Counselling and psychotherapy is about change. Whether that is a fundamental change in how we experience ourselves in the world, or in working through a difficult emotion and changing how we are feeling. Everybody who enters into a process of therapy is seeking change of some kind.
There are a myriad of books written about applied psychology, counselling and psychotherapy. These books use different psychological methods (theories) to explain people’s problems and how change can happen. However, whilst these thoughts, theories and models all talk about the process differently, what they all have in common is helping the client to change.
Whilst the process of change is difficult, understanding the fundamentals of what drives change and how we change can be really useful. At Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy we call this The Pyramid of Change.
What is the Pyramid of Change?
Humans are embodied beings (as are all living creatures). We reside in our bodies and are constantly receiving data from our bodies. The problem is that most of us have either never learnt to listen to our bodies, or have ‘tuned out’ the body’s messages. Why does this matter? Because all of our emotions, leading to feelings, leading to thoughts, leading to behaviours and, finally, leading to change or results, originate in the body – our physiology.
The base of the pyramid refers to ‘Physiology’ and can best be described the orchestra the body plays moment to moment. It comprises all our biological and emotional systems. For example, we all take for granted we are breathing and generally pay little attention to this process. However, through bringing our attention to our breath we can both get valuable feedback – am I breathing deeply or shallowly?; is my breathing fast or slow? – and we can then influence our breath. The same goes for our heartbeat – with some concentration we can become aware of our heart beat and feel it beating in our bodies and calm our heartbeat down (or speed it up).
Our physiology – the data stream from our body – is both influenced by our internal and external environment. For example, we may feel some discomfort in our legs after sitting for a long time informing us that we need to move position (internal) and our heartbeat will likely speed up if we hear a loud explosion or noise nearby (external).
This orchestra of the body, whether an itch on the top of our head, to a sensation in our big toe, provides us with a constant stream of data. And it is this data that comprises our emotions.
Emotions are data streams ‘in-motion’: the data being fed from all the systems in our bodies dictates what emotions we are experiencing. Emotions are synonymous with pieces of music – data from our body – that have a unique composition. They are felt states of arousal. And there are a lot of them. 34,000 have been identified!
Feelings, the next level up the pyramid, are the labels we apply to emotions. It is common in our language to say ‘I am angry’ or ‘I feel angry’. A more accurate expression would be ‘I am doing anger in my body’.
Feelings and thoughts are intricately linked. Through neuroscience we now know that whilst some thoughts can impact on our emotional state, generally the process works the other way around – feelings dictate our thoughts. The problem lies in the fact that as most of us are so cut off from our bodies, and thus cut off from the felt state in our bodies, we don’t know from one moment to the next what we are actually feeling and so go on the thoughts that seem to randomly appear in our minds.
Hopefully by now it may be clear that rather than being random, our thoughts are often driven by of feelings which are ultimately driven by our physiology. However, very few of us stop to ‘think about what we are thinking’ – to ask ourselves ‘how is my felt sense (physiology in-motion leading to feelings) influencing how I am thinking right now. If we did, we would discover the answer is in fact, quite a lot!
Our behaviour is driven by our thoughts. If we think we are enjoying something, we move towards it and vice versa if we are fearing something. There are plenty of studies that the human thought process can be influenced without our awareness leading to changes in behaviour. And these changes are driven by our physiology changing in response to the stimulus.
As a society we tend to focus on behaviour changes to change results. Examples are numerous from how children are schooled, how the judicial system functions through to how we try and create different results in our own lives through pure behaviour focused strategies that tend to fail. A good example most of us can relate to are New Year’s resolutions.
Change therefore, needs to be driven through an attunement with our physiology – by our psychotherapists and ourselves.
Our next blog focuses on the clinical implications of therapy in the context of The Pyramid of Change.
Image Credit: Brighton and Hove Psychotherapy Copyright
For more information on the Pyramid of Change, click here to download our guide.