THE BATSHAW METHOD
Human beings are built to change, but no two human beings have the same path to change. The question is not, “How does one change?” but “How do I change?"
- Michael Batshaw
The mass of men (and women) lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go to the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.
- Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau was my first teacher. At sixteen, I read Walden for the first time and felt a stirring of recognition within myself. Thoreau was a philosopher, a psychologist, a poet, an economist, a sociologist and above all an empiricist, an observer of nature, people, animals and the physical environment. He was the first modern writer to explore the intricate interdependency between man and his natural environment. He was also a maverick, he believed that one should experiment with one’s own life, not follow the dogma of current paradigms, and that by carefully watching one’s mind and one’s behavior a clear path to happiness would result. The above quote by Thoreau begins his exploration and analysis of human beings and culture. The below quote is how he ends his exploration, with optimism and hope. I have maintained this hope and optimism in humankind and it fuels my passion to this day to bring the possibilities of change to every single person I work with.
The light that puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only the day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.
- Henry David Thoreau
I majored in Philosophy with a concentration in Philosophy of Science as an undergraduate at University of Pennsylvania. My first “live” mentor was the eminent, philosopher of science, Dr. Lynn Hankinson-Nelson, whom I had the fortune to have as my thesis adviser, while at the University of Pennsylvania. My honors thesis was titled, “In Defense of Free Will: A Critique of Sociobiology and Material Determinism.” Dr. Hankinson-Nelson taught me how to question scientific theories. From her I learned how to deconstruct logical assumptions, question empirical evidence and demand rigorous factual realities as proof, rather than accepting the established scientific authority as evidence.
During my undergraduate work, I immersed myself in all the great philosophical treatises by Plato, Aristotle, The Stoics, Hobbes, Hume, Descartes, Locke, Kant, Schopenhauer, and Hegel. I also consumed the works of the modern philosophers such as Dewey, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and most importantly the American philosopher and psychologist William James.
Professor William James was my bridge from Philosophy to Psychology, he is considered the father of both American Psychology and American Philosophy. His book “The Varieties of Religious Experience” is considered one of the inspirations for the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous. From James I learned to link my passion for philosophy and theories about life to the pragmatics of how to live and how to help others who were stuck in their own lives. James, like Thoreau was above all an empiricist, he believed that if you experiment with your attitudes and your actions, and document the cause and effects of living, that you will find a way to your “truth” and fulfillment.
From Theory to Reality
The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being may alter his life by altering his attitudes.
- William James
I did my graduate studies at Columbia University and from my first internship as a therapist in the projects in Brooklyn, I realized that practicing psychotherapy was very different from studying philosophy and psychology. However, I approached the practice of therapy the same way I had my studies in Philosophy. I immersed myself completely in the practice of psychotherapy. I wanted to see the most challenging clients and situations to learn how to help people change and grow in the most difficult of circumstances. I worked with clients in extreme poverty, suffering from severe abuse and debilitating mental illness. This work taught me the incredible power of the human spirit, that there is a part of the mind, of the being of a person, that always seeks to change and grow. The difficult part of facilitating change is the detective work necessary to find that part of the Self, and help a person identify it and expand it in their lives.
My next experience as a psychotherapist was working in an addiction and grief counseling center. I wanted to work with clients suffering from the most intense forms of grief and loss and try to understand how to help individuals with this type of trauma. Most of the people I worked with had suffered a traumatic loss, the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one. I saw individuals heal in their grief in ways that they believed would be impossible. I also worked with individuals struggling to recover from serious addictions, alcohol, drugs, and sexual compulsions. This is where I began my lifelong interest in innovative methodologies to heal compulsions in the field of addiction and recovery.
After learning my craft in these challenging and inspiring environments, I became the Clinical Director for an agency that treated individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS and addictions. The strength and courage of those individuals I treated only further reinforced my belief that healing and change is possible no matter how impossible or dire the circumstances are that a person is facing.
In addition to my work as a psychotherapist, at this point in my career I had already engaged in extensive graduate training and post-graduate training in many techniques and modalities of psychotherapy. Yet, there were many instances where I felt my clients were not recovering as well as I believed they could. This led me to continue to explore if there might be other ways to relieve suffering, and facilitate change, growth and healing. I turned once again to my background in philosophy, science, and mindfulness meditation. This marked the beginning of my initial formulation of The Batshaw Method.
Mind and Matter
To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.
- Henri Bergson
I have always been fascinated with the question of how do people change? This question led me to study the nature of change in material and physical systems as well as psychological systems. I have been beyond fortunate in this regard to have an incredible teacher, mentor and friend in the Professor of Astrophysics, Anthony Aguirre at the University of Santa Cruz, CA. Professor Aguirre is the co-director of the Foundational Questions Institute, a non profit scientific organization that “catalyzes, supports, and disseminates research on questions at the foundations of physics and cosmology, particularly new frontiers and innovative ideas integral to a deep understanding of reality, but unlikely to be supported by conventional funding sources.” He is also the co-founder of the Future of Life Institute, an organization whose vision is to “catalyze and support research and initiatives for safeguarding life and developing optimistic visions of the future, including positive ways for humanity to steer its own course considering new technologies and challenges.”
The most fundamental truth that Professor Aguirre described to me was how consciousness can literally change physical matter. He illustrated how quantum mechanics had shown that the observer's conscious choice of attention in an experiment changes the outcome of the experiment. He explained how the philosophical implications of the realities of quantum reality were extraordinary. Essentially, quantum observations prove that our conscious observation of the experiment changes the experiment itself. The choice of conscious attention changes the material universe. Once again, I saw that it is our conscious awareness, or choice of focus, that can literally change reality. But how does the mind choose? How does the mind effect the physical brain? These questions have vexed philosophers and scientists from time eternal and there is no consensus resolution to this question. But for my purposes, I wanted to know, practically, how can the mind change an individual’s seemingly fixed structure in the brain.
These conversations with Professor Aguirre have a long history. If we travel back in time 25 years, Professor Aguirre, or Anthony, was my closest friend, hanging out in my backyard talking about life, physics, philosophy and consciousness. Anthony was explaining the weird world of quantum mechanics to me, while I spun stories of the strange world of hypnosis and the mysteries of the mind and the brain that I had started to research. Our continuous dialogue from those early years has developed in deep and unforeseen ways and continues to be a source of inspiration and intellectual challenge. Anthony and I read voraciously, debated and synthesized as much as we could in these disparate but interrelated fields of mind and matter. This search to understand reality, both psychological and physical, ultimately led the two of us to an exploration of Eastern traditions and the practice of Meditation when we turned 21.
Mindfulness Meditation and Zen Practice
We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.
- Dalai Lama
I experimented with various styles of mediation in my early twenties from different traditions, yogic, Buddhist and western traditions. At 23, I met my future Zen teacher and mentor, Zen Master Wu Kwang of the Chogye International Zen Center in New York City. My practice and study of what we call in the West “Mindfulness Meditation” was a revolution in my life and my thinking about the mind. Now, 20 years later, mindfulness meditation is a mainstream practice all across the United States. It is practiced at major universities, taught in medical schools and practiced by people who struggle with all sorts of symptoms, physical and mental.
The Batshaw Method incorporates mindfulness meditation practice with psychotherapy in a completely unique way. I have developed a system of integrating particular forms of meditation with each different type of issue a person brings to me. I found through experimentation that there are different techniques of meditation that are suited for different personality types and diagnosis. Each form of meditation has a different effect on the practitioner, therefore a different form is used for depression than for anxiety for example. Introverts benefit from different mediation techniques than extroverts, etc. I have found that people feel incredible empowerment from learning these techniques and integrating them into their lives.
The Brain and The Mind
There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt in your philosophy.
- William Shakespeare
My fascination with the brain began at a very young age when my father, a pediatric neurologist and research scientist showed me a model of the brain and explained how it was the most incredible and mysterious thing in the universe. I maintained this interest in biology and the brain and continue to educate and research the latest developments on neuropsychology. My interest in the process of change led me to the field of neuroplasticity. This area of neuroscience studies the ability of the brain to change itself and adapt even in the face of a severe brain trauma. I was able to see the miraculous power of the mind and brain to change in an event that hit close to home. One of my oldest friends suffered a massive stroke in 2010 at the age of 42. One third of his brain was destroyed by the stroke, as it was experienced alone and he was not found for over an hour. The neurosurgeon told his family it was unlikely he would survive the surgery and that if he did he would be physically paralyzed and unable to speak as the language centers of the brain had been destroyed. My friend survived the surgery. Not only did he survive but he began to rehabilitate. It is now six years later. He regained the ability to speak and communicate, walk, drive, and care for his 3 daughters. He has started a company that makes innovative rehabilitation tools for stroke survivors to increase their mobility. His doctors were absolutely stunned. When I spoke with his neurologist a year ago, he explained that what my friend’s experience shows is how the human mind is so much stronger that we could ever imagine. He said that the constraints that we set on how a person can change and recover from even massive brain trauma, are based on our limited theories of what we know of the brain. In reality, as Shakespeare said, “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt in your philosophy.”
This conversation with the neurologist made me think of another fascinating phenomena I noticed in my work with AIDS patients. Back in the 1980s there were no real drug interventions that were successful for treating HIV/AIDS. When a patient went to a doctor with the diagnosis they were told literally, “Go pick out a coffin, you will not live another 6 months.” The course of HIV/AIDS in the 80s was very clear, once you contracted the virus you were dead within 6 months to 2 years in general. This negative expectation was a self fulfilling prophesy. In the early 2000s with the new drugs that could prevent HIV from becoming AIDS, the expectations completely changed. During this time doctors were experimenting with the idea that the immune system could fight off the virus and that individuals should only go on the medications after the person’s T-cells had dropped to around 300. With this positive expectation, I now saw on a regular basis individuals with HIV live healthily for 4- 6 years before even needing to go on these medications. I have spoken to many infectious disease experts who have all observed the same phenomena. This powerfully confirmed the same extraordinary claims from quantum physics, mindfulness mediation, the transcendentalism philosophy of Thoreau, and the pragmatic psychology and philosophy of Dr. William James. Mind changes matter, our expectations of our resiliency have a direct impact on our immune system, nervous system and our brain. Our awareness and our intentions change the very structure of our own brains and thus change our very selves!
The Batshaw Method: A New Model to Relieve Suffering and Grow to your full Potential
The Batshaw Method of psychotherapy has been developed from my experiences of the last 25 years. My exploration of ideas integrated philosophy, psychology, mindfulness meditation, quantum physics and neuroscience. My practical experience led me to work with individuals struggling with addictions, grief, relationship issues as well as post traumatic stress, anxiety disorders, depression, bi-polar disorders, eating disorders and multiple personality disorder or as it is now called dissociative identity disorder. I have worked with people who died of AIDS, Cancer, and degenerative diseases. I have had the privilege of working with both children and adolescents as well as the elderly. Seeing the full life cycle of issues has had a profound effect on my development of The Batshaw Method.
The Batshaw Method recognizes that no two people are exactly alike. My method prioritizes the uniqueness of every individual in psychotherapy. I take time to explore and understand a person’s personality structure, their very unique history that is like no one else’s in the world. I use my theories and experience as a guide but not as a dogma. For each person, I create an entirely new therapy, designed specifically for them. In addition, we experiment together to find which techniques of mindfulness meditation can be integrated into the work to create even stronger results. I help individuals understand how their brains work. Our brains and minds are built to adapt, grow and find creative solutions to all of our obstacles. I explore the unique philosophies that underlie our every assumption of our lives and how they guide our decisions subconsciously. I continue to feel the same passion for this work as when I started many years ago. I have been privileged to work with so many courageous people through the years. They are my greatest teachers and my truest inspirations. The Batshaw Method has been co-created through my work with my wisest teachers, and I thank each and every one of you.