Relearning Experience: to resolve emotional problems

Jonathan Livingstone


The book, Relearning Experience (Lemniscate, 2019), offers not only a highly effective new brief therapy that enables emotional and therapeutic problems to resolved permanently but explains how this is possible through a comprehensive theory. The book throws light on many formerly intractable problems in psychology, overturns traditional viewpoints, and introduces radical new conceptions.

The author, Jonathan Livingstone, who has 30 years' experience as a clinician and educator, argues that the idea of mental health is a misnomer and what is regarded as unconscious mind should be understood as unconscious body.

The relationship between emotions and feelings is described and a method of accurately identifying emotions is explained. The book argues that feelings drive behaviour and the quest for personal dignity underlies all human interaction. The denial of feelings underlies pathological behaviour, which is subsequently rationalized and justified.

New critical ideas

  • The concept of the unconscious body (as opposed to mind).

  • The meanings of and differences between feeling and emotion, and how to identify emotions accurately.

  • How learning from experience creates an inescapable precedent for future pathological behaviour.

  • The distinction between beliefs and learning, central to understanding behaviour.

  • How problem behaviour once provided a solution.

  • The importance of formulating goals that are more appealing than the problem.

  • Why feelings motivate action.

  • The distinction between practical and therapeutic goals.

  • The universal quest for personal dignity that underlies all human interaction.

Game changer

Relearning Experience Process is a game changer in psychology. Unlike traditional psychotherapeutic methods, it doesn’t require months or years of application; unlike cognitive therapy, it doesn’t simply tackle behavioural symptoms: the book explains how permanent transformation can be achieved in hours or minutes, through resolution of the problem’s origins. Although the ideas are new and challenging, the arguments are so plausible they seem almost to be common sense.

An exposition of the following theses

(1) A therapeutic problem is created when, in response to a diffi­cult experience, a person develops behaviour that serves to ameli­or­ate the threat to her personal dignity (emotional wellbeing).

(2) This behaviour, developed as a solution in a moment of crisis, sets an unconscious and involuntary precedent for future behaviour in circumstances perceived to be similar.

(3) Activated automatically by feelings, this behaviour becomes a therapeutic problem if and when it interferes with what the person wants.

(4) The difficult experience that occurred at the formation of the thera­peutic problem is identifiable via the feelings associated with the problem behaviour.

(5) An intervention at the origins of the problem which, in imagin­ation, reconfigures the original behaviour, enables the person to choose her behaviour freely in the present, and resolves the therapeutic problem completely and permanently.

Extracts from Relearning Experience

Feelings motivate action

The more muted the feeling motivating action, the more effort is required to act; the stronger the feeling motivating an action, the less will is required. In other words, actions that are in line with the aims of the body are easy to carry out; those which are at variance are more difficult. Restraining behaviour through the will - refraining from doing something - is very difficult if your feelings are impelling you to do it. Willing yourself to some behaviour, when your feelings aren't supporting that behaviour, or are opposing that behaviour, is equally laborious and may seem impossible.

Conscious will is however very important, since it is the conscious will that informs the unconscious body what it is that you want. But, in itself, conscious will does not mandate action.

On the idea of the unconscious as mind

Now imagine thoughts that have no thinker and no author . . . What would produce unconscious thoughts? Where would they reside? What would give them existence as thoughts (rather than simply brain processes)? Conscious thoughts occur in consciousness; the thought itself doesn’t occur as a physical activ­ity in the brain (even though a corresponding physical activity does occur in the brain). An ‘unconscious mind’ would have thoughts that occur nowhere in space, that no one is aware of, and that have no author.

The attempt to suppress feelings

The feelings of the body – whether emotional feelings or strictly physical feelings – are important messages. You can use drugs, food, addictions, distractions of all sorts to try to stifle or overcome the body’s messages, but none of these efforts will succeed.

On feelings and emotions

But if we speak more technically, more precisely, the feeling is the physical counterpart or somatic aspect of the emotion. The emotion exists as a phenomenon distinct from the feeling. The feeling is physical; the emotion is something else. Just as a thought is not a physical object but has a physical counterpart in the brain, so emotion is not a physical phenomenon but has a physical counterpart in the body. Brain process and thought; physical feeling and emotion – these are connected events but occurring at different levels.

Misidentifying emotions

You feel something in your body and you wonder what you could be feeling. Something has happened. You consider what it is you should feel or would expect to feel in response to this occurrence. You decide that you’d expect to be feeling anger, sadness, or some other emotion. Therefore, you conclude, that emotion is what you must be feeling . . . But thinking and feeling are different realms. Reasoning is a cerebral activity; thinking is something you do in your head. Emotions are not in the head: they relate to feelings which take place in the body. Thinking is the wrong way to determine what you’re feeling.