Intreview About The Book

I have with me here Professor Arnon Levy.  Arnon is a clinical psychologist and psycho-anthropologist. Today we’ll be discussing his book The Mindful Brain: The astonishing Journey to the world where psychology, neuroscience and culture join together. This book results from his 40 years of clinical experience in psychology, psychotherapy psychopathology, and coaching psychology. In his two previous books (in Hebrew), Arnon established the basis for the concept of Dynamic Positive Coaching Psychology. Arnon previously served as the chairman of the Israeli Association for Psychotherapy. He founded and directed Coaching Psychology programs at Tel Aviv and Bar Ilan Universities. He is the Vice President of the International Society for Coaching Psychology and supervised Ph.D. students in this field in collaboration with Middlesex University.

I. Hi Arnon, I’m glad I get to interview you here! Your book sounds really interesting. I see you discuss your approach to psychology in the context of a futuristic story. How did you get the idea for this book?

 A.  Hi Melissa, thank you for the introduction, the idea of the book matured slowly over several years. It started with writing autobiographical passages and imaginative narratives related to personal events in addition to events happening in Israeli society and in the world with a view to the future. The Middle East is a difficult neighborhood in which stunning events occur nearly daily. However, at the same time, people live normally, like elsewhere and often seek therapy to overcome difficulties and to find a better direction in their lives. For almost 40 years, I have treated thousands of clients from all sectors of Israeli society, among them high ranking officers, executives, academics, liberal professions, employees, Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews. In addition to that, for the past 15 years, I have established and directed programs of Coaching Psychology at Tel Aviv and Bar Ilan universities. I felt that these experiences, together with many enlightening moments and experiences in psychotherapy, inspired me with insights about life, human suffering and the worthy life we want to strive for.

2. I understand that your perspective on how to create a life worth living differs from positive psychology’s perspective. Please tell me more about your ideas regarding this.

 A. As I delved into the curriculum that I conducted with other lecturers, in addition to my clinical experience, I came to understand that though positive psychology expands and deepens the fields of research in an amazing way, significant changes in people’s lives are not created by the discovery of new knowledge about positivity and certainly not from giving a scientific seal to intuitive knowledge that exists in some self-help books. My conclusion is that the main activating mechanisms created in the brain during human evolution, which are survival, attachment and search/reward, are the basis for the authentic and meaningful life that we want to strive for.

3. That's interesting. Tell me more about this.

 A. We implement these brain programs according to the characteristics of our culture. The culture we have created throughout history and the language, which is part of it, produce our ethos and way of life and the deep meaning we give to survival, attachment, and search/reward. While in other organisms these mechanisms exist and are activated instinctively, in human culture they are activated in a much deeper and more meaningful way. For example, attachment is the basis to the fact that the elephant mother does not abandon its offspring even if it is dying or dead. The same attachment program exists in humans where it can produce deep and sublime motherly love, true friendship, etc. The search/reward program allows animals to search for food and explore their environment, while in humans it can create a tireless urge to understand the world, generate creativity, flow, and feelings of happiness, and the urge to strive for success and achievement and so on.

4. So where's the problem? Why are we not usually happy, feel secured, and connected in warm empathic relationships with others?

A. This is where culture comes in once again. Culture has a Janus face that gives us on the one hand the possibility to create a sublime life but at the same time it produces the obstacles. The three operational programs I mentioned were created by natural selection to function in nature and not in human culture. The survival instinct, for example, is created in humans as in animals to activate the Fight Flight Freeze (FFF) response that generates adrenalin, cortisol and increased blood flow to the muscles to deal with a life-threatening situation. The problem is that we live in a culture of symbols where dangers are also symbolic. When a parent reprimands his child he might harm his sense of self-worth, or when a boss scolds the employee in front of his colleagues he hurts his ego but does not put his life in a hazardous situation. These are not life-threatening situations but they activate the FFF response that creates a viable persistent neuronal pattern of activity in the brain that is usually reactivated whenever the person encounters a similar state of symbolic danger. The result is that the blood flows to the muscles and not to the brain where it is most needed to deal with symbolic hazards. Consequently, growth-inhibiting paradigms are formed that shape our personality in a way that impairs our coping capacities and our thriving.

This is of course a very schematic explanation; our mental and life processes are much more complex and elusive. I just wanted to make clear the point that there is a mismatch in our patrimony of nature and culture. A kind of bug between the wonderful gift we received from nature which are the three operational programs in the brain of survival, attachment and search/reward, and between human culture. On the one hand, culture produces exponential and almost unlimited empowerment of these mechanisms. The attachment mechanism can generate boundless love, empathy and compassion for others. The search/reward mechanism can generate a tireless search for happiness, creativity and self-fulfillment. On the other hand, the incompatibility of these mechanisms with the demands of culture impairs the growth and thriving the individual and of society generating paradigms that block our pathway to an authentic and meaningful life.

5. This is an interesting perspective. I understand this is not your first book. How does this book relate to your previous books?

A. Before this book I wrote two professional books but did not translate them into English. This book is largely different as after many years of teaching, research and therapy I feel that ideas from different disciplines join together into one unified field. The journey of Norman, the book’s protagonist, is not only a journey of self-exploration. It is a mental and spiritual ordeal that joins neuroscience, psychology, spirituality, psychotherapy and culture and even sheds new light on the age-old problem of the brain-consciousness relationships. These connections are very much lacking in the mainstream psychology. I have now started writing another book that connects many clinical vignettes from my experience as a clinical psychologist and as a coach in the approach of Dynamic Positive Coaching Psychology.

6. That sounds really interesting! I understand that the ideas presented in your book are being applied practically as well. Please tell me more about this.

A. The curriculum I conducted at the university was also accompanied by a practicum where the students coached people in a Coaching Psychology approach and were supervised by my team and by me. The DPCP method is a developmental approach to coaching to generate authentic meaning in the client’s life. In this method, we apply different techniques of psychotherapy at different stages of the coaching process. It ranges from a Rogerian approach and the creation of a secure place for the coachees at the beginning, through narrative, motivational approaches, Ericksonian approaches to Gestalt and psychodrama approaches. Of course, we do not teach all of these techniques in detail, but rather some key principles that produce a change that matches the coaching stage the coach is at. But this is a topic for a separate discussion.

In this site I am also preparing to create a forum where it will be possible to raise questions, thoughts and discussions on these issues and hope that it will contribute to a large number of people and organizations to reach a state of authentic meaningfulness.

This is all very interesting. There’s so much here that we could be delving into further. I appreciate you sharing your experience and thoughts with me here!

Again, Professor Arnon Levy is the author of The Mindful Brain: The astonishing Journey to the world where psychology, neuroscience and culture join together. If you want to learn more about Arnon’s book and read it, you can find it on Amazon at the link in the description below. It is sold in Amazon, for a limited period,  in very attractive price

Thank you for joining me today, Arnon! I appreciate it!