Psychologist Matthew Ryan. — Photo courtesy of Family Medical Practice
by Matthew Ryan*
In the first session, Tom complained of insomnia, restlessness and “worrying about everything”. His partner Julie looked on as he spoke, her face a mixture of concern and exasperation.
As I listened to Tom, there was no doubt at all in my mind, that he had several genuine concerns that were quite challenging. The problem however was not so much the concerns themselves, but rather the way he was going about trying to address them.
When I asked Tom how he was going about trying to deal with each of his issues, it became clear that he was unable to focus for long on any one of the problems that were “ruining” his life.
Because of his severe anxiety, he would flit from one problem to the next, never spending enough time on any of them to be of use. This inability to focus had, in the last few months, eventually culminated in paralysing procrastination which was the “last straw”, causing him to seek help. Tom was quite a bright person, but his crippling anxiety and procrastination had shut down his natural capacity to think through problems and take effective action.
Fortunately there is a cognitive restructuring technique that can assist people like Tom to regain their capacity to calmly focus on the problems at hand.
This “technique” is a very ancient one, known in all races and cultures around the world. It arose mostly in the religious/spiritual dimension of these cultures, but today can be employed without the necessity of it being rooted in a religious belief system. It is called meditation, and when practised on a daily basis, cultivates a state of consciousness called mindfulness. Mindfulness describes a way of bringing one’s focused attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis. Mindfulness is the opposite form of consciousness to that which Tom was experiencing.
Tom’s ceaseless worrying and procrastination had the effect of lifting him out of the present moment and propelling him forward into a scary future. Apart from this being a very unpleasant experience, it also meant that he was not able to take any effective action in the present. The future doesn’t exist, the present moment is the only thing that exists, and is the only place in which we can effectively navigate our journey through life.
When practised on a regular basis, meditation helps us to let go of our brain’s ceaseless, worrying, depressing chatter and calmly focus on the tasks at hand.
Many people have the confused notion that meditation is some form of esoteric Eastern religious practice or that it is a very difficult skill only available to a chosen few. Meditation is in fact a practice that anyone can learn and does not require any extraordinary mental powers. When practised on a daily basis it gradually cultivates within us an awake, crisp, calm, flowing consciousness that helps us focus our attention on not just the challenges of life, but on every single experience that makes up our days.
Over a few sessions I was able to guide Tom and Julie to learn the basics of meditation and over this relatively short period of time, Tom reported that not only was his anxiety subsiding, but his ability to resolve the issues that brought him into therapy had quite dramatically improved.
If you think that the practice of meditation and the mindful consciousness that it cultivates sounds as if it may be of benefit to you, I would be happy to meet with you and teach you mindfulness techniques. Family Medical Practice
*Matthew Ryan is a senior psychologist who has been supporting and assisting people to work through their personal and relational problems, for over 30 years. As a couple's and family psychologist, Matthew’s role is to help each person in the relationship see how they contribute to their dysfunctional ways of relating, and what changes are necessary to resolve their difficulties. Matthew is also experienced in working with teenage males and females as they face the challenges of stepping into young adulthood. In addition, Matthew is experienced in providing counseling to people from the LGBT community.
Family Medical Practice was the first foreign-owned primary healthcare provider in Việt Nam, and has consistently remained at the forefront of international-standard medicine since 1995. It offers extensive healthcare and emergency medical services nationwide to Vietnamese, expatriate and corporate customers.
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