can bring about a lasting change within and without (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017a, 2018c).

Curiosity and Wonder

Connectedness can be facilitated by the attitude one takes towards engagement with the world and other people. An attitude of curiosity and wonder, for example, affects how one selects and takes up information and processes it. At the same time, it creates also changes in the other person if one is communicating with someone else. If I talk to someone who is interested, curious and open to what I am saying, this not only changes how I perceive them, but also how I interact with them. It is therefore helpful to go mentally into oneself and light a candle of curiosity and wonder when communicating with another, be it at the workplace, on a date or in a shop.

Peace

Greater connectedness with ourselves and others brings about feelings of peace. Where there is nderstanding and insight, the disturbance of everyday life comes to rest. Anger, hate and resentment can only exist where there is a lack of understanding and insight, a lack of meaningful information. Communication is what allows us to see things with the eyes of the other and to understand what they must be feeling and thinking. However, fear is often in the way, a fear not only of the other but a fear also of themselves. Understanding another human being changes our world, even if that readjustment seems small. But it is this change which can cause enormous fears. When a new view of the world comes along, often people try to protect their own views, their own ego, because it seems to impart stability and safety. But what actually happens is a further instability and fragility by holding on rigidly instead of opening the heart and mind to more meaningful information.

Peace is not necessarily the full absence of any emotional pain and suffering one might still experience, but it means that there is at least insight into it, an awareness of them, for if we become aware of suffering it begins to self-transform and resolve itself. However, this requires connectedness with oneself, an inner meaningful communication, being open to internal information flows.

A Disconnected World

As I have outline before (Haverkampf, 2010e), we live in a world that is on one hand increasingly connected but on the other hand also increasingly disconnected. There is much on the Internet which provides us with the illusion of greater connectedness, but at the same time makes the exchange of information less meaningful. The emphasis is on meaningful information, that is information, which can bring about a change in another. Whether it is a change in perspective or a smile, meaningful communication changes how we process information in the future, it has a regulatory effect on communication among all that are directly or indirectly effected by it, which ultimately means the entire planet.

As peace is based also on understanding and meaningful communication, pockets in the world that do not communicate with each other can be at peace, but they do not contribute to the improvement and well-being of each other. Cutting off communication has been the instrument of dictators, but this is becoming less and less possible. While it is possible to cut a cable, information can travel in som many other ways. There is a point when it will ultimately seep through. The only question is then whether it will be decoded and processed adequately by the receiver or receivers. Decoding and understanding a message are skills that are to some extent innate, but mostly learned throughout life. And how do we learn them? Through practice, by exposure to meaningful information, together with curiosity, reflection, and feedback. The more meaningful communication there is around us and in us, the easier it becomes for us to work with messages from wherever they come. So, the best way to promote a connected world is to make available communication channels that stimulate the flow of meaningful information.

Intimacy

Intimacy, when it is fulfilling, is a mental and physical escalation of connectedness. While the dopamine rush of physical sex can lead to a transient high, research shows that sex just for the purpose of sex is usually less fulfilling if emotional and other forms of connectedness are missing. Practicing intimacy is the ability to make close connections with the openness to receive sensations, perceptions and other information which could be potentially hurtful. This means that one needs to overcome fear to be able to be intimate with another. The fear of being hurt is something that can arise from early experiences in life that are no longer accessible to conscious awareness. But it can also manifest at any later stage in life. Like a physical hurt, an emotional hurt occurs if something disturbs the sense of integrity, in this case the emotional one. Feeling hurt calls for repair of this loss of the sense of integrity, whether outside or inside. This does not mean reconstituting an original status quo, but to use the healing process to feel whole again. Connectedness with oneself and others is the means to get there. And, if one has confidence in one’s ability to connect, the fear of being hurt can be reduced considerably, which also increases the capability to be intimate.

Intimacy comprises the exchange of much information, tactile, visual, and otherwise, through a large number of communication channels synchronously. At the same time this information resonates with the information that already exists. A romantic date and intimacy are built on past communication experiences with the other person and on future expected ones. They have meaning and intensity because of their context within these past experiences and expectations of the future. Intimacy is exciting because of uncertainty, the mystery of how communication unfolds in the present and may be affected in the future. Emotionally powerful moments are powerful because they drive us towards change in some way, internally and externally.

That communication apart from the sexual act is the most powerful determinant of intimacy becomes clear in those cases where the communication is missing or gone horribly wrong, such as in cases of rape. One may speak here of sex, but not intimacy. It is ultimately not fulfilling and extremely destructive. The lack of meaning generated in such situation, the meaninglessness, reflects back on people will also feel internally. Communication can be highly destructive when it leaves a large hole where there should be meaning.

A fear of intimacy is quite common and basically not different from any other fear of connectedness. As will be illustrated in the example on romantic dating, the possibility that a connection can end, as in the form of rejection, for example, may lead to a fear of making the connection in the first place. The dilemma is that we want to see and feel a connection as important to us, but at the same time this raises the stakes, when the connection is lost.

Example: The Romantic Date

The author has explored the details of the communication dynamics of romantic dates elsewhere (Haverkampf, 2010c, 2010d, 2017e, 2020). What makes a romantic date so unique is that from an evolutionary perspective communication in the dating situation determines the future of the species. It is thus no wonder that it is one of the situations where we can observe communication at its most complex, even though it follows the same rules of communication and information.

The quality of communication seems to be related to attraction and the desire to see the other again. Its importance in a study by Sprecher and Duck, however, was greater for women than for men and greater for friendship attraction than for romantic attraction. (Sprecher & Duck, 1994) The connectedness itself is the important criterion whether a date will be successful. Maybe at first only some needs become clear, while values and aspirations develop over time. But they shine through the space between spoken words and within them, in gestures and all other behaviors and interactions which may constitute communication. If one makes another person laugh, it also shows an understanding of another person’s basic parameters. This can be quite general in the case of a comedian or quite specific as in two people on a date. The sense of connectedness facilitates communication, reducing the fears and increasing meaningfulness. Thus, building the feeling of connectedness can already have a significant positive influence on the dynamics of the interaction, whether a romantic date, a job interview or a presentation in an academic environment.

It may be possible to pretend, but only if there is inherently a disconnect with oneself, which in the future will make a real connection more difficult. A deep connectedness with oneself usually makes one strive for the connections that are really meaningful rather than wasting time and resources on the ones that are less so. However, it may first take some time to find out what really works for oneself. Over time it becomes clearer.

Avoiding Rejection

The emotional risks from rejection can influence how we choose our communication channels to make a connection (Haverkampf, 2010a). For example, online daters exploit certain communication features provided by dating website messaging services which allow new ways for romantic refusals to be performed that were not previously available in face-to-face communication or earlier forms of computer-mediated communication. (Tom Tong & Walther, 2011) No one likes to be rejected by another person, but there can be large individual differences in how bad it feels. Not taking it personally may be impossible, but the perspective one has and the communication patterns one uses with oneself and with others can make a large difference. Uniqueness and a perceived need for this uniqueness in another person can make rejection more hurtful. However, this is often a problem of misidentified needs. The better the basic parameters, the needs, values and aspirations are identified, the lower will be the emotional shock of rejection and the easier it will be to connect with another human being. Over time, we gain the insight that there is no rejection but only signals of imcompatibilty, and if there is no match on a deeper values in the parameters that count, the values, interests and aspirations, it is better not to invest energy in trying to make the impossible work.

You may disagree and say, we were ‘soulmates’. However, reality is that no matter what you say and do, the soulmate will remain in your life. Logic, on any level, just requires that. If there is a breakup, it means there is a misalignment in some area or areas that are important to the partners. But does that not negate the usefulness of any form of couples’ therapy? No, it doesn’t. Couple’s therapy, and psychotherapy in general, is often misunderstood as ‘changing’ someone. Instead, the real objective is to facilitate meaningful communication, outside and inside, that allows atoregulatory processes to readjust communication patterns in such ways that the partners can see, hear and understand each other again. But no therapy in the world will change who one is. It would be an apocalyptic world in which this were possible. Rather, connectedness creates confidence in oneself and others, awareness, and understanding to be able to experience that what connects a couple, and, in a broader light, underlies it all.

Communication Structures

Connecting with another human being has an emerging and changing dynamic within a structured framework (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2010c). This framework is determined by biology, psychological, social and situational factors, as well as the basic parameters (Haverkampf, 2019). Motives and expectations affect the courtship sequence as a function of a variety of individual and social variables (Cunningham & Barbee, 2008). Cunningham and Barbee describe three stages in the courtship process (Cunningham & Barbee, 2008):

  1. attract attention
  2. notice and approach
  3. talk and reevaluate
  4. touch and synchronize

It is easy to see how changes in communication patterns and variations in an individual’s effectiveness at the different stages of communication, from encoding a message to decoding it, can affect the progress along the phases of the courtship process. Since any communication process and structure serves the overall purpose of building and sharing meaning (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2018g), the romantic partner’s ability to communicate and create meaning keeps the romance alive and moves it forward. The dynamics of changing communication patterns and the overall communication structure are the manifestations of changing relationships (Haverkampf, 2017d). To be aware of them and to work with them is key in establishing the level of connectedness one desires.

Clarity and Openness

The sheer quantity of dating advice, seminars and conferences out there, from little tips and tricks to reprogramming one’s personality, is mind boggling. It seems much of their appeal is to be able to communicate what one wants without saying it. Research, however, shows that the best strategy is actually saying it. Whether something is communicated or not determines what happens next, and connectedness with another person, which is the precondition for any form of relationship, requires communicating something about one’s needs, values and aspirations (Haverkampf, 2018b). There is some support that directness in communicating has a negative association with relationship uncertainty and with partner uncertainty that is mediated by relationship uncertainty (Theiss & Solomon, 2006). The communication dilemma (Haverkampf, 2018a) is that communication becomes easier if there is more certainty, but to reach more certainty one needs communication to provide the information.

Clarity and openness help to reduce uncertainty as more meaningful information is available. Relational uncertainty and intimacy are related. Relational uncertainty tends tobe high in non‐ intimate associations and substantially lower in highly intimate associations. (Solomon, 2015)Clarity and openness are thus important steps in intimacy.

Transition

As connectedness increases, a relationship usually goes through transitions. Changes in communication patterns and in the framework of the communication structure signify these transitions. In the case of a developing romantic relationship, Mongeau and colleagues describe three changes that occur (Mongeau et al., 2006):

  1. two people meet and talk for the first time,
  2. they communicate regularly and get to know and like each other,
  3. the discovery and consummation of mutual romantic interest; the romantic relationship transition between a man and a woman, when the relationship changes from being either platonic or nonexistent to being romantic

What these three changes have in common is that they describe changes in communication. But it goes even further, as relationship transitions are changes in both internal and external communication patterns (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2010c, 2018b). As relationships are kept alive and progress through communication transitions, they require an openness for external and internal changes. Communication-Focused Therapy (CFT), as developed by the author, works on both the internal and external communication patterns, which to a large extent reflect each other (Haverkampf, 2017a).

Communication about Communication

Communicating about how we communicate, internally and externally, is a powerful tool in changing communication (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017a, 2018e). Since relationships and our experiences in them are determined by the communication dynamics in them, experience and communication are linked. Marston and colleagues found empirical evidence for the a strong coherence in lovers’ experience of love and in their reports of how love is communicated (Hovick et al., 2003; Marston et al., 1987). The link between our experience and the communication patterns we use is not only valuable from a therapeutic perspective, but it also provides an insight for the considerable stability of communication patterns and relationships patterns over time (Haverkampf, 2018e).

A deeper connectedness means that there are also deeper interactions with the ability to communicate about communicating.  The ability to change communication patterns by calling them into awareness and reflecting about them together, not only solidifies a relationship but also enables it to regulate itself better. When two partners in a relationship can talk about how they communicate, they are far less likely to get lost in details or in destructive exchanges. Awareness of the communication patterns also lets both of them look behind the veil of the seemingly important. If they watch their communication, they may, for example, see that behind the anger, that seems to drive then apart, is  really a helplessness, which drives them closer together.

Relational Uncertainty and Communication

The level of connectedness is determined by and determines the communication patterns we use, but it also influences the content of the communication. As we have seen above, the more meaning that can be communicated, the stronger the connectedness will be. Meaning and connectedness go hand in hand, which is one reason why helping a person communicate better also creates more meaning in the life of that person (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2017a, 2018b). However, it is also possible that the individual meaning a person sees in life effects the openness and communication about meaning. At the same time, openness may be lower the less one knows about the other person and the nature of the relationship. In a study by McCurry and colleagues, results indicated that relational uncertainty was inversely associated with the frequency and comfort with which dating partners discussed religious and spiritual topics (McCurry et al., 2012). There is thus a vicious cycle between the fear of greater openness and less communication about meaning which could reduce the fear.

Uncertainty in the context of interpersonal interactions generally refers to an inability to predict and explain a communication partner’s behavior (Berger, 1997). Relational uncertainty is the degree of confidence people have in their perceptions of involvement in a relationship (Knobloch & Solomon, 1999). According to Knobloch and Solomon, relational uncertainty stems from three sources: doubts individuals have about their own involvement in the relationship (self uncertainty); questions about a partner’s participation in the relationship (partner uncertainty); and ambiguity about the status or future of the relationship itself (relationship uncertainty). Relational certainty exists when people clearly understand their own commitment to the relationship, when they are confident in their perceptions of a partner’s involvement (or lack thereof), and when they have few doubts about the enduring or fleeting nature of the association; relational uncertainty occurs when individuals are unclear about these aspects of the relationship. Indivdiuals experiencing relational uncertainty are more likely to describe their relationship as unsteady or unstable (Knobloch, 2007).

Meaningful communication by its definition can reduce uncertainty, if it is related to the locus of uncertainty. In every scenarios, whether on a date or at the workplace, it is not so much the quantity of communication but the quality that counts. There is too much ‘empty’ talk out there, which does not help the people involved in any of the situations mentioned. The reason is often that one ‘performs’ instead of being oneself, centered in oneself and mindful to the other person and the situation. Feeling like a guest in someone else’s reality does not help to communicate more authentically and meaningfully. On the other hand, if one watches with interest, communicates to build meaning, and is aware of one’s true needs, values and aspirations, something real can evolve, which maintains and kindles more meaningful communication.

Digital Communication

Online spaces are used infrequently for meeting romantic partners, but play a significant role in how teens flirt, woo and communicate with potential and current flames. (Lenhart et al., 2015) Digital communication offers fewer communication channels and a more controlled space than would be available when meeting another person in real life. It can make it easier for an individual to overcome the fears of direct communication and being overwhelmed by information. Many relationships have been made possible because they started with a small set of only a single communication channel. In times past, this may have been an exchange of letters. In today’s world, it may be a chat on a dating app.

Digital communication has the advantage that it allows the observation of how people connect and what their topics are when they do if they consent to it. A study by Dong and colleagues based on a survey of 240 individual MySpace users found that (Dong et al., 2008)

  • low self-esteem encourages young adults to engage in romantic communication (such as having intimate communication with the opposite sex and looking for romantic partners)
  • higher emotional intelligence discourages such activity
  • those who have a higher self-image, such as thinking themselves attractive and happy with their appearance, tend to engage in romantic communication.

Communication thus seems to fulfil an essential role in emotional regulation. It also appears that merely engaging in it can already have a positive effect. In many forms of digital communication, the other person is not physically present, but an image and a felt emotional connection with that person

Communication Styles

An overview of communication structure and patterns has been provided by the author in greater depth elsewhere (Haverkampf, 2019). All communication follows particular rules, which also gives rise to the evolution of distinct patterns and structures. Working with them is an essential pillar in Communication-Focused Therapy (CFT) (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017a), and understanding them can be helpful in all situations in daily life, which required internal and external communication.

It is crucial to keep in mind that communication patterns depend on the kind of relationship one has with another person (Haverkampf, 2010a). Both cross‐sex platonic and romantically involved partners use flirtation to varying degrees. However, how flirtatiousness is actually displayed and how it relates to evaluations of appropriateness and communication competence differs between the two types of relationships. (Egland et al., 1996)

From a much more macroscopic perspective in the area of romantic dating, there is empirical support for five styles of communicating romantic interest in others (Hall et al., 2010): physical, sincere, playful, polite, and traditional. Following the argument above that open and full communication can help strengthen the connectedness, one would expect communication styles that help to share relationship affirming messages facilitate escalating a relationship faster. In a study by Hall and colleagues, dating success correlated with physical, sincere, and playful styles. The physical and sincere styles correlated with rapid relational escalation of important relationships with more emotional connection and greater physical chemistry. (Hall et al., 2010) In other word, it appears that

  • the physical style and
  • the sincere style

correlate with both dating success and the development of greater emotional connection and physical chemistry. These also appear to be the styles of communication which are less influenced by social convention (as in the polite and traditional style) or conscious communication techniques in response to what the other may be expecting (as in the playful styles). This would support the general communication hypothesis that people are at their most effective when they directly communicate the basic parameters, their needs, values, and aspirations (Haverkampf, 2018f, 2018b).

One has to marvel at the wide range of communication styles that are used in connecting with others. But this may not be as surprising when one considers that the use of particular communication patterns and styles also carries meaning (Haverkampf, 2018d, 2018g). This applies to all areas of human communication. Egland and colleagues identified four types of flirtation behaviour in their study through factor analysis (Egland et al., 1996), namely display, stereotyped, attentiveness, and conversational behaviours.

Transition and Uncertainty

The transition from casual to serious involvement in dating relationships largely corresponds with changes in internal and external communication patterns and changes in the overall communication structure (Haverkampf, 2010c). These changes often happen without conscious awareness of them. The partners do not even have to know that they are transitioning, but the communication patterns always change.

The relational turbulence model is an example of a framework that explains the increased conflict, negative emotions, and heightened relationship thinking in transition times. Relational uncertainty and interference from a partner are heightened when intimacy transitions from casual and independent relating to serious and mutually committed involvement. Empirical findings show that doubts about the relationship are salient even within very casual associations and resolving relational uncertainty may be an important part of forming an intimate bond. (Solomon, 2015) An existential uncertainty is present from the beginning of any relationship, and navigating through it with the use of communication can lead it through the transitions that ultimately result in a fulfilling committed partnership (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2017e, 2017d, 2017c).

Relational uncertainty and interference from a partner have been linked to more pronounced experiences of negative emotions, such as hurt, jealousy, anger, and sadness, both in response to a partner’s behavior and in general. (Solomon, 2015) They can impair communication and lead to cognitive biases. Relational turbulence theory links cognitive appraisals and emotions to communication. It describes how episodes characterized by biased appraisals, intense emotions, and volatile communication coalesce into global evaluations of relationships as turbulent (Solomon et al., 2016). McLaren and colleagues proposed that relational communication (specifically, perceptions of dominance, and disaffiliation) is the mechanism linking relational qualities to hurt. Empirical data shows that people’s experiences of hurt vary as a function of both relationship characteristics and relational inferences, although there are differences between the sexes. (McLaren et al., 2012)

Not Communicating

While it may be impossible overall not to communicate, it is possible not to exchange specific information. Since meaningful information can trigger other meaningful information, for better or for worse, the fear of talking about a controversial subject is often greater when there is less certainty about the other person. In the beginning of any relationship, from business to romantic, there is usually a lack of knowledge about the other person, which impacts communication patterns and content (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2018d). It has been shown that the higher (or lower) is the relational uncertainty the higher (or lower) is topic avoidance in romantic relationships (Knobloch & Carpenter-Theune, 2004). Knobloch and colleague also showed that relational uncertainty mediates the (convex) association between intimacy and topic avoidance.

One may wonder how deeper relationships get started at all. One reason why they can evolve is simply because they develop gradually and in stages. Even if the partners seem to skip a stage because it may be short or not as visible, usually they go through all of them. But all this can end when communication stops. How can people then still feel connected when they no longer communicate?

Connectedness is also a Feeling

People who do not communicate can still feel connected. One needs to keep in mind that the feeling of connectedness can be triggered by any information, which can also be the memory of a past event or the image of a future one. There does not have to be a constant stream of external information to feel connected. Information on the inside is fully sufficient. Another feature of the feeling of connectedness is that it can contain a wish, and quite often does so. It has a gravitational pull that aims at bringing the two individuals closer together. In an autoregultory feedback loop, connectedness breads greater connectedness.

The feeling of connectedness thus not depend on the actual physical presence of another being. Once could sit in a hut in the forest and still feel connected with people one know or imagines and with nature overall. One could even be drifting in a capsule in outer space and feel connected with people, animals, plants, or even the universe as a whole. The feeling is caused by flows of internal information, that may be influenced by external information. But the latter does not seem to be a requirement for it.

The Stability of the Self and One’s Values

Our values are mostly stable over time and allow us to pursue goals in life. Having insight into one’s true needs, values and aspirations can help to find greater stability in the world and to pursue and reach what is important to us. Sometimes they may appear to be in conflict, but the more basic needs and values can be explored by paying closer attention to the communication patterns used when engaging in activities and behaviors. When someone does something which brings about feelings of fulfillment or happiness it happens within flows of information that are sustainable (Haverkampf, 2012, 2018b, 2018a). Let us look at an example where this is not the case:

Peter talks to Jane. He tells her that he really believes in the common business venture of starting a steak restaurant. The more he talks about what this may grow into the future and how he feels this will be important to him also in the future, the more strenuous it becomes. The following days he reluctantly answers Jane’s calls. When he opens a new account for the business at the bank, he feels anxious.

Peter may not even know himself that he would rather start a vegetarian restaurant. However, once he observes his communication patterns with himself and others, it very likely would become clear to him that something is out of sync. In the moment, when he talks to Jane, it may not become clear to him, because he thinks about a specific content rather than how the content is being communicated. However, by observing how he communicates a specific content he can gain clarity and insight into the basic parameters of needs, values and aspirations (Haverkampf, 2018b, 2018f).

The meaning we see and share in the world depends on the exchange of information, both with ourselves and with the environment. One can be happy in solitude, but this happiness depends on how one communicates with oneself and interacts with the living world around. Most people need companionship on a regular basis, because they need more varied communication and a at least a certain minimum level of interactions with others to create and maintain meaning. Connectedness can thus take many forms, and it is important to find the right communication and interaction styles and intensities which lead to a high level of satisfaction, contentment and happiness.

Because connectedness offers more insight into the own needs, values and aspirations, it also helps to stabilize the own perception of them and the perception of those in others, which can contribute to a greater sense of stability within oneself and with the world. Thus, all opportunities to connect more deeply with another human being can further the sense of stability in the world. When the ability to connect with others in a meaningful way is impaired, the world is often a more frightening place. ‘Meaningfulness’ is an important criterion. For example, an inability to be intimate on a deeper level often causes those affected by it to try to compensate with more sex with more partners. However, sex without a deeper connection is usually not fulfilling and leads to a hunger which is not stilled no matter how often one tries.

Alignment

Connections need to align with the basic parameters, the needs values and aspirations. Otherwise the connection is not sustainable over the long-term. This does not mean that people in a relationship have to have the same basic parameters, but it requires that the connection aligns with them. As we have connections with many different people in different types of relationships, each connection has to have mutual benefits on a deeper level to be sustainable. ‘Deeper’ simply means that is not solely transaction based, such as the temporary connection between a customer and a shop assistant; the relationship has to have potential benefit over time to be sustainable, which goes beyond the benefit of a momentary transaction.

Communication that serves to test and experiment with the potential alignment between partners can be likened to a trial dance to see if sharing a rhythm is possible. This may also explain why the the choice of communicatioon patterns and styles in a dating situation may be more important than the actual content that is being talked about. The alignment manifests itself when new meaning is created.

Knowledge and Focus

A connection flourishes if there is some knowledge in each partner of the own needs and values to at least know what does not work for them. While explicit knowledge grows through awareness, an implicit knowledge which comes from experience is enough. There is thus a positive cycle between communication which delivers greater insight into needs, values and aspirations, and the latter, which help maintain and deepen the connection. Having a greater understanding of the own basic parameters and the communication patterns one uses with oneself and others is the key towards a better connectedness with oneself and with others (Haverkampf, 2010a). Communication-Focused Therapy (CFT), as developed by the author offers several approaches (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017a) Finding meaning in things leads to greater happiness, and the basic parameters are ways to find and communicate what is meaningful. This requires doing what feels important, which can be a radically new way of doing things.

Connecting Across Time

Can we connect with someone we never met because they lived hundreds of years ago or with someone who is not present anymore? If that person leaves information, which we all do, we can connect. As mentioned, connectedness is a feeling that facilitates and s the result of the exchange of meaningful information. And wherever there is meaningful information, we can transform it in us and create new information from it. We do it all the time with a person who is in front of us. We cannot get immediate feedback to something we say from a person that is not present, but our mind can take the available information and create something new.

Connecting the Inside and the Outside

Sustainable happiness is when we are connected to the inside and outside worlds, when we can communicate freely within both. When an organization strives to be optimally adapted to itself and the environment, when it allows itself to be changed by it and to change it in beneficial ways, it can induce positive feelings and productivity. Fears, however, can be a significant hindrance.

Happiness does not require great activity. Even sitting in one’s chair at home can bring about happiness, when the feeling of connectedness with oneself and the world around is present. Happiness and the flow of meaningful information are linked. Happiness as an emotion is an indicator of how we process information, of how we think. Taking a step back and ‘observing’ how one process information on the inside (thinks and feels) and how one processes information on the outside (interacts with others) leads to greater connectedness and usually also higher satisfaction in life. Connectedness helps to optimize how we arrange our surroundings and ourselves in these surroundings.


Dr Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D. (Vienna) MLA (Harvard) LL.M. psychoanalytic psychotherapy (Zurich) trained in medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy and works in private practice for psychotherapy and counselling in Dublin, Ireland. He is the author of several books and over a hundred articles. Dr Haverkampf has developed Communication-Focused Therapy® and written extensively about it. He also has advanced degrees in management and law. The author can be reached on the websites www.jonathanhaverkampf.ie and www.jonathanhaverkampf.com. He is also a guest at http://www.askdrjonathan.com.

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Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT) for Psychosis

Haverkampf-C.-J.-2020.-Communication-Focused-Therapy®-CFT-for-Psychosis.-In-CFT-Vol-IV-pp.-240-259

Communication-Focused Therapy (CFT) for Psychosis

Dr. Christian Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D.

Communication-Focused Therapy (CFT) is a psychotherapy developed by the author, which can be applied to several mental health conditions, including psychosis. Meaningful communication is at the heart of understanding psychosis. When a patient can no longer distinguish whether the information comes from the inside or outside world, we consider it a psychotic state. ‘Information’ can include anything from new thoughts to a sensory perception or sensations from inside the body. Since information transmission happens through communication, patients’ communication patterns influence the meaningful information they are exposed to, and the level of meaning they associate with themselves and the world. Psychosis is, in this sense, a distortion in meaning-making, which can be an impairment in everyday life. However, working on communication patterns can reverse the impairment and even bring out new resources to benefit the patient.

Keywords: psychosis, communication-focused therapy, CFT, communication, psychotherapy, treatment

Table of Contents

Introduction. 4

Reality. 4

Learning through Communication. 5

Resources. 5

Psychosis. 6

Misinterpretation of Sources of Information. 7

Misinterpretation of Messages. 9

A Diversity of Symptoms. 9

Connectedness vs Psychosis. 10

Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT) 11

Communication is Life. 11

Autoregulation. 12

Understanding Psychosis. 12

Meaningful Communication. 12

Learning about Communication. 13

Observing Communication. 14

Experimenting. 15

Reflecting. 15

The Communication Space. 15

Connectedness. 17

Experiencing the World. 17

Identifying Meaning in the World. 17

Increasing Interactions. 18

Values, Needs and Aspirations. 19

Communication Patterns. 20

Questions. 20

Confirmation. 20

Reflection. 21

Support. 21

Explaining. 21

Theory Building. 22

Experimentation. 22

‘You’ and ‘I’ 22

Time. 22

Metacommunication: Structure. 23

Testing. 23

Boundaries. 23

Communicating Internally. 24

Communication Attributes. 24

Communication Structures. 24

Communication Dynamics. 25

Meaningful Messages as the Instrument of Change. 25

Knowing Where Information Comes From.. 26

References. 28

Introduction

Psychosis means losing touch with reality in one’s perception of what is real. It is thus a failure in meaningful communication since what is meaningful ultimately becomes real. Medication is often the first-line treatment, and many schools of psychotherapy are reluctant to work with people experiencing psychotic symptoms. On the other hand, psychotherapy can be a much more delicate instrument than medication. It also needs to be remembered that both medication and psychotherapy bring about changes in the neuronal network. Psychotherapy changes the streams of information, and meaningful information brings about a change in the neuronal network because the inherent definition of meaning is that it can affect a change. (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2018a)

From a perspective of everyday functioning more specifically than medication, which can be highly specific for certain molecular pathways, but does not have the specificity for the interactions of the patient with the real world.

Underlying most psychotherapies is the belief in the effectiveness of interpersonal communication, the ‘talk therapy’ as psychoanalysis was called at the close of the nineteenth century. Since in psychosis there are patterns of communication with oneself and others that are causing symptoms and are not helpful to the individual, using therapy to change offers more than hope in the treatment and management of psychosis. Communication-Focused Therapy® was designed by the author to work on the communication patterns that play a role in the exchange of meaningful information.

Reality

When people speak of reality, they really often mean shared reality. Shared reality is the perceptions the majority of people have. It does not necessarily mean that this is the ‘true’ reality, but it is how the majority of people see the world.

The shared reality may not necessarily be the ‘best’ reality. Someone could be happy interpreting the world in a different way. Part of the shared reality is due to shared anatomy and physiology; another part is due to the exchange of information between people. Psychosis affects how information is processed. Besides medication, helping people to have a different perspective on the flows of information and process them differently is an important way to treat psychosis. Assisting patients in selecting for, exposing themselves to, and as a result, receiving more meaningful information, they can ‘build’ a reality which causes less suffering and better meets their needs and wants.

An essential feature of experiencing reality is to be able to discriminate where the information is coming from. If one hears voices, one misattributes internal thoughts as external, or if one feels pursued by a secret agent, an aggressive inner emotion gets projected into the outside world. Both these examples are a consequence of how patients work with internal and external communication. Better insight into communication and learning communication skills can help to better localize sources of messages and build a more stable view and sense of reality.

Learning through Communication

Learning to identify better the sources of information, inside one’s own body and in the outside world, can help to attach the correct meaning to a sensation or a voice one hears. This can be trained in the communication space of a psychotherapeutic setting. Practising communication and reflecting on it helps the patient to develop greater insight and sharpen his or her communication skills.

Learning about communication usually includes a theoretical psychoeducational component and a practical component. Engaging in communication can be important to increase one’s confidence and skills in the process. At the same time, better proficiency in communication also makes any other learning processes easier.

Resources

Patients who have psychosis often lose a sense of their resources because the structure of the self feels less stable and reliable. In the therapeutic interaction, through the communication process, a more stable distinction between the inside and outside worlds can be established, which strengthens the sense of self, and thus makes the own resources more accessible. The self is an experience of internal information flows (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2017b, 2017c). Therefore, it is not surprising that working on communication patterns can help arrive at a more stable sense of self.

Using communication more optimally can, for example, compensate for various cognitive impairments which are often a part of psychosis. Individual strengths can shine more if interactions with oneself and the world around improve. Resources can also be easier felt and relied upon if one communicates better with oneself. One aim of Communication-Focused Therapy® is to help the patient identify where information comes from, particularly if it represents a feeling or an emotion, what it means, and how one can react to it.

Psychosis

Psychosis is an abnormal condition of the mind that involves a loss of contact with reality. It is not a diagnosis but a bundle of symptoms. People experiencing psychosis may exhibit personality changes and thought disorder. Depending on its severity, this may be accompanied by unusual or bizarre behaviour, difficulties with social interaction, and impairments in carrying out daily life activities. Generally, psychosis involves noticeable deficits in normal behaviour and thought (negative symptoms) and often various types of hallucinations or delusional beliefs, particularly concerning the relationship between self and others as in grandiosity or paranoia (positive symptoms). Psychosis has such broad effects because it affects the flow of information, making interactions with others difficult. But it also affects the internal flows of information as discussed above, which can then lead to a misattribution of information. Internal information may then be mistaken as having an external source and vice versa. The paranoia of someone following me or a secret cabal of individuals influencing me is a projection fo the normal dynamics into the outside world. Our thoughts are questioned, obliterated, and threatened by other thoughts, as this is how normal rational thoughts processes work. The opposite happens when I am convinced that other people are influencing my thoughts directly.

Unfortunately, psychosis as a diagnostic term is often used after other reasons have been excluded. Therefore, it may be more illuminating to think of psychosis as a mental process involving changes in how information flows and how these flows are interpreted, which can occur in various psychiatric conditions.

Misinterpretation of Sources of Information

As discussed, in psychosis leads to a misattribution of information to an outside or an inside source. Patients experience their thoughts as coming from outside in the form of voices or people on the outside as part of internal mental processes. They might experience the latter as people influencing their own thoughts. From the differently perceived localization of perceptions and messages, a different reality is constructed. Since the pieces often do not integrate as well into it as in the shared reality, gaps can result, which then lead to fears, which are often of an intense and existential nature. There is evidence for an association between hallucinations and externalization errors in source monitoring. Neuroimagining results support hyperactivation of voice selective cortical regions (e.g. the superior temporal gyrus, STG) as underlying the cognitive operations shared between externalization errors in source monitoring and hallucinations. (Woodward & Menon, 2013)

From a communication perspective, an interesting question is whether the meaning that is given to the information content influences the misattribution. In one study, results suggested that external source monitoring bias may not be central to the cognitive processes underlying hallucinations early in the course of psychotic illness, and the theory linking childhood trauma and external source misattribution was not supported. (Bendall et al., 2011) Also, in dissociation, there is support for the association between errors attributing the source of self-generated items and positive psychotic symptoms and the absorption and amnesia measures of dissociation. (Chiu et al., 2016) This would also point more to an information processing problem that is relatively independent of meaning.

Another pertinent question is whether the misattribution may be due to an existing tendency to externalize, which may at least explain the inside-out misattribution or projection. Earlier findings have been that patients with hallucinations and delusions are prone to misidentifying their own verbal material as alien in a task which does not involve cognitive self-monitoring. This suggests that these symptoms are related to an externalizing bias in the processing of sensory material, and not solely a function of defective self-monitoring. (P. P. Allen et al., 2004) In a later study, Garrison and colleagues found no evidence of an impairment or externalizing bias on a reality monitoring task in hallucination-prone individuals. They also found no evidence of atypical performance on an internal source monitoring task in hallucination-prone individuals. (Garrison et al., 2017) Reality monitoring is the ability to distinguish internally generated information from information obtained from external sources.  

Impairments in self-recognition (i.e. recognition of own thoughts and actions) have been repeatedly shown in individuals with schizophrenia. Information flows in many different areas in the body, and this can also involve sensorimotor processing. Dysfunction of sensorimotor predictive processing can lead to altered self-monitoring in psychosis. (Salomon et al., 2020) In another study, individual differences in auditory hallucination-like experiences seem to be  highly related to the external misattribution of thought. (Sugimori et al., 2011) This is important because sensorimotor information also plays an important part in building the sense of self. Self-monitoring biases and overconfidence in incorrect judgments have been suggested as playing a role in schizophrenia spectrum disorders. Gaweda and colleagues found that both ultra-high risk and first-episode psychosis groups misattributed imagined actions as being performed (i.e., self-monitoring errors) significantly more often than the control group. They made their false responses with higher confidence in their judgments than the control group. There were no group differences regarding discrimination between the types of actions presented (verbal vs non-verbal). (Gawęda et al., 2018)

The misidentification of self-generated speech in patients with auditory verbal hallucinations is associated with functional abnormalities in the anterior cingulate and left temporal cortex. In a study by Allen and colleagues, individuals with hallucinations made more external misattributions and showed altered activation in the superior temporal gyrus and anterior cingulate compared with both other groups. This may be related to impairment in the explicit evaluation of ambiguous auditory verbal stimuli, according to the investigators. (P. Allen et al., 2007)

There seem to be self-recognition deficits in populations on the continuum of psychosis who are still lacking the full-blown psychotic symptoms. Lavalle and colleagues observed significantly reduced self-recognition accuracy in populations on the pyschosis-spectrum compared to controls. (Lavallé et al., 2020) Biological areas in the brain that are involved in both self-referential processing and the integration of sensory information, such as the right middle temporal gyrus (MTG) and left precuneus, may be involved. A study found that within a first-episode psychosis group, the level of activation in the right middle temporal gyrus was negatively correlated with the severity of their positive psychotic symptoms. y (Kambeitz-Ilankovic et al., 2013)

One needs to regard psychotic symptoms as being on a sliding scale, like many other mental health afflictions. For example, psychotic symptoms can occur in situations when otherwise healthy individuals are under significant psychological stress. Using a robotic device to introduce sensorimotor prediction errors (SPEs) in healthy subjects can induce a psychosis-like feeling of a presence (‘FoP’) (Blanke et al. 2014).  induction of SPE can cause self-other confusion in the auditory domain. This deficit in self-other discrimination could be correlated to specifically reduced connectivity in the fronto-parietal cortex (‘FoP network’) related to sensorimotor self-representation. (Salomon et al., 2018)

Misinterpretation of Messages

Misinterpretation of a message is different from the misattribution of the information source, but they often seem to go hand in hand in psychosis. The conviction that someone is pursued by a neighbour, who is a spy, can be a misinterpretation of a feeling towards the neighbour as a (real) outside event, while a smile from the neighbour in the hallway can be interpreted as her satisfaction about having made a plan to harm the patient, which would be a misinterpretation of her original message of saying ‘Hi’.

A misinterpretation of messages usually occurs with respect to the universe of the patient, emotionally and perceptually. When focusing on communication in therapy, it is therefore essential to first get a sense for the universe the patient finds himself or herself in, both perceptually and emotionally. This information allows the therapist to build a better rapport with the patient since the patient will interpret the therapist’s messages within the context of this universe.

A Diversity of Symptoms

A host of symptoms can follow from the underlying communication dynamics of psychosis. Psychosis is often used descriptive term for the hallucinations, delusions and impaired insight that may occur as part of a psychiatric disorder. More correct would be to use it to describe the alterations in information recognition and processing. Some symptoms can be due to a misinterpretation in the source of the information or misinterpretation of one’s own position relative to the source of information, while others are clearly due to a misinterpretation of the messages.

Connectedness vs Psychosis

Psychosis is a state in which information is no longer categorized and compartmentalized in the same way. This does not necessarily mean an increase in connectedness. Rather the opposite, as the categorization of information, such as what happens in the outside world and what happens on the inside, is important to effectively communicate with oneself and others. When it becomes distorted or breaks down, the boundaries between oneself and the other person are affected, which reduces the accuracy of encoding and decoding messages. If I cannot distinguish if a thought or emotion is mine or someone else’s, my interaction with the other person will be affected. If I am wrong, a message from the other person, or myself, will be read incorrectly, and I am more likely to respond in a way, which does not help myself or the other person. For example, if my anger about someone else is misinterpreted as anger coming from the other person, I am more likely to misinterpret their brief stare or silence. They may reflect on what I said while I could interpret their communication as aggressive.

However, connectedness can also be heightened in a psychotic episode if barriers break down, which have been impairing a free flow of meaningful communication otherwise. For example, among shamans, several may owe their visions to psychotic episodes, which brought information into conscious awareness, which may not have been as easily accessible otherwise. Several artists also had psychosis, such as Van Gogh who had schizophrenia, whose paintings with their bright colours and eerily straight forward yet fantastically distorted images remind of accounts of psychotic episodes. It does not mean that they were actually created in a psychotic episode, but a greater sensitivity and less filtering of certain types of sensory and other information in psychosis could be associated with more pronounced internal and external connectedness. How this connectedness plays out in everyday life depends on existing communication patterns, both within the person and with others. It also depends significantly on the environment, as the case of the shamans illustrated.

Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT)

The author developed Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT) to focus more specifically on the communication process between patient and therapist and help the patient acquire more insight and better skills. The central piece is that the sending and receiving of meaningful messages is at the heart of any process leading to changes in thoughts or external situations. CBT, psychodynamic psychotherapy and IPT help because they define a format in which communication processes can bring about change without focusing on them. CFT tries to be more efficient in a therapeutic sense by focusing on them more directly.

At the start, when treating psychosis, it may appear challenging to engage in a constructive communication process. However, organisms, in general, tend to react to information if it reaches them somehow. Even in states that seem very closed off, the brain still receives and processes information streaming from the external world. Persistence, and in many cases antipsychotic medication as a supportive tool, often help to get the patient to a point where they get used to the constant messages, fears decline, and it becomes easier to initiate a response. It is important to remember that it is almost impossible to interact with someone who repeatedly sends out messages under normal circumstances.

Communication is Life

We continuously engage in communication. Cells in our bodies interact with each other using electrical current, molecules, vibrations or even electromagnetic waves. On a more macroscopic level, people communicate through a multitude of channels, which may depend on several technologies and intermediaries. It does not have to be an email. Spoken communication requires multiple signal translations from electrical and chemical transmission in the nervous system to mechanical transmission. Muscles and air stream determine the motions of the vocal chords. As a result, sound waves travel through the air, followed by various translations on the receiving end. At each end, in the sender and the receiver, there is a processing of information that relies on the nervous system’s highly complex networks. Communication, in short, happens everywhere all the time. It is an integral part of life. Specific communication patterns can, however, also contribute to experiencing anxiety and panic attacks.

Autoregulation

Communication is an autoregulatory mechanism. It ensures that living organisms, including people, can adapt to their environment and live a life according to their interests, desires, values, and aspirations. This does not only require communicating with a salesperson, writing an exam paper or watching a movie, but also finding out more about oneself, psychologically and physically. Whether measuring one’s strength at the gym or engaging in self-talk, this self-exploration requires flows of relevant and meaningful information. Communication allows us to have a sense of self and a grasp of who we are and what we need and want in the world, but it has to be learned similar to our communication with other people.

Understanding Psychosis

In psychosis the internal and external worlds cannot be distinguished as accurately anymore. They seem to blend into each other. This can cause various symptoms that are then summarised as ‘psychotic’. However, each symptom should make sense in the context of the patient’s communication patterns as well as the life experiences and emotions the patient faces, which influence the content of the psychosis. Having an understanding for what is happening, is important because it also helps make the patient feel more secure.

Another feature of psychosis is a more or less strong divergence from the patient’s perceived world from the shared reality, maybe one aspect which allows artists with intermittent moderate psychosis to paint stunning works of art. This divergence is largely driven by emotions or thoughts which become disassociated from the fabric of the patient’s self and personality.

Meaningful Communication

When an individual suffers from psychosis, a first important step is to help the patient see meaning in the communication process, particularly a relevance to own needs and interests. This helps to build and maintain the motivation which is necessary for a communication oriented therapeutic process. It also helps the patient build a greater sense of efficacy when interacting with his or her environment.

Since communication patterns are usually significantly affected in psychosis, a message can be given different meaning. If the information background of a message changes, the meaning attached to it changes. When information is no longer tagged correctly as to where it comes from, whether from the inside or the outside of a person, its meaning will change because it is put into a different information context. For example, ‘hearing’ a thought as if it comes from the outside world, leads the brain to create a whole setting for this ‘voice’. As the brain is constantly trying to extract simplicity from the information it has, it will offer the simplest explanation for this voice, even if it has to create a new reality where the voice fits in. The result can be a fantastic story built around the voice. Understanding these internal communication patterns, even if they cannot be seen directly, helps a patient to better live with the voice. Patients with psychosis may even understand the voice as thoughts they are having. As these may be thoughts they would not be consciously aware of otherwise, psychotherapy also needs to help the patient gain a better understanding of the content of the voice, which can be a stark distortion of the underlying thoughts.

Learning about Communication

The first step is to learn about communication, to see how it works, what its constituents are and the purposes it can serve, to talk about communication. Often it helps to go through examples that may be of special relevance to the patient. Analyzing them and looking at different options and different outcomes help to illustrate to the patient the importance of the process. Talking about communication also has the benefit that one can talk about something relevant apart from the content. Talking about communication allows to focus on something that not only underlies all the processes that produce content without talking about the latter, but also to move with the patient in a space where there are usually no discrepancies in beliefs or anything that is driven by content, which is largely superficial and dependent on the communication processes underneath it. Talking about communication also lets the therapist get a foot in the door of content. No matter how bizarre beliefs or views sound, there is some reason for the patient to have them, and to find one’s way into the deeper content is usually best via talking and learning about communication. Often, the more bizarre the belief sounds, the clearer may be the underlying thought content.

For the learning process, it is important that the therapist has a sense of the patient’s perceptual and emotional world. Understanding is here at the core, which involves the use of communication patterns that facilitate the exchange of meaningful information. Learning with the patient more about the communication patterns the patient (and the therapist) uses increases the amount of meaningful information that can be produced in the session. Insight into the patient’s communication patterns also enables the therapist to use communication styles and messages which are interpreted by the patient not as hostile, deferential or lacking in empathy. Early in the therapeutic process the interaction should help to build a strong and stable therapeutic relationship. An understanding of communication patterns is in this process more important than the content.

Observing Communication

Splitting up communication and identifying its components helps to observe the process and the variations, large and small, in it. Observing is a learning experience and helps develop an interest in communication and see the possibilities in influencing and shaping interactions with others. An interaction can exist in many shapes and forms, while the underlying communication processes adhere to common rules and laws. It helps the patient to appreciate the common underlying mechanisms, which can increase trust in the process and a sense of stability in the world, and, at the same time, to see an ecncounter as a dynamic group of interacting communication events.

Important is that the patient learns to look at the bigger picture and observe communication as it takes place, whether it involves the patient or not. This essentially requires being able to take a step out of the current interaction and to observe the dynamic without engaging in it at the same time. Over time, this becomes automatic enough that observation and engagement can alternate in one’s awareness so quickly that they seem to be simultaneous.

A patient can learn about communication if the therapist reflects and comments on what happens in the communication space the patient and therapist share. This teaches the patient patterns and skills through the expertise and experience of the therapist. However, it requires that the therapist has this expertise and experience. Especially for a psychotic patient, it is important to show this not just in theory, but also in practice through trying out new communication experiences which then translate into new perspective of the world and oneself.

Experimenting

Experimenting with communication in its different flavors can give the patient a greater sense of effectiveness with respect to the environment as well as oneself. It gives patients a greater sense of being in control, which is helpful because patients with psychosis often experience helpless and hopelessness, which can also cause some of the sudden emotional outbursts seen in severe cases of psychosis, such as schizophrenia.

A gradual increase in the scope or difficulty in the scope of experimentation probably works best. It can start with little everyday encounters and end with dating. People generally feel more vulnerable the more they feel they expose about themselves. For patients who have psychosis, this anxiety is much greater, because they sense that their perceived world and the shared reality diverge. Own emotions may also feel real, which makes their visibility to others even riskier. The fear of getting hurt at the core of one’s mental structure is universal. However, the hurt seems more devastating in a patient who has psychosis because the structure is already under considerable stress.

Reflecting

The newly gained knowledge and communication skills need to be processed, which can help increase the confidence and sense of effectiveness in the world. This should not be solely about control, but more about seeing oneself as a part of something bigger which is not something to be afraid of, but helps individuals to address and meet their needs and wants.

The Communication Space

Depending on the environment we move through different communication spaces in everyday life. The communication space is the space in which messages are being sent and received. If one is talking to someone over the phone who lives on a different continent, the communication space extends to this person, while not including the neighbor in the apartment next door, unless the walls are really thin.

To a patient suffering from psychosis the communication space can be extremely large or extremely small, but it usually diverges considerably from that of other people. Thoughts, for example, can be influenced from a large distance, or, at the other extreme, a patient could fully disconnect from the environment. To someone suffering from psychosis the internal world largely determines the communication space, while other people’s communication space is determined through an interaction with the environment.

In therapy, it is important to make the patient aware of the communication space he or she builds and what influences it. This is an important component of learning about communication and bringing about change through it. We all build our communication spaces in different ways. This does not only depend on individual communication patterns or structures, but also on other aspects of personality, individual life experiences, and more. The mental health condition, in this case the psychosis, should be viewed as something on top of it that affects the building of the communication space and the communication patterns in a fairly predictable yet somewhat crude way.

The communication space is built from communication patterns, yet it also influences communication patterns in a rather direct way. When I interact with another person, the communication patterns, and possibly also structures, I will be using, depend on the communication space I find myself in. As the communication space is subjective, it is only related to an actual physical space and situation, but it is not the same. Depending on how I feel I may perceive my external communication space as relatively large at a dinner party (good feelings, low social anxiety) or small (feeling self-conscious, distracted by internal thoughts). Although the external and internal communication space may both be large at times, they often grow at the expense of the other. When the experienced external and internal communication spaces in psychosis overlap less and less with the spaces as they appear to an observer, communication with the outside world becomes less efficient. There is more friction because the communication patterns an individual uses are adapted to the experienced communication space, which in psychosis, as also in several other mental health conditions, agrees less with the communication space another person uses to adjust their communication patterns and structures. Helping a patient identify these differences can already be very helpful. It is not necessary that people’s communication spaces agree all the time – they are not supposed to – as long as one can translate between the two and make modification. If a patient suffering from a psychosis sees her world as that of a microbe on an intergalactic sheep, it is still possible to talk about feelings thoughts and the conversation we may be having. As already discussed the content can pull the interaction, but reflecting together on the communication itself is often the technique that can lead to long-term stabilization.

Connectedness

The symptoms of psychosis can reduce the meaningful interactions a patient has with the world. The breakdown of boundaries between the outside and inside world and the changes in selecting and giving meaning to information, make communication between a patient with psychosis and someone else more difficult. These difficulties in communication can then have secondary effects, which lead to even more isolation and disconnect. The therapist can use communication patterns that lead to changes in the patient’s communication patterns, when they are combined with an overall strategy of creating more awareness and insight for the communication the patient has with the world and conducts internally.

Experiencing the World

Psychosis often leads to a vicious cycle which leads to less rather than more communication. Anxieties and a changed perception of reality can lead to a disengagement from it, which reduces the ability to distinguish internal from external reality even more. Practising and discussing new ways to communicate with the patient, including new communication patterns and better reflection on them, increases the patient’s ability to experience and bring about change in the world.

Next to improving interactions with others, better identification and understanding of meaning helps to anchor the patient better in the shared reality, making everyday life and planning for the future easier.

Identifying Meaning in the World

Fears brought about by the divergence of the perceived reality from the shared reality lead to social isolation and withdrawal, which reinforces feelings of fear and loneliness or frustrations. To break this cycle, it helps the patient find more relevance in aspects of the shared reality. This is usually not a process which happens from one day to the next, but over time leads to a closer alignment of the patient’s perceptions and intentions with the shared reality

Communication helps in identifying and finding meaning. Communicating with oneself and others raises one’s proficiency at identifying, finding and accumulating meaningful information. Organisms are already born with communication patterns they can use with themselves and the environment. These resources are encoded in the networks of cells within the organism, particularly the neuronal network. Through meaningful interactions, one accumulates more meaning, more connectedness with oneself and the world, which also provides a protective boundary against fears, guilt, self-blame and other negative emotions, depression and anxiety.

There are essentially two techniques to help the patient identify and interpret relevance and meaning in the world. One is by directly discussing the individual needs and how they can be met in the world, such as in a relationship or at the workplace. The second is by helping the patient have better internal and external interactions with the world, which make it easier to see relevance and meaning in the environment and provide the skills to attain them.

Increasing Interactions

Perceiving more meaning also makes interacting with others and oneself more meaningful. Communication patterns determine how one relates to the own environment and exchanges messages with it, which in turn affects the communication patterns. As long as this feedback loop works well, it contributes significantly to the patient’s autoregulation and a better adjustment to the environment. As the anxiety about interactions with others decreases, it should become easier to become more socially involved with others, at least to the extent that would feel comfortable to the individual.

In the beginning this often requires reducing situation- or person-dependent fears that are a consequence of the psychotic experience. Altered interpretations of information and its source lead to the perception of a less stable world, which seems to contain real threats, even if the latter is just own emotions or thoughts that have manifested as real to the patient. Meaningful interactions with the world can reduce the divergence of realities and fear because they stabilize the patient’s experience in the world. To be meaningful, the interactions should be an exchange of messages relevant to the patient’s interests, values or aspirations. This is why it is important to discuss with the patient and get a sense of the patient’s needs, wants and values. The next step is to help the patient find and make interactions that are helpful and meaningful to him or her. With the additional focus on communication, whether in a therapeutic session, internal thoughts or between the patent and others, interactions should become easier and less feared.

Values, Needs and Aspirations

Often, individuals suffering from psychosis become uncertain about what is really important to them and the fit between these values and interests and their current life situation. In all areas of life, having one’s needs, wants and values met, leads to a higher quality of life. If one values helping others in a specific way, it is important to find ways to engage in this activity, because it will result in a positive feeling. Harm to oneself and others is usually a consequence of some disconnect with one’s own feelings, needs, wants and values. Burnout or verbal abuse of another person may be examples.

The change in one’s relation with oneself and the environment, as well as the resulting change in the sense of self, make is usually harder for an individual suffering from psychosis to identify correctly the own needs, wants, values, and aspirations, partly out of fear that they could disturb a fragile feeling reality even more. In this situation, it is helpful to help the patient understand that connecting with them actually adds stability, rather than taking away from it. One way to reduce the fear of getting closer to and identifying key parameters about oneself is to help the patent emotionally reconnect. The emotions are the sum of vast amounts of information, such as a feeling of happiness as the product of perceptions of a situation and associated thoughts, and can, if they are owned by the patient, lead to a greater feeling of stability. Helping the patient to notice and identify them more accurately can lower fears and the make the inner world, and thus also the outer world in psychosis, seem more predictable. It is important to add in this context, that emotional instability is not so much due to a too much of emotions, but a consequence of impairments in a patient’s internal communication with the own emotions. The inability to read the emotions accurately leads to the sense of instability, or even the emotional and existential ‘void’ which is so prevalent in a patient with borderline personality disorder.

Communication Patterns

A more comprehensive overview of different communication patterns, elements, and structures is provided by the author elsewhere (Haverkampf, 2018b). A few will here be selected that may be particularly useful in patients with psychosis.

Questions

Questions are powerful instruments in changing communication patterns (Haverkampf, 2017a). There are many different types with vastly different effects. But what many of them have in common is that they have an influence on how information is selected and worked with. Many questions narrow the choice of communication patterns the other person can use in response. They often force the other to use a blended communication pattern and content they might otherwise not have volunteered at this point within the interaction. Questions can therefore also play a significant role to influence the timing of stages within an interaction.

Using questions in the interaction with someone experiencing psychotic symptoms should be done carefully. While it can be a challenge to preemptively analyze how a question could be interpreted by the other, it makes the interaction easier to try to stay with the patient and get a sense for how they are likely to experience the world and this interaction in particular. The advantage of using questions is that they are less overtly directive, which can help when talking with a paranoid patient. On the other hand, being more directive can help a patient who experiences a loss of structure in the world and within themselves. However, in order to provide this level of support it is important to have a proper sense of the world and the own person through the patient’s eyes. Psychotic patients are often grateful for the interaction with another human being. Important is to build enough insight that any remaining structures that provide the patient with stability are not under attack from the start.

Confirmation

Repeating the information the patient has said but with adding to it, and thus slightly altered meaning, can be helpful to strengthen the healthy resources the patient can still access in a psychotic episode. This can also be done outside the psychotic episode. Building on strengths and resources that are rooted firmly in the patient’s mental world creates greater resilience when the psychotic thought patterns try to loosen the connection with external and internal realities.

Reflection

Reflective communication patterns are mainly directed at inducing reflection in the other. This is often done by introducing something novel, such as particular observation by the therapist, which appears relevant to the patient’s basic parameters, namely the needs, values and aspirations. Reflection should help build on the healthy structures the patient uses to gain a greater sense of stability and support the grounding in reality which facilitates better communication with oneself and others.

Support

Supportive communication patterns give the patient the opportunity to narrate and explain about his or her world in a safe and non-judgmental atmosphere. At the same time, the therapist is present with a reflection on the own feelings and thoughts that are triggered by the patient’s narrative. Supportive communication uses communication patterns that make it easier for the patient to engage, while providing the openness the patient needs to do so. Statement that show genuine interest and caring can go a long way. Here it also helps if the therapist is alert to meaning within the patient’s words. As the decoding of meaning depends on the information one already has, getting meaningful information form the patient and trying to understand as much as possible about the world of the patient are important.

Explaining

Explaining something to the patient may seem one-directional and untherapeutic, but it is of particular importance when working with patients suffering from psychosis. A good explanation about something the patient is struggling with or about the interaction with the therapist, for example, can be helpful in giving the patient a greater sense of stability and safety. This, of course, requires that the therapist has enough insight to be meaningful and relevant to the patient in the explanations and to be understood. Explaining can sometimes work like a question, because the additional information can lead to further information from the patient. Particularly in psychosis, a clear and mostly unambiguous communication is essential. Good communication can help the patient put more structure into the experienced real world.

Theory Building

Considering and reflecting on options demonstrates openness. Particularly in the case of psychosis, in which patients experiencing the world becoming a smaller rather than a larger place, learning that openness in terms of looking for explanations is nothing to be afraid of can be helpful in containing the destabilizing effect of psychosis.

Experimentation

Experimenting with communication patterns is one of the most important tools in therapy. When the patient experiences that the therapist experiments with new communication patterns, it also makes it easier for the patient to experiment. Adjusting existing communication patterns or synthesizing new ones so that they are more effective and adaptive is an important step for the patient. The therapist can support this by being open, reflected and playful in communicating.

‘You’ and ‘I’

Communication patterns that highlight the individual realms of patient and therapist are important to help the patient to distinguish between the own inner and the outer world and to integrate the presence of the other into these worlds. At the same time, the important of communication as a bridge between ‘you’ and ‘I’ which can make a ‘we’ in defined areas helps the patient to experience the power of communication, which can work against feelings of helplessness and control from outside.

Time

 Patients suffering from psychosis are already under tremendous pressure. It is important not to rush it and allow communication patterns that may not be directed to a specific goal and to create the space in which relaxed experimentation without fear of failure can take place. Time can take on different qualities when a patient is in a psychotic episode, which should be taken into account. As with any communication dynamic, pattern or attribute, it is important for the therapist to use a combination of picking up the patient where he is and doing something new, which can bring about a change and help the patient to move to a better state.

Metacommunication: Structure

Communication patterns have structure and the communication patterns together give rise to structures. As mentioned under support, it is usually helpful for the patient to get greater insight into how communication works. This makes it also to build on it. Raising awareness in the patient for communication structure may include some explanation, but often it may be more a combination of reflecting with the patient on past communication experiences, and how they worked, and reflecting on the communication taking place in the current setting.

Testing

Testing out communication patterns can also be important particularly for patients with psychosis. For example, to know where the information one hears in a voice is coming from, being able to test communication patterns is important. In the session this is often facilitated, when the therapist displays openness and explores with the patient helpful questions to find answers that satisfy needs and aspirations. Testing out communication patterns is frequently done by talking about situations that did nor did not work and investigating with the patients what made them work or not work. Practicing this investigative thinking can be helpful in improving everyday situations. It has also the benefit that it entrenches a way of communicating internally that can keep a greater stability in a psychotic episode.

Boundaries

It is difficult to communicate without boundaries. If there is no marked off space one can claim for oneself and outside of which there is the other person’s space, it is easy to make other people’s unhealthy thought and emotional dynamics one’s own and see own thoughts and emotions as those of others. When the distinction between the internal and external world fades in a psychotic episode, helping oneself and making decisions become impossible. If structures and categories disappear, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ become even more of a challenge. A disconnect from vital internal information to make decisions, add to the indecisiveness.

Important communication patterns in building boundaries are those that help the patient become more aware of and identify the basic parameters, that is the own needs, values, and aspirations. As they are always present and do not change much over time, identifying them can often have a stabilizing and healing effect for the patient. But they also help establish boundaries, because they reinforce the sense of being distinct from others and unique in them. At the same time, boundaries make it easier to also explore what one has in common with others without having to be afraid to lose those attributes that are important to oneself.

Communicating Internally

Making it easier for the patient to talk about internal communication can also help in having more influence over the internal communication. One usually has more influence over communication one can communicate about. This ability to engage in meta-communication is something that is usually lost in a more severe psychotic episode in schizophrenia, for example. However, in more moderate psychotic episodes this can be possible provided one has practiced it beforehand and experienced it as useful.

Communication Attributes

Different communication patterns can have common attributes. For example, openness can be expressed through questions, statements, inviting gestures, and so forth. Particularly when working with patients suffering from psychosis, clarity is important, but so also is adjusting the amount of information that is being communicated. Providing spontaneous feedback, for example, while a generic communication pattern, can come with many different attributes. It can be information rich, have added information in the form of particular emotional undertones, invite or not invite a response, and so forth. Working communication patterns and attributes usually develop out of the interaction with the patient, which contains auto-regulatory mechanisms.

Communication Structures

More complex behaviors in life, such as socializing, doing therapy, or conducting a meeting in work, are ruled by communication structures, which specify the group of communication patterns that are most likely to be used during the event, and in what sequence and under which circumstances. More awareness of these structures can often provide additional support to patients when they feel overwhelmed and confused by the communication dynamics of the moment. It also helps the therapist to have these structures in mind when the patient discusses everyday situations that did not seem to work.

Communication Dynamics

Therapy has meaningful messages travelling in both directions most of the time. Even the most abstinent therapist can only have a positive effect on the patient because he or she communicates. When working with patients who are experiencing an episode of psychosis, the information flows have to be adjusted to the situation. Problems usually arise in any communication situation when the external and internal dynamics diverge too far from each other (Haverkampf, 2010b)

The needed communication dynamics depend on the individual and on the situation. In many mental health conditions, the self-regulation capabilities are impaired, and it is difficult for a patient to adjust the parameters of the dynamics, including intensity, directionality (for example, back-and-forth or one-way), repetitiveness, novelty, and more, to the current needs. In psychosis, the partial disconnect mentioned above makes it more difficult to perceive the own need and to communicate to others the adjustments that are needed. The therapeutic setting should be a place where this can be practiced.

Meaningful Messages as the Instrument of Change

Communication is the vehicle of change. The instruments are meaningful messages which are generated and received by the people who take part in these interactions. In a therapeutic setting, keeping the mutual flow of information relevant and meaningful brings change in both people who take part in this process. The learning curve for the patient may be steeper in certain respects because he or she spends less time in this interaction style than a therapist.

The main objective is that patients can make communication work for themselves on their own. Looking at communication patterns and how meaning is generated in a therapeutic session should not only help with a concrete situation or problem in the moment but provide the tools to work with a multitude of situations or problems in the future. The key to build motivation and use communication processes, is to understand that meaning, information about information which is relevant to and resonates with the recipient of the message, is very much at the heart of it. Becoming better at sending and receiving, interpreting and working with meaning can make the world for an individual suffering from psychosis more stable and broadens the scope of change that can be affected on the world and oneself. Better insight and skills around communication and meaning take some time but can have a lasting beneficial effect for and individual suffering from psychosis.

Knowing Where Information Comes From

In the end, the patent should also have a better sense of communicating and knowing where information comes from. Not only does this help this reduce the divergence between the experienced world and the shared world, but it also helps to use information and communication better. Being able to identify a source of information can make it easier to identify meaning and respond to it. This helps build a stronger sense of self, better relationships and imparts greater confidence in dealing with everyday life as well towards fulfilling own aspirations. Greater insight and skills into communication can accomplish this.


Dr Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D. MLA (Harvard) LL.M. trained in medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy and works in private practice for psychotherapy, counselling and psychiatric medication in Dublin, Ireland. The author can be reached by email at jonathanhaverkampf@gmail.com or on the websites www.jonathanhaverkampf.com and www.jonathanhaverkampf.ie.

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Allen, P. P., Johns, L. C., Fu, C. H. Y., Broome, M. R., Vythelingum, G. N., & McGuire, P. K. (2004). Misattribution of external speech in patients with hallucinations and delusions. Schizophrenia Research, 69(2–3), 277–287. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.schres.2003.09.008

Bendall, S., Jackson, H. J., & Hulbert, C. A. (2011). What self-generated speech is externally misattributed in psychosis? Testing three cognitive models in a first-episode sample. Schizophrenia Research, 129(1), 36–41. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.schres.2011.03.028

Chiu, C.-D., Tseng, M.-C. M., Chien, Y.-L., Liao, S.-C., Liu, C.-M., Yeh, Y.-Y., & Hwu, H.-G. (2016). Misattributing the Source of Self-Generated Representations Related to Dissociative and Psychotic Symptoms. Frontiers in Psychology, 7(APR), 541. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00541

Garrison, J. R., Moseley, P., Alderson-Day, B., Smailes, D., Fernyhough, C., & Simons, J. S. (2017). Testing continuum models of psychosis: No reduction in source monitoring ability in healthy individuals prone to auditory hallucinations. Cortex, 91, 197–207. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2016.11.011

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This article is solely a basis for academic discussion, and no medical advice can be given in this article, nor should anything herein be construed as advice. Always consult a professional if you believe you might suffer from a physical or mental health condition. Neither author nor publisher can assume any responsibility for using the information herein.

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Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT) for Depression

Haverkampf-C.-J.-2020.-Communication-Focused-Therapy®-CFT-for-Depression.-In-CFT-Vol-IV-pp.-320-339

Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT) for Depression

Christian Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D.

Depression is a mental health condition that affects a large part of the population at least once over their life span, significantly reducing life quality and impairing work and relationships. Psychotherapy and medication are the main treatments for the condition. Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT) is a therapy developed by the author, focusing on communication processes to treat depression. Improvements in internal and external communication and awareness for a patient’s needs, values and aspirations appear to be effective against several symptoms of depression and increase motivation and compliance for therapy. This article provides an overview of a conceptual framework from a communication perspective and several approaches for treating depression with psychotherapy.

Keywords: depression, communication-focused therapy, CFT, communication, psychotherapy, psychiatry, treatment

Table of Contents

Introduction. 4

Depression. 6

Flattening of Emotions. 6

Negative Interpretations. 7

Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT®) 9

Communication Patterns. 10

Questions. 11

Timeline. 11

Getting Information. 12

Connecting. 12

Integration. 13

Analyzing Communication Patterns. 13

Emotional Signals. 14

Motivation. 15

Insight into Communication. 15

Building the Sense of Self 17

Meaning. 18

Resonance. 18

Relevance. 19

Communication Exchange. 21

Integration. 21

Values, Needs and Aspirations. 22

Internal Communication. 22

Meaningful Messages as the Instrument of Change. 23

Broader Experience. 23

References. 25

 

Introduction

Depression is a general lowering of emotional experiences, while in the lighter forms, it may just be a reduction of positive emotional experiences. A dialling down of internal and external communication, such as thoughts, feelings and activities, usually accompanies it. Loss of energy, motivation, and initiative, loss of enjoyment and interest in pleasurable activities, and loss of concentration are just some of the possible attributes of depression.

All explanations for depression seem to depend on the framework of the school of thought that produced them. An early answer from ego psychology was that depression is the emotional expression of a state of ego-helplessness and ego-powerlessness to live up to certain strongly maintained narcissistic aspirations. (Bibring, 1953) This explanation is in some ways not so far from what we can observe in depression in every clinical practice, even if we rarely use the terminology anymore. Patients who are depressed indeed mostly feel helpless and powerless, which are practically requirements of the sense of feeling depressed. When we find ourselves in a situation where there seems no escape or where we have to decide quite literally between a rock and a hard place, we are more likely to feel depressed, unless we develop a new alternative and open a door we have not seen before. Unfortunately, depression makes it seem harder to innovate and be creative. One of the techniques of Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT) is to restore the ability to see a broad range of options and innovate in depression. The path there is through work on communication patterns, as communication is how we all get our needs, values and aspirations satisfied.

Depression usually impairs the emotional communication one has with oneself and with others. (Haverkampf, 2017e) Experimental data has been showing quite consistently that depressive subjects exhibit disrupted emotional processing.  (Delle-Vigne et al., 2014) This emotional disconnect from oneself leads to a less complete sense of self and lower confidence in oneself and the world. (Haverkampf, 2012) The disconnect then leads to significant secondary impairments in everyday life.  It affects the interaction patterns one has with other people and oneself, leading to various relationship and workplace problems, and from here to further depression and anxiety. Thus, a neverending vicious cycle can pull the individual suffering from depression ever further down. Fortunately, in most people, depressive episodes are self-limiting as self-regulatory mechanisms usually kick in once it has reached a level where the quality of life is severely compromised. What then happens is that a shift or change in the internal and external communication happens that pulls the individual out of the depression. This latter process is what Communication-Focused Therapy® aims to bring about in patients where these auto-regulatory processes are absent or maladaptive. (Haverkampf, 2010b)

The symptoms of depression are the result of maladaptive internal and external communication patterns. A disturbance in the flows of meaningful information flows within the nervous system and between the nervous system and the outside world leads to a disconnect, resulting in less perceived meaning in the world and worse decisions because there is less available information. The informational deficit about oneself and the world leads to depression and anxiety, which causes even more withdrawal in a vicious cycle.

The link between communication patterns and mental well-being is an essential insight for its enormous ramifications on understanding and treating depression. However, one needs to view it as a large puzzle, where the pieces all fit in in the end. These puzzle pieces can come from many areas of an individual’s everyday life. In a study on monogamous romantic relationships, for example, mutual constructive communication was associated with decreases in depressive symptoms for males. In contrast, demand-withdraw communication correlated with increases in attachment avoidance and depressive symptoms. (Givertz & Safford, 2011)

An essential step in overcoming depression is becoming curious about how one communicates with oneself and others. Using constructive inquisitive communication patterns can have a healing effect (Haverkampf, 2017i). In therapy, the therapist can encourage observing the communication patterns a client operates and the assumptions made in them about intentions, wishes and needs, values, and other factors that determine the quality, quantity and future of human interactions. Since all psychotherapies to date, use human interaction as the main instrument in the healing process, even if they do not focus on it, most therapies can have a beneficial effect. Unfortunately, the focus is often not on communication patterns, which can, at least from a theoretical perspective, render them less efficient. While it is true that learned behaviour and past experiences influence the severity of the symptoms, they do so via internal and external patterns of communication. In any instance where therapy works, it is a change in information flows and communication behaviours that brings about changes in symptoms and quality of life. (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017a)

Depression

Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behaviour, feelings, and sense of well-being. A depressed mood can be a normal temporary reaction to life events such as loss of a loved one, a job loss, but also ‘positive’ ones, such as winning in a lottery or having sudden and spectacular success. All these events represent changes globally, requiring internal modifications to adjust internal and external communication systems to the new reality. A job that is now suddenly more practical requires a different internal dialogue, such as less analysis and more exploration. It may also require different external communication patterns with colleagues rather than work in front of a computer screen. If these changes have only occurred partially or not, the information exchange patterns do not fit the situation. This lack of fit can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed, withdrawal, emptiness and feelings of depression, or in some cases (hypo)manic states.

The sum of the basic patterns of external and internal communication, an individual’s personality, remains relatively stable over time. (Haverkampf, 2010a) This also applies if a mental health condition, such as depression, improves. In a sample of depressed outpatients receiving a 5-week trial of pharmacotherapy, changes in neuroticism and extraversion scores were modestly or not accounted for by changes in depression scores. (Santor et al., 1997) However, how individual communication elements and patterns are used in given situations can be subjected to change, leading to significant changes in personal satisfaction, contentment and happiness.

Flattening of Emotions

Depression leads to a disconnect. A patient is no longer able to access positive emotions to the same extent as before. However, at the same time he or she may also become disconnected to a varying degree from ‘negative’ emotions, such as sadness. In all cases, the individual suffers from missing out on important information about the own person. This then leads to negative feelings, possibly also fears and anxiety, because meaningful information is missing. To some degree it is possible to counteract this with activities that are meaningful to oneself. One may even say that in the best a depression weeds out thoughts and activities that are less meaningful. And in most cases short and especially the reactive depressive episodes are self-limiting. But in the more severe and longer lasting depression the disconnectedness from emotional signals accelerates the downward spiral of decreasing emotional connectedness and increasing ability to correctly send and receive meaningful messages. (Haverkampf, 2010c, 2013)

Reconnecting with emotional signals can be helpful in depression. This should not add to the pressure on the patient ‘to feel better’. In Communication-Focused Therapy®, this is usually done by using the communication patterns in the session or memories of past interactions and experiences in the world to inquire into the feelings that were associated with them. However, the main technique is concerned less with individual emotional episodes, but with enabling a patient to become more aware of and influence communication processes and information, which lead to particular emotional signals. (Haverkampf, 2017a)

Negative Interpretations

Elevated levels of repetitive negative thinking are present across a large range of Axis I disorders and appear to be causally involved in the maintenance of emotional problems. It has also been argued that repetitive negative thinking is characterized by the same process across disorders due to the inherent similarities (Ehring & Watkins, 2008). A depression leads to more negative interpretations of messages from the environment and from within oneself. As one attributes the cause of negative experiences to oneself and engages in self-blame, feelings of guilt, failure and incompetence emerge. At the same time, the own person, others and the world as a whole appear to be less meaningful and less relevant. This loss of meaning can potentially lead to dangerous situations of self-harm or even suicide. To prevent this requires an insightful and caring use of communication between therapist and patient.

It is important to realize that it can be the same information which reaches the patient, but which is associated with more negative emotions and thus more hypotheses of negative consequences. A depressed affect can so lead to an increased selection of information associated with negative emotions, which can then lead to an even more depressed affect. This vicious cycle usually does not pose a problem because positive information becomes more appealing, which pulls the individual out of the negative affective state. In a depression where emotional and other communication is inhibited already, it is more difficult for the autoregulatory mechanisms to work, making a spiralling into an increasingly depressed affect more likely.

Analytical internal communication patterns can be helpful in many areas of life. However, in depression they are often used for the wrong purpose, possibly in the attempt to extricate oneself from the symptoms of depression. In a study by Rimes and Watkins, thirty depressed participants and thirty never-depressed participants were randomly allocated to ‘analytic’ (high analysis) or ‘experiential’ (low analysis) self-focused manipulations. As predicted, in depressed participants, the analytical self-focus condition increased ratings of the self as worthless and incompetent pre- to post-manipulation, whereas the experiential self-focus condition resulted in no significant change in such judgements. (Rimes & Watkins, 2005)

Negative thinking can often be triggered by some internal or external information, frequently an intrusive, which may be easier to shrug off for a non-depressed person. In this instance, it is as if the depressed person tries to preempt any disappoints or possible negative emotions from an adverse outcome, by already realizing them intracranially and fighting them with compensating emotions. However, this only leads to further negative thoughts and downward spiraling ruminations. One solution is to identify thoughts as mere thoughts and not real, another to build a sense of oneself as being able to deal with whatever may be coming one’s way, particularly the own emotions.

Repetitive negative thinking can, on the other hand, be distinguished from other forms of recurrent cognitions, such as obsessions, intrusive memories or functional forms of repeated thinking. (Ehring & Watkins, 2008) This illustrated how certain symptoms of a mental health condition can be grouped along the internal and external communication patterns they are associated with, and that they can be categorized into a moderate number of sets.

Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT®)

Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT®) was developed by the author to focus more specifically on the communication process between patient and therapist. The central piece is that the sending and receiving of meaningful messages is at the heart of any change process. Communication processes are at the same time the instruments of change and their target. Any therapy has to lead to change. This can include changes in acceptance levels, new insights, learning processes and more. All these aspects are determined by communication processes and some are communication processes themselves. For the acceptance of a certain situation or emotion, for example, with the aim of reducing conflicting emotions and anxiety, one needs to learn about the situation or emotions and identify them and then put them into context with information from memory and use internal and external communication flows to reflect on them. If fear inhibits the information retrieval from memory this will not fully work. CFT aims, among other things, at reducing the fear of information retained in memory or communicated from others. This requires more meaningful information rather than less which can be communicated more freely as the fears or other inhibiting factors decrease. The freer and more open the communication processes become, the easier it is for autoregulatory processes to counter unhelpful diversions from health affect states. However, this requires insight, reflection and experimentation in therapy.

Many popular forms of psychotherapy, such as Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT), psychodynamic psychotherapy and Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) define a format in which communication patterns take place that can bring about change. However, they do not address and work with the communication processes directly. In psychodynamic psychotherapy, there is the concept of transference and counter-transference which focuses on the result of communication processes. CFT in contrast attempts to focus on the process itself. (Haverkampf, 2017a)

CFT attempts to analyze how information is exchanged, the various channels involved and how meaning is generated. Messages do not have to be contained in words, they can also be transmitted by facial gestures or any behavior of the send. To contain meaning they have to be relevant to the recipient and have the potential to bring about a change in the recipient. Working with and analyzing patterns of internal and external communication helps to make the exchange of meaningful information work more effectively, reducing anxiety, emotional, mood, psychotic and other disorder in the long-run. (Haverkampf, 2018b) This does not mean that medication and other forms of therapy do not have their places in treatment, it does not change that at all. However, CFT provides a theoretical and empirical framework that can enrich these other therapeutic approaches, while also being used on its own.

Communication Patterns

Humans interact on millions of communication channels at one point in time. Cells have their communication channels, and every information coming into the system and leaving it uses communication patterns. The reason why certain patterns have to be used is so that the other person can understand the message. A language can be seen as a form of communication patterns on a more complex level. We all communicate in patterns. However, unlike learning a language, people spend little time observing and reflecting on the other communication patterns they use all the time.

In biology, an emerging picture of interconnected networks has replaced the earlier view of discrete linear pathways that relate extracellular signals to specific genes, raising questions about the specificity of signal-response events (Kholodenko, 2006). In synthetic biology, researchers integrate basic elements and modules to create systems-level circuitry (Purnick & Weiss, 2009). The communication of the cells with each other and with the environment determines how effective they are in, for example, eliminating tumor cells. The important basic material is ‘information’, which is then activated and given influence over other factors through meaning, whether that is meaning in in an intracellular or an interpersonal context. Communication patterns and structures facilitate this process. (Haverkampf, 2018c)

Two cardinal symptoms of depression are ruminations and selecting negative information. Many therapeutic approaches focus on the negative, for example, and try to unlearn them. This may work in the short-term but often fails in the long-term if the internal and external communication patterns do not change. An external pattern may be how one could ask for information that could dispel the negative thoughts or an internal testing of the information. Changes in communication patterns means modifications in which and how information is sent, how it is received and how meaning is extracted from it. All these steps can either be adaptive or maladaptive. Depression comes with maladaptive communication patterns which then cause even more maladaptive communication patterns. The way out is to create awareness for, reflect and experiment with these communication patterns, at first in a therapeutic setting and then in the real world.

Questions

As has been pointed out by the author already elsewhere, questions are powerful communication patterns in effecting change in other communication patterns (Haverkampf, 2017i). In depression, they can mobilize resources and redirect thinking towards a different focus, and they can also help end ruminations and looping thoughts. Over time, the patient should become a personal expert in asking the right questions.

Questions represent a large group of communication patterns with very diverse combinations of communication elements. One needs to fine-tune questions to the present communication dynamics and the aim of the questioning. Using them is to cause a branching off in the communication dynamics, which then brings about change in everyone in the session. One should not forget that a question can also change the one asking it, even if one has used a particular type of question hundreds or thousands of times. Questions are so embedded in the social and interactional everyday life that we mostly are not aware of them more than the microtasks we carry out when driving a car. The author has written elsewhere much more in-depth about the question as a communication pattern that can be a potent therapy tool.

Timeline

Patients with depression often spend a considerable amount of time ruminating about the past. Those who also suffer from anxiety may also ruminate about the future. What frequently gets lost is thinking about the present, even though that is the point-like interval of time which is the only one that is ever real. To avoid the reality of the present can be due to various reasons. The depression can make existence so unbearable that one escapes into a different ‘time zone’, and that it is not real may even be wished for in the hope that this also makes the pain less real.

The use of observations, feedback and questions can help the patient to stay in the patient. Several other communication patterns can also achieve this goal. Whenever a communication pattern leads to greater internal and external connectedness, it helps to anchor the patient more firmly in the now. However, this does not lead to more intense suffering because it is the disconnectedness that usually causes suffering. Patients with severe depression do not feel sadder, but they often feel nothing. Truly experiencing an emotion like sadness, when one feels ready for it and while being connected with others and oneself, can be an essential step in dealing with and overcoming a loss or other saddening event. And nothing can be as connectivity promoting as communication itself.

Getting Information

Questions help the patient in changing communication patterns. Still, they can also produce information, which lowers uncertainty, brings new insight or leads to something new in the world, which is enjoyable and improves the overall mood. Often, patients with depression return to the same thoughts or situations because they do not see alternative actions or ideas, which may be enjoyable and lead to a better mood.  Ruminations result not from too much but too little useful information, yet finding the right information again depends on communication patterns.

When things look at their darkest, and everything around seems empty like a desert, it helps be aware of all the meaningful information that is already easily accessible.  Connecting within oneself and others can lead to insights that help in countering the depressed rumination. A therapist’s task is to help the patient build communication patterns that are more effective towards connecting with oneself and others. Doing so allows a patient to find more meaningful information in places such as the own life experiences, which are a treasure trove of information. If I ask what is important to me and what I value, I just have to look at situations in the past and probe how I felt, what I thought and whether my actions and interactions in these situations benefitted me. One only has to be more open to information that can be helpful, and one aim in therapy is to help patients become better at this without fear.

Connecting

Communication patterns that help the therapist and patient connect in the session can also help the patient connect with others and with themselves. As already pointed out, the internal and external communication is a reflection of the other. The ability to communicate with the outer world also increases the ability to communicate better on the inside. Communication-Focused Therapy® supports patients in becoming more aware of, reflecting on, and experimenting with communication, which leads to the flexibility and openness in communication that is very effective against many forms of depression.

Communication patterns to facilitate connecting may again include questions and other communication patterns that enable the flows of meaningful information. Patterns may be repeating a modified message, providing information about a feeling or thought triggered in response to the patient’s communication, making an observation that offers a new perspective, and so forth. It is more than small talk because the therapeutic communication patterns not only test and build relationships but should also provide greater insight. The latter also includes insight into the communication patterns themselves.

Integration

By talking about the communication between patient and therapist it is possible to help the patient see how communication can be influenced and shaped so as to lead to new insights and to make new connections between pieces of information. This integration of different strands of information flows are important in helping the patient to feel more integrated as a whole. For example, talking about communication can help the patient to associate an image with emotions, which in turn may connect with past memories. This integration, however, requires that it is first possible to talk about these thoughts and feelings, and secondly that it is possible to talk about communication in ways which helps the patient to make associations between the different flows of information.

Analyzing Communication Patterns

The first important step in therapy is to create awareness for the flows of information, and their patterns. (Haverkampf, 2018c) These dynamics happen largely outside of consciousness, but they are not random. Rather, they are a result of biology and the internal and external communication experiences of an individual over time. Complex organisms receive, combine transform and send millions of bits of information in the smallest fraction of a microsecond. To navigate within this sea of information successfully is the primary objective of every organism, humans included. Health conditions in general are a result if these processes no longer work adequately. Mental health conditions often also include a significant impairment in the external communication between a person and the environment.

The human brain is in a particularly good position to work with information, and one objective of therapy should be to help it work better with information, whether this is coming from emotional signals, sensory organs, or retrieved from within the neural network itself. Communication processes and information can be made conscious. We might not be able to identify the information stored in a neuron, which would not anyway, because that information only makes sense within the context of the neural network. However, we can become aware of information stored in the neural network, even if it is a tiny detail or something that does not seem to fit into an existing pattern.

Particularly in interactions with other humans and other living organisms, communication patterns have evolved that facilitate the exchange of meaningful information in an efficient way. They need to be largely automatic, such as a gesture in response or a change of voice, and it may be even more distracting to follow them all, but it is possible to discern and work with some universal patterns. For example, the sequence of a specific type of question and a specific type of answer can be universal, such as the nod of a waiter signaling attention, followed by a guest using the palm of her hand and finger to scribble in mid-air, which indicates that she wants the bill. A complex business negotiation, however, would also use the basic communication element of question and answer and build it into more complex patterns. Spiraling negative thoughts in depression, on the other hand, also use otherwise adaptive communication elements, however, they do so in unhelpful communication patterns. The problem is not the ability to worry and think, but how this is done, the pattern, which is not constructive and unhelpful.

Emotional Signals

The emotional signals contained in a message are important because own emotions one becomes aware of can contain a lot of information. The brain uses a lot of information to form an emotion. To yield an emotion of sadness requires not only the information that a relationship has ended, but also the information about the relationship itself and potentially the relationships before, including information from interactions with one’s parents, and so forth. In a therapeutic setting, all this information can be helpful to adapt strategies, or to design new ones, and help the patient to integrate all this information into his or her life.

The communication between therapist and patient gives clues about thought patterns and beliefs, which affect how messages from others are interpreted and how own messages are assembled and communicated. It also helps to get an idea for how a patient constructs meaning. What someone sees as meaningful and relevant is largely determined by own needs and wants, but also past experiences. When the patient begins to form new communication patterns or adapts old ones, it is helpful to help in identifying patterns that have worked well for him or her in the past. Sometimes new ones have to be constructed from scratch, if a patient has been socially isolated for a while, for example. It is then useful to rely more on the therapeutic interaction as a model to train new communication patterns. In some patients who have suffered from depression for a long time with social isolation this may be necessary, but also important to maintain the patient’s motivation for the therapeutic work.

The importance of awareness is that it gives the patient a greater sense of hope and control when the depression causes hopelessness and despair. The journey patient and therapist take together in exploring and experimenting with communication in itself has a major antidepressant effect. It requires openness and insight which cannot be manualized. Communication has, however, universal rules which can be understood and worked with.

Motivation

Decreased motivation is a central symptom of depression which often makes therapy more difficult. It is no different in a communication focused approach. Experiencing what is possible in therapy can raise motivation significantly, but this requires at least some motivation to begin a therapy and makes it through the early stages. A communication focused approach may have the advantage here that it has material to work with from the time the therapist opens the door and makes eye contact with the patient. Another advantage on the motivational side is that a communication focused approach places emphasis on the interaction between patient and therapist, and thus the relationship, which helps to motivate the patient to wait and see what the therapy has to offer.

Insight into Communication

In many instances, reflecting on one’s communication patterns and strategies with oneself and others in concrete situations leads to insight about them. This is quite practical in nature. Observing communication patterns and trying out new ones is an important part of therapy. Since communication has different components one can focus on its components:

Person A

  • Selecting information for a message
  • Encoding the information in a message
  • Sending the message through a communication channel (using the speech system to say the words)

Person B

  • Receiving the message through a communication channel (using the auditory system)
  • Decoding the message into information
  • Processing the information further

One will observe quite often that a message it not received accurately. For example, one may say “the weather is nice today”, and the other person may interpret this as a signal that one wants to go on a hiking tour. The easiest way, of course, is to ask the other person again if one is in doubt. However, patients with depression or anxiety are less likely to get the full information.

The communication patterns a depressed patient uses may have served some function in the past, as they could have protected from some negative emotional consequence. However, in the present they no longer promote an optimal outcome, one that takes into account both the own needs, values and aspirations. On the other hand, it is also easy to see how awareness, reflection and experimentation with new communication patterns can resolve the problem, reduce the anxiety in A and lift the mood of B. That is what a communication-oriented therapy should do.

Maladaptive communication pattern can lead to the perception of more negative consequences and less meaning in the world. The former can be a filtering and interpretation deficit, the second often follows the first in the form of a disconnect or disengagement from the world. Insight does not have to lead to a change of current communication patterns, but in many cases also the development of new ones. In practice, this may also include considering situations which can facilitate better communication patterns, as the communication patterns one uses also depends on the communication patterns of the people one interacts with. This is also the basic dynamic when an individual is constantly exposed to other people who are stressed, anxious or depressed. Especially in infants and children who are still in the process of acquiring and forming communication patterns, an anxious parent, for example, can pass on some of the maladaptive communication patterns to the child. Depending on any helpful communication patterns already in memory and the effectiveness of autoregulatory processes, the child may adopt less of the maladaptive communication patterns than it might otherwise.

Observing and insight into internal and external communication patterns are both important. An individual suffering from depression is less likely to see messages as relevant and meaningful if the communication patterns that make up the feeling of being oneself have been compromised. The feeling of being oneself is itself the own observation of internal flows of information or communication. There is thus a strong link between internal and external communication patterns, which also explains how individuals can spiral into a vicious cycle of depression where engaging with the world can make the internal sense of dread and depression even greater, and vice versa. For example, a depressed person who pushes himself or herself to be more outgoing in a social situation often feels worse in the end.

Building the Sense of Self

Seeing relevance in a message requires knowing what one needs, wants, as well as one’s values and aspirations. In short, it means knowing some basic parameters about oneself. When the self becomes more meaningful, the motivation and desires to learn or try out something new, including therapy, increase. To give the sense of self texture requires awareness and identification of the own needs, values and aspiration, thereby attaching more subjectively perceived value to it.

The sense of self is awareness of certain communication flows in one’s own body. These information flows can be sensory, emotional or other signals from cognitive processes or from memory. This is the reason why internal and external communication patterns play such an important role for the sense of self because they influence these information flows. If a patient uses an external communication pattern which interferes with social exchanges, the information flow from the outside world in this respect will be reduced which has as effect on the sense of self. Thus, exposure to meaningful communication and improvements in communication can be very effective in treating the symptoms of depression. Negative perceptions of oneself are reduced and the interactions with the environment improve, which in itself has an antidepressant effect. As the moods lift concentration, focus and memory problems tend to decrease because things feel more relevant consciously and subconsciously.

Meaning

Individuals suffering from depression often see less meaning in the things they do. In therapy an important part is to rediscover meaning, and find it in the things that are relevant to the patient. Relevant is anything that is close to his or her values, basic interests, aspirations, wants, wishes and desires.

Meaning requires that one can decode a message and extract some novel information form it which can potentially lead to change within oneself, a new thought, state or emotional signal, for example, which can then also lead to a change in the world. Helping patients to reassess and readjust communication patterns can be particularly helpful in therapy because the resulting change in perceiving and thinking usually also leads to a change in perspective (Haverkampf, 2018d), which then in turn also lead to changes in thinking, feeling, acting and interacting.

Resonance

Resonance is when synchronicity or similarity leads to a potentiation of a signal or piece of information. In a therapeutic setting, resonance can be important because it identifies information that may be important or relevant. A depressed patient who has lost a grasp of what is potentially enjoyable and meaningful can rediscover it when resonance is detected. When the therapist becomes aware of resonance in how a patient is communicating about something, it is often helpful to point that out. If there is true resonance, the patient will usually acknowledge it quite quickly. In other cases, the therapist may also identify it as a projection of something that is important to the therapist only. But if the patient sees a resonance, it can be helpful in getting more insight into the own needs, values and aspirations.

Resonance is when new piece of information becomes more meaningful because of the information that is already present (Haverkampf, 2018a). The interaction between therapist and patient is meaningful to the patient if what is happening resonates with the values, basic interests or aspirations of the patient. In therapy, often the technique of the ‘fishhook’ (Haverkampf, 2010b) may be used. One asks the patient to describe life in general, such as the events of the weekend. The more the patient learns to work with resonance, the easier it will be for her to find insight in these everyday events by using an increasing volume of information effectively, including emotional signals, perceptions, cognitive thoughts and more.

In therapy, patient and therapist look for resonance because it is necessary for the communication of meaning, which brings about a change in the patient. Often resonance can only be guessed by either patient or therapist, and it takes some amount of communication to find resonance. A good starting point is listening to what the patient is communicating, since it reflects the information the patient already has, and which represents the foundation for resonance. The question “how was life yesterday?” or “what did you do yesterday?” can be more powerful than a complex intervention, because it can serve as the starting point to greater insight if one is aware of information resonance.

Depression makes old and new information, particularly emotional information, less accessible, which lowers any potential resonance. However, in many patients suffering from mild or moderate forms of depression accessibility may not be greatly reduced. Rather, it is a question of whether a patient can still believe there is ‘something’ below the unpleasant state. Resonance can help to rebuild a connection with interests, needs, values and aspiration, whose pursuit can be enjoyable, below a surface of depressed feelings. Reflecting with a patient on everyday activities can help to find spots of resonance. If the therapist then uses an inquisitive and interested communication pattern to get information on what about this activity is valued, needed or aspired to by the patient, the patient’s internalization of this pattern can help to form more adaptive communication patterns which can help against and prevent a depression.

Relevance

Depression makes everything seem less relevant as it reduces the spectrum of information that is available, including emotional signals. Less available information leads to less resonance, and thus less meaning which is extracted from messages form internal and external sources as well as less openness to new messages. Looking at a tree may, for example, not be as enjoyable anymore. The visual information about the tree still arrives in the brain as it always did, but the information stored in memory about the good feelings associated with a tree is tuned down. The actual tress has not changed, but it has become less relevant to the person.

Less relevance also means less focus, which could support an evolutionary explanation of depression. In times of stress, it can be helpful if one sees less relevance in the situation and withdraws. However, this may not feasible in the world we live in today. One cannot just leave one’s job form one day to the next. Rather, a common response to stress is often to work even harder, which can the lead into burnout. However, the more one thinks about relevance on a smaller level, the easier it becomes to adjust larger constructs, such as ‘one’s job’. As mentioned before, it is the details which help to identify one’s needs, values and aspirations. On the smaller scale, the brain reorients focus to task-relevant stimulus information. Egner and Hirsch showed that, in response to high conflict, cognitive control mechanisms enhance performance by transiently amplifying cortical responses to task-relevant information rather than by inhibiting responses to task-irrelevant information (Egner & Hirsch, 2005). This also shows that the brain focuses on picking out potentially relevant information rather than by suppressing non-relevant one. Of course, what is relevant is subjective to the individual, but it must be based on existing information about the needs of the individual, one’s internal state and the state of the world.

From a broader and more long-term perspective, relevance is a connection one has with things, people and situations. If something is relevant to what one needs, wants, values or aspires to, one is more likely to be open to information associated with it. If one values being in a relationship, for example, one is more likely to be receptive to messages from a partner, if they are seen as relevant to the maintenance of the relationship. Although, one may not have enough information to judge what is relevant, and therefore focus on the wrong messages, or one may not understand a message. All this can be remedied with better communication patterns which lead to better information, and exposure to meaningful communication.

Changing a situation or one’s perception of it requires taking stock of one’s needs, wants, values and aspirations and then to make a change. If one is working in a job which does not seem relevant to oneself, an option, aside from quitting and finding another one, is to assess if a change in the work or one’s perspective of it is possible that could align it more closely with one’s needs and wants. This can be worked out in therapy. But whatever action one takes, just the doing it already helps against depression.

In therapy, rebuilding relevance through new communication patterns which bring a different focus and more useful information changes how the own person and the world are seen. It also puts the focus on better sources of meaningful messages. For example, if a patient gains the insight that he values staying in touch with a particular group of friends because they share his interests, he is more likely not to decline a lunch invitation by someone who is a part of that group. At lunch, this friend may tell him then what the other members of the group have been up to, which may help the patient with his own career choices as he shares their interests. Raising the level of resonance, and thereby the relevance one sees in oneself, others, activities, things and so on, is very effective in the treatment of depression and other mental health conditions because it lets through more and better information to make better decisions and raises the mood as the world as a whole seems more meaningful now.

Communication Exchange

Meaning is built within the communication processes in the therapy. The interaction between two minds can give rise to a dynamic, which carries the flow of meaningful messages and brings the process forward. Motivation for the process is usually maintained if the messages feel relevant and meaningful to the patient in the present. If emotions or thoughts about the past are brought to the center of attention, they are important to the extent that they are still relevant in the present. This relevance depends on the emotions they can induce in the moment.

The exchange of messages can be influenced by both partners to the interaction. The depression can be felt by both, since it interferes with the construction and free flow of messages. As long as the therapist is open and receptive to the patient’s messages and tries to understand the communication dynamics and the patient sees the process as relevant, it can move forward. Since the patient and therapist have different neuronal networks and past communication (life) experiences they can induce change in each other through the communication of meaningful messages.

Integration

As change in the communication pattern occurs, the information flows within the individual also change. Since the self is a reflection on these communication flows, it can bring about a change in how a person experiences the own self. In the long run, the identified meaning is integrated into the self, which, depending on the meaningful information perceived, can make the self itself more meaningful and valuable. One derives meaning from interacting with oneself and with other people, and this is also how people build their sense of self. Thus, while personality stays largely constant, the sense of self can get a boost form exposing oneself to the right communication environment.

Values, Needs and Aspirations

Depression blurs what feels important to a patient, and the fit between values, needs and aspirations and the current life situation is usually reduced. Whether in professional or personal life, getting what one needs, values and aspires to makes happiness, contentment and satisfaction more likely in the long run. If I value helping people, I know what makes me happy and gives me satisfaction. Communication, whether internal or external, is the instrument, that makes individuals aware of these basic parameters and helps them to pursue them.

The basic parameters, values, needs and aspirations, change little over time. One may alternate between being hungry and not being hungry within hours but eating as a basic need does not change and nor does someone who is happy with being a vegetarian. To some extent these basic parameters seem to be built into our biology, and it is not the therapeutic task to change them but to arrange the world around in such a way as to be able to live one’s values, needs and aspirations. Working with and improving communication with oneself and others usually accomplishes that.

Internal Communication

Exploring interests, values, needs and wants requires becoming sensitive to one’s own thoughts, emotions and physical sensation, to be open and receptive to the information coming in from one’s body and mind. It is about feeling what makes one feel good and what does not. At the same time, it has to make sense and should fit together. If specific values and needs appear to be in conflict with each other, a combination of emotions and rational thinking is often helpful. For a depressed patient, this may not be an easy task, but to bring more structure and sense into a seemingly chaotic and disconnected world, can be helpful.

Internal communication can be practiced in therapy. Since there is a correlation between the communication with others and one’s own internal communication, rehearsing and going through communication patterns in therapy, is often helpful to the patient outside of therapy, not only for the interactions with others, but also for the interaction with oneself. Values and needs can be clarified by talking to someone else and engaging in soul searching on one’s own. An important experience in therapy should be that one can clarify one’s needs and values by reflecting and communicating about them.

Meaningful Messages as the Instrument of Change

Communication in its various forms needs to be the target of therapy because it can be fined tuned and a change here can bring lasting change. The author has described this elsewhere (Haverkampf, 2017a, 2018b) Communication-Focused Therapy has been developed by the author for several psychiatric conditions. (Haverkampf, 2017f, 2017b, 2017d, 2017c, 2017g, 2017h). In depression, the desired change is for a broader emotional experience, seeing more relevance in oneself, one’s thoughts, emotions, and in the world as a whole. Adjusting, discarding and forming new communication patterns can lead to a reduction in symptoms that is more permanent than techniques the focus less on communication.

The actual instrument of change are the meaningful messages which, provided they are encoded, sent and decoded, induce the change. As information in a message resonates and is processed with the already existing information, meaning is created which leads to changes in the future.

Broader Experience

If there is more meaning in oneself and the world, it is easier to focus on aspects of oneself and of the world. This expands one’s experience of oneself and of the world around. Seeing more relevance and more sources of novelty and change in the world, increases one’s experience of the world and makes this experience richer. However, it also requires that one engages with the world, which may be difficult due to anxiety cause by fears and other unresolved emotions. However, working with communication early in the therapeutic process often reduces any anxiety quickly as the patient learns to become aware of and experiment with communication and appreciates and gains insight into the predictability of communication.


Dr Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D. MLA (Harvard) LL.M. trained in medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy and works in private practice for psychotherapy, counselling and psychiatric medication in Dublin, Ireland. You can reach author by email at jonathan@jonathanhaverkampf.com or on the websites www.jonathanhaverkampf.com and www.jonathanhaverkampf.ie.

 

 

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Egner, T., & Hirsch, J. (2005). Cognitive control mechanisms resolve conflict through cortical amplification of task-relevant information. Nature Neuroscience, 8(12), 1784–1790. https://doi.org/10.1038/nn1594

Ehring, T., & Watkins, E. R. (2008). Repetitive Negative Thinking as a Transdiagnostic Process. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 1(3), 192–205. https://doi.org/10.1521/ijct.2008.1.3.192

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Haverkampf, C. J. (2010a). A Primer on Interpersonal Communication (3rd ed.). Psychiatry Psychotherapy Communication Publishing Ltd. https://jonathanhaverkampf.com/books/

Haverkampf, C. J. (2010b). Communication and Therapy (3rd ed.). Psychiatry Psychotherapy Communication Publishing Ltd. https://jonathanhaverkampf.com/books/

Haverkampf, C. J. (2010c). Depression Mania and Communication (3rd ed.). Psychiatry Psychotherapy Communication Publishing Ltd.

Haverkampf, C. J. (2012). Feel! (1st ed.). Psychiatry Psychotherapy Communication Publishing Ltd. https://jonathanhaverkampf.com/books/

Haverkampf, C. J. (2013). A Case of Depression. J Psychiatry Psychotherapy Communication, 2(3), 88–90.

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Haverkampf, C. J. (2017b). Communication-Focused Therapy (CFT) for ADHD. J Psychiatry Psychotherapy Communication, 6(4), 110–115.

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This article is solely a basis for academic discussion, and no medical advice can be given in this article, nor should anything herein be construed as advice. Always consult a professional if you believe you might suffer from a physical or mental health condition. Neither author nor publisher can assume any responsibility for using the information herein.

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Therapy of Social Anxiety Disorder (5)

Therapy-of-Social-Anxiety-Disorder-5-Christian-Jonathan-Haverkampf-psychotherapy-series

Therapy of Social Anxiety Disorder

Christian Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D.

Social anxiety disorder can significantly reduce an individual’s choices in life and the quality of life overall. Since communication is the process by which humans fulfil their needs, values and aspirations, its effectiveness is important for satisfaction, contentment and happiness in life. It is the main autoregulatory instruments, also in the psychotherapeutic process, to promote mental health. If interpersonal communication is interfered with by anxiety, these processes can no longer work effectively. As the individual withdraws further, the capabilities for needs fulfilment and autoregulation decline further.

Focusing on interpersonal and intrapersonal communication patterns can help to reverse the vicious cycle of social anxiety. Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT®) provides a toolset, methodological and theoretical framework to facilitate the awareness for individual communication patterns and the interventions to improve them in line with the patient’s needs, values and aspirations.

Keywords: social anxiety, communication-focused therapy, CFT, CBT, psychodynamic psychotherapy, treatment, psychotherapy, psychiatry

Contents

Introduction. 4

Self-Image. 4

External Image. 5

Focus. 5

Experiencing the Interaction. 6

Transparency. 6

Habituation. 7

Social Network. 7

Social Exclusion. 7

Hierarchies. 8

Technology. 8

Symptoms. 9

Measurement 9

Neurobiology. 9

The Amygdala. 9

Identity. 10

‘Lost Opportunities’ 11

Judgment 11

Location. 11

Treatment 12

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 12

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy. 13

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) 13

D-Cycloserine. 13

Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT®) 13

Introduction. 14

Communication as Autoregulation. 14

Communication Patterns. 14

Attention. 15

Communication to Participate in Life. 15

Understanding Social Anxiety and Shyness. 15

Internal Communication. 16

Uncertainty. 16

Communication Deficits. 16

Avoidance. 17

Meaning. 17

Awareness of Thought Patterns. 17

Flow of Information. 18

Emotional Reconnection. 18

Experiencing the World. 18

Communication Techniques. 19

Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety. 19

The Reward of Seeing More. 20

Values, Needs and Aspirations. 20

The Need for Communication. 20

Meaningful Messages as the Instrument of Change. 21

Embracing Change. 22

Living. 23

References. 24

Introduction

A person suffering from social anxiety disorder feels unwell in social situations and begins to avoid them, which can not infrequently lead to significant problems in daily life. Social anxiety is more than just shyness. According to ICD-10 guidelines, the main diagnostic criteria of social anxiety disorder are fear of being the focus of attention, or fear of behaving in a way that will be embarrassing or humiliating, avoidance and anxiety symptoms. (World Health Organization, 1992) The prevalence of 12-month and lifetime prevalence of social anxiety disorder is around 3% and 5%, respectively. (Grant et al., 2005) It is the most common anxiety disorder; it has an early age of onset—by age 11 years in about 50% and by age 20 years in about 80% of individuals—and it is a risk factor for subsequent depressive illness and substance abuse. (Stein & Stein, 2008) In a study by La Greca and Lopez on adolescents, girls reported more social anxiety than boys, and social anxiety was more strongly linked to girls’ social functioning than to that of boys. Girls with higher levels of social anxiety reported fewer friendships, and less intimacy, companionship, and support in their close friendships. (La Greca & Lopez, 1998)   Social anxiety disorder is also sometimes referred to as social phobia.

Functional neuroimaging studies point to increased activity in amygdala and insula in patients with social anxiety disorder, and genetic studies are increasingly focusing on this and other (e.g., personality trait neuroticism) core phenotypes to identify risk loci. (Stein & Stein, 2008) There are several psychological and psychopharmacological treatments (Haverkampf, 2017h) available. Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT®) as developed by the author is an approach that targets the processes and patterns which are underlying interpersonal interactions. (Haverkampf, 2013, 2017a, 2018f)

Self-Image

The sense of a stable self-image plays an important role in lowering social anxiety. The more confident one is oneself, and thus the more one is connected with oneself in a meaningful way, the lower the anxiety will be in interpersonal or social situations. Having a good and stable self-image requires connection with oneself, the ability to be open and receptive to information that originates within oneself, other than the information that is received from the external world through the sense, for example. Even though the distinction between the internal and the external maybe somewhat artificial, it is important to acknowledge that there are sources of information which are not in the external world. In some psychiatric conditions, such as in psychosis, this distinction between the external and the internal can get lost with potentially severe consequences.

How the internal self-image can affect the communication with others has been demonstrated by Hirsch and colleagues. One group was asked to hold in mind a negative self‐image, while the other held in mind a less negative (control) self‐image. When holding the negative image, the socially anxious volunteers felt more anxious, reported using more safety behaviors, believed that they performed more poorly, and showed greater overestimation of how poorly they came across (relative to ratings by the conversational partner). Conversational partners rated the socially anxious volunteers’ performance as poorer in the negative image condition. Furthermore, both groups of participants rated its quality as poorer in the negative image condition. (Hirsch et al., 2004)

External Image

Social anxiety arises when individuals are motivated to make a preferred impression on real or imagined audiences, such as when one tries to portray an image to others one believes others want to see, or where a person believes there is an external benefit to making oneself appear with certain characteristics. This is inextricably linked to the fear that just being oneself is not good enough, that one will be judged in unpredictable and possibly harsh ways by everyone or a defined group of others.

The cognitive state of the individual can mediate both affective arousal and behavior. (Schlenker & Leary, 1982) At the same time, external factors within the environment can have an effect on how an individual thinks and feels in a given situation, which is also influenced by individual predispositions and traits. In clinical experience, the more an individual tries to adhere to portraying an external image that is believed to be required by external factors and other people, but which does not match with the individual’s communication styles and personality traits, needs, values and aspirations, the less stable the interaction will become, leading to more anxiety and a mutually less satisfying experience. (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2013)

Focus

When it comes to the important role of information dynamics in the epigenesis of social anxiety, focus is an important mediator because it selects the information that becomes available in an interaction. Since all forms of anxiety arise from a deficit of meaningful information or unhelpful ways of processing it, social anxiety can be improved by helping a patient to learn more helpful ways in selecting and focusing on particular types of information.

Socially anxious individuals are excessively concerned about negative evaluation by others. And they often focus more on threat cues or imagined threat cues. In a study by Mansell and colleagues, high socially anxious individuals when compared to low socially anxious individuals showed an attentional bias away from emotional (positive and negative) faces when under conditions of social-evaluative threat. (Mansell et al., 1999) As discussed above, this leads to a situation where less information is available to the socially anxious person, which does not help mitigate the social anxiety.

Socially-anxious individuals also have an increased number of negative cognitions and fewer positive cognitions, while situational factors appear to mediate the absolute level of reactivity. (Beidel et al., 1985) This probably turns the focus even more away from sources of information which could lead to a reduction in the anxiety, resulting in a vicious cycle in which social withdrawal and more negative interpretation of interpersonal interactions and the environment overall leads to even more social withdrawal. In Communication-Focused Therapy® this cycle can be broken by working on the communication patterns the individual uses, which are the structural entities that facilitate the information flow to him or her.

Experiencing the Interaction

Many people who are suffering from social anxiety are familiar with the feeling of continuously asking themselves what other people are thinking about them. In one study, anxious subjects were more likely to attribute more meaning to others’ thoughts. (Hezel & McNally, 2014) The same study interestingly also found that socially anxious individuals performed worse on theory of mind tasks. Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, etc. — to oneself and to others. It is necessary to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one’s own. In other words, to fully appreciate the separate mind of another person with its unique content and information processing requires a theory of mind, which seems impaired in individuals with social anxiety. However, to fully reflect on the information dynamics and communication patterns within an interaction it is important to have a basic working concept of an “I” and a “You”. Communication-Focused Therapy® also includes techniques aimed at strengthening this distinctions. (Haverkampf, 2017a, 2017e)

A person suffering from social anxiety takes great pains to not only try to follow the dynamics of an interaction but at the same time to interpret what the partners to an interaction are thinking and feeling about them. While individuals with social anxiety are often quite perceptive and sensitive to various channels of information, this can lead to an information overload, which as a result makes them turn away from the interaction, which increases the anxiety even to a higher level. Communication-Focused Therapy® attempts to reverse this vicious cycle by developing awareness for communication patterns and information flows and practicing communication in a way that leads to fulfilment of own needs, values and aspirations, which also lowers the anxiety.

Transparency

Being able to give oneself permission to practice greater openness in communicating with others is an important step towards overcoming social anxiety. The feedback and information from others help to lower the anxiety as others’ dreaded thoughts turn out to be untrue. However, many people suffering from social anxiety already believe that they are overly transparent to others, that others can see what they are thinking and feeling, such as the anxiety or negative feelings, such as anger or frustration, which could interfere with the social bond from the interaction. As the distinction between the inside and outside worlds of the mind are weaker, the socially anxious person tries even harder to control themselves. Individuals with social anxiety are often quite sensitive, but their interpretation of information is often more on the negative side. Depression with anxiety can mask as the ‘pure’ social anxiety disorder.

Interesting is that studies suggest that socially anxious individuals remember more negative memories than those less distressed. This may either have a biological explanation or be a learned phenomenon. However, since social anxieties do seem to run in families at least partially, there may be a biological explanation to it.  A 2006 study found that the area of the brain called the amygdala, part of the limbic system, is hyperactive when patients are shown threatening faces or confronted with frightening situations. They found that patients with more severe social phobia showed a correlation with the increased response in the amygdala.

Habituation

Habituation is the process by which through a ‘getting used’ to an anxiety or fear inducing stimulus the psychological and physical reaction to it decreases. One becomes less anxious or fearful in the face of information that otherwise induced anxiety or fear, such as the visual input that one is looking out high up on a tall building, if one exposes oneself repeatedly to the information. Social anxiety involves social cues that can induce anxiety. The latency at which habituation occurs, however, seems to be different in individuals that are suffering from social anxiety. (Beidel et al., 1985)

From the perspective of Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT), any information that is repetitive and has lost its characteristics of novelty will lead to a lesser response, whether in terms of feelings, emotions, thoughts or otherwise. Thus, the internal and external context matters whether habituation will take place. One may reach habituation in one type of situation and when experiencing a particular family of thoughts and perceptions, but conventional behavioural and cognitive methods in the form of CBT, for example, often lead to improvements that are limited in time and circumstance. However, changing one’s exposure to meaningful information, that is information which brings about a change in the recipient, through changes in communication patterns, can be highly effective. Changes in communication patterns also have a longer-lasting effect because the flow of information is permanently altered. CFT works to adjust the communication patterns in the session through awareness, reflection, experimentation and change. It is not primarily the change in perspective or learning new thought patterns that bring about change but changes in communication patterns that determine them through the information they make available, and how information is processed. (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017a) Practising new communication patterns in the therapeutic session usually shows a significant over time with respect to anxiety, but also anxiety in general.

Social Network

Various aspects of social relations uniquely contribute to feelings of internal distress. In a study by La Greca and Harrison with adolescents, crowd affiliations (high and low status), positive qualities in best friendships, and the presence of a dating relationship protected adolescents against feelings of social anxiety, whereas relational victimization and negative interactions in best friendships predicted high social anxiety. In contrast, affiliation with a high-status peer crowd afforded some protection against depressive affect; however, relational victimization and negative qualities of best friendships and romantic relationships predicted depressive symptoms. (La Greca & Harrison, 2005)

Social Exclusion

Baumeister and Tice’s social exclusion theory of anxiety proposes that a primary source of anxiety is perceived exclusion from important social groups. The relationship between perceived social exclusion and social anxiety, jealousy, loneliness, and depression. Self-esteem can moderate reactions to perceived exclusion. (Leary, 1990) Relationships are expectations of future communication (Haverkampf, 2018c), and not being part of a web of communication increases anxiety. One of the reasons is that living organisms fulfil their needs, and in the case of humans also their values and aspirations, through communication, the exchange of meaningful information with others (Haverkampf, 2010a). Not just the shared reality, but even only the imagined reality can lead to significant anxiety.

Hierarchies

Social rank theory (Price and Sloman, 1987; Gilbert, 1989, 1992) argues that emotions and moods are significantly influenced by the perceptions of one’s social status or rank; that is the degree to which one feels inferior to others and looked down on. A common outcome of such perceptions is submissive behavior. Gilbert showed in a study that shame, social anxiety and depression (but not guilt) are highly related to feeling inferior and to submissive behavior. (Gilbert, 2000) Since these feelings develop from the workings of communication patterns as they determine the information that will ultimately reach various centers of the brain (Haverkampf, 2018c), an adjustment to these communication patterns changes feelings that can be associated with social anxiety. Especially with feelings that have a strong social context, such as shame, changes in communication patterns with the help of a therapeutic seeting can be very helpful. Shame is a result of internal and external communication patterns that are being used, while communication patterns can be influenced by a feeling of shame. Important is to remember that work with any communication pattern can be used to change the whole vicious cycle. (Haverkampf, 2017d, 2017a)

Technology

Increasing the number of available communication channels, such as adding communication via the Internet, can in theory help reduce the sense of isolation rather than increasing it. However, this has been hotly discussed. A study by Caplan supports the hypothesis that the relationship between loneliness and preference for online social interaction is spurious, and that social anxiety is the confounding variable. (Caplan, 2007) Communication means offered by the Internet are tools to interact with humans or human-designed programs in a meaningful way. It depends on what the individual makes out of them. How much one can use a technology to one’s advantage depends on the use of the right communication patterns and an insight into the own basic parameters, including one’s needs, values and aspirations. (Haverkampf, 2017f)

A ‘reduced channel’ communication offered, for example, by online chats or social networks may make it easier for a person suffering from social anxiety to connect with others, but to do in a less anxiety provoking and non-threatening way. As long as it is seen as steps on the way towards overcoming the social anxiety and adding more channels of communication, according to the individual needs, preferences and aspirations, it can be even helpful. For many people suffering from social anxiety the step from no communication to full interpersonal interaction in subjectively experienced high stakes settings can be too high. Online dating platforms, for example, can make it possible for people to go on dates who would otherwise never been able to do so.

Symptoms

Social anxiety often leads to physical symptoms that can worsen the vicious cycle of trying not to appear nervous and anxious, but by ‘fighting’ to do so the nervousness and anxiety just keep on getting worse. In adults, feelings of social anxiety may be associated with tears, blushing, excessive sweating, nausea, difficulty breathing, shaking, and palpitations. They are somatic manifestations, though often experienced much more intensely subjectively than observed objectively, of the fight-or-flight-response, which is largely hardwired into our brains. Since as we have discussed previously, social success is as much a matter of survival as finding food or warding off an attacker, anything that seems to interfere with it can lead to negative emotional states, such as anxiety.

Research suggests that socially anxious individuals interpret ambiguous social information in a more threatening manner compared to non-anxious individuals. It has even been shown that experimentally modifying interpretation in non-anxious individuals affected their anxiety. (Beard & Amir, 2008) Since how information is interpreted depends on external communication channels and on how the information is communicated internally, the techniques of Communication-Focused Therapy work with communication patterns to affect a change. As external and internal communication patterns reflect each other (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2010b, 2017a), the work on communication patterns in therapy has a direct effect on the internal information processing that leads to and maintains social anxiety.

Measurement

The clinically most commonly used questionnaire to assess social anxiety is the Liebowitz Social Anxiety Scale (LSAS). The LSAS has been empirically shown to be a reliable, valid and treatment sensitive measure of social phobia. (Heimberg et al., 1999) It lists a variety of different situations and asks to rate for anxiety and avoidance. This practical orientation is very helpful because it leads to greater insight into the underlying motives of the anxiety. For example, if the contexts of the anxiety provoking situations have in common that they are more of an interpersonal nature with people that are familiar (or strangers), awareness of it can lead to greater understanding of possible underlying causes. People adapt particular communication patterns as a reaction to the perceived need to manage interpersonal dynamics.

Neurobiology

The Amygdala

The amygdala is often implicated in social anxiety and the processing of social threats. In a quantitative meta-analysis, Etkin and Wager compared functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography studies of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, specific phobia, and fear conditioning in healthy individuals. Patients with any of the three disorders consistently showed greater activity than matched comparison subjects in the amygdala and insula, structures linked to negative emotional responses. Hyperactivation in the amygdala and insula were, of interest, more frequently observed in social anxiety disorder and specific phobia than in PTSD. Only patients with PTSD, on the other hand, showed hypoactivation in the dorsal and rostral anterior cingulate cortices and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex—structures linked to the experience and regulation of emotion. (Etkin & Wager, 2007)

Amygdala activation to interpersonal threat has been linked to the severity of social anxiety symptoms. Phan and colleagues examined in a study the association between response to emotionally harsh faces in the amygdala and severity of social anxiety symptoms in patients with generalized social phobia. Relative to happy faces, activation of the amygdala in response to harsh (angry, disgusted, fearful) faces was greater in the patients than in controls, and the extent of amygdala activation was positively correlated with severity of social anxiety symptoms, but not general state or trait anxiety levels. (Phan et al., 2006)

However, it needs to be remembered in this context that information is stored in many areas of the brain which all contribute to the signals that then flow through and are integrated, compared, subtracted and processed in specific areas like the amygdala. (Haverkampf, 2018g) Thus, to understand the complexity, and at the same time simplicity of social anxiety one also needs to look at the actual communication patterns an individual uses, externally and internally, and how information is received, selected for, transported and stored. Meaning

Identity

An important question is why I as a socially anxious person feel as the center of attention if it is not what I want, or is it? Many people with social anxieties actually want to have good relationships and are often fond of people. The problem is how they see themselves or that in many cases they cannot really see who they are. Sometimes there may also be an ambivalence in one’s relationship with people, which might be a result of personal life experiences or some unresolved conflicts from another source.

The search for identity lies at the heart of any form of social anxieties. Often, if some fundamental questions about oneself can be answered the social anxiety decreases. Basic parameters are:

  • Needs
  • Values
  • Aspirations

(Haverkampf, 2018h)

An important method in therapy to have the client imagine a situation and run through it. This helps break down the distinction between reality and the imagined world. Many people suffering from social anxieties are very sensitive, which also contributes to the symptoms. Physical symptoms often include excessive blushing, excess sweating, trembling, palpitations, and nausea. There may even be stammering and rapid speech. Panic attacks can also occur under intense fear and discomfort.

Many people with social anxieties have difficulties imagining the future because it is too painful. Here it helps to identify emotions and feeling that underlie the negative thoughts. Often the tensions and anxieties have underlying processes that need to be identified.

People with social anxiety often set high standards for themselves for social situations. Since they believe they cannot reach these standards they have a lot of negative thoughts about how they do in those situations and the outcomes. The sense of failure can be reinforced in the situation by very minor mishaps, such as a stutter or notices sweating. This leads to even greater self-consciousness and the likelihood actually of sweating or stuttering increases. Anxiety can increase to panic attacks.

‘Lost Opportunities’

It is also important to deal with the losses patients subjectively think they have incurred as a result of their social anxiety. People avoid situations where the social anxieties cause the symptoms. In more severe cases this can mean that the individual has no romantic relationships and does not take up jobs that could be interesting and enjoyable. Here the first step it to acknowledge the problem and realize that while one may not have done the preferred choice in the moment, social anxiety is often a problem of not knowing what one really wants. Finding this out can be a tremendous chance.

Judgment

The sense of being judged is quite common in social anxiety disorder. The judgment by others gets a relatively high significance. People with social anxieties can be very competitive in professional or academic situations. It seems easier to believe the judgment of others. The combination of a greater focus on oneself, being more alert to anything other people may see or perceive, and reduced trust in oneself and others frequently gives rise to the fear of being judged. If there is a greater disconnect from oneself and others, this can cause additional problems and potentially more anxiety.

There is a perceived need for a more complete control of one’s external communication, out of fear that the connection with the world could be lost, but this sought-after control by necessity also has to extend then to the internal communication, which destabilizes further can causes additional anxiety. The ultimate fear in social anxiety is not of social situations per se, but that connections and relationships could be lost forever. Fears of loss of relationships and loss of control is often at the heart of social anxiety. Helping people with social anxiety means exploring new ways of communicating, so that they learn that communication and relationships are in their essence quite predictable and stable.

Location

The setting can also play a problem and may be worthwhile to thematize. Instead of making a new friend at a bar, a person with social anxiety might find this task easier to accomplish via an online friendship or dating site. As patients develop a greater understanding of their wants, needs and aspirations, they also develop a better understanding of how they interact and communicate with their environment in ways that are more helpful, more efficient and better suited to their own needs and personality.

Treatment

he most well-researched psychosocial treatments for social anxiety disorder are cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBTs). However, there are several other therapeutic approaches which have shown promising in the treatment of social anxiety disorder. There are also various psychopharmacological approaches which demonstrate effectiveness.

Medication can help. From clinical experience the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as be helpful, particularly in the form of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or sometimes serotonin norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) if needed over a longer interval. Selective Serotonin Inhibitors (SSRIs) are often used in generalized social anxiety disorders, if psychotherapy does not help fast enough or as a support. Historically, paroxetine and fluoxetine have often been used, but newer SSRIs, such as escitalopram, seem also to work. In clinical experience, some people benefit significantly from SSRIs, while others do not. One explanation is that it depends on the presence of other symptoms and psychiatric disorders, as well as how generalized the symptoms are, or how specific they apply to certain situations. Overall, there can be many different reasons, especially psychodynamic ones, that make up this diverse diagnosis, and they need to be carefully explored to increase the chances of therapeutic success.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Meta-analyses indicate that all forms of CBT appear likely to provide some benefit for adults. (Rodebaugh et al., 2004) On the behavioral side, exposure therapy, for example, involves exposing the patient to anxiety invoking interpersonal situations in a gradual fashion, beginning with less anxiety provoking scenarios, and moving up to the ones to which a greater level of potential anxiety is attached. Research suggests that anxious individuals show deficits in the mechanisms believed to underlie exposure therapy, such as inhibitory learning. (Craske et al., 2014) Exposure optimization strategies include the following:

  1. expectancy violation
  2. deepened extinction
  3. occasional reinforced extinction
  4. removal of safety signals
  5. variability
  6. retrieval cues
  7. multiple contexts
  8. affect labeling.

(Craske et al., 2014)

On the cognitive side, other techniques commonly used in CBT are to reflect on the negative thoughts and ruminations in interpersonal situations, identify unhelpful beliefs and biases, make more realistic probability estimates and use other more or less structured thought processes. The cognitive approach focuses mainly on intrapersonal rather than interpersonal processes. (Stangier et al., 2011)

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

In a large multicenter study Leichsenring and colleagues used a manual-guided form of psychodynamic therapy that was specifically developed for their trial. (Leichsenring et al., 2013) It was based on Luborsky’s model of psychodynamic therapy, including supportive and expressive interventions. A secure helping alliance is an important element of the model. Expressive interventions relate the symptoms of social anxiety disorder to the patient’s underlying core conflictual relationship theme, such as a wish, an anticipated response and a response from the self, in order to reduce the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. (Leichsenring et al., 2013) The response from the self represents the symptoms of social anxiety disorder. The core conflictual relationship theme is worked through in present and past relationships as well as in the relationship to the therapist. (Leichsenring et al., 2013)

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR)

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has shown in several studies to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. MBSR is believed to alter emotional responding by modifying cognitive–affective processes. Since social anxiety disorder is characterized by emotional and attentional biases as well as distorted negative self-beliefs, this can be a helpful approach. MBSR training in patients with social anxiety disorder may reduce emotional reactivity while enhancing emotion regulation.

Goldin and Gross examined MBSR-related changes in the brain–behavior indices of emotional reactivity and regulation of negative self-beliefs in patients with social anxiety disorder. Compared with baseline, MBSR completers showed improvement in anxiety and depression symptoms and self-esteem. During the breath-focused attention task, they also showed decreased negative emotion experience, reduced amygdala activity, and increased activity in brain regions implicated in attentional deployment. (Goldin & Gross, 2010)

D-Cycloserine

Clinical data with specific phobias has suggested that the treatment effects of exposure therapy for SAD may be enhanced with D-cycloserine, an agonist at the glutamatergic NMDA receptor, and its use has been suggested for social anxiety disorder. In a study by Hofmann and colleagues, patients receiving D-cycloserine in addition to exposure therapy reported significantly less social anxiety compared with patients receiving exposure therapy plus placebo. Controlled effect sizes were in the medium to large range. (Hofmann et al., 2006)

Communication-Focused Therapy® (CFT®)

Communication-Focused Therapy (CFT) was developed by the author to focus more specifically on the communication process between patient and therapist. The central piece is that the sending and receiving of meaningful messages is at the heart of any change process. CBT, psychodynamic psychotherapy and IPT help because they define a format in which communication processes take place that can bring about change. However, thy do not work directly with the communication processes. CFT attempts to do so.

Introduction

We engage constantly in communication. The cells in our bodies do so with each other using electrical current, molecules, vibrations or even electromagnetic waves. People communicate with each other also through a multitude of channels, which may on several technologies and intermediaries. It does not have to be an email. Spoken communication requires multiple signal translations from electrical and chemical transmission in the nervous system to mechanical transmission as the muscles and the air stream determine the motions of the vocal cords and then as sound waves travelling through the air, followed by various translations on the receiving end. At each end, in the sender and in the receiver, there is also a processing of information which relies on the highly complex networks of the nervous system. Communication, in short, happens everywhere all the time. It is an integral part of life.

Communication as Autoregulation

Communication is an autoregulatory mechanism. It ensures that living organisms, including people, can adapt to their environment and live a life according to their interests, desires, values, and aspirations. This does not only require communicating with a salesperson, writing an exam paper or watching a movie, but also finding out more about oneself, psychologically and physically. Whether measuring one’s strength at the gym or engaging in self-talk, this self-exploration requires flows of relevant and meaningful information. Communication allows us to have a sense of self and a grasp of who we are and what we need and want in the world, but it has to be learned similar to our communication with other people.

If one suffers from social anxiety, this autoregulation seems to fail. One reason why it fails is because communication is such an important and basic process that there is nothing that could hierarchically control it and put a problem in it right. Only changes in communication can put a communication failure right. This is why a therapy that focuses on communication by identifying communication patterns and reflecting on them is in a good position to treat social anxiety.

Communication Patterns

Communication patterns are sequences in which meaningful information flows between individuals who are interacting with each other. A question in one person leading to an answer in another person is an example, which also illustrates how one communication pattern gives rise to another one. Communication patterns exist as templates in a social or cultural setting. They are activated and modified by the person using them. In a therapeutic setting one may, for example, look with patients at which communication patterns they use and how. Since meaningful information can only flow if it is transmitted within the dynamics of communication patterns, no matter how simple and rudimentary they may be, improving one’s selection and use of communication patterns also leads to a more efficient transmission of meaningful information. This is particularly useful in anxiety conditions, which are characterized by a subjective lack of meaningful information. Since a socially anxious person may actually be very sensitive and perceptive, and thus have more information about interactional clues and the other person available, the focus in Communication-Focused Therapy®, for example, is not necessarily the quantity of information, but how the patient finds, absorbs and processes the information which is most helpful to further the own needs, values and aspirations. In clinical experience, the more competent a patient feels in this regard, the lower the anxiety usually is. This applies particularly to social anxiety, where the anxiety revolves around external communication.

Attention

Attention is the ability to notice new information within a defined space, but also the capability to attach relevance to it.  Both attention and focus are important in the acquisition of meaningful and relevant information form the environment. If they are interfered with or misdirected, there is less relevant information available, which can increase the experienced anxiety. The attention of highly anxious individuals is more automatically captured by sub-threshold cues.  (Mogg & Bradley, 2002) Attentional bias toward negative social cues is thought to serve an etiological and/or maintaining role in social anxiety disorder. As discussed above, anxiety in general is a result of the subjective perception of missing relevant information. (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2018f)

Schmidt and colleagues tested in their study whether training patients to disengage from negative social cues may ameliorate social anxiety in patients with a primary diagnosis of generalized social anxiety disorder. Patients who underwent attention training exhibited significantly greater reductions in social anxiety and trait anxiety, compared with patients in the control condition. At termination, 72% of patients in the active treatment condition, relative to 11% of patients in the control condition, no longer met the DSM-IV criteria for social anxiety disorder. At 4-month follow-up, patients in the attention training condition continued to maintain their clinical improvement. (Schmidt et al., 2009)

Communication to Participate in Life

Communication is important to be connected into the web of life. The exchange of meaningful messages helps one to get what one needs, wants and aspires to. This applies to communication with oneself and others. Finding out what one needs, wants and aspires to happens through communication with oneself. It requires openness and insight.

The feeling of being a part of ‘the whole thing’ is important to an individual, not jut because the individual is part of a chain of generations. When one exchanges meaningful messages with others, oneself and the world around become meaningful to oneself. Losing a part of oneself or a loss of meaning, however, represents an existential threat, which can induce anxiety. This is how social anxiety and a loss in meaningful connectedness with others can lead to more anxiety. To an extent, this can be compensated for with meaningful communication with oneself, but for most this is not enough.

Understanding Social Anxiety and Shyness

Social anxiety is often present from childhood. The fears already interfere with one’s development early on. Since some of the most experiences in a human life are the interpersonal ones, this can interfere with one’s personal development. As already mentioned, shyness is not a disorder, and a person may be happy about it. However, the potential loss to quality of life of social anxiety and shyness can be similar. Shy people often develop adaptive communication pathways, such as relying more heavily on the Internet and may be content with it. However, interpersonal communication is an important piece of change and of bringing about in the world, and without it some of this dynamic may be missed out on. Given the many possible channels of communicating with the world, it does not matter so much which one is used. The important factor is that it allows the exchange of meaningful messages, which aid the individual in becoming better connected with oneself and the world.

Internal Communication

Often, there are already maladaptive communication patterns before, that cause the problems in the relationship or interpersonal interactions. These patterns can be analyzed and changed. Another important element is that communication can also take place on the inside of the individual. Individuals with social anxiety are often very critical of themselves, and this is what is then projected into others, who then appear critical of oneself. An important, and often helpful, step is to become aware of this.

The internal and external communication go hand in hand. Thought patterns that are used in one’s communication with oneself are usually also used in the communication with others. If there are doubts and fears in the communication with oneself, they often will also be present in one’s communication with others.

Uncertainty

In life, one has to live with uncertainty. Uncertainty just means that there is no manual in the beginning and there are still unknowns which leave room for excitement and exploration. Life is a learning experience. An individual suffering from anxiety may have areas in life where she thrives on excitement, and other areas where images of worst-case scenarios cause her to freeze when she just considers a change in action or any action at all. Uncertainty to someone suffering from anxiety seems to be bearable in some areas and avoided in others. Often, the areas where it is not tolerated feel meaningful only to the person suffering from anxiety.

Studies have shown that the intolerance of uncertainty explains a significant amount of variance in social anxiety severity when controlling for several cognitive correlates of social anxiety, such as the fear of negative evaluation, and for neuroticism. Intolerance of uncertainty also seems to be related with symptom levels of GAD, OCD, and social anxiety, but not depression. (Boelen & Reijntjes, 2009) It seems to play a significant role in performance and interaction social anxiety, but probably a slightly greater role in the former. (Whiting et al., 2014) Intolerance of uncertainty also appears significantly associated with symptom levels of separation anxiety disorder. (Boelen et al., 2014)

Communication Deficits

Areas which people often feel anxious about are where there has been an issue with their interpersonal interactions in the past. Early traumata, like a disappearing or abusive parent, stay unresolved. For example, if a parent feels fearful and angry with himself and this is picked up by a child, the latter may decode these messages correctly in that the parent is angry, but since the parent may not be conscious about it, the child does not pick up on the second important half of the message, that the parent has a problem with himself and his issue is unrelated to the child. Of course, one can learn to pick up on the self-blame and frustration of the parent, and therapists should become experts at reading between the lines in this fashion, but it requires experience, reflection and insight into transference and counter-transference phenomena, for example, to use the psychoanalytic terms.

In one study, hildren with social anxiety disorder scored significantly higher than anxious children without on the Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ), reciprocal social interaction, communication and repetitive, restrictive and stereotyped behaviors subscales. They were also three times more likely to score above clinical cut-offs overall. (Halls et al., 2015) This shows that these children have difficulties with certain communication patterns. However, this may not be due to a social skills defict, but they may believe that they appear nervous during social encounters. (Cartwright-Hatton et al., 2005) It would further support the view that it is the flow of information, internally and externally, which is really at the base of social anxiety disorder and many other mental health conditions (Haverkampf, 2018b). These can, on the other hand, be influenced and changed through work on the communication petterns and individual uses.

Avoidance

Anxiety can lead to avoidance, which in turn can attach even more anxiety to the situations or behaviors which are being avoided. In social situations, not interacting with others deprives the person of continuously updating and honing the skills and confidence of interacting with others. Avoidance can thus lead to an increase rather than a decrease in anxiety in the long-run. While smaller skillsets seem to pla role, it is also important to keep in mind that the avoidance of internal and external flows in itself lowers the available quantity of meaningful information, which plays a significant role in increasing uncertainty about the world and oneself (Haverkampf, 2010a) and thus the levels of anxiety, while holding the tolerance for uncertainty constant.

Meaning

Individuals suffering from social anxiety do not see less relevance in social interactions, but often even more. It is not necessarily seeing more meaning, though, but a different kind. In therapy an important part is to rediscover meaning and find it in the things that are relevant to the patient. Relevant is anything that is close to his or her values, basic interests, aspirations, wants, wishes and desires.

However, someone with social anxiety may see the meaning in things differently from someone what does not suffer from it. Approaching someone of the opposite sex may be seen differently because of life experiences. Also, if different meaning is seen in it, the expectations can be different. Expectations that are so high that they are self-defeating can be a problem. However, to set expectations that are not too high and not too low mean having a view of reality that works for oneself.

Awareness of Thought Patterns

An important step in therapy thus to make the person aware of how anxiety affects one’s thinking. Individuals from anxiety often focus differently from other individuals. There is often a focus on worst outcomes and strong fears which are caused by it. Underlying this are often strong emotions or conflicts which need to be defended against. The danger and uncertainty is quite frequently inside oneself, rather than on the outside. An individual with a fear of flying may be more afraid of not containing oneself and not being able to leave the plain than anything else. Anxiety is the fear of crashing psychologically and the feelings of a dreaded uncertainty about oneself and one’s emotional states.

Awareness means observing the own thought patterns and gaining insight into them. This requires being receptive to this information from oneself and the ability to reflect on it. Important is being able to perceive the flow of information between the parts of oneself, and the ability to let the information flow freely.

Flow of Information

A free flow of information within oneself and with the environment is important to reduce the anxiety and physical symptoms associated with social anxiety. Often, such an openness has become difficult for people because of inadequate interaction patterns and a fear to change anything. In a therapeutic session, this can be changed in two ways. Interaction patterns can be experimented with in a therapeutic session and reflected upon. One objective should be to help the patient develop greater efficacy and confidence in his or her interactions with the environment.

Emotional Reconnection

If there have been adverse life experiences as a significant factor in the social anxiety, there can still be unresolved emotions underlying the anxiety. To resolve them means answering the hypothetical question, what one may have felt in the difficult situation, but then also seeing the strength that allowed one to pull through, which only becomes visible now. The goal is not necessarily to reconnect with only negative emotions form the past, but also the good ones, and emotions as a whole today.

If there is a disconnect, and emotional reconnection would be helpful, one should approach one’s feelings gradually. Especially in cases of social anxiety, it could be problematic trying this too fast. In any case, as internal and external communication go hand in hand, so do internal and external emotional connection. Someone who is disconnected from oneself will have a more difficult time to emotionally communicate with others or stay reflected and calm in situations where there is a potential for greater emotional communication, such as in romantic situations.

Experiencing the World

Social anxiety means potentially experiencing less of the world, although the higher sensitivity can at the same time let someone experience more. It is important again to note that many patients suffering from social anxiety disorder put themselves under an enormous pressure. Their more frequent feeling that they need to interact with others and live their lives in certain can add to the anxiety, rather than diminishing it. The more permanent solutions to this dilemma are, as outlined above, a greater connectedness with oneself and better insight into the own needs, values and aspirations. Work with the communication patterns a patient uses, as well as reflection on how she felt when engaged in activities and with other people in the past, sheds light on the ‘truer’ needs, values and aspirations. The focus is here completely on the patient and her experiences, not on the expectations of others. This focus establishes more meaning in the life of the patient and helps is the acquisition of more helpful communication patterns.

Communication Techniques

Various communication techniques can be helpful, not as an end in themselves, but to help the person have more confidence in oneself and to see communication not as something dangerous one needs to be guarded against, but as something that can help one meet one’s needs, wishes and expectations. Thus, the reason for communication techniques should be not an end in itself, but to increase one’s repertoire, ease and confidence in communicating with oneself and others.

Openness to others, a positive and welcoming attitude towards the messages of others and engaging in reflection on the interaction are some helpful approaches towards communication, but there are many others as well. Important is not to be deterred from the interaction when something unsuspected or disappointing happens, but to reflect on what it could mean, whether it is a message from outside or inside oneself. Genuinely new information is never meaningless and reflecting on it helps to gain more insight into the world. Social anxiety, on the other hand, is often a result of engaging with messages only superficially, rather than letting them resonate with oneself and determining what they might mean.

Technology can also play a useful role in gradually exposing oneself to potentially more anxiety provoking situations. For example, beginning with interactions with fewer communication channels, such as an online dating site, can make it easier to then move on to an in-person date. More information could already be screened in a less communication intensive setting before exposing oneself to the many communication channels of an actual physical date. Pierce demonstrated in a study a positive relationship between social anxiety (not comfortable talking with others face-to-face) and (1) talking with others online and (2) talking with others via text messaging. In contrast, there was a positive relationship between the lack of social anxiety (feeling “comfortable” talking with others) and making friends online. (Pierce, 2009) Gender differences were also pointed out in the study.

Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety

To break through the vicious cycle of anxiety, in which emotions like fear and anxiety cause safety thoughts and behaviors, which in turn reinforce feelings of fear, loneliness, sadness, and so forth, it is helpful to focus on identifying what is meaningful and having more of it in life. Communication helps in identifying and finding meaning, either communication with oneself or with others. The exchange of messages is like a learning process in which meaning can be identified, found and accumulated. Through meaningful interactions one accumulates more meaning, more connectedness with oneself and the world and reduces the need for thoughts and behaviors which are triggered by fears, guilt, self-blame and other negative emotions. This also helps against depression and anxiety.

Insight and connectedness reduce anxiety. Openness and receptiveness to information and messages can lead there. This can be practiced in therapy and brought from there into everyday life. The sense of competence helps build confidence in dealing with oneself and the environment. Important is to connect with oneself to a level that there is greater insight into what is truly important to oneself.

The Reward of Seeing More

Perceiving more meaning also makes interacting with others and oneself more meaningful. This has a positive effect on one’s interaction patterns, how and in which ways one relates to one’s environment and exchanges messages with it. People with social anxiety often see less in an interaction, although they often have a greater sensitivity and perceptiveness to see more. This has to do with a different focus on where to find a relevant and meaningful message in the interaction. For example, in an interaction with a romantic love interest, the socially anxious person may be too focused on signals and own thoughts about a possible rejection rather than on information from the other person that could help in getting to know that person.

An important step is therefore to become aware that what may be behind some of the social anxiety, or much of it, is actually something quite positive, something that can be used to one’s advantage. Central is merely how to use a heightened percetiveness and sensitivity to certain information signals for one’s benefit rather than to one’s detriment. In Communication-Focused Therapy, through work on communication patterns, within and without oneself, the selection and steering of information flows can be changed, which also directly impacts the information and meaning a person is exposed to. Since anxiety is tightly linked with the flow of information and the available information, changing internal and external communication patterns can lower anxiety quite substantially (Haverkampf, 2013, 2017i, 2017b).

Values, Needs and Aspirations

Beyond food, drink, a roof over one’s head and basic safety, humans have values, needs and aspirations that drive much of what they are doing throughout their lives. None of us is born to live the life of a Robinson Crusoe, and just like the fictional character, interpersonal interactions with others, as well as the intrapersonal communication that is tightly lined with it, are the main instruments to get these needs, values and aspirations met. The exchange of meaningful information is what brings about positive and lasting change in oneself and in the environment (Haverkampf, 2010b). The author has referred to the own needs, values and aspirations before as basic parameters because they can determine whether some information that has become available in a person is meaningful or not (Haverkampf, 2018h).

One of the most painful elements of social anxiety is that a person finds it more difficult to find the own needs met. It interferes with dating, in workplace situations or in academia. People suffering from this condition, do so in silence, which tends to make it even worse. To escape this vicious cycle, a new orientation towards the own values, needs and aspirations is needed (Haverkampf, 2013, 2017e). What helps to achieve this is through a better connectedness with oneself and others. The work on communication patterns in Communication-Focused Therapy can here be very helpful (Haverkampf, 2017e).

The Need for Communication

Living organisms constantly need to communicate within themselves and with others, and humans are not an exception. Close relationships in humans, for example, have been linked to a wide variety of psychological and other processes, including physical and mental health (Jones et al., 1990). Communication with others is needed to grow, innovate and propagate. Most of the human accomplishments in the arts, sciences and professions are based on the exchange of meaningful messages, communication. But communication is also to have one’s needs met and to survive in general. Even a hermit in the mountains needs to interact with his or her living mountain environment. People who enjoy nature usually do not want to shun communication but focus on an exchange with a nonhuman environment. Communication is fundamental to life itself.

Suffering from social anxiety does not mean a disinterest in people or an objection to being with them, rather the opposite. An indifference ot something does not lead to anxiety or the feelings that are commonly experienced by indidividuals with social anxiety. The latter are testamount to the importance a person with social anxiety attaches to interpersonal connections and the social realm. People with social anxiety may even be more sensitive and perceptive to social signals, though they may be minterpreted, and to the importance of social interactions. In one study, perceived closeness was greatest when the most socially anxious individuals interacted with each other (Kashdan & Wenzel, 2005). At the same time, in another study, when asked how an investigator viewed them based on that person’s facial expressions, socially anxious subjects made ratings that were consistently less favorable than the ratings made by subjects lower in social anxiety (Pozo et al., 1991). In other words, we have the semmingly paradoxical findings that people with social anxiety may experience social connections even mor eintensely, while possibly doubting them more in other situations. One explanation would be the fear of losing something very important. The more important social connections are to a person, the higher may also be the apprehensiveness about doing something wrong and losing it. Adding in higher anxiety levels to begin with, might give us a fairly adequate representation of the underlying dynamic in social anxiety.

Experimentation with adjustments to existing communication patterns and the development of new ones is the road that leads to less social anxiety (Haverkampf, 2017e, 2018d). The first steps can often be quite small for good reasons. It often helps people with social anxiety and shyness to connect with and appreciate their need and joy in communicating. Once communication is seen as a potential source of pleasure rather than a necessary task, it can become much easier, as ‘I want’ replaces ‘I should’. It often helps to take on a more investigatory perspective, donning a lab coat so to speak, and having fun observing the communication dynamics as they unfold in an interaction. The benefit is often twofold. Once one takes on an observer role it is easier to extricate oneself from the emotional vortex of being caught up insight a problematic interaction, while being able to better reflect and understand the dynamics. The greater awareness and space to experiment with new communication elements and patterns either in the current or a future situation can lead to a massive change in how effectively and satisfyingly one interacts with oneself and the world and thereby fulfils the own needs, values and aspirations.

Meaningful Messages as the Instrument of Change

Communication is the vehicle of change, and meaning drives it. The instruments are meaningful messages which are generated and received by the people who take part in these interactions. In a therapeutic setting, keeping the mutual flow of information relevant and meaningful brings about change in both people who take part in this process. The learning curve for the patient may be steeper in certain respects because he or she spends less time in this interaction style than a therapist. Over time, changes and sjudtments to in internal and external communication patterns facilitate a greater awareness for and processing of meaning (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2017c, 2018i).

Information underlies practically everything from physical quantum states and classical processes to psychological ones (Haverkampf, 2018g). Information Perceived emotions are also communicated information (Haverkampf, 2012b). In an interpersonal conext, meaning is generated from the information carried by signs.  Creation of meaning events in-therapy, for example, are change episodes that occur when a patient seeks to understand the meaning of an emotional experience (Clarke, 1996). Meaningful information is information which can bring about a change in the recipient of the information (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2018a). It has also been argued that information is objective, but inaccessible to humans, who exist exclusively in a world of meaning, while meaning is intersubjective, or based on shared agreement and understanding, rather than purely subjective (Mingers, 1995). However, the description of meaning as information that carries the potential to effect change may allow for a broader and more generally applicable delineation of the term. In Communication-Focused Therapy it is an important means of change dependent on the effective communication of the information that codes for it. Social anxiety illustrates quite brightly what happens when the process at one or more points affected by other factors, either within or outside the person. Social anxiety is primarily a communication problem, often alongside or based on generally higher levels of anxiety.

Embracing Change

In the case of social anxiety, embracing change can be associated with anxiety, while it can also be liberating because it means that there are no rigid rules one needs to adhere to other than those linked to the communication process itself, which has clear laws. Understanding these laws of communication, on the other hand, which humans subconsciously operate on and use as they accumulate experience in their interactions with others is essential to gain greater confidence in tolerating and working towards change. Basic communication concepts, such as what constitutes communication, how meaning is created, how information flows, and how communication processes are influenced, is usually not conscious. Reflecting on it and beginning to use it, however, can be especially helpful to sensitive people, who quite frequently have experienced social at some point in their lives. One might say that only those who do not care about people and themselves are entirely free from social anxiety, but this tantamount to the description of a sociopathic personality disorder.

Change should thus not be understood as changing oneself or one’s ability to perceive and be sensitive to the nuances of daily interactions, but to develop new communication patterns. Some of the techniques used in Communictaion-Focused Therapy have been described elwhere (Haverkampf, 2017a, 2017e, 2017i, 2018e). Important is the concept that external and internal communication patterns are closely related to each other, and that work on communication in therapy leads to change on both sides. Several of the techniques involve the use of certain communication elements and structures, such as a variety of the question (Haverkampf, 2017g) and other functional concepts.

Living

It is not the number of social contacts which is relevant. Having a few good friends is often worth more than thousands of contacts in an online social network. However, this does not mean friends have to be always physically present. Meeting friends online also allows for communication, while close physical contact in an intimate relationship is to most people important on a regular basis.

Important is that the communication patterns, the frequency and the interaction style fit the needs, values and aspirations of the individual. People who are shy can be quite happy with the intensity and frequency of their interactions, those with social anxiety are usually not. It is thus important to help individuals with social anxiety discover what is important to them and how they want to live their lives. Communication patterns change more easily when the change creates more meaning in the world of the patient (Haverkampf, 2012a). Communication-Focused Therapy thus aims first at creating greater awareness for the basic parameters of needs, values and aspirations to support the process of change in communication patterns (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017a).

In the end, communication is an activity. One ultimately needs to do it. However, when one has worked on the own communication, developed awareness for them, gained insight into them and made it a habbit to experiment with them, communication becomes something to look forward to rather than something that causes apprehensiveness and anxiety.


Dr Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D. (Vienna) MLA (Harvard) LL.M. psychoanalytic psychotherapy (Zurich) trained in medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy and works in private practice for psychotherapy, counselling and psychiatric medication in Dublin, Ireland. He is the author of several books and over a hundred articles. Dr Haverkampf has developed Communication-Focused Therapy® and written extensively about it. He also has advanced degrees in management and law. The author can be reached by email at jonathanhaverkampf@gmail.com or on the websites www.jonathanhaverkampf.ie and www.jonathanhaverkampf.com.

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World Health Organization. (1992). The ICD-10 classification of mental and behavioural disorders: clinical descriptions and diagnostic guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organization.

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Body Work and Exercise for Anxiety Panic Attacks Depression and OCD

Body-Work-and-Exercise-for-Anxiety-Panic-Attacks-Depression-and-OCD-2-Christian-Jonathan-Haverkampf-life-improvement-series

Body Work and Exercise for Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Depression and OCD

Christian Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D.

Working with the body is often neglected in major schools of psychotherapy, such as psychodynamic psychotherapy and CBT. Depression and anxiety disorders are some of the most prevalent psychiatric disorders with close to one in five of adults exhibiting symptoms. Exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms associated with these disorders, has the potential to increase the effectiveness of psychopharmacology and to reduce depenndance on it in specific cases. The balance seems to be important between too little and excessive exercise.

Keywords: body work, exercise, treatment, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, OCD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, Communication-Focused Therapy, CFT, psychotherapy, psychiatry

Contents

Introduction. 4

Reconnection. 4

Communication. 4

Information Processing. 4

Integrative Therapy. 5

Exercise and Mental Health. 5

Depression and Anxiety. 5

Age. 6

Neurophysiology. 6

Hippocampal Volume. 6

Endocannabinoids. 6

Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH) 6

Serotonin. 7

Depression. 7

Body Image. 7

Body Image as a Problem.. 7

Obesity. 9

Breast Cancer. 9

Exercise as an Adjunct to Medication. 10

Techniques. 10

Basic Body Awareness Therapy (BBAT) 10

Pilates. 11

Body Psychotherapy (BPT) 11

Tai Chi 11

Yoga. 11

Exercise Dose. 12

Exercise and Anxiety. 12

Anxiety Sensitivity. 13

Body Dysmorphic Disorder: OCD.. 13

Hypochondriasis. 14

Risks. 15

Prevention. 15

Conclusion. 15

References. 17

Introduction

Much of the information the brain processes is received from and through the body. Since anxiety, depression and OCD are disturbances in the communication and processing of information, it makes theoretical and practical sense to involve the body in the therapeutic process.

While studies support the use of exercise as a treatment for depression, healthcare professionals irregularly suggest and rarely prescribe it. In their depression treatment guidelines, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) states that exercise may be of value but does not consider it as a first-line treatment. The National Guideline Clearinghouse states in a consensus-based recommendation that exercise is recommended as an adjunctive treatment to antidepressants or psychotherapy.

Chronic major depressive disorder and dysthymia are associated with a high burden and substantial care costs. New and more effective treatments are required. Besides case series and small uncontrolled studies, recent well-controlled studies suggest that exercise training may be clinically effective, at least in major depression and panic disorder. (Ströhle, 2009)

Reconnection

Information comes in through the body. Types of body work and exercise which increase the sense of the body appear to be helpful in various psychiatric conditions. It helps to lessen the focus on a particular bodily function or organ and opens the inflow of information from more points in the body. This can help lower the partial disconnect which is usually present in conditions, such as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, OCD and more.

Communication

The body is a communication device, receiving information from the environment and allowing one to send messages, whether verbal or non-verbal. (Haverkampf, 2018) Communication is also the process which brings about change (Haverkampf, 2010a) and takes a preeminent place in communication-focused therapy (CFT) (Haverkampf, 2017a), which has been developed by the author, and plays a role in all psychotherapies.

Information Processing

The body also uses information that is communicated to it. As the nervous system innervates most parts of the body, there is a fast and ubiquitous connectedness throughout the body. While much information is relayed in the central nervous system (CNS) and then send out again, there are relatively autonomous neural networks distributed throughout the body. From a communication viewpoint one needs to look at them as doing something similar to the brain, though on a simpler level. Information is received, processed and new information is sent out again.

Integrative Therapy

The work with the mind and the work with the body in various shapes and form should be seen as two ways to work on communication systems inside the person. The objective is to make communication work better for the patient. This may require a new perspective on how the mind and the body interact, but communication is how things get done inside the body and with the rest of the world.

Exercise and Mental Health

Early large population studies examined the relationship between exercise behavior and mental health . The relation between self-reported physical activity and depressive symptom was analyzed for 1,900 healthy subjects aged 25–77 years in the Epidemiologic Follow-up Study (1982–1984) to the first National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES I) and found that physical inactivity may be a risk factor for depressive symptoms.

Weyer found the odds ratio for depression to be significantly higher (OR 3.15) for the physically inactive compared to regular exercisers in a sample of 1,536 individual 15 years of age and older.

Subsequently, physical activity has been shown to be associated with decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety in numerous studies. For example, in a nationally representative sample of adults ages 15–54 in the United States (n = 8,098), regular physical activity was associated with a significantly decreased prevalence of current major depression and anxiety disorders.

Depression and Anxiety

There is a general belief that physical activity and exercise have positive effects on mood and anxiety and a great number of studies describe an association of physical activity and general well-being, mood and anxiety. (Ströhle, 2009) In a study of 19,288 individuals, De Moor found that regular exercise was associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and neuroticism.

Cooney and colleagues conducted a search of the Cochrane Depression, Anxiety and Neurosis Review Group’s Controlled Trials Register up to 2013, www.controlled‐trials.com, ClinicalTrials.gov and the WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform and any potentially eligible trials not already included are listed as ‘awaiting classification.’ Exercise appeared moderately more effective than a control intervention for reducing symptoms of depression, but analysis of methodologically robust trials only showed a smaller effect in favor of exercise. When compared to psychological or pharmacological therapies, exercise appeared to be no more effective, though this conclusion was based on a few small trials. (Cooney et al., 2013)

Habitual exercise correlates to a heightened level of mental health and wellbeing and reduced feelings of anxiety regardless of the gender of the individual. Relative increases in maximal cardiorespiratory fitness and habitual physical activity appear to be associated with lower depressive symptoms and greater emotional well-being. Ohta noted that 30 minutes or more of walking or cycling while commuting to work might be associated with an increased perception of mental health in men.

Age

The age of the individual may affect the relationship between physical activity and mental health. Exercise has a very small but statistically insignificant effect on reducing anxiety in adolescents. In contrast, Fox found that a population of European adults over the age of 70 had perceived levels of health and quality of life that were positively correlated to higher levels of physical activity.

While regular physical activity appears to be related to mental well-being, physical inactivity appears to be associated with the development of psychological disorders. Some cross-sectional and prospective-longitudinal clinical and epidemiological studies have shown a direct relationship between physical inactivity and symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Neurophysiology

Physical activity and exercise have been shown to induce widespread neurobiological adaptations. Imaging studies have demonstrated structural changes associated with early-onset depression in the hippocampus, amygdala, striatum, and frontal cortex; areas that are all extensively interconnected. Most consistently associated with depression are the findings of volume loss in the hippocampal formation. Increased levels of hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels are associated with decreased anxiety. Exercise is associated with the increased synthesis and release of both neurotransmitters and neurotrophic factors, and these increases may be associated with neurogenesis, angiogenesis and neuroplasticity (Portugal et al., 2013).

Hippocampal Volume

As noted above, imaging studies have shown that depressed patients have decreased hippocampal volume. Brain neurogenesis is increased by antidepressant medications. Ernst and colleagues hypothesize that exercise similarly decreases depressive symptoms by increasing brain neurogenesis. They outline four possible molecular mechanisms for this increased neurogenesis, all of which both promote hippocampal neurogenesis and increase with exercise: B-endorphins, vascular endothelial growth factor, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, and serotonin.

Endocannabinoids

Other possible mechanisms for exercise’s ability to improve mood include the association with exercise and increased levels of endocannabinoids, which are associated with analgesia, anxiolysis, and a sense of well-being.

Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH)

Changes in the hypothalamo-pituitary adrenal axis, including increased adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and decreased cortisol production, are associated with exercise and thought to be part of the mechanism of its positive effects on mood.

Serotonin

A randmoised prospective study by Wipfli and colleagues showed that the exercise group had lower levels of depression than the stretching‐control group after the intervention. The exercise group also showed a larger percentage decrease in serotonin than the stretching‐control group. This reduction in blood serotonin after exercise is similar to the effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Additionally, percent change in serotonin was found to partially mediate the relationship between exercise and depression. (Wipfli, Landers, Nagoshi, & Ringenbach, 2011)

Depression

Multiple studies exist that suggest that exercise is an effective treatment for depression. A Cochrane meta-analysis of 25 randomized controlled trials comparing exercise and placebo or a control intervention found that the exercise groups had a significant improvement in depressive symptoms when compared to the placebo or control group. Only three trials with sufficient allocation concealment, intention to treat analysis, and blinded outcome assessment were found. When these three trials were analyzed together, the effect size was not significant.

There is empirical evidence that exercise compares favourably to antidepressant medications as a first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression. Blumenthal and colleagues conducted a randomized controlled trial in which they assigned 156 adults over age 50 to either aerobic exercise, sertraline, or both. After four months, all three groups had a statistically significant improvement in their depressive symptoms with no statistically significant difference between the groups. The medication group did have a faster response to treatment in the first four weeks, however. However, in a more recent study, the remission rates were also very similar (45-47%), while the rate in the placebo group was moderately, yet not statistically significantly, lower (31%).

Body Image

Exercise improves self-concept in depressed patients, possibly leading to decreased depressive symptoms. Bodywork is related to body image. Bodywork allows us to become more aware of our bodies. It is not necessarily the aim that one builds muscles or achieves a body ideal, which changes as soon as the new magazine ad replaces the old one. But working on and with anything increases our awareness for it. This also applies to the body. By working with the body, we learn about the body. Out of the interaction with the body we get new meaningful information and vice versa. Our bodies are powerful information processing entities, and the information we put into it can bring about significant changes. Exercising is a form of interacting with the body and having the body interact with the world, which leads to a range of changes.

Body Image as a Problem

With a healthy sense of self and a positive body image to go with it, the psyche and the body can work together well and lead to an experience of happiness and contentment. Unfortunately, body image disturbance is an increasing problem in Western societies and is associated with several adverse mental health outcomes, including anorexia, bulimia, body dysmorphia, and depression. (Pimenta, Sánchez-Villegas, Bes-Rastrollo, Lpez, & Martínez-González, 2009)

Body image is, of course, a subjective perception, something that is built from information from the outside (such as a visual image from a mirror) and the inside (perceived needs, values, aspirations, expectations). Body image thus also depends on what we believe is essential and what we think we need, value and should aspire to. It depends on how we communicate and interact with ourselves and other people. (Haverkampf, 2010a, 2017a)

How one sees one’s body affects how one shapes one’s body in the future. It also influences how one feels about the body and, as a consequence, about oneself. Pimenta and colleagues studied the association between body image disturbance and the incidence of depression in 10,286 participants from a dynamic prospective cohort of Spanish university graduates, who were followed-up for four years on average (the SUN study). The difference between BMI and body size perception was considered as a proxy of body image disturbance. Men who underestimated their body size were much more likely to be overweight and obese, whereas women who overestimated their body size were much more likely to be underweight. (Pimenta et al., 2009) However, the authors found no association between body image disturbance and subsequent depression.

Different population may place different emphases on different body attributes. Body fat may, for example, play a greater role in one population than in another, which is probably influenced to a large extent by socialization and communication with others. A study that looked at muscle dissatisfaction, body fat, and height dissatisfaction as predictors of signs of psychological distress, such as depression, eating restraint, eating concerns, and social sensitivity) in a community sample of 228 gay men found that body fat dissatisfaction was predictive of all four distress signs (controlling for muscle dissatisfaction). Conversely, muscle dissatisfaction was only associated with social sensitivity, while height dissatisfaction failed to significantly predict any of the criterion variables for distress. (Blashill, 2010) Another study found that women were more likely to engage in indoor tanning and perceived greater susceptibility to photoaging than men. Body image and depression were found to be associated with tanning behaviors and attitudes. (Gillen & Markey, 2012) Since preferred skin tone, and the behaviors to achieve it, has changed significantly throughout the ages, from very light in past centuries to suntanned in the 1970s and 1980s, social trends must play a significant role. Identifying how one takes in outside preferences and makes them one’s own is an important step in identifying more closely the own needs, values and aspirations, which has a direct effect on quality of life and mental health (Haverkampf, 2010b, 2017a).

Mood plays a large role in how one perceives one’s body. If one sees things more negatively overall, this can also affect one’s view of the own body. Joiner and colleagues examined the relationship between body dissatisfaction, depression, and bulimia in 119 female participants and found that depressed symptoms, but not whether the individual was bulimic, were associated with body dissatisfaction. (Joiner, Wonderlich, Metalsky, & Schmidt, 1995) It is thus important to keep in mind that aside from the effect of variations of the body on mood, the latter does have a significant effect on how we perceive the former. A significant aspect of how depression reduces the activity radius and the quality of life is through a distorted perception of the body.

Obesity

There is a relatively close link between obesity and depression, although it is unclear what is the cause and what the effect. Depression may cause obesity, for example through changing eating patterns or reduced physical activity. But it is also possible that obesity may cause depression through an even more negatively perceived body image, which is a result from an interaction between the obesity and experienced social norms and interactions. The author has discussed possible etiologic factors from a communication perspective elsewhere (Haverkampf, 2017b). In any case, it is easy to see how a vicious cycle can form at the intersection between the psychological and the physical. Breaking that cycle requires awareness for an individual’s internal and external communication.

That internal or external communication dynamics may play a significant role could explain why being ‘overweight’, but not the extremes of being underweight or severely overweight, is most highly correlated with depression. De Wit and colleagues showed in their study a significant U-shaped trend in the association between BMI and depression. (De Wit, Van Straten, Van Herten, Penninx, & Cuijpers, 2009) Externally, the social context seems to play a role. Xie and colleagues investigated in a prospective study the associations between overweight and depressive symptoms in Asian and Hispanic adolescents. Significant mediation effect was found only in Asian girls and girls with high acculturation. Overweight significantly predicted higher body image dissatisfaction, which in turn was significantly related to depressive symptoms. (Xie et al., 2010)

On the other hand, there is data which shows an independence from social factors and current comorbidities. Zhao and colleagues examined the associations of depression and anxiety with BMI after taking into consideration obesity-related comorbidities and other psychosocial or lifestyle factors. They analyzed the data collected from 177 047 adults in the US. Within each gender, the prevalence of the three psychiatric disorders was significantly higher in both men and women who were underweight (BMI<18.5), in women who were overweight (BMI:25–<30) or obese (BMI⩾30), and in men who were severely obese (BMI⩾40) than in those with a normal BMI. Compared with men with a normal BMI, severely obese men were significantly more likely to have current depression or lifetime diagnosed depression and anxiety. Underweight men were also significantly more likely to have lifetime diagnosed depression. Overweight or obese women were significantly more likely than women with a normal BMI to have all three psychiatric disorders. (Zhao et al., 2009)

Breast Cancer

A condition that threatens the body’s integrity also tends to have a psychological effect. If the condition represents a serious threat, fear and anxiety are normal reactions to it. In one study with female survivors of breast cancer of all ages, 56% of the participants had scores that would correlate with potential depression (Begovic-Juhant, Chmielewski, Iwuagwu, & Chapman, 2012). The majority of women felt less attractive and less feminine. Low body image, attractiveness, and femininity positively correlated with depression and negatively with overall quality of life. (Begovic-Juhant et al., 2012) However, this may also provide an approach for ameliorating the depression through work on body image and the self-perception of attractiveness and femininity. Much of this could involve work with communication (Haverkampf, 2017a).

The body and the mind are inseparable. If the integrity of one is in danger, that will reflect of the sense of wholeness of the other. Lasry and colleagues investigated the psychological and social adjustment following total and partial mastectomy. Total mastectomy patients showed higher levels of depression and less satisfaction with body image. Partial mastectomy patients did not display any measurable increase in fear of recurrence. Patients undergoing radiation therapy showed a surprising rise in depressive symptoms, which could be related to an underestimated anxiety they experience. (Lasry et al., 1987)

Exercise as an Adjunct to Medication

Exercise has also been shown to improve depressive symptoms when added to medication. There seems to be an added benefit beyond the direct effect of the antidepressant. In one study, exercise significantly improved symptoms when added to an antidepressant in a group of older patients with depression that had not responded to 6 weeks of antidepressant medication alone. Unlike its benefit as an adjunct to antidepressant medications, exercise in addition to cognitive therapy was found not to be more beneficial than either one by itself. (Ströhle, 2009)

Techniques

Many types of bodywork exist, and several are generally assumed to maintain and improve overall health and raise the quality of life. Important is as already mentioned above, aside from the physical exercise, the greater awareness and the better more meaningful information about the body and how it interacts with the psyche and the outside world. However, there is still far less knowledge of movement-based treatments focusing on body awareness than medication or psychotherapeutic approaches.

While more research is needed on the type of exercise needed for depression treatment, available research indicates that the type of exercise may not be as important as having the physical activity reach a sufficient intensity. For example, both running and weightlifting were found to significantly decrease depressive symptoms with no significant difference found between these two forms of physical activity and the decrease in symptoms.

Basic Body Awareness Therapy (BBAT)

Danielsson and Rosberg explored the experiences of basic body awareness therapy (BBAT) in 15 persons diagnosed with major depression who participated in the treatment in a randomized clinical trial. The participants’ experiences were essentially grasped as a process of

  • (Danielsson & Rosberg, 2015)

Five constituents of this meaning were described (Danielsson & Rosberg, 2015):

The authors conclude that the process of enhanced perceptual openness challenges the numbness experienced in depression, which can provide hope for change, but it is connected to hard work and can be emotionally difficult to bear. (Danielsson & Rosberg, 2015)

Pilates

Mokhtari and colleagues investigated the efficiency of 12-week Pilates exercises on depression and balance associated with falling in thirty elderly participants. The Pilates exercises decreased depression and improved the balance related to falling in participants. (Mokhtari, Nezakatalhossaini, & Esfarjani, 2013)

Body Psychotherapy (BPT)

Body Psychotherapy (BPT) may be an effective treatment option for patients with chronic depression. Rohricht and colleagues studied the effectiveness of BPT in patients with chronic depression. Patients with chronic depressive syndromes and a total score of ≥20 on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAMD) were randomly allocated to either immediate BPT or a waiting group which received BPT 12 weeks later. Thirty-one patients were included and twenty-one received the intervention. At the end of treatment patients in the immediate BPT group had significantly lower depressive symptom scores than the waiting group (mean difference 8.7). (Rohricht, Papadopoulos, & Priebe, 2013)

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) pursues the development of a heightened awareness of one’s body, and its effectiveness has been shown in several empirical studies. Research has focused on the interactions between bodily, cognitive, and emotional processes. Michalak and colleagues argue that considering embodied processes might be a useful perspective for research on the etiology of depression and for mechanisms of action in MBCT. (Michalak, Burg, & Heidenreich, 2012)

Tai Chi

Tai Chi has also been explored in its effectiveness against mental health conditions. It has soft movements, slower speeds, and is relatively easy to learn. The posture of high or low and the amount of exercise can be different according to individual physical fitness. It can meet the needs of different ages and physical fitness. Data from a small study with a single-case design suggests that the intervention had the strongest effect on the participant who presented with hyperactivity and heightened anxiety. (Baron & Faubert, 2005)

Yoga

Field and colleagues compared the effects of yoga (physical activity) versus social support (verbal activity) on prenatal and postpartum depression. Ninety-two prenatally depressed women were randomly assigned to a yoga or a social support control group at 22 weeks gestation. The yoga group participated in a 20-min group session (only physical poses) once per week for 12 weeks. The social support group (a leaderless discussion group) met on the same schedule. At the end of the first and last sessions the yoga group reported less depression, anxiety, anger, back and leg pain as compared to the social support group. At the end of the last session the yoga group and the support group did not differ. They both had lower depression, anxiety, and anger scores and improved relationship scores. In addition, cortisol levels decreased for both groups following each session. Estriol and progesterone levels decreased after the last session. At the postpartum follow-up assessment depression and anxiety levels were lower for both groups. (Field, Diego, Delgado, & Medina, 2013)

Exercise Dose

A dose-response effect with exercise in the treatment for depression has been noted. In one study, high-intensity weight training was more effective than low-intensity weight training in treating depression. Low-intensity weight training and general practitioner care were found to have nearly the same improvement in depression that is consistent with the widely accepted number of the 30% placebo effect in depression treatment. With aerobic exercise, intensity equaling the energy expenditure in public health recommendations was more effective than a program of guided movements of low intensity that had a reduction in depressive symptoms equal to the placebo group.

Aerobic exercise at a dose consistent with public health recommendations is an effective treatment for MDD of mild to moderate severity. Dunn and colleagues studied whether exercise is an efficient treatment for mild to moderate major depressive disorder (MDD), and the dose-response relation of exercise and reduction in depressive symptoms. Participants were randomized to one of four aerobic exercise treatment groups that varied total energy expenditure and frequency or to exercise placebo control. A 17.5-kcal/kg/week dose is consistent with public health recommendations for physical activity. The main effect of energy expenditure in reducing Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HRSD17) scores at 12 weeks was significant. Adjusted mean HRSD17 scores at 12 weeks were reduced 47% from baseline for the 17.5-kcal/kg/week dose, compared with 30% for a lower dose and 29% for control. There was no main effect of exercise frequency at 12 weeks. (Dunn, Trivedi, Kampert, Clark, & Chambliss, 2005)

Exercise and Anxiety

Compared to the wide range of research on the positive effects of exercise on depression, anxiety disorders have been less frequently studied. In general, aerobic exercise has been shown to be an effective and cost-efficient treatment alternative for a variety of anxiety disorders. Several studies have indicated that aerobic exercise may be as effective in reducing generalized anxiety as cognitive behavioral therapy.

In general, exercise does appear to be effective in reducing symptoms associated with anxiety. Furthermore, symptoms improve following both an acute episode of physical activity as well as following a program of routine exercise.

In treating anxiety, exercise has been shown to alleviate anxious feelings. While useful in treatment, exercise does not seem to reduce anxiety to the level achieved by psychopharmaceuticals. In a study of patients suffering from moderate to severe panic disorder, both a 10-week protocol of regular aerobic exercise and clomipramine were associated with significant improvement of symptoms compared to placebo. In comparison with exercise, clomipramine improved anxiety symptoms more effectively and significantly earlier.

In another study, the effects of a Feldenkrais® Awareness Through Movement program and relaxation procedures were assessed on a volunteer sample of 54 undergraduate physiotherapy students over a 2-week period. Analysis of variance showed that anxiety scores for all groups varied significantly over time and, specifically, that participants reported lower scores at the completion of the fourth intervention. Further, compared to the control group, females in the Feldenkrais® and relaxation groups reported significantly lower anxiety scores on completion as compared to the beginning of the fourth session, and this reduction was maintained one day later. (Kolt & McConville, 2000)

Anxiety Sensitivity

Exercising at 70%–90% of maximum heart rate for 20 minutes three times a week seems to reduce anxiety sensitivity significantly (Carek, Laibstain, & Carek, 2011). Self-reported fears of anxiety sensations, fears of respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms, publicly observable anxiety symptoms, and cognitive dyscontrol decrease following a prescribed exercise program (Carek et al., 2011). In a study by Cox and colleagues, the most substantial reduction in state anxiety occurred 90 minutes following 20 minutes of aerobic exercise at 80% of maximal oxygen uptake (Cox, Thomas, Hinton, & Donahue, 2004).

Body Dysmorphic Disorder: OCD

The relationship between obsessive–compulsive disorder (OCD) and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is unclear. BDD has been proposed to be an OCD‐spectrum disorder or even a type of OCD. There is a growing literature on the concept of an obsessive–compulsive spectrum of disorders. (Lochner & Stein, 2006)

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a distressing and impairing preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in appearance, with depression as its most frequent comorbid condition. (Nierenberg et al., 2002)

BDD is frequently comorbid with major depression, is associated with an earlier age of onset of depression and longer duration of depressive episodes, and is found more frequently with atypical than non-atypical depression. Nierenberg and colleagues evaluated the rate of BDD in a cohort of consecutive outpatients with typical and atypical major depressive disorder in 350 outpatient participants. Twenty-eight (8.0%) subjects had a lifetime history of BDD and 23 (6.6%) had current BDD. Those with comorbid lifetime BDD had an earlier age of onset of depression and longer duration of the current episode, but not a greater number of depressive episodes or greater severity of depression. Subjects with and without BDD were similar with respect to age, gender, and marital status. There was a higher rate of lifetime and current BDD in subjects with atypical depression than in those with non-atypical depression. Subjects with BDD also had higher rates of social phobia, any eating disorder, and any somatoform disorder but not OCD. They also had higher rates of avoidant, histrionic, and dependent personality disorders. (Nierenberg et al., 2002)

OCD and BDD do not significantly differ on many variables but did have some clinically important differences. In one study, the comorbid BDD/OCD group evidenced greater morbidity than subjects with OCD or BDD in a number of domains, but differences between the comorbid BDD/OCD group and the BDD group were no longer significant after controlling for BDD severity. However, differences between the comorbid BDD/OCD group and the OCD group remained significant after controlling for OCD severity.

Lochner and Stein conducted a computerized literature search (MEDLINE: 1964–2005) to collect studies addressing different dimensions on which the OCSDs lie. Their cluster analysis found that in OCD there were 3 clusters of OCD spectrum symptoms:

  • “Reward deficiency” (including trichotillomania, pathological gambling, hypersexual disorder and Tourette’s disorder),
  • “Impulsivity” (including compulsive shopping, kleptomania, eating disorders, self-injury and intermittent explosive disorder), and
  • “Somatic” (including body dysmorphic disorder and hypochondriasis).

It is unlikely that OC symptoms and disorders fall on any single phenomenological dimension; instead, multiple different constructs may be required to map this nosological space. Although there is evidence for the validity of some of the relevant dimensions, additional work is required to delineate more fully the endophenotypes that underlie OC symptoms and disorders. (Lochner & Stein, 2006)

It has been argued that body-focused repetitive behavior disorders (e.g., trichotillomania and skin-picking disorder) should be included within the obsessive-compulsive and related disorders category, as this is how most clinicians see these behaviors, and as this may optimize clinical utility. The descriptions of these disorders should largely mirror those in DSM-5, given the evidence from recent field surveys. (Stein & Bouwer, 1997)

Hypochondriasis

The symptoms of HC overlap to an extent with certain anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder and OCD. The results of a study using discriminant function analysis indicated that whereas individuals with hypochondriasis experience panic attacks, obsessions, and compulsions, these symptoms are markedly less pronounced than among those with panic disorder and OCD. Conversely, overlaps were found in terms of cognitive biases, with hypochondriasis patients demonstrating elevated levels of intolerance of uncertainty, body vigilance, and fear of cardiovascular symptoms. (Deacon & Abramowitz, 2008)

Risks

While the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend that individuals should engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most (preferably) all days of the week, physical activity and exercise have risks that need to be considered. The most common risk of physical activity in adults is musculoskeletal injury. The risk of injury increases with obesity, volume of exercise, and participation in vigorous exercise such as competitive sports.

Furthermore, vigorous physical activity acutely increases the risk of sudden cardiac death and myocardial infarction among individuals with both diagnosed and occult heart disease.

Prevention

Reduced incidence rates of depression and (some) anxiety disorders in exercising subjects raise the question whether exercise may be used in the prevention of some mental disorders. A review of studies showed a bidirectional relationship between physical activity, exercise and adolescent mental health (Pascoe & Parker, 2019). The results suggested that physical activity and exercise programs designed to increase the level of activity in young people should be implemented to be attractive and achievable to young people that may have poor psychological health (Pascoe & Parker, 2019). Another study found that participating in diverse leisure activities and longer exercise time decreases older adults’ risk of having depression. Additionally, the results confirmed that depression is positively correlated with chronic diseases (Lee, Yu, Wu, & Pan, 2018). On the other hand, data from the Netherlands Mental Health Survey and Incidence Study did not find evidence for a dose–response relationship between exercise levels and mental health. Among those with mental disorder at baseline, exercise participants were more likely to recover from their illness compared to their counterparts who did not take exercise, but the authors pointed out that it remains uncertain whether this association truly reflects a causal effect of exercise (Ten Have, de Graaf, & Monshouwer, 2011). In a 2010 meta-review, an ssociation between physical activity and mental health in young people was evident, but research designs were described as often weak and effects small to moderate. Evidence showed small but consistent associations between sedentary screen time and poorer mental health (Biddle & Asare, 2011). In another study involving 42 undergraduates, vigorous exercise had mental health benefits beyond moderate physical activity, was associated with less stress, pain, insomnia and depression, more favorable objective sleep patterns, and fewer mental health problems if the individual was exposed to high stress (Gerber et al., 2014).

Conclusion

Depression and anxiety disorders are some of the most prevalent neurological disorders with close to one in five of adults demonstrating symptoms. Exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms associated with these disorders and has the potential to lessen the dependability on psychopharmacology. Physicians should recommend that adults participate in at least 30 minutes of accumulated moderate-intensity physical activity (for example, walking fast) on most days of the week. (Phillips et al., 2007) The balance seems to be important. The term ‘exercise addition’ has been coined for another extreme, in which an individual experiences a need to engage in excessive exercise, has the potential to have adverse effects on both physical and mental health (Berczik et al., 2012).


Dr Jonathan Haverkampf, M.D. MLA (Harvard) LL.M. trained in medicine, psychiatry and psychotherapy and works in private practice for psychotherapy, counselling and psychiatric medication in Dublin, Ireland. He is the author of several books and over a hundred articles. Dr Haverkampf has developed Communication-Focused Therapy® and written extensively about it. He also has advanced degrees in management and law. The author can be reached by email at jonathanhaverkampf@gmail.com or on the websites www.jonathanhaverkampf.ie and www.jonathanhaverkampf.com.

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