From 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8, the public is invited to the fourth of six “mental hygiene” workshops to be conducted at Town Hall. This week’s facilitator is Kent Weishaus, licensed social worker. Weishaus’s program is titled “Feel Like You Need a Referee for the Committee in Your Head? Inner Conflicts and Critics are Normal and can be Harmonized with Good Tools! Find Peace in the Storm.”
The workshops, an offering from the Idyllwild Forest Health Project and its offshoot, Mountain Communities Mutual Aid, are a community building effort, focused on the idea of “mental hygiene.” Mental hygiene includes both the individual (self-awareness and self-care that allows us to maintain some equilibrium in difficult times) and the institutions of a community, seeking ways to foster interconnection and meaning.
Weishaus has had a private practice in Idyllwild since 2012. He has worked in mental hospitals, community clinics and schools, and served as an adjunct professor at California State University, Los Angeles for five years, teaching social work theory and practice classes to master’s degree students. Locally, he worked for two years at Idyllwild Arts Academy. Before Kent’s switch to a “helping-profession,” he had a 25-year career in television production, directing and otherwise working on programs including “Hard Copy” and “Dr. Phil.” His projects included being co-executive producer on a pilot that he created for ABC Family called “Arts High, Idyllwild.”
TC: “Your workshop description seems to suggest that the unitary theory of personality is a weak one?”
KW: “The idea of the unitary mind is, I think, greatly over-rated, as evidenced by all of us saying to ourselves, ‘One part of me wants to watch TV, another part wants to take a hike.’”
TC: “Being aware that this is the natural dynamic is helpful?”
KW: “Yes, exactly. From an evolutionary standpoint, we are a self-aware storytelling species, and our self-awareness allows us to have agency within ourselves to decide what we want to do. We can step back and say, ‘Look at these parts. I have a wise self that looks down and says I think I will go with the part that wants to take a hike.’”
Several writers have written about this; there is a kind of core wisdom within us, if we are able to step back and see these parts as sub-personalities weighing in, we can integrate them. When we are in crisis mode, one part tends to “fuse” with us, the anxious part for example, making it difficult for the wise overseer to step in and see what we actually need, what ultimately will work best for us.
TC: “But these other parts are valuable; they have roles to play?”
KW: “Yes, they are all trying to protect us; anxiety, fear, depression, even delusional beliefs are simply trying to protect us.”
TC: “But they have their own dangers?”
KW: “They have unintended consequences; they are unable to see the many systems within which they are working.”
TC: “The goal is to integrate them?”
KW: “Yes. When we, as opposed to shutting them down or pushing them away, if we turn toward them, almost in a nurturing way, we get their permission to see how they are trying to protect us, and what from. To be able to use the self-aware quality to step back and embrace our different parts will help us integrate them, to move toward an outcome that is best for us.”
TC: “This checking in includes also the physical, somatic or body experience?”
KW: “Correct. When I talk about the many sub-personalities they manifest not just mentally but physically. We have these systems that come together; it’s important to listen to them but not necessarily have them fuse with us.”
TC: “We all talk to ourselves. We have different voices, a critic, a part that inflates our ego, a moralist, an adversary that argues against ‘us’ …”
KW: “Many of us have a shame-inducing part. It can be particularly unhelpful. Shame gets quite overblown because of systems around and within us that encourage it.”
KW: “It’s part of a cultural umbrella; we see it in our storytelling. Look at media for a moment and you see someone being shamed.”
TC: “About the workshop?”
KW: “I am going to examine how these different parts create distortions in our thinking and from that I am going to have a ‘thought distortion observing practice.’
Weishaus said this part of his work is based on the research of Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winning psychologist and economist. “He talked about the foundation of a lot of our distortions going back to very fast mammalian thinking, where you have to make a quick summation, ‘what you see is what there is.’”
TC: “But that is sometimes not the case?”
KW: “Frequently not the case. He further defines it as ‘anchoring’ and ‘availability.’ Anchoring is what you see right now. You see something in the media that is horrific, it seems to be everywhere. But it’s not. Your life may be mostly in balance. You can regret that something is happening but still remember that it is not happening everywhere.”
Availability “points to something similar; when we are around stories that are easily available, they influence our thinking in distorting ways. We have our thoughts which we repeat to ourselves so they become beliefs, we can then move toward what is called confirmation bias. ‘I believe this, so I will unconsciously seek confirmation of it.’
Going back to the practicum: along with the ‘thought distortion log,’ I will do a “parts meditation’; based on another neuropsychiatrist’s work, Daniel Siegel. It is a sensory meditation where we observe the thoughts that we are having.”
TC: “This move from TV to psychology is very interesting.”
KW: “Television and a lot of media, the way it’s driven, in the profit seeking world, goes for the lowest common denominator. I was certainly engaged in that and I regret it.”
TC: “You have seen ‘behind the curtain,’
the creation of mediated reality.”
KW: “I created it. I took these stories and I manipulated sound bites and images. Looking back on it I was distorting people’s thoughts.”
TC: “From being in the midst of this distorting, to recognizing your part, and then wanting to do something different, that seems like a metaphor for what you are inviting workshop participants to do.”
The workshop series continues Saturdays until Oct. 22. Cost is $15 per person per workshop or pay on a sliding scale. Donating more to cover someone else’s cost is appreciated.
Dr. Tima Ivanova, LMFT, facilitates a concurrent program for ages 6 to18. Ivanova is certified in Play Therapy with children and teens. She will help young people engage in ways “that will increase their self-knowledge and self-acceptance, as well as help build trust and healthy boundaries with other peers and participants.” Parents and guardians wishing to bring youngsters should contact her by email at [email protected].
Cost is $15 per person per workshop or pay on a sliding scale. Donations to cover someone else’s cost are appreciated. To reserve a place, register in advance at www.idyllwise.org/mental-hygiene For general information, call (951) 468-0110 or email [email protected].