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Articles are invited on all RCMP related topics. Opinion? Personal experience? Suggestion? Let's hear from you! Relevent comments are welcome and will be moderated.

PTSD: To Be Or Not To Be? Part I

G’day all!  First another tip of your Stetson (if I might?) to our foreign visitors.  I remain amazed at the great distances between us here in Canada and some of the far off places from which we draw readers; and in addition, to how police persons from around the globe share similar concerns.

Today’s topic is a sensitive one, as I know many of you have received a diagnosis of “PTSD”.  You may have sensed from the tone of the two previous pieces that I was leading up to an article like this one.  I have always been uncomfortable with the history (derivation?) of this “diagnosis”.  For what is about to follow, you must take some responsibility.  It was you who taught me to be an investigator during my time at “Depot Division”, where by the way (chest puffed out) I was the Valedictorian of my Troop.

Anyway, I have followed the leads and investigated this controversial disorder.  The comments I will make in this piece, although well supported, commonly held and controversial at the same time, are not meant to erode your confidence in health care providers that disagree with me and my like-minded colleagues.  Most importantly my comments are not made to serve as therapy, only to provide another perspective; and to get you thinking like an investigator again.  I want you to grasp that human emotional pain may be universal but suffering is not.  My mission is to get you out of your head and into your life!!

So, away we go!  I’m sure that it will be no surprise to you that the US’s Veteran’s Administration (VA) is the world’s largest recipient of per patient funding for “PTSD”.  The VA cares for between 250 and 300,000 combat veterans, each year, who have received a diagnosis of “PTSD”.  The total annual cost is approximately $4.25 billion.  However, strangely enough extant (current) research does not support the existence of such a distinct and discrete syndrome.  In other words, “PTSD’s” diagnostic formulation, from its’ inception to this very day, continues to remain invalid.  Please believe me, those of you who have experienced traumatic exposures, my intention is not to diminish your pain, or the needs you feel for comfort and understanding.  My objective is to educate you as to the quality of the research evidence; the impact of culture on diagnosis; to get you to understand and perhaps re-consider the consequences of a traumatic exposure; and maybe even get your employer to find a less conflictual way of caring for you, and returning to you, your autonomy.

Ready for a little (largely disregarded) history?  In the earliest days of the diagnosis (1980) the DSM 3 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Third Edition) included the diagnosis of “PTSD” after its’ authors were lobbied by Vietnam Veteran’s Associations, and anti-war social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists.  The argument for the recognition of a special disorder related to traumatic combat exposures, was that memories associated with these exposures were persistent and emerged in the form of a “PTSD”.  While interesting, this argument focuses on the fallout from a traumatic exposure, rather than the psychology that lays behind the suffering experienced by the patient.  A huge assumption was made, and it was suggested that an organic brain injury was suffered concomitant to the arousal of extreme stress.  Unfortunately this “wild ass” hypothesizing was coupled with the secondary assumption that the patient was destined to become chronically disabled.  (All with absolutely no proof!!).

Initially the American Psychiatric Association (APA) entered the fray under some pressure from the VA, and began by using the military’s diagnostic criteria.  The purpose of the DSM is to provide health care professionals with the research behind the diagnoses that they apply to their patients.  The diagnostic process is complex, and as with all decisions made by humans there is a subjective component involved.  The APA (composed of M.D’s specializing in Psychiatry), to its’ credit, wanted to respond to criticism and made changes.  There were 11 changes made in the revision of the DSM 3 (1987); followed by 15 in the DSM 4 (1994).  In the latter edition there were nearly 200 symptom combinations that could equal a diagnosis of “PTSD”.  With the DSM 5 (2013) when the “new and improved” criteria were applied by researchers, 30% fewer patients received a diagnosis of “PTSD” than they would have using the old DSM 4 criteria. (Are you investigators following this?  It’s all right there in black and white…..all you have to do is educate yourself……call me).  Now get this, when the researchers used BOTH sets of diagnostic criteria (i.e. from both the DSM 4 and the DSM 5), and an equivalent sample size, more subjects received the diagnosis under the DSM 5 criteria than the DSM 4.  You think you’re confused?  Dr. W. Hoge, Director of Research at the Walter Reed Army Hospital concluded “……the new criteria do not have greater clinical utility” than those of the DSM 4.  Remember them?  They are the ones that can produce 200 different symptom combinations that equal a diagnosis of “PTSD”.  Sorry, but that is like me looking out the window and telling you we have “weather” today!!

Another problem for the diagnostician arises in that the symptom profile associated with “PTSD” overlaps with several other mental conditions e.g. mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse.  In one study I read, published in 1995, the authors reported that 88% of men and 79% of women with a diagnosis of “PTSD” had at least one other diagnosis along with it.  Any clinician could tell you (subjectively) that depression would be the most common comorbid (goes along with) diagnosis; it was detected in nearly 50% of those with a diagnosis of “PTSD”.  The “PTSD” cluster contains so many nonspecific indicators of psychological distress common to other conditions, the validity of the diagnostic category (i.e. “PTSD”) remains in question.

A much more critical concern (and then I’ll stop for now……OK M’lady?).  Crazy as it sounds, “PTSD” symptoms may not even be related to the experiencing of trauma.  Another group of researchers have demonstrated that when a cohort of patients, who were being considered for the pharmacological treatment of depression, were tested, 78% of them, traumatic history or not, met the diagnostic requirements for a diagnosis of “PTSD”.  In another interesting piece of research, the investigators demonstrated that their subjects (university students) without a traumatic history were more likely to meet some diagnostic criteria for a diagnosis of “PTSD” , than those with a verified traumatic history.

As long ago as 1988 a Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study discovered that 31% of their subjects met all criteria necessary for a diagnosis, however only 15% of them had been assigned to actual combat.  When narrower diagnostic criteria were employed (similar to DSM 5?) and the veracity of reported trauma exposure was investigated, rates reported ranged from 3-15.5%.

I’ll stop for now and let you chew on Part I.  Next time (Part II) we will look at the tenuous position the patient is put in when he/she is confronted with the relationship between illness and financial benefit.


Dr. Mike Webster

Reg’d Psych.


A Healthy Normality: I Wonder? Part II

G’day all!  I have returned from my journey.  Once again, I offer you all, including our faithful foreign visitors a tip of your Stetson.  When I last spoke with you I was suggesting that it was our capacity for language, and its’ ability to anticipate and solve problems,  whether out loud or nonverbally, that was the culprit when it came to our emotional difficulties.  For example, this cognitive ability seems to work well when we are dealing with such practical issues as, “……aha, this equation is not working, as this variable SHOULD NOT be here, rather it SHOULD be over there”; but not so well when dealing with emotional issues such as “……..aha, I am miserable because he (she, they) SHOULD NOT be treating me like this”; or, “I SHOULD NOT be feeling this way, I SHOULD be feeling like this (happy, content, stress free?) instead”.  In sum, and as I left you last time, I was suggesting that it is our misplaced, ill-informed desire to avoid natural human emotion that is the true culprit in human misery.  We are really suffering the result of “feeling bad about feeling bad”, when as a human you can’t avoid “feeling bad” sometimes; moreover, it seems to be part of the human condition.

It seems that when we attempt to rid ourselves of painful internal experiences, we tend to make them worse.  Think about it for a moment (those of you who struggle with it) where did your over-attraction to alcohol come from?  Wasn’t it an attempt to lessen the pain of unwanted thoughts, feelings, memories, etc?  So then what have you done in the “long run”?  You’ve created a problem on top of a problem (or is it really a problem?).

The more you battle with your unwanted thoughts, feelings, (internal stuff) the more you are likely to make yourself miserable in the long run.  Let’s use depression as an example.  It’s not really the pure existence of sadness that creates the heart of a depression.  Actually, sadness is a normal human emotion that we can all experience, and should in the face of meaningful loss.  At the heart of a depression, without fail, I will find that you are locked in a battle to avoid or rid yourself of this (normal) sadness.  There is a tonne of reliable and valid research that suggests you, and others like you, if you are (chronically) depressed, anxious, or traumatized (for example), are more involved in avoiding your experience than those who deal with equally serious issues but are more acute in their path of recovery.  ( Actually, when compared to what Indigenous, Black, Lesbian, Gay, the Disabled, many Females, or the Mentally Challenged, for example, have to deal with on a daily basis…….your issue may pale).

Please don’t misinterpret what I am saying!  Not all forms of avoidance are pathological.  It’s not really a problem (well maybe just a wee bit) if it is your habit to have a beer when you get off shift to “unwind”.  When it becomes a larger problem is when you down “a halfsack” after every shift; shift after shift!  I’m sure you can see how an emotional control strategy like this might work in the short-term, but could be a “killer” in the long run?  So when the family wants you to take them to the movies (beach, skiing, amusement park, hiking, camping, etc.) or your dog wants to go for a stroll, just like the “old days”, don’t decline.  “Begging off” might feel good in the short term however, in the long run it is likely making things worse.  Gettin’ the picture?


Dr. Mike Webster

Reg’d Psych.   (#0655)

A Healthy Normality: I Wonder? Part I

G’day all!  Before I begin, I would like to offer a tip of your Stetson (if I may be so bold) to some regular foreign viewers of “re-sergeance”.  I’m not sure you are all aware that we have visitors from afar.  I can see them on the “stats” page behind the scenes.  I wish to thank them for their interest and to encourage them to “throw in”.  I would welcome their comments and I’m quite sure we would all find it interesting.  These visitors include places like the UK, Trinidad and Tobago, Japan, France, South America, European Union, Australia, and of course our neighbours to the south, the US.

So to begin…….the kind of Psychology I studied during my undergraduate and graduate days was based upon (and to the greatest extent still is) an assumption that there is something called “a healthy normality”; that is, by nature we humans are psychologically healthy, and if we have the right ingredients e.g. environment, life-style, social context etc. we will be mentally healthy and happy.  You may have noticed by my general tone, that I question this.  I’m not sure that a degree of psychological pain is entirely abnormal.  After spending 70 years as a human, and over 40 as a psychological clinician I’m not entirely sure that psychological pain is abnormal.  I have begun to question whether psychological difficulties are really disease processes fueled by pathology.

Check this out!  Take a moment to ramble around your “googler” and you may be surprised to find stuff like this:  Pick a year, any year, and you’ll find that approximately 30-33% of the world’s population is suffering from clinical levels of Depression (depending upon which site you pick).  The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that depression is consistently among the top 3 psychological problems in terms of cost and patient debilitation around the globe.  It is thought that within the next couple of years it will move into the top 2.  This would suggest that within any week, go ahead and pick one, fully one tenth of the world’s population is suffering from this clinical mood disorder.  Moreover, one fifth of us (globally) will suffer clinical depression at some point during our time on this planet.  If you think that is “jaw dropping” check this out… in four of us will become addicted to drugs or alcohol at some point during our lives.  Statistics for the US, alone, suggest that there are now approximately 22-25 million alcoholics in that country (no wonder Donald Trump is such a ……..but I digress).  To continue, in support of my earlier statement, and again depending upon whose numbers you use, it seems that at least half of us will seriously consider suicide in our life time.  In short, there seems to very little correlation between our standard of living (that continues to rise) and our psychological health.

I recently completed some postdoctoral study (can you tell?) that makes a strong case for a destructive normality vs. the old healthy normality perspective.  This (well considered and researched) approach suggests that our language is the culprit.  Not the particular language we speak (e.g. English, French, Italian) but our ability to speak (in any language) a system of complex symbols including words, images, grunts, facial expressions, physical gestures etc.  This ability can be used in a couple of ways; the public and the private.  When we use the ability publically we are speaking, writing, singing, gesturing and such.  In the private domain we are thinking, imagining, planning, visualizing and so on.  When you refer to “cognition”, this is the stuff you are speaking of.

Now here comes the part that will take you out of your “comfort zone” (…….I can say this as I think I know you somewhat).  When you really think about it the “mind” isn’t a thing that you can touch, like a brain or a heart.  It’s more like a very complicated bunch of cognitive processes that include visualizing, evaluating, comparing, analyzing, criticizing, planning, etc; and all of these rely (on what?), our ability to use language.  (Nice try……….. even if you are mute you use language in the sense I am describing).  So you might even say that the word “mind” is synonomous with human language itself (OK, OK calm yourself and hear me out).

While useful, our ability to speak has a downside.  On the up-side it allows us to “play nice” by cooperating with each other in community, to plan, to predict, to create stuff, to share knowledge, to learn from others, and the past, and to communicate with one and other.  However, as I am hinting, there is a downside as well.  The mind can be used for a list of anti-social purposes ranging from mistreating to killing each other in a variety of ways.  We use it to obsess about the past, to rehash painful events, to catastrophize about the future, to judge, to condemn, to criticize others and to create unrealistic and crippling expectations.

I’m going to stop here (a very special reader has told me that I go on far too long!), but first (until the next installment on this topic), I would like you to consider strongly that it is our capacity for language that catalyzes suffering for human beings.  It seems that as we have this capacity to anticipate and solve problems through the evolutionary advantage of human language, we just might be trying to avoid natural human emotion (and its’ constituent pain) and “feeling bad about feeling bad”………..wherein the real problem may lay?

“Pain is universal, but suffering is not”

Dr. Mike Webster

Reg’d Psych.    (#0655)

(P.S.  I’ll be on the road for a few days; send in your comments and I’ll get to them when I return).

Resilience In Everyday Life

G’day all.  I would like to begin this piece by apologizing to “The Kraaken” for my snide remarks.  I admit when I read his critical words, I was offended (hurt?).  Those of you who know me personally know I have a moderate to large ego.  I continue to work on this and my only solace comes from the Buddha who said “To know the ego doesn’t exist you must first have one”.  I’m sorry “Kraaken”, I’m a work in progress.  On the other hand, we did create a lively discussion!  I will invite others more qualified than I to respond to your latest comment.

Now to business.  Is it only crisis that brings out the resilience in those that have it?  Do we all have it to the same degree?  Even more importantly can it be developed like a muscle?

Those that are highly resilient seem to possess a handful of characteristics in common.  Moreover those characteristics seem available to improvement in us all.  Let’s take a look at them:

Highly resilient folks are easily recognizable by their flexibility.  They thrive on change and adapt quickly to new circumstances.  They possess a firm belief that they can “bounce back” from almost anything.  You know, the old “As long as it doesn’t kill me…..” attitude?  This attitude is characterized by the supreme confidence that they can adapt to just about anything.

Some of us seem to be “born” with these qualities; and others, not so much.  However, there is no need to despair if you think you are in the latter group as we can all learn to be more resilient.  It seems to me, based upon clinical experience, that the critical variable is the way we perceive and think about ADVERSITY.  If we view it as a temporary thing, and as being susceptible to influence and change, we “have a leg up” on it.  On the other hand, if we reside in the group who view life’s challenges as fixed and unchangeable, we likely lack resilience.  For example, if you spend inordinate amounts of time, energy, and emotion in what the RCMP (whether supervisors, NHQ, other members, Health Services, Div. Reps., etc.)has done to you, prattling on about “right/wrong”, “fair/unfair”, “should/shouldn’t” have, you likely lack resilience.

But aren’t you fortunate, I am the “bearer of glad tidings”; for resilience is not only a set of skills to be used reactively, but they can also be deployed in a preventive fashion.  What follows are a handful of coaching points that are made up of my observations of you; when you have sat across from me in therapy and taught me how it’s done:

  1. The Importance of Attitude:  You resilient types experience a full range of emotion when you are “up against it”.  You mourn loss, endure frustration and the depths of depression but you have the ability to see the “silver lining” in the darkest of clouds.  You have within you, the constant ability to find the potential to learn and grow even when immersed in the toughest of times.  Research psychologists working in this area used to think this was the old General George Patton philosophy of “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP”!!  However today an ever accumulating mound of data indicates something different.  It seems the attitude is more like, ” HANG ON, I’VE BEEN THROUGH TOUGH TIMES BEFORE, I CAN SURVIVE THIS.  THINGS COULD BE WORSE!!”   Get busy and practice this.  Start small and gradually get bigger.  You can build your resilience just like you can build a bicep (they’ll never be as big as………..oh shit there’s that ego again!)
  2. The Natural Ability To Reframe:  Resilient types seem to be able to reframe challenges into opportunities to learn.  The same “bits and pieces” are there, but you have the ability to put another frame around them; challenges become opportunities to learn, pain becomes an opportunity to build new mental muscle, loss, the opportunity to build independence.  Give this a try.  Once again start small and get bigger.  Before you reframe the RCMP’s treatment of you from “malicious intent” to “inept management” try something smaller like reframing your child’s behaviour from “bad” to “thoughtless”.
  3. Showing Empathy: The resilient among you turns to others and demonstrates a genuine understanding of their plight.  The resilient person develops the ability to be “other centred”.  This ability builds more resilience, in addition to the neurotransmitter serotonin that is associated with feelings of happiness and well-being; that will lead to (can you guess?), that’s right more energy (really, positive mood states) to undertake and engage in further acts of kindness.  Try it!  (I didn’t apologize to the “Kraaken” just because he deserved one, but because it would be good for me as well).
  4. The Razor’s Edge:  Sure, it’s important to be in good emotional shape (e.g. out of your head and into your life) but what about physical condition?  You won’t like to hear this but I have an easier time working with the “hut, huts” (ERT types) and I’m convinced that they stay in good physical condition even when they are “up against it”.  Being physically fit actually builds your resilience; physical fitness in combination with mental muscle built through things like reading, relaxation, meditation, cross word puzzles, hobbies….as long as you aren’t reading RCMP policy (sorry Kraaken) or meditating on your next move in your battle with the  “outfit”..  This type of mental activity keeps your stress hormones low.  So, get busy……take the dog out for a walk and focus on your steps as you walk.  Count them up to ten, and then start over again.  If you lose your focus, be gentle with your self, just begin again…..1………2…….3……4……….
  5. Bust Your Gut:  Laughter, laughter, and more laughter; the more the better!  (And you must admit, you have an endless  supply of comic material coming out of NHQ?)  You are a champion if you can laugh in the face of adversity.  Since the time of Hans Selye (the stress guru), a tonne of research has accumulated demonstrating that laughter reduces stress to more moderate and manageable levels.  That same research suggests that “playing” or “experimenting” with a situation is a healthier solution to a challenge (even the big ones!) than “sheer determination”.

So there my dear friends is the recipe.  Can you do it?  If you wish to be the ” Captain of your own ship ” rather than have a bunch of pseudo-sailors at the helm, then build your resilience factor.  The revolution is coming, we are amassing in the hills and forests waiting for the right moment, you will be needed!  Look after yourself and those who depend upon you.  I believe you can do it!

“Be the Changes You Want In The World”

Dr. Mike Webster

Reg’d Psych  (#0655)

Change: The Only Constant

I suppose I should warn “The Kraaken” up front that this little story will take the long way ’round to make a point; that way he (she) can tune out, while others see if they can learn something about “change”.

The story goes like this: A couple of days ago I received a surprise telephone call from an old friend.  I hadn’t seen or spoke with this former co-worker for approximately 25-30 years.  We worked together in the Correctional Service of Canada, following each other to a couple of different prisons from the old BC Penitentiary to some out in the “Valley” after the “Pen” was closed down.

I always admired and held a special affinity for this fellow.  Although he didn’t work in the Psychology Department as I did, he seemed to be quite psychologically sophisticated and he commanded a great deal of respect among the inmates.  He grasped the idea that the totality of a person cannot be defined by a single act, job, attitude, or period in that person’s life.  Moreover, he was able to communicate this to the other inmates.

As I noted earlier, we hadn’t seen or spoken with each other for several decades.  The occasion of the call was his birthday (his 65th to be exact).  We had worked so well together and truly became “brothers” of a sort while “inside”, he told his wife he would like to speak with me as one of his birthday gifts.  She did some great sleuthing, found me, and the birthday boy and I were reunited on the big day.

My old friend and I had a great conversation over almost the period of one hour.  We spoke of “the old days”.  He reminded me of things that I used to say in those days gone by.  It seemed as if he remembered them better than I.  He related to me that he had passed these words along to inmates that he worked with both “inside and out”, in an effort to assist them in their “journeys of change”.  In addition, he jogged my memory of some of the dangerous and frightening incidents that we had experienced during our time “inside”.

He doesn’t do his work “inside” any longer.  In a very real sense he works on the “outside” now, and continues his “work for others”; just like we used to talk about when we were both “doing time”; me on the installment plan and him with no respite.  We plan to meet soon, when he is close by on the business of living outside his own head and for others.

Oh, I’m sorry!  Have I neglected to mention this call came from a man, who when younger was a violent criminal and was eventually awarded a life sentence for a vicious murder during an Armed Robbery.  He is now on a Full Parole that he earned day by day over approximately 26 years of incarceration, without one fucking whimper!!

I am struck by this man’s character strength.  Where’s yours?  In my (not so) humble opinion, you need the RCMP in your life, as it exists today, as much as my dear friend needs a gun in his!!  A step toward finding your strength of character might involve making the RCMP a UNION SHOP!!!!

“I don’t believe in magic, fairy dust, the Div. Rep. Program, or any other alternative generated by management…………..but I do believe in you!!”

Dr. Mike Webster

Reg’d Psych   (#0655)


“Straight Forward No Nonsense Advice”

I am writing this brief post in response to a comment from one of our readers.  The suggestion was made that, “Members need straight forward no nonsense advice, to deal with the issues…..” not the “tigress babble” I posted in my last two offerings.


Firstly, I would like to thank the member (?) for the comment.  As I get few to no submissions from readers, I’m likely “running on empty” and producing what some would define as drivel.


Secondly, I would like to extend an invitation to the member (?) to submit, for publication, a piece based upon “straight forward no nonsense advice”.  If it would assist the down trodden members of the RCMP, as the writer suggests, I would be happy to publish it.


Thirdly, I’m likely wrong but I figure by this stage of the game those members who have been abused by their employer and can’t seem to “deal with” it, have heard just about every piece of “straight forward no nonsense advice” that has ever been offered; and all to no avail.


Fourthly, as I respect you and your advice I’ll give it a try…….anything to help.  OK, here we go……GET YOUR HEADS OUT OF YOUR FUCKIN’ ASSES AND BACK INTO YOUR LIVES.  How’s that workin’ for ya’?


Dr. Mike Webster

Reg’d Psych.   (#0655)





For A Tigress: Part Two

My apologies for such a long absence. I was distracted by significant family business. I hope you all have been enjoying a rewarding and restful time away from work whether on sick leave or vacation; and of course I must offer a nod to you know who?…… This extension to fight the Canadian terrorist threat has really delayed your escape to “Downunder” eh mate? Understandably so though, as we are inundated by the “little buggers”, no?

Now to the business at hand; at the conclusion of my last article I pledged to my Magnificent Tigress that I would return to add some of the “nuts and bolts” to the introduction to ACT that I provided. Please allow me to turn myself to her, at this point, and feel free to listen in as we begin with a bit of a synopsis. My superbly equipped Jungle Cat, you will recall that I had suggested that most psychotherapy patients come to therapy with the objective of ridding themselves or, at the very least, controlling what they have identified as pathology e.g. anxiety, depression, anger, grief, traumatic memories, poor self- image, and the like. However I, my beautiful Tigress, shockingly suggested that there should be no attempt to change, eliminate, reduce, avoid, suppress, or control these private experiences. Rather the patient might learn to influence these unwanted thoughts and feelings, by embracing and applying mindfulness. In this way you will learn to stop pushing against your private experiences (which of course results in them pushing back), accept them, recognize them for what they are and let them come and go absent any struggle. In this way my Tigress, all the time and energy you previously wasted in battle could be invested in a winning game plan based upon your core values; having a greater likelihood of resulting in success.

Our game plan is based upon two major thrusts:

  1.  You and I must accept your previously unwanted internal experiences as being out of your personal control……..due to the fact that they are not you…….I challenge you to find one and grasp it!
  2. And, the recognition that commitment and action will lead to a valued life ( and just maybe a reduction of the present problem).

Are you still with me my Magnificent Tigress?   OK hang on, here comes a brief summary of some ACT interventions that I will attempt to illustrate with some (completely) anonymous examples:

In the first instance (you may remember) the patient’s natural game plan of emotional control is respectfully undermined through a variation of “motivational interviewing”. As I want you to discover on your own that your method is ineffective, I will ask you to identify the major strategies that you have employed to defeat or control your unwanted internal experiences. Then I ask you to assess each of these strategies: “Was this tactic successful over the long term in reducing your symptom(s)? Was there a cost in terms of family, friends, health, or time? Did the strategy solve the problem and get you closer to the kind of life you wanted?” May I use you as an example? Thank you. For a moment recall the battle you described, complete with its’ anger, anxiety, depression, and social withdrawal. I think you recognize the toll that this strategy has taken on you and your cub? Yes I hear you, they may have a short term benefit…….but in the long term? So the drill here is to get the patient to elucidate all the “emotional control strategies” utilized and to perform a cost-benefit analysis in terms of long-term effectiveness.

In the next phase, my Dear Tigress I want to further impress upon you how truly ineffective your attempts at emotional control really were; in fact they were largely responsible for your misery and woe. Remember the difference between “pure” and “dirty” emotion? You have created the latter and are stuck in a vicious circle of increasing misery. My colleagues speak of “the struggle switch”; that is, when you hit the struggle switch after encountering a challenge you are sure to turn a pure emotional response into a dirty one and complicate your problem.

It goes without saying that you didn’t like the way the management treated you (“pure anger, masking hurt and sadness?”) but, to suggest that they shouldn’t have, when it’s exactly what they should have done if their objective was to save their own “butts” (which is exactly what it was about) flips the “struggle switch” and now you likely begin to feel sad about being angry (“ Why do I always feel like this?”) or maybe anxious about your anger ( “What’s wrong with me, what will this do to my cub and I?). Do you recognize the shift from “pure emotion” to “dirty emotion?”

On the other hand, if you didn’t hit the struggle switch, of course the anger would be uncomfortable but it wouldn’t be overwhelming; it would be free to come and go as the situation required. Absent the struggle switch, my Magnificent Tigress, you would likely experience natural and expected levels of “pure emotion”. We all have it!! There is no way to avoid it if you are alive, remember…….”Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass, but learning to dance in the rain”.

Moreover, when the “struggle switch” is activated not only did you attempt to rid yourself of a natural response, but some of your strategies may be having long term costs for you and your cub e.g. food, alcohol, drugs, smoking, promiscuity, or excessive time spent on the Internet; less obvious, but equally damaging strategies might include ruminating, extreme self-criticism, or blaming others.

Exquisite Tigress, I want to be sure that you have control of your emotions before we proceed. If you do, the next step will be to introduce you to the basic principles of ACT.   There are six of them that are designed to increase your cognitive flexibility:

  1.  Distancing
  2. Acceptance
  3. Awareness
  4.  The Observing Self
  5. Values
  6. Committed Action

These six principles are designed to increase your cognitive flexibility, my Exquisite Tigress. Each one of the principles will have its’ own methodology, exercises, homework and metaphors. For example, cognitive distancing is designed to disentangle you from language. Rather than getting caught up in thoughts, images, memories and other cognitions you will learn to regard them for what they are; no more and no less than language, words and pictures. Remember how distressed you got when you hit the “struggle switch” and engaged the “That’s not fair………” thought? You began to fight it as if was an objective truth or fact (which I assure you it isn’t………just ask the other side, they will tell you!). Instead try to observe the thought like a curious police investigator; imagine the thought running on the banner at the bottom of the six o’clock news, change the colour, change the font, or imagine a bouncing ball hopping from one word to the next. You may notice that it becomes less distressing. Your homework here will be to practice a few different distancing techniques (e.g. think of the thought as being on a cloud passing overhead or on the side of an 18 wheeler passing you on the highway…….or create one of your own); not to rid yourself of the thought, just to be able to step back and view the thought as words passing through.

As for acceptance, this will require that you allow unpleasant thoughts, feelings, reactions, and any other idiosyncratic responses you may have to come and go without battling them ( what’s that?…..yes, you turn off the “struggle switch”!!). No more trying to escape them, no more running from them, no more excessive attention paid to them. I want you to become that objective police investigator again and pay attention to how you feel the sensation of anger (anxiety, depression, etc.). Observe its’ edges, shape, weight, temperature, etc. Breathe into it and see if you can make room for it, wherever it is. Your homework here will be to allow (or create) the feeling and then (without attempting to chase it off), simply learn how to let it come and go without a struggle. (Can you see what you are gaining control over? Yes of course, the “struggle switch”!).

Awareness involves contact with the present moment. Focusing your full awareness on the here-and-now. (Recall the spotlight beam?) This is attained by bringing your attention to the present moment with openness, receptivity, and interest. For example, the next time you have a cup of coffee sit quietly with it. Drink it as if you were doing so in slow motion. Focus the spotlight beam first on the taste, then the temperature, then your swallowing, its’ movement down your throat, the associated sounds, etc., etc. You get the idea. For your homework when you get this far, I want you to engage in a number of daily routines with greater awareness of them, in addition to keeping up with what you will have already mastered. For example, focus the spotlight on showering, brushing teeth, brushing your glorious mane, washing dishes, making beds, etc., etc.

As part of our game plan you will need a way to transcend the view of self that you presently have. You will need an unchanging (don’t panic, my Jungle Cat) continuous, impervious (to your stream of visiting thoughts and sensations), transcendent sense of self (in other words, above all of the activity that comes and goes). With some work it will become a perspective from which you will recognize that you are not your thoughts, feelings, urges, memories, traumas, sensations; and yes, even physical body. Weird huh? I bet we have lost some of your more conservative colleagues already! Believe me dearest Tigress, this is not “mumbo-jumbo”, it is well researched psychological science. The phenomena that we are discussing are always moving and changing; they may be peripheral aspects of you but they are not you. They are not (in your case) the essence of Tigress. For your homework (and for the rest of the jungle beasts who are sitting quietly in the shadows listening to us) I want you to sit quietly and observe your thoughts. I want you to observe their form, speed of entry and exit, location etc. As you sit quietly I want you to become aware that there are thoughts and also an observer of those thoughts. Note that there are two processes going on; a process of thinking and one of someone observing the thinking. The beauty of this my Tigress is that from this perspective you are all powerful; no thought can threaten or control you…….you are in control of your jungle!

Now we move into what we could regard as phase two; the identification of your value system. Here’s where we must discover what you stand for, what moves you deeply, what provides meaning in your life. (As a precursor to this I will mention one of my heroes, Dr. Viktor Frankl, who wrote “Man’s Search For Meaning”……he was a Viennese Psychiatrist who believed that mental health was based upon having meaning in one’s life. This wonderful Jewish Psychiatrist survived the Nazi concentration camps, when many didn’t, simply because he had meaning in his life. He was determined to return to the practice of psychiatry with his newly found insights.) Dr. Frankl would look at you my Tigress with his kind eyes and ask you, “What do you want to be; What do you want to stand for in this life?”

Once you have identified (actively) your passion, it is now time to begin committed and effective action; the route being pointed out by your values. Let’s say, for example, you decide that starting up a private firm in the area that the police paid thousands to train you in is your passion. At the right time we will set some increasingly challenging goals, while continuing to practice your mindfulness skills to contend with the angry/anxious/sad thoughts and feelings that have inevitably arisen. And who knows, the painful thoughts and feelings you deal with may diminish although not the objective of your efforts? Sort of a pleasant by-product, don’t you think? (This reduction in symptoms is sometimes accounted to “exposure”, as practicing mindfulness of unwanted thoughts and feelings can be regarded as a form of exposure therapy.)

So there it is…….an overview of ACT. If, my beautiful Tigress, you have attended the offices of other mental health professionals I’m sure you would agree this is a somewhat different approach? We are no longer concerned with ridding ourselves of “bad” feelings or getting over past traumas; rather we are all about creating rich, full and meaningful lives. And best of all, it works……….as confirmed by such noted psychological investigators as Hayes S.C., Bissett R., Roget N., Padilla M., Kohlenberg B.S., Fisher G., Strosahl K.D., Bergen J., and Romano P., to name only a few of those behind this approach. One well known psychological researcher (Hayes, 2004) said that if he had to put it all on a T-shirt it would read, “Embrace your demons and follow your heart”.

N.B. Remember my second objective? Not only have I been addressing you my Tigress, just think of how many have been eavesdropping on us. Do you think we’ve had at least a modicum of effect on them? Wadda ya’ think Commish? Feel better?

Dr. Mike Webster

Reg’d Psych   (#0655)

For A Tigress: How To Stop Fighting And Win.

G’day Cobbers! Oh yes, and something special for you know who…..’Oy mate, the word is the “cook’s” not happy with the “bonzer” of a “blue” you pulled! And now to business. I’m going to attempt to accomplish two objectives at once in this post. First, the present model of delivering mental health services is neither efficient nor likely to survive. One patient sitting in the office with one therapist is just not the most efficient way of delivering mental health services. (How long were you told you would have to wait before you could get an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist in your area?) I am going to attempt to provide an argument for a more efficient model of delivering mental health services.

The second objective, to demonstrate this model, will be accomplished by using someone I am presently consulting with, who bears a striking resemblance to most (police) psychotherapy patients, including you. All you will learn about her identity is that she is, as you have gathered, female and a police woman. I am about to introduce a psycho-educational model to you by addressing her case in an extremely general fashion. The details of her situation and the prescriptions I make could really fit most of you.

Before we begin, allow me to offer the same proviso that I usually do when I address therapeutic issues. I am not prescribing what I write about for you. I am not your therapist. I simply want to present information. However, what I write about may give you some insight into a different way of addressing painful emotional issues.

And as for you my Tigress, do you remember when I told you to stabilize your attention in the present moment; and that when you were able to stop struggling you would become free, confident, and at ease? What is about to follow is the “how it works” part. Remember how the tiger walks with confidence? She never questions her stripes! She has relaxed into the confidence that she is exquisitely equipped to exist and survive on this planet. She doesn’t need to win the lottery of life!!!! Only to survive!!!!!!!!!

OK here we go, buckle up, it’s gonna’ be one helluva’ ride. My Tigress, can you imagine a psychotherapy that does not have as its’ central objective the reduction or elimination of symptoms, yet achieves this very thing as a by-product? I want to present you with an overview of such a psychotherapy in this article. A psychotherapy that has been very rigorously researched (see Hayes, S.C, 1996; 1999; 2001; 2002; 2003; 2004) and comfortably targets values, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion, living in the moment, and learning how to access an often confusing facet of self (transcendence).

Acceptance and Commitment Theory (and Therapy) is a practical application of mindfulness based treatment that flies in the face of most Western Psychological theory. My Tigress, you are already aware that when working with a trained ACT therapist you will at times use such things as mindfulness, paradox, metaphor, and many other experiential exercises; at times even the use of exercises to identify and surface your personal value system.

The objective of our work together my Tigress, is to assist you in the cobbling of a meaningful life while accepting the fact that pain will be an inevitable part of that product. This approach to psychotherapy is based upon assisting you to take effective action guided by your deepest values in which you are fully present and engaged. This is difficult for some to accept and understand, however it is only through mindful action that human beings can create meaningful lives. And in the creation of such a life, you will inevitably meet challenges, not in the form as those facing our jungle cat, but certainly painful emotion, ugly thoughts, bad memories, and a plethora of other uncomfortable private experiences. It is the objective of this approach, to give you a set of mindfulness skills that have been proven effective and powerful to apply to the inevitable challenges of being human.

Are you still there my Tigress? I think it is time for a brief explanation of mindfulness. Think of your awareness as the beam of light thrown off by a spotlight used to light the sky at major events held at night. The more that beam of light shrinks in diameter, approaching that of a pen-light, the less stuff it can have in its’ beam, the more refined and pointed the area lit up becomes. It is the same with your awareness , or attention. Mindfulness is living in the moment, engaging in the “now”, or to use our example, there is less in your awareness to distract you; fewer thoughts, fewer feelings, fewer memories, etc. When you even begin to do this you are starting to let your thoughts and feelings come and go, to be as they are, in opposition to trying to control them. When you just observe your “inner world” openly, receptively, and most importantly objectively, even the most painful memories, thoughts, feelings, and sensations can seem less important and hurtful. Practicing mindfulness can alter your relationship with those angry thoughts and painful feelings (related to how you have been treated) in a way that makes them less important and less influential over your life in the present.

While we are on the topic of mindfulness, I’ll add that there are more ways to develop it than just formal meditation; and before we are done I’ll introduce you to all of them. They range all the way from traditional meditation to something called “cognitive defusion”.

To many, what I am about to say is confusing; the approach we are taking, unlike traditional Western Psychology does not target symptom reduction or elimination as a desired goal or a sign of success. The research on this method has demonstrated convincingly that it is the consistent fight to eliminate symptoms that created the disorder (e.g. depression, anxiety) in the first place; that’s right, the battle to be well is a major contributor to the origin and maintenance of the disease in the first place. Do you recall the set of symptoms that you manifested following the treatment you received at work? Well, as soon as you or a mental health professional labelled your response as “symptomatic” you likely entered into a campaign to rid yourself of them, as something called a symptom is by definition “pathological”; something to be rid of as soon as possible. One of our major thrusts (if you decide to accept this assignment) will be to reframe your relationship with what you previously identified as symptomatic, into a relationship with transient psychological events that can be uncomfortable at times , but really quite harmless in the long run. (And guess what? In most cases symptom reduction comes about as a by-product; they seem to bother you less as you are no fun….you won’t respond.)

Still there Tigress? Unlike more traditional Western approaches, our method doesn’t subscribe to the assumption of a “healthy normality”. You and I take the perspective that psychological pain is not abnormal in the human condition and that most psychological disorders do not spring from unusual or pathological processes. Actually if you have a read of current statistics in this area you will see that in any year approximately 30% of the adult population will struggle with a psychiatric disorder. The World Health Organization has recently estimated that depression is among the top 3 largest, most costly, and debilitating diseases in the modern world. It seems that in any week of the year at least one tenth of the world’s population is suffering clinical levels of depression, and one in three will suffer from it at some point in their lives. Moreover, one in four adults at some time during their life span will battle a serious addiction to drugs or alcohol. There are now around 30 million alcoholics in the US alone. Nearly one in two people will consider suicide at some point in their lives. Finally consider the many adjustment problems that don’t really qualify as mental illness e.g. meaninglessness, loneliness, the anxiety associated with sexism, racism, bullying, domestic violence, and divorce. It is well supported that even though we enjoy a higher standard of living than at any other time in the past, psychological suffering is all around us.

Now my Tigress reach down deep and hang on tight for I am about to tell you something that you and many others always knew but were hesitant to agree with; that is, the psychological processes of the human mind are often destructive and can be a significant source of human misery. Moreover, you and I can see that the source of this misery is human language. It is readily apparent that our ability to communicate (e.g. words, images, sounds, facial expressions) can be utilized in two domains; the public and the private. Quite simply, you can speak and/or write (public) and you can think and/or visualize (private). The psychological term for the private use of language is “cognition”. Think of how you have used both, especially the “private” to compound a normal human response into pathology.

As the human mind doesn’t appear to be a thing we can grasp, that is an organ like a kidney or a heart, but more like a set of complex cognitive processes including planning, visualizing, analyzing and evaluating that all rely on language, the word “mind” could serve as a metaphor for human language itself.

While human language has been key to the development of the human race allowing us to learn, plan, predict, imagine, create, communicate and thrive as a community, it has a dark side. We also use it to incite hatred, plan violence, deliver injustice, act with prejudice; to fabricate weapons of mass destruction; to lie and manipulate; to slander and libel; to depress ourselves; and to make ourselves anxious by attempting to predict the future.

The result of this is the assumption that it is human language that is at the root of all human suffering. Are you listening my Tigress? Recall that last assignment I gave you? Fully 97% of it was compounding verbiage designed to make it all go away. I ask you……did it work or did it serve to make you feel more hopeless? Has it ever worked? Quite simply it is our ability to anticipate and solve problems reflected in the process of “experiential avoidance” that has provided us with what could be viewed as our single greatest evolutionary advantage. The heart of this problem solving skill is the dual ability to identify problems and to figure out how to defeat them. For example my Tigress, in your work you set your sights on an area of policing that was of great interest to you. You recognized that you lacked training and experience (the problem). You extended yourself and got the finest training available, and then put it to work to gain a wealth of experience working in the area, and to become an expert in the field (the solution). As this problem solving approach works so well in the external world, it is only natural that you would try it in your internal world; your world of thoughts, feelings, urges, and memories. Tragically, like the rest of us, when you tried to rid yourself of the feeling of being mistreated……when you tried so hard to “fill that hole in [your] soul”, you began to create extra suffering for your self.

It seems almost counter-intuitive that the more effort you exert in an attempt to rid yourself of the painful emotion you experience, the more you are likely to create it. The broken heart you experience is a good example. (Dear Tigress, I know you think you are just plain angry–but from my perspective, the anger simply covers a broken heart; a heart broken by a job and an organization that you loved.) It isn’t really the presence of sadness that has fueled the depression you have experienced for years. Think about it!! Sadness is something we all experience when we lose something we value. At the heart of your depression is the obsession with avoiding or getting rid of it. Paradoxically, the more you make of shaking the depression (I know, I know, sometimes it only sounds like getting your employer to admit they mistreated you, but really this is just another strategy to escape feeling so sad) the more emphasis you place on not being sad and the sadder you become at your inability to “get happy”. You, my magnificent Tigress, are caught in a vicious circle that lives at the centre of all emotional disorders. (What is suicide, if it is not feeling extremely sad, and hopeless, about being so sad?).

The approach we are using focuses on an alternative to “experiential avoidance” through the use of a handful of therapeutic interventions. You my magnificent Tigress, like all of your wounded soul-mates want to rid your self of your depression, your anxiety, your grief, your anger, your traumatic memories etc., etc. You may have noticed as they have, that when you work with me, there is no effort made to avoid, eliminate, reduce, change, control, or suppress these internal experiences. Rather, we attempt to mitigate these uncomfortable thoughts and feelings through the effective use of mindfulness as I have earlier explained it. I want you to learn how to stop fighting your internal experiences…..rather, to open yourself to them. I want you to learn that the more you push against your “private hell”, the more it will push back. In other words, you compound and make permanent some thing that naturally would come and go on its’ own.

When you embrace the well founded approach that I am putting forward, you devote yourself to a couple of main tenets: 1) You accept that unwanted, painful experiences are out of your control (think about it, how successful have you been so far) and, 2) you commit yourself toward actively living a valued life. (And what do you think happens to those painful symptoms, just because you pay them no mind?).

Would you like to take a look at some of the core interventions that may occur in a therapy session? In outlining them here, I am suggesting (recall the idea of psycho-education?) that you can learn to monitor your own experience. After all you are no less synchronized with the greater uncontrolled universe than any other organism in it. You don’t stand apart seeking control. You are an expression of it all and have command now of your little piece……something that the Tigress seems to know intuitively.

My exquisitely equipped Tigress, I am sure you are at least somewhat familiar with the “motivational interview”? If so, you will recognize that when your interviewee behaves as you did in your response to me by outlining those times when you were “…….truly devastated, dejected, and wounded…” as a result of the way you were treated by your employer. You were beginning to go down a path of attempted “emotional control” that had not worked previously and most likely would go on this time with no productive outcome. Riddle me this my lovely Tigress, when your garden is continually dry and arid, is it best to continually complain about it? Water it, if you have the resources? Or maybe move to another location? When you hear yourself attempting to avoid or rid yourself of painful internal experiences (and sounding like a broken record by replaying failed strategies, you can gently and respectfully disrupt this wasted motion by asking yourself, “Has this constant complaining reduced my symptoms over time?” ; “What has this wasted motion strategy cost me in terms of time, health, vitality, energy, productivity, relationships, self esteem, reputation?” ; or, “Has this strategy brought me closer to the life I want for my cub and I?”

If you really devote yourself to something different you will discover that none of your strategies have worked across time. No real reduction in sadness, anger, anxiety, or bitterness; just huge costs levied against you and your cub, in terms of your collective health and happiness. So here is the place where most would list all the other emotional control strategies they have used, measure their long term effectiveness and costs to their lives. I’m guessing that you really have no other strategies except “experiential avoidance” and the costs associated with this strategy far outweigh the benefits, and even you see that it is time to “do something different”.

So now that you have unmasked your misguided strategy, what’s next? May I suggest that you might want to increase your awareness that emotional strategies are the real enemy! The key to your “enlightenment” is to recognize that the more you use your emotional control strategies to manage how you feel, you just trap yourself in a cyclone of ever increasing suffering. Some of the metaphors coined by colleagues much more astute than I include; “quicksand”, and “the struggle switch”. My own offerings are the notions of “pure discomfort” and “dirty discomfort”. I’m sure dear Tigress you can see the wisdom in this madness; how many times have we witnessed someone fall into the quicksand? We all know by now what struggle will produce. The more she struggles the faster she will go under! The idea of the “struggle switch” is clearly illustrated. The lesson is clear, don’t compound your initial emotional response with a secondary emotion; when caught in quicksand, turn off the “struggle switch”, know things could be worse and that, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass, but about learning to dance in the rain”. When you accept the normalcy of any primary emotion (e.g. anger, depression, anxiety) and refuse to fight it, it is now free to rise and fall to fit the demands of context. This is the “pure pain” we spoke of earlier. You can’t avoid it, life is full of “pure pain”. If you have neglected to turn off the “struggle switch”, now you will create “dirty pain” and a world of hurt for yourself. Now comes the ineffective attempts at emotional control including the abuse of sex, food, alcohol, drugs, smoking, gambling; and of course beating up on yourself, endlessly ruminating, blaming others, and so on, and so on.

When you reach an understanding of what has gone before, my magnificent Tigress, you have at least begun to question your previous agenda of “emotional control”. Next in line are the basic principles. I shall save them for a future article.

“Don’t push the river, it flows by itself”.

Dr. Mike Webster
Reg’d Psych (#0655)

Happy Canada Day!!!!!

I wish you all the peace and goodwill of this day. Here is something to remember from a man who should know:

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win”

—Mahatma Gandhi

“I Have A Dream”

With apologies to one of my heroes, Martin Luther King Jr., I wish to “piggy-back” on his historical speech, and offer a message to you. I’m sure you will recall (that is, those of you who are old enough, or studied his life in school) his call for an end to racism in the USA, in August of 1963? I was a sophmore at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend Indiana and I recall from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the “March on Washington” he created the defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. I’m sure most of you are too young to remember however, he referred to the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and noted with emotion that “one hundred years later the Negro is still not free”. I recall it was Mahalia Jackson, the soulful gospel singer, who cried out from the throng of 250,000 or more people, “Tell them about the dream Martin!!” It was at this point that Reverend King departed from his prepared text and looked directly into the eyes of each member of the gathered throng and described to them his “dream” of freedom and equality arising from slavery and hatred.

With this single phrase Martin Luther King Jr. joined the likes of Jefferson, Lincoln, and the like who shaped a struggle that goes on today in modern America. Without lessening or misrepresenting the struggle for civil rights that goes on today in the USA, I want to impress upon you how critical your fight for recognition is. I’m sure that knowing you, in a very general sense as I do, based upon decades of working with you in a variety of roles from therapist to crisis management consultant has provided for me a certain “corporate knowledge” that many of my colleagues are in the process of gaining.

You may be aware that, based upon my belief that the “chief” psychologist in RCMP Health Services should be (or have been) a regular member, I engaged with the Force in the early 1980’s. I will admit I was promised nothing by the recruiting member other than a “we’ll see”. I was willing to gamble that if I showed them that a 42 year old psychologist could survive “basic training”, that he would have at least a “smidge” more experience and understanding than the average civilian who was occupying the position at present. Needless to say I was wrong!! I was posted to Red Deer Alberta (a lovely place I am sure) upon graduation, however, very soon after matriculating I returned to “E” Division and began lobbying for my original proposition. I soon learned that this would never happen, so I left the Force and returned to my private practice. ( I should mention that the RCMP ended up paying me more than twice what they would have paid me as a regular member “psychologist”).

Anyhoooo, what I am leading up to is that I have the same dream at the same time of the year ( the time when I decided to leave); and this is the time of the year. I began this year’s go-round in late May, and have had the dream almost nightly since that time. This is a benign topic, Mr. Paulson cannot rob you of your birthdate, nor can he kill you, one is impossible and the other unlawful. He is very busy at present dealing with his own problems, I have heard, and would have little time or moral leverage to come after you. So, I invite you to weigh in and help me. According to your “esteemed leader”, I need it!! (I’ll show you the A-TIPs I have accumulated sometime).

So the dream goes like this……in a kingdom far, far, away there lived a very powerful king who owed much of his ferocity and wisdom to his chief advisor an aging monk-like warrior. This highly valued sage was not only wise but respected for his thoughtful decisions and emotional balance. He had assisted the king in retaining his kingdom and had done so with minimal loss of life.

No matter all of this, there was a group of “Young Turks” who were impatient to have the mantle of advisor to the king, placed upon the shoulders of one of their much younger confreres. These young impulsive warriors saw themselves as more daring, courageous, and adventurous than the old advisor. They believed that the king could be more powerful and feared by his enemies than he was; and that the kingdom could be larger and richer, if the king would only attack and conquer his neighbours. They were impatient and believed that the old sage/warrior had lost his “edge”, and worse was holding back the progress of the Empire.

The “Young Turks” met and devised a plan; a plan designed to discredit the king’s aging and trusted advisor. They decided that they would arrange a feast day to celebrate the king’s wisdom and success; they would invite everyone in the kingdom to attend. And at this great gathering they would have a way of embarrassing the king’s long time advisor and cause the king to question his friend’s competence.

The “Young Turks” finalized a strategy that would demonstrate to all in attendance that the aging warrior has lost his “edge”. It was agreed that the one who is most likely to succeed the old sage, would approach him with a small mouse in hand, and behind his back. He will ask the wise advisor, “I am holding a mouse behind my back. You are believed to be wise. Can you tell me, if in this moment it in fact lives, or has it died?” The group of knights, in waiting, believed that they were now able to trap the King’s long-time advisor in a game he couldn’t win; for if he said “it lives” the animal could easily and quietly be crushed, if he said “it’s dead” the mouse could easily be placed upon the floor to “scramble” away.

On the day the “Young Turks” obtained a small mouse, and attended the long-planned celebration. At some point during the day the instigator stepped forward and approached the old warrior. A strained quiet fell over the crowd. They listened as the younger man approached the older, and asked “Sir, I have a mouse in my hand and behind my back. Since you are thought to be so wise, I wonder if you can tell me if it lives or if it has expired? The entire gathered throng fell silent as they realized the gravity of the challenge. They recognized that if the old warrior/sage failed to answer correctly he would have confirmed what the “Young Turks” were saying about him.

Everyone present, absent any breathing, waited for the old warrior to answer. Deliberately and with a smile spreading across his face, he approached the young challenger. He gazed warmly at the younger man, as if to take his measure for a prolonged moment. Others in the crowd, sensing the gravity of the situation, became restless, and wondered if at last the wise old warrior had met his match? The crowd fell silent as the old man found the youth of his voice and enquired, “Why would you ask me such a question young man…..THE ANSWER IS IN YOUR HANDS?

So? What do you think? Please don’t let anyone rob you of your right to think! What does this dream mean to you? Who are these people? Which one is you? Is one of them me? Which character is representing your “esteemed leader”? Who are the “”Young Turks”? Both in the dream and in real life? Who does the mouse represent? What does the mouse represent? Remember you cannot be wrong. It is YOUR interpretation. There is little to no science behind the interpretation of dreams. You have a free hand and it is all within the realm of consideration.

Most importantly don’t allow yourself to be “cowed” into silence!

“If a prisoner wants to free his companions, he must first break free of his own chains”

Dr. Mike Webster
Reg’d Psych.


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