First Empty Your Cup

  I’ve often found many of the classic stories from the Zen Buddhist tradition to be very insightful, helping to trigger useful changes in perspective, sometime for myself, sometimes for a client.   This one has been on my mind recently: Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup? — Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings by Paul Reps, Nyogen Senzaki     In my work as a counsellor and trainer over the last while, I have been becoming more and more painfully aware of how much we (our whole society, including counsellors, psychotherapists, psych

Motivational Perspectives in Thinking About Someone who is Autistic

In discussions about what it is to be autistic we tend focus on the areas of emotion, cognition, physiology and behaviour. Perhaps there is a bit too much focus on the last, and not quite enough on the first, but they are all getting attention these days, and they are all interesting and worthy of such attention. However, if we want to fully understand any individual, or any community of similar people, one of the key things we need to be focusing on is motivation. Of course motivation is related to, not separate from, the other four areas mentioned above (how we think and feel influences what we want, which in turn influence our behaviour), but it still needs to be thought about separately. After all, emotion, cognition, physiology and behaviour are themselves intimately interconnected (our thoughts influence our emotions and vice-versa, our emotions influence our physiology, and so on…), but we still deal with each of them as important areas of focus in their own right.   I somet

Human Drives/Instincts – Neurotypical & Autistic

  Over 10 years ago I wrote a blog post for my blog Psychotherapeutic Naturalism, “Trial & Themes -What Makes humans Tick? (Click here for original post: )   In that blog post I wrote: Evolutionary psychology sees human life, like that of any organism, as consisting of strategic attempts to maximise our success along various key axes, such as mating, care-giving, satisfying appetites etc. Along these axes, humans face a variety of unavoidable Life Challenges… There is no definitive list of these motivational axes, but I have put together a list for myself for practical use in the therapy context, which probably covers the main areas. The terms Instincts, Drives, Domains are often used in this context - I find it useful to call these species-specific major themes in human life “THEMAs” (Typically Human Evolved Motivational Axes)… They define what is important to us as members

Layers of “Autism” - from inside to outside

Those of us who frequently discuss autism with people we meet, quickly find that most people’s picture of what it is to be autistic is seriously inadequate and out-of-date. There are many ways of understanding why this might be so - the oppressive power of the medical model, the largely inaccurate depiction of autistic people in the media, the general human tendency to stigmatise difference/otherness… What I want to focus on here is the idea that most people’s idea of autism is overly focused on observable behaviour rather than on what it is like to be autistic “on the inside”. Not only that, but the behaviours that most people associate with autism are likely to be the ones that are selectively noticed on the basis of neurotypical priorities and concerns, rather than through genuinely curious & open observation. Worst of all, perhaps, many of the behaviours commonly associated with autism are not features of autism at all, but are a mixture of masking processes, compensatory/

Lived Experience & Expert Knowledge

This blog post is based on thoughts I initially teased out for a talk (titled “ Double Vision – My experience of autism from both personal & professional perspectives ”) which I gave at the AUsome Training 2020 Conference ( ). A common controversy in the area of autism (and of neurodiversity & disability in general) focuses on the relative importance/validity of “lived experience” versus “expert knowledge”. The experiences of actual autistic people were largely ignored by most psychiatrists, psychologists and researchers until the internet provided an accessible platform for their voices to be heard, so the history of the “ownership” of the autism narrative by professional experts is not reassuring. And even in recent years many of us (including myself) have had experiences that give us good reason to mistrust professional experts. On the other hand, as well as being autistic myself, I’m also reasonably expert in

Defining Addiction

Defining Addiction Addictions, whether to substances such as alcohol or heroin, or to behaviours such as gambling or gaming, are a major area of vulnerability for human beings. They are therefore presumably a major area of vulnerability for autistic people, though you wouldn’t think so from the tiny amount of attention that has been focused on the question of autism and addiction to date, by researchers and clinicians. I’ll come back to this issue, and the likely areas of vulnerability specific to autistic people, in a later blog post. In the meantime (and prompting this blog post), I’ll be contributing to an AUsome Training webinar on Autism & Addiction this Thursday 1 st July: For now, I’ll just revisit some more general thoughts about the phenomenon of addiction. Addiction has always been a controversial subject - even trying to define it has given rise to a lot of discussion and argument over the years. The