Help Yourself: Myths and Facts About Holistic Psychology

During the global lockdown, holistic psychology, which invites everyone to heal on their own, took over social media. What is there more – harm or benefit? Let’s figure it out together with an expert.

It is still unusual for us to outsource the responsibility for our mental health. Why do you need a psychologist if you have friends and alcohol? According to VTsIOM, only 12% of Russians consulted a psychologist. In the United States, such people are 48%. However, the modern system of psychological assistance – both in Russia and in other countries – has many imperfections: it is expensive, it is difficult, it is not easy to find a good specialist, and the result is not 100% guaranteed.

And then there’s the lockdown. During the global quarantine, all non-urgent diagnostics and treatment were postponed or carried out via the Internet, and people began to look for ways to help themselves on their own. And, of course, they found it. On Instagram. Meet Nicole LePerat, Doctor of Psychology, guru of a new trend – holistic psychology.

In two years, 2.7 million subscribers appeared on her instagram. Among them are Hollywood celebrities, in particular, actress Hilary Swank. “I wish I knew you 25 years ago,” wrote Hilary under one of LaPera’s posts. – I learned more from your posts than during the years of sitting in the offices of psychotherapists. Thanks a million times! ”

What is so incredible that LePer writes? In fact, only one thing: all the tools for healing are inherent in ourselves. If we are guided correctly, we can get rid of our psychological problems simply by an effort of will.

The approach, in principle, is not new.

“The word ‘holistic’ means ‘holistic’, explains cognitive therapist Tatyana Pavlova. – By and large, all modern clinical psychology can be called holistic, since it is based on a bio-psycho-social approach. That is, he approaches treatment as a complex task, which is solved both with the help of biochemistry (drugs) and psychology. ”

However, the holistic psychology that we are talking about is a young direction, which is based on the ideas of psychosynthesis by Roberto Assagioli, transpersonal psychology and new-age philosophy, as well as using the terminology of cognitive-behavioral therapy and schema-therapy. If it is simpler, then in this direction not only the emotions and bodily processes of a person are important, but also the spiritual component and the way of life.

It would seem: well, this is great – all the best at once! But no. “Holistic psychology calls itself an integrative direction, meaning that it unites everything of value from other human sciences,” explains Tatiana. – But integrative directions should have their own theory that explains human problems, confirmed by scientific research (if you read English, you can learn about evidence-based approaches in psychology on the website of the American Psychological Society; the Russian service of recruiting psychologists “Alter” has a good guide to directions ). And holistic psychology does not have this: there have been no reliable studies confirming its effectiveness. So the method is rather eclectic – that is, it is okroshka from different directions. ”

But why is she so popular then?

Firstly, the ideas of holistic psychology easily fit into schemes that are convenient to post on social networks. The recipes are simple and straightforward. To deal with trauma, get creative. To get rid of depression, review your daily habits.

“Trauma remains when we are unable to express ourselves creatively. Each of us is essentially a creative genius “- this is a meme of another follower of holistic psychology, Sah DiSimon… He calls himself a “spiritual instructor.”

Secondly, it gives a feeling of touching sacred knowledge: you are not just being treated for depression, but strive for spiritual awakening.

Third, there really is a benefit from a holistic approach. This method can motivate you to lead a healthy lifestyle, monitor your sleep and diet.

But not everything is so rosy.

Holistic psychology makes a person fully responsible for their psychological state. LePera and her followers (search for the SelfHealers tag) believe that although a person cannot choose the circumstances of his life, attitudes towards them are his personal choice. That is, to put it simply, it is your fault that you are too anxious or paranoid. Eat right, exercise, ditch your microwave and phone, and tune in to healing, and it’ll all go away.

As proof, LePert offers a compote of quite useful advice with scientific or completely unproven theories gleaned from medicine and chemistry. For example: less exposure to electromagnetic radiation, because it negatively affects the brain and causes problems with sleep, digestion and intellectual activity. That is, who can argue: falling asleep and waking up with a phone in hand is unhealthy. But the direct negative influence of electromagnetic radiation is a myth.

This diagram shows how electromagnet radiation affects our brain.

Or here: stress is the result of “dependence” on the dopamine neutrotransmitter. Which doesn’t exist.

LaPera, a doctor of psychological sciences herself, considers modern psychology to be the “Stone Age”: she is sure that conversational psychotherapy sessions are unable to heal emotional trauma. In her opinion, the trauma is stored in the body (this has not been scientifically proven), and it can be cured only by establishing communication with your “inner child”. What she invites you to do on your own, referring to the diagrams on her Instagram.

How to connect with your inner child: write him a letter acknowledging your own experience, meditate, look at your photo and write how you felt at that age, write an honest letter to your parents (do not send it!), Do what you loved as a child …

While LePera was not so popular, no one particularly touched her – but you never know psychologists who push much more controversial speeches in their cozy Instagrammers. But 2020 has happened. On the one hand, the whole world was locked up at home, which led many to the ideas of self-healing. On the other hand, millions of plans were violated, and people felt that they were losing control over their lives. It became clear that far from every circumstance a person chooses himself (and not at all he can react to any with the calmness of a Buddha).

Her fellow psychotherapists who have recently supported the holistic therapist have stated that her theory is “the theory of the rich white woman,” that is, of the privileged class. After all, only a person whose everyday difficulties have been resolved can seriously consider himself the master of his own thoughts and try to heal suicidal thoughts with motivational memes.

“It is not the disease that controls the family, but the habits,” LePera writes on his Instagram. He also adds that genes respond to the environment. They can be expressed or suppressed depending on your choice.

By the way, about suicidal thoughts. LePera adheres to the idea of ​​full personal responsibility not only for psychological problems, but also for psychiatric diseases. She is generally against diagnoses. Trauma, anxiety or depressive disorder is, in her opinion, an emotional drug that a person becomes addicted to (of his own free will, of course), and which poisons his entire body. Therefore, treatment should be comprehensive: proper nutrition, sports, adequate sleep and, of course, the right emotional attitude. LePera encourages her followers to avoid hospitals, therapy, and drugs. Because healed to ourselves, remember?

But this is already a serious statement. Although … “For Western psychiatry, the idea is not new. It goes back to the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, says Pavlova. – The leaders of the antipsychiatry movement of those years, David Cooper and Ronald Lang (about the latter, you can watch the film “It Enrages Being Normal”) argued that mental disorders are a side effect of social norms and sanctions: “Normality or psychosis is tested by the degree of similarity or dissimilarity of two individuals, one of which, by common agreement, is normal. ” Roughly speaking, the one who first put on the robe is the doctor. At that time, the ideas of antipsychiatry pushed towards a more humane attitude towards psychiatric patients and the development of an outpatient care system.

However, the enterprises of antipsychiatrists for the treatment of psychedelic patients ended in failure, and pharmacotherapy reached a new level of development. A large evidence base has appeared: behind psychiatric diagnoses lies not only the “abnormality” of patients from the point of view of society, but also biochemical changes in the brain of patients.

“Communicating a diagnosis often helps relieve a person’s condition,” explains Pavlova. – He understands that it is not something wrong with him, but he has a disease that can be cured. Refusal of the diagnosis shifts the responsibility for the condition onto the sick person. And this responsibility can be too heavy. Actually, this destructive idea sounds in the selfhealers project. ”

Is this how holistic psychology works or not? “This question is still impossible to answer,” Pavlova says. – There is no research to confirm or deny its effectiveness. If our goal is to get rid of depression, we can assess whether the therapy was effective or not. If the goal is to achieve spiritual enlightenment, then the criteria for achieving such a goal are vague. ”

“Why do we need holistic psychology? The body and mind are interconnected, the brain and gut are also interconnected, the brain affects the immune system, trauma changes the functions of the nervous system, we have a soul and inner wisdom to help heal, our microbiome is linked to mental health. “

Well then, at least let’s define: who will not be harmed by holistic psychologists? “For people who do not have conditions that meet the criteria for mental illness – including depression and anxiety disorders,” Pavlova lists. “For those who want new experiences, learn more about themselves. And also to those who have access to quality products, whose resources are not entirely spent on survival. ” That is, in fact, rich white people.

Personal opinion

“The most misunderstood addiction is addiction to chaos, stress and emotional rejection.”

Olya Tretyakova: I cannot call myself a great specialist in this matter – I am indirectly familiar with psychology: three and a half years of personal therapy and several years of study at the Moscow Gestalt Institute. I took out of all this only one thing: there is no science more contradictory than psychology. And yes, some areas of psychology can hardly be called strictly scientific: the evidence base, confirmed by research, is not everywhere.

But what I can’t stand is simplification through complication. That is, when the advice at first glance seems easy, but in reality it is often impossible to follow it. “Just change your outlook on things”, “just put your life in order”, “just do sports every day, regardless of the weather and your condition”. Just? Damn it with two. A million circumstances interfere with plans that prevent them from being implemented. But if things have to be simple, are “circumstances” just excuses? So, the person himself is to blame for the fact that he could not? So he should be ashamed of it?

You know, there is little that compares to shame in terms of destructiveness. And guilt will do little to help in circumstances over which we have no control.

So, no matter how sweet the promises of holistic psychologists seem, no matter how bright and beautiful their schemes are, I, perhaps, am not ready to trust them. And you?

Tatiana Pavlova

Ph.D., psychologist at the cognitive therapy center


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