GRAYWOLF: On Alternative Psychotherapy
Interview with Graywolf Swinney, author, dream therapist and consciousness mentor.
Tammie: You wrote in, "Beyond the Vision Quest: Bringing it Back" that for much of your youth you'd been preoccupied with success, science and technology. How did those preoccupations shape your life?
Graywolf: I was always fascinated with science and math and in grade school it was the science demonstrations and lessons that challenged my mind and kept my interest. I had heard about Einstein and wanted very much to be able to contribute to science as he had. He became immediately (and still is) one of my heroes, along with Superman, the Lone Ranger and the Cisco Kid. (Add Freud, Perles, Berne and Bohm to that list now)This was in the late forties and early fifties. When I reached high school (in Toronto, Canada), I was mostly drawn to my ninth grade chemistry and physics classes, and just put up with the other stuff because I had to.
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The magic moment of total dedication came as follows: I was considering what seemed to me to be the most likely future problems that science might solve (meaning me) and the one most likely to provide me with fame and fortune. I saw that what we were very dependent on and what most supported our civilization was gas and oil. I reasoned that there was only so much buried under the ground and that it would eventually be all used up. In this I saw my chance. I decided to devise a synthetic replacement for it.
I took these considerations to my ninth grade science teacher (I even remember his name, Mr. Pickering) and asked him what career I should aim for to accomplish this. He advised me that becoming a chemical engineer would be best. That was it for me. From that point on my academic work was all directed to that end.
I was not a nerd, I was also very active as an all star football player and on the track team, president of the photography club, second in command of the school cadet corps, photography editor then editor in chief of the school yearbook, Piper and drummer in the Pipe band etc. etc. and I also played base guitar and sang in the first Toronto Rock Group. In this, I was a revolutionary (which figures in my later willingness to also be so in psychology) since rock was considered the music of the devil back then.
My two favorite fairytale heroes were the little boy in the Emperors New Clothes and David of David and Goliath which also speaks to my fundamental scripting. I also became an atheist, or perhaps more correctly an agnostic, in keeping with my quest to become a pure scientist.
I struggled to be as objective as I could in all circumstances and to a very large degree suppressed my feelings and emotional side. Consequently, I was very susceptible to them and they would pop out much to my consternation. So I would work even harder to suppress them.
Later, in the sixties, Mr. Spock of Star Trek represented my ideal (along with Scottie). By then, I had graduated from college as a Chemical Engineer (1963) and was working for a rubber and plastics raw material producer. I turned out a number of patents and was rising rapidly as a technical service and development engineer. I was working in the field of golf balls since we were developing synthetic rubbers to replace the natural ones used in their production. I dedicated myself to this and soon developed a reputation in the industry as a whiz kid.
I soon moved to the U.S. (1966) where I designed and built a golf ball production factory for Ben Hogan. I continued on totally dedicated to my career and engineering; getting ahead very rapidly. By 1969, after several career moves, I was appointed general manager (at age 29) of the Golf Ball division of Wilson Sporting goods. The position had much to offer, money, notoriety, country club membership, power, (lunches with people such as Jerry Ford shortly before he was president), connections to the White House (I made all the golf balls for the Nixon Administration).
Since I had succeeded in shelving all my emotions and feelings and was virtually a Mr. Spock, I had succeeded well in business but was failing miserably in my personal life.
My original goals of making a vital contribution to humanity had been lost along with my emotions and feelings. I was a robot and doing things (such as firing a close personal friend because we had to reduce overhead by 15%) which did not sit well with my humanity and the revolutionary in me. It set up an inner conflict of which I was not aware. I saw, as was required of good managers, the world as a function of the bottom line, and operated as a machine. The inner conflict and failure in my personal life had resulted in me being overweight (I ate to stuff the pain) and having a very driven (type A) personality.
My preoccupation led me to neglect my personal health and I had developed several executive syndrome disorders. I had hypertension, hypoglycemia, a fast developing ulcer, and my e.k.g. showed that I had already suffered from one or more heart attacks. There were indications of damage to one of the valves. I was overweight and well on my way, if not already, an alcoholic. I smoked about one-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day. I had missed the pain of the mild heart attacks through my ability to stuff my feelings and sensations. My sports career had also taught me how to do that. (I didn't mention that in college I was the intercollegiate wrestling champion in my freshman year and later became the player-coach of the team. I had won the championship match with torn ligaments in my right knee from an earlier match. I was on crutches for months after that. I was really good at stuffing stuff.)
However, from my preoccupation with science, I also leaned many positives: That world views can change when the old theories are replaced by new ones. That theories are at best models of reality and not the real thing. That one can often learn more from the failure of an experiment than if it had succeeded. And that many of the important breakthroughs in science came from the cracks, the nagging little things that the current theories didn't quite cover. From engineering, I learned that you have to be adaptable in reality as nothing ever goes exactly as planned. That the theories of pure science are at best approximations, not to trust them completely nor take them as gospel, and finding what actually works is more important than holding on to a favorite theory or practice.
I also learned that I solved far more of my technical and management problems when I was asleep and dreaming than with my technical expertise, although I didn't admit that to anyone. I also noted that dreams were prominent in fundamental scientific breakthroughs. So to a large degree I was fascinated with the nature of dreams, and pursuit of this interest was a major part of my desire to become a psychologist after I left my career in engineering.
Tammie: In 1971, you were informed by your doctor that you'd be dead within three years. I was hoping that you might share what impact his warning had on you?
Graywolf: I had been going through some particularly tricky management issues (i.e. contract negotiations with the Teamsters union) and technical problems at the factory. I had developed a headache that had lasted for three weeks and my usual remedies helped not at all. My wife, who at that time was a nurse, was worried and so set up an appointment for me with a doctor to which I reluctantly went. I was shocked when the doctor immediately scheduled me for a number of tests at the local hospital.
I put it out of my mind until a couple of days later when the results were available. He took me into his office and gave them to me. I was in shock. My mother had died of many of the things that he was saying afflicted me. I asked how serious it was and he told me that he expected I would be dead within three years. He went on to cite my life style, work pressure, marital problems, as contributing causes along with my genetic background, and reiterated that I would be dead within three year without treatment and addressing some of these issues. And it might not work; I was in pretty bad shape mentally and physically.
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My shock continued walking out of his office. I had a very strict diet in hand, a prescription or two, and was to report for checkups regularly. But I was terrified. I was only 32 years old and had watched my mother die young as I might myself.
I didn't tell my wife and I didn't sleep that night. I called in sick for the first time next morning and stayed in bed and thought. I re-evaluated my priorities. That evening was when I told my wife about my condition. I decided, at the very least, if I only had a little while to live, to start having fun and doing things that I had always wanted but never found the time for. Unfortunately, many of these things she wasn't willing to share with me such as going dancing, learning to ski, reactivating my passion for music and playing the rock guitar. I decided that doing them might be more important than my marriage, so I did them with her disapproval. Her idea was medication and a strict regimen of abstinence to heal me.
I began to leave my work at the plant and have fun evenings and weekends. I even began attending a non-denominational liberal church in town. I began to assess where I was and where I was going relative to my childhood ideals. I was falling far short of them. Soon my wife left me and I was in great pain over that. Her parting words were that I was going through a second childhood and she wanted nothing to do with it. I was in a major self-identity crisis.
At that point, neither my career nor my personal life satisfied me. The fun was fun, but my health was still poor. Headaches, shortness of breath, etc.
A concerned friend and business colleague took me out to lunch one day and recommended counseling for me. I wasn't too open to it, so he told me to show up on Friday evening at a certain church. It turned out to be empathy training for perspective crisis phone line workers. I reluctantly started the three-day training and became a convert by the time it was over.
I rediscovered my emotions and sensitivity. I soon dedicated all my off-work hours to this and to another program, drug crisis intervention work. Between the two I was spending all my off-work hours in the alternative community. I took an introduction to TA at the free university. It described my life and offered hope. By then I had dramatically resigned my job. (That is an interesting story in itself.) and had free time. I started training in TA and in my own analysis discovered the patterns that had trapped me and how they contributed to my Type A personality and health problems. I lost about forty pounds and began to get into shape.
I, soon, was totally dedicated to understanding healing from both psychological and medical perspectives. I wanted to become a healer and in the process heal myself. I also began to study dreams through the gestalt therapy and began attending all workshops on dreamwork at the psychology conferences I attended.
Tammie: You've also indicated that during your studies and in your practice as a psychotherapist you came to believe that for the most part current psychotherapy models "didn't really address the full human condition" in your clients or yourself. Would you elaborate on that?
Graywolf: I had completed TA and Gestalt training by 1975. I had, as part of that, studied psychology in considerable depth including Freudian, Jungian, Adlerian, Behavioral and Reichian models, theories and practices as well as a number of fringe practices and several approaches to body work. I also studied medical models of healing with a thought of attending medical school. In these studies I encountered two phenomena that captured my interest, the Placebo Effect and Iatrogenic illness. The former became my interest and ideal for a healing model. However I could find no operational explanation of how they worked.
On returning from my written and oral exams in TA, I met with my supervisor. I recall asking her "Is this all there is?" because I couldn't believe that this was the end state of psychological science. "What is beneath scripting?" I asked her along with other similar questions. She replied that I had all the basics, understood all the theories and practices and was fully qualified. "It's not enough." I told her. Engineers take pride in their tools and the ones I had mastered didn't seem enough.
However, I practiced for several years putting my concerns in context within myself. They are:
a.) Psychology and medicine ARE quite sophisticated in diagnosing and categorizing the various illnesses, but healing techniques are woefully inadequate and ineffective.
b.) Trained in hard sciences and working as an engineer, I had experienced the limits of Newtonian science. I had expected that psychology and healing arts would have developed specific theories that would explain or deal with the complexities and synergy of the human condition. But all I saw was an attempt to make people fit into this mechanistic and reductionistic approach (Newtonian Mechanics) that didn't work all that well even with inert objects.
I even started developing a practice that I called "Relativity Therapy" based on Einstein's implications that all measurements depend on the frame of reference. I knew that this relativity theory was a better model than the Newtonian one and I found this approach more effective. (It basically involved not defining any absolutes of either health or properfunctioning but understanding the client's frame of reference and working within that.) By the mid-seventies I was also re-exposed to Quantum theory through "The Tao of Physics" and "The Dancing Wu Li Masters" and began to speculate and explore how these theories might also be more applicable to the human condition and healing it.
During this time, I also had my wolf experience which slowly opened me up to spiritual considerations. I found myself returning, in some of my sessions, to the state of consciousness of that experience. I soon discovered that the wolf-state far more helped people to define and solve their issues than all my psychotherapy training accomplished. This was the beginnings of my co-consciousness model in which the therapist, rather than being objective and separate from the client, enters into co-consciousness with them.
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c.) Although many of my colleagues and clients considered me to be a brilliant therapist, I didn't feel that we were really getting much fundamental healing done with conventional therapies. Client's would linger on, continuing on long after we had met their therapeutic contracts. "There's still something missing," they would say. I had to agree with them. Most of my most effective therapy interventions happened in the last minutes of a session when I might make some off-hand remark seemingly entirely out of context. The client would return the next week marveling at how that remark had helped them to change dramatically.
d.) That was driving me along with the unanswered questions I had about the placebo effect. I was interested in how it worked and the implications from it; how intimately the mind, consciousness and body are bound in healing and wellness. Psychology and medicine had nothing to offer on this. Another factor was that I was also beginning to explore an emerging sense of my own spirituality through my Graywolf experiences. Although I wouldn't have labeled it as such then, I was feeling a deeper transpersonal self and connection.
e.) I continued my studies of psychology in Graduate school obtaining a Masters degree in it but chose to pursue shaman's studies rather than continue for a Doctorate. The Masters work was quite unsatisfying and Doctoral work looked like just a continuation of the same pap. I had specialized in schizophrenia and wrote my masters thesis on it. I was told by my advisor that it was worthy of being my Doctoral Dissertation with some minor additional work. But I didn't learn anything from that exercise in futility except to confirm how little is understood about the condition.
My own work in the field with schizophrenia taught me much more about it and my notion was that the important elements of it were ignored. The hypersensitivity of schizophrenics, the often extrasensory and psi experiences weren't addressed except to label them as pathology, hallucination or delusion. The very spiritual nature of the condition (religious fascination and fixations). Yet, Psychological Science and Medical Science ignored all this and presented dry mechanistic models of the condition. I also left out these considerations in my thesis on the advice of my advisor.
f.) I was attending two or three psychology conferences a year and many, many workshops. There was nothing new in them, just the same old theories and models warmed up and repeated using different words. That's still happening: codependency is just what we used to work with under the name symbiosis and then enabling; inner child work is a warmed up excerpt from TA, etc. etc.
g.) Humanistic psychology drew my interest because of the fundamental difference of philosophy. If you want to understand health, you must study healthy people. I even became deeply involved with the AHP acting as an unofficial advisor to the Board and helping organize and manage conferences. I lost interest when the AHP began mainstreaming itself and seemed to lose its exploratory bent.
h.) Psychology seemed for the most part to ignore the full range of human experience. It ignored psi experiences, yet from personal experience I knew them to be facts. Its explanation of phenomena such as Deja-vu was trite and didn't really capture the flavor of it. Psychology was unable and seemed unwilling to explore and explain such things as love and intimacy, yet I knew them to be important in healing work, both as a support system and coming from the therapist.
i.) Exposure to fringe theories and practices made me aware of several other problems. For example "Radical Psychiatry" pointed out the inability of psychology to address social change.
j.) But the main issue was that psychology and its science had made no inroads to understanding or exploring the nature of consciousness. That seemed to me the most important element in understanding both the human condition and healing it. It seemed to be the basis of natural healing phenomena such as the placebo effect. It also seemed fundamental to an understanding of the foundations and perception of reality itself. Psychological science seemed for the most part to be withdrawing from exploring and understanding consciousness in favor of drug, behaviorist and emotional cathartic therapies. On the other hand leading edge physics was hot on the trail of consciousness.
I was drawn to Shamanic studies, in part because shamans seemed better versed in using and understanding consciousness. There was a twenty to fifty thousand year background of empirical studies and experience in it. I chose to study this rather than go on for my Doctorate degree. In the process I connected with Dr. Stanley Krippner as a mentor (and now colleague and close friend. I started a doctoral program with him as advisor but soon dropped it, with his full blessings, as irrelevant to my aims.
During this time I worked on what I called the Shaman-Therapist model. I still have an uncompleted book on the topic in my old abandoned computer. Its fundamental notion was that to have greater depth in healing you need two models or world-views operating simultaneously, much like you need two eyes for depth in visual perception. One eye is that of the scientist, analyst, therapist. The other eye is that of the shaman, mystic, spiritual healer. Both need to be operating at the same time for this depth to realize. This distinguished it from the methods I had seen practiced in Transpersonal Psychology which were like alternately opening one eye and then the other.
I could go on with the many other details but the above should give you a fairly complete idea of my concerns about psychological science and current treatments, and my discontent with them. At the conclusion of my shaman studies, I went through a similar process with shamans practice. This led to my discovery of and development of the Chaos-REM Process of Natural Healing.
Tammie: I'm struck by your adventurous spirit and both the professional and personal risks you've taken in your life. I'm wondering what in retrospect you might consider your greatest risk thus far to have been and what lessons the experience has taught you.
Graywolf: At the time I was "taking risks," they didn't seem like risks at all. In fact they seemed like the most reasonable thing to do at the time. In retrospect, I see that they did appear to be risky but if I were to remain true to myself they were directions I had to follow. While going through them, it was often as though I were watching myself do what I was doing. It didn't feel like dissociation or denial so much as being guided and watched by a powerful and loving presence within which was a deeper and wiser self. Given that disclaimer I offer the following.
My dropping out as a business executive and engineer was very risky. I had an assured future but the cost of that assuredness was too high. Better to live on poor than to die soon wealthy and successful.
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My venture into the North Woods of Canada where I met Graywolf was risky and life threatening. But it seemed less so than living with insecurity within myself about my ability to survive.
My abandoning my practice and career as a psychotherapist was also risky as was taking the name Graywolf. However, I was drawn strongly to this path and knew it was the best thing for me to do to further my interests and studies of healing process.
I suppose, looking at my answers so far, I could summarize. I was always moving on to something more interesting and exciting in my life and was able to let go of the past very easily because of this draw. I was generally done with what I was leaving behind and the draw seemed to be coming from deep within (intuitive). I later found a guiding principle given me by Al Huang. He told me that the Chinese cipher for crisis is made up of two ciphers: one meaning danger, the other meaning opportunity. I guess also that I have a pretty deep level of self confidence that tells me "no matter what you can handle it!" So in all they weren't really risks at all but the only reasonable thing to do to get where I needed to go.
As for lessons this has taught me? I suppose I have always been adventuresome. From defying authority to play Rock Music in the fifties to taking on the task of changing the basis of healing sciences, I have always tended to follow the truth, as did the little boy in the Emperors New Clothes. And taking on giants is no problem for little David, he toppled Goliath with a small stone put in the right place. The main lesson is that this is a very viable and satisfying way to live one's life, and authority means nothing more than having power, it doesn't imply correctness or truth.
Tammie: Recently, you've managed, it seems, to combine your experience and training as an engineer, as a psychotherapist, and your ventures in the wilderness and utilize them in some fascinating ways in the study of consciousness. I would love to hear more about where this particular venture is leading you.
Graywolf: In a sentence it is leading me into REM studies, Holographic theory, combined with consciousness explorations. For example I am about to embark an a project to develop the mathematics of consciousness. I am attaching my two most recent articles which will provide more details.
I do offer comment on the important concepts in my work.
- The science that currently drives the healing professions is out of date and not really appropriate to complex systems. New science provides far better models for the human condition. I.e. relativity, quantum, chaos and holographic theories.
- Healing and disease are matters that involve senses more than mind and are matters of consciousness and its structures.
- Complex systems are self regulating (homeostasis principle) and will generally do so given the opportunity.
- Healing depends far more on the connection between the practitioner and client than it does on the particular practice.
- Symptoms are at their base attempts by the organism to solve problems. As such their isolated eradication can result in further symptoms arising in answer to the unsolved deeper issue.
- There are only self-healers, the best one can do is find and encourage that process in another.
- Consciousness prevails throughout all reality and is a basic field that is part of all structure in the space time continuum.
Graywolf Swinney is a dream therapist, consciousness mentor, author, lecturer, scientist, and the founder and director of ASKLEPIA FOUNDATION and THE INSTITUTE FOR APPLIED CONSCIOUSNESS SCIENCE. He operates Aesculapia Wilderness Retreat in Southern Oregon where he offers training in the Creative Consciousness Natural Healing Process. He spends part of each month offering the Creative Consciousness Natural Healing Process in the Puget Sound area as well. Graywolf is also a whitewater river guide on the lower Rogue River.
You can reach Graywolf at:
P.O. Box 301,
Wilderville OR 97543
Phone: (541) 476-0492.
Staff, H. (2008, December 25). GRAYWOLF: On Alternative Psychotherapy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, February 6 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/sageplace/graywolf-on-alternative-psychotherapy