Take a moment to consider: When you experience something for the first time, what is your reaction? What happens first? For example, walking into a retail store your body may react to the smell, lighting, or color of the décor. Do you expand or contract? Your mind may respond in judgment to the sales people, the music playing, or the prices. One thing I first notice is the way a space is set up – if it’s crowded, cluttered or unorganized I may not stay long. I notice that my mind becomes overwhelmed by trying to understand the order of things. Other people might enjoy the amount of items to look at and enjoy the stimulation. We are all a little different.

This awareness is a muscle I ask people to exercise from time to time, through different mindfulness practices. The same way we can learn to study the ways we perceive and how our mind and body respond to something like a grocery store, we can learn to notice our response to more emotional situations that may cause us pain or suffering.

We all are a little different. Many people tend to fall into two categories: thinkers or feelers. Thinkers like to live in their heads, solving problems, looking for answers, philosophizing, tinkering with gadgets, and so on. Often thinkers can get tangled in thought and spin around and around, generating tiresome anxiety. Feelers tend to be more heart or body focused, becoming enraptured with their emotions, enjoying the intensity of an experience, often creating as an expression of their emotions. Feelers can be more susceptible to depression as they gorge on the intensity of a negative emotion, simply for the experience of feeling. In general we are all a little bit of both, with a stronger leaning towards one.

Practicing awareness of the ways we perceive can be very helpful in finding balance. Figuring out if you tend more towards the head or the heart can be helpful by moving in the opposite direction in difficult times. For example, if you consider yourself more of a thinker, getting caught up in cycling thoughts of worry, you can experiment with moving your awareness to your heart. Do something that feelers do: draw a picture, read a poem or story, move your body and go for a walk or take a yoga class. You may find the thoughts in your head begin to quiet and clear. If you are more of a feeler and flooded by emotion, you might try journaling, talking with friends, working on a project that involves following directions such as cooking from a recipe or building something. This allows the feelings to disperse as you move your awareness to your head and distract yourself from unpleasant feelings or thoughts.

There are many ways to learn to regulate your thoughts and emotions when you become distracted or flooded. The first step is to notice that it’s happening and mindfully respond, instead of mindlessly reacting. Next time you become aware that you’re heading down the same path of reaction, which you don’t like, pause – and mindfully move in the direction which will feel most liberating for your head and your heart.

By Nick Venegoni

Many of us have heard the praises and benefits of mindfulness, from workshops in the style of John Kabat-Zinn and mindfulness-based stress reduction, to DBT and Hakomi practices. I have been exploring and playing with these tools and ideas with my clients for four years now and find they are helpful in reducing stress, anxiety, anger, etc.

Before that I had been exploring other kinds of altered and trance states (or what Stan Groff calls Non-Ordinary States) through meditation, journey work, ecstatic dance, and breath work. I discovered that in these Non-Ordinary States (NOS) anxiety, fear and anger simply melt away, and underneath is an innate wisdom residing in that peace. Moving forward, I wanted to find a way to clinically justify bringing my clients to these deeper places inside themselves and to tap into their own resources for growth and healing. Neuroscience research on brainwaves supports this hypothesis.

Our most common (or predominant) waking state of consciousness puts our brainwave frequency in beta. When we shift our level of consciousness, we move into (or add) other brainwave frequencies such as alpha, gamma, theta and delta. Mindfulness and meditation practices are an excellent entry into these various states of consciousness for clients. The state of hypnotic trance can cause a person to be in beta and other frequencies concurrently, allowing them to consciously process the information they might be attaining from the deeper parts of themselves. This is just what I want to bring to my clients.

I have discovered that through various mindfulness practices, some of my clients were naturally slipping into these deeper places of uncharted territory by the conscious mind. It was fascinating to see what emerged from these places and this is key in my own drive to learn more and bring deeper understanding to clients.

To that end, last year I decided to train in the methodology of Depth Hypnosis, as developed by Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D. Depth Hypnosis combines elements of hypnotherapy, transpersonal psychology, Buddhism and shamanism. The hypnosis practices primarily use regression to access earlier experiences, which affect the client currently. From a psychological perspective this can look very similar to aspects of Psychosynthesis, Gestalt dialogue, Focusing, Hakomi and inner child work. However, doing this work in a relaxed and altered state can allow the client to perceive at a deeper level, a clearer understanding of themselves and their experience.

Over the last year, as I’ve brought hypnotherapy tools into my practice, I find that most clients who have already been practicing some kind of mindfulness exercise, more easily accept the process and move into the work beautifully. A majority of my clients start each session with a simple mindfulness exercise, and as they internalize the changes and see the benefits, they begin to look forward to it. I encourage them to practice on their own between sessions, and many do.  Regarding hypnosis, some clients’ experiences are profound, allowing them to look at life differently; and some simply rediscover important parts of themselves, which were long forgotten. Whatever they find inside themselves, it is deeply therapeutic because it came from them. The deeper parts of us use our own personal language better than anything someone else could communicate to us.

By Nick Venegoni, MFT & CHT

Need to Relax? Looking for Some Guidance?
Talking with Nick Venegoni about Alternatives to Talk Therapy
by Brent Calderwood

My friend Nick Venegoni has been studying and training in various therapies for several years now, and he’s been working with clients for over four years. His website is full of useful information about the types of therapy he offers, which includes everything from fairly traditional talk therapy to guided meditations, hypnotherapy, art therapy, and other transpersonal and integrative approaches. The site even offers a flavor of his work through a free guided mindfulness relaxation exercise.

Having worked as a counselor in the past, especially around issues of gender and sexuality, I talk to a lot of people who ask me to recommend a good therapist, so I thought I’d find out more about the work Nick does. I hope it’s helpful!

Brent Calderwood: “Mindfulness” is a word that’s used a lot by psychologists these days, notably in the treatment of depression. What exactly does it mean? Why do you think it’s become so “trendy”? How does it show up in the work you do?

Nick Venegoni: Yes, the term mindfulness is a bit trendy these days, but it’s nothing new. I believe that it came out of different kinds of meditation practices, and it engages a person’s awareness to the point of noticing their thoughts and learning that they are not their mind.… It’s also extremely effective in the treatment of depression, stress, anxiety and anger…. I think it is trendy because it is so effective when a person commits to the discipline…. A majority of my clients start each session with a simple mindfulness exercise, and as they internalize the changes and see the benefits, they begin to look forward to it. I encourage them to practice on their own between sessions, and many do.

BC: You have training in several types of therapy, including hypnotherapy. Why might someone seek hypnotherapy, and what happens during a typical session?

NV: People seek hypnotherapy for a variety of reasons, mostly for help breaking addictions, phobias or habitual behaviors. But hypnotherapy can be a quick, powerful and very effective way to get to and heal core issues as well. I practice hypnotherapy in the style of Depth Hypnosis as created by Isa Gucciardi, PhD. The kind of work I prefer to do focuses on the former – to sink into a place deep in the psyche which might not be as accessible in a normal, conscious state. Often healing these deeper wounds results in resolution of habits, addictions or phobias, which were simply symptoms of the wound, not the wound itself.

BC: You have a Masters in Transpersonal/Integral Counseling Psychology. Those first two terms may be new for a lot of people. What exactly do they mean, and how do they show up in the work you do?

NV: Transpersonal means across or through the personal – encompassing everything about a person and beyond. It’s a way of conceiving all parts of an individual, not just the parts that are wounded but the parts that are strong and healthy as well…. Integral in this case means the essential core of a person as well as integrating that which is necessary to become more complete – integrating and synthesizing that which supports our health.

BC: What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in the kinds of therapy you do, but maybe they don’t know how to get started or they don’t know what kind of therapist would be best for them?

NV: I would recommend that they think about what works best for them in therapeutic situations, and do research on a variety of therapists. Most have websites or listings which give a taste about their style and strengths. Then make contact – most therapists are willing to have a 10 to 15 minute phone conversation to see if you’re a good fit. It’s also helpful for the therapist because sometimes the therapist might be able to tell the prospective client they could be better served by a different clinician because of a specialty or skill set, and could give the client referrals. And it’s okay if you go see a therapist and decide it’s not a fit – it’s important to feel safe and comfortable with a therapist.