Understanding Mental Problems Requires a Rejection of Conventional Thinking

It should be clear that the conventional thinking of psychology and psychiatry is getting us nowhere. Mental health problems continue to proliferate at an alarming pace and the mental health professions offer only a bewildering and non-functional complexity, and somehow convince the world that it is knowledge and expertise. 4555While individuals experience extraordinary personal suffering, often to the point where they take their own lives, at a macro level this represents no more than another golden economic opportunity for the world’s richest. The bulk of mental health research today is focused on pharmaceutical profit rather than knowledge and understanding. Psychiatry and the concept of ‘mental illness’ are central to this enterprise and psychiatric thinking will continue to dominate the mental health ‘industry’ until a truly functional model of the mind and its problems is identified to replace it.

I have been offering such a model for some time but to conventional mental health scientists and scientist/practioners it seems utterly preposterous. I am a qualified Clinical Psychologist and I have been helping people to “cure” their so-called disorders for over 5 years. To be clear, nothing that I do features in any Clinical Psychology curriculum, and of course I know that my use of the word “cure” is outrageous and completely unacceptable. It is the convention of the mental health sciences that the mind is too complex to understand and therefore cures cannot possibly exist, and anyone that says otherwise is a quack and a charlatan.

Today we have between 20% and 40% of people in modern society experiencing one or more of up to 400 classifiable psychological and psychiatric disorders. We have nearly 150 identifiable mental health therapies, grounded in dozens of different theoretical models, that are used to treat these disorders. aaeaaqaaaaaaaaq4aaaajdazyjm0mduyltzim2mtngm0ni05ywfhltlmngvjy2fizdq4zgEveryone ‘knows’ that the key is to find that one medication out of hundreds that suits your particular variation of your condition and combine it with that one particular type of therapy that is most likely to confer a benefit, and it must be delivered by “the right therapist for you”. And yet the failure rate of even the best of these combinations is astounding. Truth hides itself in the complex, and simplicity is for the naive and uninitiated. How is it not plain to see that there is something defective in this kind of thinking? Experience has taught us again and again that, at any practical and experiential level, nature is simple and elegant.

Almost 30 years ago I was lucky enough to notice that the mind and brain function in a way that is completely different to the way we perceive and imagine. In more recent years it became clear that most of the currently recognised disorders are purely conceptual and don’t actually exist in the real world. They are in fact symptoms of an entirely different problem that the mental health sciences have never even thought to look for. And if they did look they would have no means to find it.

I have demonstrated to my own satisfaction, and to the satisfaction of most of my clients in recent years, that the common diagnostic categories such as Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, Stress Disorders, Adjustment Disorders, Personality Disorders, Eating Disorders, to name a few, are merely different expressions of one single core problem and this one problem can be treated and eliminated, quite easily in most adult cases, with a single non-medical treatment approach. For the record, this problem is ‘Unprocessed Experience’, or emotional experience that the brain was unable to process. The symptoms can be addressed by eliminating the cause directly…by giving the brain the opportunity to process the causal experiences properly, which includes the problematic emotions and ideas associated with them. It is remarkably simple, it works, and if this ever became widely understood the current medical/pharmaceutical model would be consigned to its clearly ludicrous history. (Psychotic disorders originate in the same way but there is at least one other unknown factor at work).

Now, this is where it all turns to shit. You will want to hear about the evidence and the science. “Show me the research and the numbers”. The thing we need to get our heads around is that there will never be any objective evidence. We have waited a century for the mental health sciences to provide answers that still haven’t come, despite the astonishing advances in every other field of knowledge across the same time frame. And we will be waiting for another thousand years.

You see, it has largely gone unnoticed that there is no single aspect of our actual living experience that is in any way directly accessible to scientific methods. Everything that defines us as who we are, and the actual experience of living that brings us our sorrows and joys, is entirely subjective and cannot be regarded as valid data. Numbers abstracted from questionnaires represent valid data (they really aren’t) but the mind that generated those numbers is not. Observed behaviour and verbal reports are valid but the actual thoughts, emotions and processes that are “mental illness” are not. Science requires objective and verifiable data but as living persons we live largely by inference. We know that another person thinks and feels only because we do so ourselves. There will never be a scientific method to prove the existence of experienced thought and emotion.

Like our thoughts and emotions, the experience processing function that is so crucial to our mental health can only be witnessed subjectively. It is something the brain does and we can recognise it in our minds if we took the time to do so. If you want the evidence you just have to look a little closer and for a little bit longer at your own subjective scientifically invalid mind, and gather a little more meaningful data which will force your theories to change. The mind and its problems seem so complex only because many of the things you know to be true just aren’t.

Wether you are a ‘sufferer’ or a ‘therapist/expert’, (the differences between the two are largely imaginary) you have been seeing the evidence each and every day but your interpretation of those perceptions are guided and shaped by unregarded and completely inaccurate assumptions. You have witnessed the brain trying to process difficult experience over and over, but you only see ‘illness’, ‘depression’, ‘anxiety’ or something else. You might call it unstable emotions, faulty ideas, thoughts that wont stop, stress, unhappiness, an inability to cope, a poor life quality, an absence of purpose, or the thing that keeps you awake at night. Most of what we notice in mind, the circular thoughts, the uneasy feelings, the sometimes crippling emotions, the apparently random junk, and just ‘me thinking’, is the brain struggling to process experience in circumstances where it is being prevented from doing so.

By now you are probably battling, hopefully, with one of the most misleading assumptions in our modern culture – if it isn’t science it must be fantasy or religious hokum. In modern society an unyielding faith in science doctrine is the acknowledged mark of intellect. This is not unreasonable for the physical sciences, but the ‘mind sciences’ have yielded little of practical value for over a hundred years. It is time to notice this and get past it. If we want to truly understand the mind and its problems we must do the one thing that science is explicitly incapable of doing. We must study the mind itself. Directly. This blindingly obvious suggestion seems absurd to most, but think about it. Could we learn anything about the sun by ignoring it, and examining only the things it shines upon?

one-of-the-nails-in-the-coffin-for-the-earth-centered-universe-was_ea97f10a613be71aBecause of the necessity for scientific respectability the psychology of self, the mind and brain has been stuck in a flat earth paradigm for generations longer than it should have been. Today the academic citadels of psychology and psychiatry are completely impervious to any thinking that is without a veneer of science. To the 16th century priest the idea that the world might not be at the centre of God’s creation was literally unthinkable. Today the reality of mind and brain function is equally unthinkable, and will remain so as long as mental health science remains the unquestioned arbiter of acceptable knowledge on these matters.

We can all agree on the presence of our thoughts and emotions without the intervention of science. Observe the mind a bit closer, for a bit longer, and we will agree on many things that are at present unthinkable. We will one day agree on the following.


  • We are brain centred organisms rather than ‘person’ or ‘Me’ centred. Everything that occurs in mind, including ‘me’ and the mind itself, is brain activity. The brain thinks, ‘I’ do not.


  • The brain learns, grows and improves its capacity for adaptation and wellbeing through the processing of its experience.


  • Experience processing occurs in the conscious mind. It cannot take place effectively if the conscious mind is not available to the brain for this crucial task. The brain’s processing of experience is what we currently interpret as ‘Me engaged in reflection or contemplation’, an increasingly rare activity in modern life.


  • Modern culture conditions the brain to seek absorption, preoccupation, distraction and entertainment, and to avoid the space in mind necessary to process experience effectively.


  • Experience processing discharges the emotions of experience and shapes associated ideas and beliefs adaptively for integration within the day to day knowledge that we use to cope with the challenges that life presents to us. Emotional experience that is not processed, that is not integrated, is ‘experience that traumatises’.


  • As children our brains are unsophisticated and inexperienced and are frequently incapable of processing complex and unfamiliar experience. Therefore traumatisation is more than just commonplace. It is an intrinsic part of childhood for all of us.


  • Most mental ‘illnesses’, and a range of yet to be defined neuropsychological conditions, are the ‘locked in’ ideas and emotions of unprocessed experience, differing only in the specifics of the ideas, emotions and the causal experiences. To notice this requires the tiniest leap of insight.


  • The brain has an imperative to process experience, and thus continues to push elements of unprocessed emotional experience into the conscious mind for processing, where it is experienced as the emotional, ideational and imaginal intrusions that characterise the conditions we describe as ‘disorders’.


  • Memories, thoughts and ideas that generate negative emotion, non-functional decisions and behaviour, and associated coping difficulties, are by definition unprocessed.


  • Unprocessed experience, and associated ideas and emotions, can be processed at any time, long after the experience has occurred, by bringing it into the conscious mind and keeping it there until the brain completes its task.


  • Mind problems are not biological, biochemical or genetic illnesses. They are basic software problems and one of the brain’s primary functions is to correct faulty software. This is largely an automatic function.


  • Neuropsychological Wellbeing is the expression of a brain allowing itself to function fully. It is a reflection of processed life experience and the processing of that experience. 


If you want to understand mind, brain, mind problems and psychological wellbeing, this is the first 80% of it. It can be summarised in a single sentence – the brain needs space in mind to process its experience. Everything else is detail. It may be unfamiliar and profoundly counterintuitive but it has the mark of simplicity and elegance, and it is completely verifiable by anyone who will take the time and trouble to do so. Importantly, it allows the complete elimination of most non-psychotic mental problems in adults, precluding relapse. I understand that this will be largely received as intellectual jibber jabber because it is something that must be perceived and experienced directly through a reinterpretation of subjective mental events. It is difficult to talk about blue to someone that has never stepped out of a red room.

This understanding of mind and mental health is the result of approximately 1300 days of mind observation over a 30 year period. Feel free to take it or leave it. If you are a human being living in the 21st century you will be suffering from mind problems. Maybe not to the extent that merits a psychiatric diagnosis but enough to impact on your quality of life in a way that you might not even have noticed. If you are experiencing significant mind problems, or give a damn about the suffering of those that are, try to keep an open mind and at least consider the obvious fact that conventional thinking just isn’t working. What I’m really looking for here is the smallest increment of curiosity from those who ought to have it.

To the science oriented practitioner, academic or layperson who wants to dispute this or reluctantly verify it, I would offer the following challenge. Go and find a comfortable spot, free of distractions, keep your eyes open, and for the first time in your life witness your own brain at work in your own mind, for 8 hours a day, for one week. That resistance you now feel is why mind problems are so prevalent, and precisely why we still don’t understand them. We need to be expert in minds, not in research on the irrelevant.

The first step to understanding the world is to notice that it isn’t flat. The first step to understanding mind is to notice that there is no science of mind.

I truly hope you have a reflective 2017.

Michael Fox

December 2016