I am a strong supporter of psychology, psychiatry, and any mental health profession that can provide insight into how to live a full and productive life. However, I want you to think differently about mental health for a moment. Consider it not in terms of talk therapy but in terms of “neurological programming.” If you look carefully at your life, you’ll see that many of your attitudes and behaviors are a direct result of adopting or rebelling against your family’s patterns. We have all been “programmed” by our families, but it’s also possible to “reprogram” ourselves.
One day, I happened to hit a nerve with a patient regarding his family patterns. Jim needed a back operation for a pinched nerve that was causing pain in his right leg. Moody and uncooperative, he hadn’t followed up on anything we’d discussed in his appointments. I couldn’t get him to engage in any of the stress management tools.
Finally I gave up. “Look,” I said. “I am going to cancel your surgery. I cannot engage with you if you don’t want to participate in learning the tools I’m trying to give you to get better. It’s just the way I work.” I had a sense that Jim’s resistance to stress management stemmed from his background experiences, so I also added, “We are all programmed by our past. For example, if you were raised in a family that was active in the Ku Klux Klan, what do you think your belief system would be?” His fiancée suddenly burst out laughing hysterically. It didn’t seem that funny to me, particularly since I was frustrated with his unwillingness to engage.
I thought I’d picked a completely random example, but Jim looked me in the eye and said, “My father and grandfather were Grand Knights in the Klan.”
I cancelled the surgery, but my example of family programming apparently hit home, as Jim finally began to engage in the DOC Project. The surgery was done three months later and was successful in relieving his leg pain. He has made a great deal of progress with stress management skills because he shifted his thinking and came at the process from a different place. Jim’s struggle to learn a better way to deal with stress borders on heroic. I hear from him every few months and he continues to evolve. His skills have created a better life for himself, his wife, and their three small children. Chronic pain is a high stakes game.
Once the reprogramming foundation is established, my patients work hard to apply the principles to their lives. The only patients I’ve seen that do not experience significant benefit from reprogramming exercises are the ones who did not fully engage on a long-term basis. With full engagement, success in eliminating your pain is probable, not just possible.
More to This Story
After I performed Jim’s surgery, he did pretty well for a while and then began to slide back into his old pattern of pain. We had had the conversation that the surgery would address his leg pain but would have no effect on his back pain. In spite of his ongoing back pain, he kept trying to become more functional. His leg pain had not completely disappeared.
His living circumstances were difficult. He was living with family in cramped quarters. Although workers’ comp had paid for some counseling, it was limited. He and his fiancé readily admitted that they fought all the time and were becoming increasingly worn out by the ongoing battles. As they had no other resources, I would see them back about once a month and do the best I could to help them out. As Jim had been raised in the KKK environment, that was his baseline. He did not view his life as being filled with anger. However, his reactions said otherwise. Both he and his fiancé were incredibly determined to make things work, but it was clear to me that they did not have the tools to pull it off. I was incredibly frustrated because their situation was potentially very solvable with the right support and counseling. I saw them both about a year ago and it seemed that things were beginning to take a turn for the better. This is the letter I received last week.
Hello Dr. Hanscom!
This is Connie, Jim’s wife. (Little redheaded lady, with the two kids and husband who you performed surgery on.) I believe in your book, Jim was used as an example. I wanted to give you an update on how he’s doing.
For several years, He struggled with emotional ups and downs, a lot of chronic pain, and how to deal with it all. We ended up getting married. For a long time to follow, I nearly regretted that decision. With both of us working, going to school, money was tight, two kids and Jim’s pot addiction, it was too much.
We had an unusual fight about a year and a half ago. He had been taking some kind of pills that were supposed to help his moods, according to the doctor he was seeing at the time. Needless to say, the pills in fact had a very negative effect on him. By the time the argument was over, he spent the night in prison. At that point, I was ready to walk. This was enough, the last straw.
The night passed, I picked him up, and explained it was over. We had done it all. Seeked professional help, taken the pills, read the books. I saw no end. There wasn’t anything left. This was who he was, and I couldn’t do it anymore. My boys were not going to grow up in this sad, depressing, unstable environment. He begged, and said he realized something in jail that night. He said he needed God. As a “devout” atheist, he decided he had no options, and as a last resort, maybe God would be somewhere to look. The next Sunday, we were in church.
Since then, our life has changed more than it ever has. We don’t argue. We get along, and better than that, are in love again. We both have stopped smoking pot. For Jim, this was a big step. He was using it for both mental “well being”, and pain control.
I have started working again. Found a great job. Flew to Denver in January to be trained. It’s been amazing. One of the highlights, Jim is working on developing his own business. He has decided to be a gunsmith. For the first time in years, he is doing something to better himself. He’s been taking small steps, one at a time, and I believe he will make it. It’s the first time in a long time I’ve seen him with drive, and with passion. As long as he’s happy, I will be there to support him.
Plus much more.
God has touched our lives, and helped turn it around 180 degrees. He’s got a lot of love to give, and I’m thankful to see Him sharing that with my family.
I know as a Doctor, you may think that’s crazy. I still wanted to share. I wanted to take a moment to say thank you, for investing the time with him that you have. It’s very appreciated. We needed you. He needed someone to tell him he was worth it. I know he still thinks about that, often. Thank you sooo much.
Please keep in touch, I would love to hear from you once and a while.
My Final Thoughts
I want to make something very clear at this juncture. The DOC Project entails four stages of five or six steps in each stage. The final stage is “Expanding Your Consciousness.” Another name I have used for this stage is “The Spiritual Journey.” It can take many different forms, religious or otherwise. I have seen many patients benefit greatly from their church community as part of their healing process. I think that being in a group of people jointly acknowledging a power greater than themselves is incredibly helpful.
However, this is a much different experience than having a rigid religious belief system that is intolerant of others. I have uniformly seen my patients in this mindset fail, or more frequently not engage in any open dialogue about the possibilities for healing. Rigid belief systems, religious or otherwise, are a thinly disguised form of control and anger. Remember that your judgment of others is a mirror of your own self-judgment and vice versa. Judgment is a problem. Period.
I personally am not involved in a religious organization. I did learn through my Hoffman experience how critical it is to acknowledge a higher power outside of ourselves. Only then are you truly able to give something back.