The practice of healing helped me solve problems I did not know how to solve in my life. For example, the chest pain I related above. But also others such as a long term sense of financial doom which life coaches were not able to help me solve, or the desire to take my son to Europe before he’d move on his own but having not been able to travel abroad starting six years before he was born due to financial limitations.
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Luc Watelet.
Luc Watelet knew at 17 that he wanted to be a psychotherapist after reading a book by Freud and another by Jung. Psychology education was based on theory and models and psychology classes bored him. He knows now it was because human nature was not addressed. So, he followed his second love, mathematics, and got his PhD in biostatistics in 1990. It is only after Luc discovered Kundalini Yoga, in 1995, and especially the healing method taught in Kundalini Yoga called Sat Nam Rasayan (Resting into the Truth), that he knew (rediscovered) the kind of psychotherapist he wanted to be. Mind work was not enough, the body and the heart and soul needed to be paid attention to as well. Luc became a Kundalini Yoga teacher in 1996. Luc completed his Master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling in 2010 and self-published a book about healing using psychotherapy, “Off Script Therapy,” in 2016, in which he develops one of his themes that mental illness is a misnomer as it is not an illness but a symptom, or a series of symptoms. Mental health challenges are a natural expression of a need for inner communication. Inner communication is disrupted by past trauma.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?
As a PhD student, I had physical symptoms I sought medical advice for. The doctor told me they were due to stress. It took me four years of dedicated attention to my every day life to eliminate those symptoms. They came because I had chosen that I should not pay attention to my angers and fears but only to joys. A separate issue was a sudden pain in my chest and the doctor told me he could not help me if I did not feel this pain in his presence. Again, I had to figure it out on my own. I discovered the importance of paying attention to one’s physical symptoms without judgements. As I was doing this during an episode of this chest pain, I saw an interaction I had with my PhD advisor that was filled with tension because I was too ashamed to tell him I needed his help. I became more direct and my problems never came back. These and other experiences taught me that physical and mental health challenges are not separate from our need for personal growth.
During my life, I went to a psychiatrist and a several psychotherapists who were kind but ineffective. I had to figure out how to solve my physical and mental problems on my own. My efforts to understand where my problems came from led me to self-knowledge and healing. My experiences led me to understand that our body, mind, and spirit are all connected and we are responsible to facilitate communication between them. If we don’t, we get stressed. Unaddressed stresses turn into physical and/or mental symptoms.
I also experienced a desperate financial situation after a divorce and I became a home health aide to survive. As a home health aide, I learned that most people have few people to really pay attention to them. I paid attention to my clients without any objectives other than to help them feel heard. As they felt heard, they also felt dignity, and they helped me understand that what was helpful to them was that I was seeing them as human beings with a consciousness, not as human beings with a disability.
I studied mental health counseling while a home health aide as I wanted to make a career in it. When I did my internship in a substance treatment center, the director of the center soon told me that I was doing real therapy. I learned that most traditional substance abuse treatment facilities use a maintenance program. Counselors and social workers in these centers have 35 or 40 clients and have very little time to do real therapy. I wanted to do self-discovery with the clients assigned to me as I realized people who struggle with addictions are disconnected from themselves. They tend not to self-reflect on the source of their pain or what their purpose could be. For the most part, they have had very few relationships that showed them what real connections are so they do not know how to connect with themselves.
One of my very short term clients was a 20 year old man who was diagnosed as being anti-social. Around 12 he stabbed a school teacher with a pencil and he was sent to a juvenile detention center. I had three sessions with him and discovered his parents had separated when he was seven. When he was sent to his father, his father would disappear, and he felt abandoned and called his mother scared and in tears. She would come pick him up and would send him back to his father at the next opportunity… with the same result. Later he discovered that his father was shooting heroin in his bathroom but never told him where he was. He believed from his experiences and the way the mental health system treated him that he was born bad. During our three sessions I let him draw. He was drawing very beautiful graffiti. I suggested to him that he was unlikely to be all that bad for having such a talent for art. I suggested he was traumatized by the events in his childhood and no one was paying attention to his needs and that is why he turned violent, but he was not necessarily born that way. He was surprised. No one had talked to him this way before. I am not licensed to make diagnoses, but it seemed pretty obvious to me that this young man would have been better diagnosed as having childhood PTSD than having anti-social disorder. We should strive to find a diagnosis that helps understand our clients and provide a clue as to what might help them.
I had a friend who had been struggling with depression for 30+ years. She had been in therapy all this time with no progress. When I met her she was on three doses of a daily anti-depressant. Within less than two years spending time together we started to understand where her depression came from and she started to feel happy for the first time in over 30 years. She decided to reduce her meds to only one dose a day. She had no sense of self when I first met her. I did not really know what that meant at first. What it meant was she lived a life of duty: mother, wife, teacher, etc. She did not live from her heart. She did not know she had her own sense of what she wanted, or did not know it was ok to pay attention to it. Together, we rediscovered one of her three year old memories she had repressed. It was a memory that helped her understand that she had given up on parts of herself because one of her dad’s reaction to her art. She then understood that she did have things she wanted and that these things mattered. This helped her stand up for herself in a way she never knew or did before. Her changes came about strictly from mindfulness work. They came spontaneously from within as we never did behavioral therapy such as practicing expressing her needs to her husband for instance. And she felt happy.
I had another friend who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age 50. She had been avoiding taking her meds for 7 years until we reconnected. Her therapist had told her it was the disease that made her not take her meds. I was not sure I believed that statement. When I inquired about her experience with taking her meds or not, she was shocked to realize that she was not interested in them because she did not want to face the real world, she preferred delusion. It turned out she did not know how she could continue on living without someone important in her life who had recently passed. Then we knew what to work on.
With a lot of my clients, all that was needed was to help them find clarity about what the real issues were. But it required that they be willing to do inner work which for the most part was the result of reflecting on simple questions in the form of a conversation and paying attention to their body. I helped my clients navigate through their life experiences and their inner world.
I met a Bachelor degree student in psychology who asked me how I could heal using psychotherapy because all she was learning in school was how to use psychotropic medication.
I knew then I had to make my knowledge public in the form of a book. But as I first explored the literature, I realized Ron Kurtz had already discovered almost everything I wanted to say. He had even received a lifetime achievement award at the end of his life. Yet his work had not infiltrated the mainstream world of psychology. I had to write my own book, not just to educate therapists and psychology teachers that mental illness is misunderstood and that healing is possible, but also to educate the consumer of therapy that there are types of therapies that are healing. I was also interested in what shamans and medicine people, and what masters from the Far East had to offer. They seem to have a clearer understanding of human nature than we do in the Western world.
In the process of writing my book which at first was based on my own life experiences and that of my clients, I did some research and discovered that no scientific work has proved that depression is due to a chemical imbalance. Instead, a Canadian research group found an association between the two but no causality had been demonstrated. Could it be that depression caused the chemical imbalance? Or could it be that an original trauma caused both a chemical imbalance and depression? In my practice, since I could help reverse depression without working on the chemical imbalance, by simply working on the trauma and rediscovering one’s passions and purpose, it became clear that the chemical imbalance is not the real cause of depression, so using anti-depressant drugs was not helpful.
I also discovered the work of neuroscientists on the brain default network which is most likely that part of the brain where neuron connections associated with addictive behaviors and mental health struggles reside. The beauty of that discovery is that we have the entire rest of the brain, including our creative brain, that is unaffected by addictions or mental health challenges. If we can only get back to our creative brain, we can get unstuck from depression for instance and learn to rewire the neuron connections in the brain default network which are associated with depression so as to lessen its pull to darkness.
I started to think that depression, for instance, is a symptom of a disconnect from passions and purposes so popping pills was covering up the message the body was sending that something important needed to be paid attention to.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?
I think that the stigma about mental illness has always existed as an expression of the fear of differences, similarly to racism. People with mental health struggles became treated rather violently at times in our history creating an image that fueled stigmatizing. One of the first books I am aware of which demystified bipolar or schizophrenia is A Mind that Found Itself by Clifford W. Beers published in 1908. Beers describes his own story of being in mental institutions for two to three years and something happened to him and he felt healed. His description of what happened was never really paid attention to in the psychology/psychotherapy community and it is very revealing: The problem was not with his mind, but with his perception that he had committed a crime but did know what. The love of his family and friends helped dissolve this perception. He felt “normal” after that. He spent the rest of his life trying to change the mental hygiene system. But the powers that be were slow to accept changes. Today the main cause of the stigma is probably created consciously or unconsciously by the pharmaceutical industry that benefits from a mistaken understanding of mental illness.
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
First, I wrote my book to explain, in part, that every mental health struggle is experienced by all human beings. Everyone gets anxious, or depressed, or even paranoid. It is just that some people remain stuck there as though they fall in a hole and don’t know how to get out on their own. There are powers that be that benefit from making it sound like these people are abnormal. They are not abnormal, as their mental struggle is a natural result of not knowing how to resolve inner struggles. They just need help. To me it is no different from the fact that some people need to study math more than others, or music, or business.
Second, I try as best I can to teach mindfulness classes open to the public. I taught seminars on mental health in the Western world compared to non-Western worlds.
Third, I think we need to create an association of professionals interested in de-stigmatizing mental health struggles, professionals interested in truly helping and healing.
Fourth, I tried to reach out by submitting a couple of articles to mainstream psychotherapy publications, but they were not published. I keep looking for opportunities to participate in a shift of awareness about mental health challenges and this is why I wanted to participate in this initiative.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
Same as what led me to write my book.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
First, we need to understand human nature. We need to understand the nature of suffering whether it is from physical, mental, emotional or spiritual reasons. I believe suffering comes from a closing of the heart. We protect our heart by closing it, putting it slowly into a jail so we don’t feel the pain, but that creates suffering. When psychologists say that mental illness is an expression of a brain not functioning properly, it is an observation, but I do not think it is the truth. People with anxiety problems, depression problems, bipolar problems, schizoaffective disorder problems, antisocial disorders, PTSD, as far as I can tell, have all closed their hearts at some level to protect themselves because of past trauma. The mind would function properly if the heart could open up again safely. Thinking that schizophrenia is a brain disorder will not lead to healing. In the example I wrote above, my friend diagnosed with schizophrenia needed to face a deep fear that made her want to remove herself from reality.
There is tremendous amounts of misinformation in our culture about the source of mental health challenges and in particular in the media. We should have a round table of people knowing about the truth underlying mental health challenges and invite the media to it so they can write summaries of our discussions to educate the public. For instance, no one should ever say on the radio that depression is due to a chemical imbalance or that not taking one’s meds is part of the disease. This is not only false and disempowering, it contributes to stigma. In particular, the belief that a chemical imbalance is the source of depression leads to the belief that only medicine will correct the problem which it cannot if I am correct in my conclusion that depression comes from cutting oneself off from one’s passion and purpose. This conclusion is supported by my experience with clients diagnosed with depression.
When we understand the source of suffering, we can start addressing the real problem: Why did this person close their heart and what will help them open it safely again. Then it is also easier to find patience and compassion in their sometimes difficult presence.
Once there is an understanding of the source of suffering, the government could help by making regulations about the distortion of information created by pharmaceutical companies. For instance, the government could support the creation of substance abuse treatment centers with the purpose of self-discovery, instead of stigmatizing people for relapsing. Or the government could support mental health clinics whose purpose is to include addressing the broken heart of the patients. When I was an intern in a substance abuse treatment center, I told my clients that relapsing is a sign that they have not found something more important than their drug of choice and their frustration comes from that. Thereby I encouraged them to find what was of value to them in their life. There was no reason to punish them for relapsing. The clients I was responsible for no longer relapsed after two weeks under my care. They graduated six months into the program, the shortest time possible for graduating.
Other cultures view mental health challenges as breakthroughs rather than breakdowns. There is a case of a young man in the US who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and could no longer study. He and his parents accepted that he goes to an African tribe that had rituals to heal people from schizophrenia and he was healed from schizophrenia in six months. He then became a healer in that tribe. He came back to the US four years later when he no longer feared the stigma he knew he would face here. He successfully pursued psychology studies at Harvard. Our Western society is therefore responsible for the abundance of mental health struggles we and the lack of effective care. Other cultures have solutions we have not wanted to look at. In my view, in America we value money more than we value love. We believe that the economic system is more important than human beings. The heart and the soul have little value compared to the body and the mind. We only need to look at the income of people who use their body (sports, fashion, entertainment) or their mind (medicine, law, politics) compared to people who need a kind heart and soul (home care, care for people with disability, true ministry). We have split human beings into two parts by overvaluing one part: our body and mind vs our heart and soul and it is fostering trauma.
The documentary film Crazywise does much to challenge our societal perception of aspects of mental health challenges. As a society, we should promote this documentary film in mainstream theaters.
What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
My first strategy is to be true to myself and have a conscious relationship with life. All other strategies have come from that commitment to myself: 1) seeking the help of professionals led to trust myself more, 2) educating myself by reading books by effective therapists or reading about spiritual masters taught me about human nature, 3) the practice of yoga and meditation helped me with mindfulness, and I experienced more about human nature by 4) seeking to understand how healing works, by 5) practicing healing work, and by 6) helping others. Helping others is essential in completing my own wellbeing.
- Seeking the help of doctors and therapists: When I was in the PhD program for biostatistics at the University of Washington, Seattle, from 1984–1990, I felt very conflicted because my heart was not into it. I had received scholarships to pursue my studies, I was a very good student, and yet, the work was not satisfying. Something was missing. I had physical symptoms that worried me. I went to see a doctor who told me it was stress. Then, I went to see a psychiatrist and then a social worker provided to students at the university. Their help was not helpful but I ended up having a dream showing me graduating from biostatistics and then moving on to do something personal which would be rewarded. The solution came from within me! That gave me what I needed to find the energy to finish my PhD. I had no conflicts anymore. One day, I had the sensation of a sword going through my heart. It was the middle of the night and I chose not to go to the Emergency Room (ER). But the pain stayed with me for two hours. I knew my symptoms were not those of a heart attack. It happened again shortly after during day time and then I went to the ER. Two hours later the pain disappeared and a doctor was finally available to see me. Since the pain was gone he said he could not help me. When it happened a third time within a week’s time, I was home. I knew I would have to find a solution by myself. I laid on the couch and felt all the sensations without fear, without judgments, as though they were communicating something to me, as though I was trying to understand a child who could not use words to explain his struggle. The pain left in 20 minutes instead of two hours and I remembered my last interaction with my dissertation advisor. It had left tension between us and I had ignored it. Now, I could see my role in creating the tension. I had come to see my advisor feeling ashamed of not being able to resolve one of my research problems but was not willing to tell him I needed his help. He did not know how to help me and felt tense because I was not honest. I knew I needed to be more direct. Our relationship was great after that and the symptoms never came back.
- I read books such as Man in Search of Meaning by Viktor Frankl, a book I found by accident on a sidewalk. I read books by Jungian therapists. I read The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. I especially love books by Arnold Mindell who understands the relationship between life’s experiences and healing.
- Yoga and meditation: For some reason, I had made up my mind as a teenager that yoga was not for me. At some point, a friend wanted my support in taking a yoga class for her back problems. So I joined her. She dropped out after 2 classes. I took the whole series because I never do anything half way. I learned that yoga had something to offer to me. I tried different types of yoga and fell in love with Kundalini Yoga. I became a teacher.
- Healing. Because of my mother I was raised catholic. I always admired the healing abilities of Christ. I secretly wanted to learn how to heal. In 1994, I was invited to a meditation group. Some people in that group introduced me to Reiki. Through Kundalini Yoga I learned the basics of a healing practice called Sat Nam Rasayan which reminded me of my approach to solving my chest pain I talked about above. Sat Nam Rasayan was a practice of something I had started to discover on my own. It helped me feel that I was rediscovering knowledge I was born with at least in part. I was introduced to other forms of healing work as well.
- The practice of healing helped me solve problems I did not know how to solve in my life. For example, the chest pain I related above. But also others such as a long term sense of financial doom which life coaches were not able to help me solve, or the desire to take my son to Europe before he’d move on his own but having not been able to travel abroad starting six years before he was born due to financial limitations.
- As a yoga teacher and a psychotherapist, I am in a position to help others. Helping others often lead me to feel inside what the source of their problem is. Through healing work, I developed the ability to tune in to others’ problems and feel them in my sensations. By paying attention to my body in response to their problems, I can understand them better than words can tell. I can tell them what my body tells me and ask them if they can relate to what I feel about them. This always sheds new light to their own understanding. These experiences showed me there is no separation between people. That is deeply healing for me because I was born with a deep sense of separation from everything. But also, I recognize that my clients’ questions are not random, they are in some ways related to my own questions. Helping them helps me very directly. If I do not pay attention to that I can see that my clients offer more resistance or are not doing better.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
Favorite books: (Beside my own!) Riding the Horse Backwards: Process Work in Theory and Practice by Arnold Mindell. Also, Coma by Arnold Mindell. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda.
Online resource: TED talks for example lectures by Gabor Maté, Crazywise by Phil Borges.
Organizations: The Bruno Groening Circle of Friends which promotes self-healing of anything human beings can face. Healings happen in this organization which the medical doctors and psychologists cannot explain from the knowledge of their respective fields. These healings can only be explained by the healing practice promoted by the teachings of Bruno Groening. Example: A lady I know was born with a leg shorter than the other. She had several surgeries, was in constant pain, and could not walk barefoot. A little after turning 60 she was introduced into the teachings of Bruno Groening. Shortly after, her leg grew to the same size as the other with three short energy bursts which happened within a minute’s worth of time, each causing her acute pain. After, there was no more pain and her legs have been the same size since. She can now walk barefoot. She has X-rays to support her healing. Mental health examples include many people who suddenly give up an addiction without experiencing any withdrawal symptoms from cigarette smoking, to marijuana use, or even mixtures of drugs including heroin. One of my friends was an alcoholic for 35 years. As he received the healing from alcoholism, his only symptom was that his throat tightened for a few days which made it impossible to eat or drink. He was still able to breathe. When he was finally relieved from this, he opened the door of his refrigerator and saw all the beer. He was not interested in any of it. Later, he started ordering a glass of wine or beer in social circumstances but never felt the need to finish his glass. The addiction was simply gone.
There is so much that is inspiring. We need to bring these resources out into the mainstream!
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!