What About Bob
Looking back, there were four things that shaped my work over the past forty eight years:
(1) As an undergraduate in 1969, Dr. Ralph Lewis challenged me to identify and fine-tune the essential core principles of what was consistently effective in my work. He encouraged me to describe them in simple terms that led to practical application. This has become part of my way of thinking and has been particularly helpful in counseling, training, and teaching.
(2) I began and have continued a daily meditation practice since 1972. This helped me develop a capacity for perceptual and mental flexibility and clarity. It helped me to develop the capacity to recognize when my thinking was not going a helpful direction and to shift focus in order to understand a larger picture and relevant details more clearly.
These two experiences made it easier to identify core issues and concerns and develop solutions that fit the situation and the people involved.
(3) I learned from my patients and students as well as day-to-day experience. Viewing my work and life as an ongoing learning and improvement process helped me learn humility and to realize that each person has unique gifts and potential that can be realized with proper support and opportunities. Developing a habit of regularly reflecting on what worked and how, as well as what didn’t work and why forged the foundation my career. The core principles and concepts I use are open to question and revision even though, for the most part, they have remained consistent over time.
(4) Learning about the effect of breathing and patterns of chronic muscle tension on mental and emotional functioning in the early 1970’s focused my work on simple, practical approaches that were consistently effective and could be easily learned and practiced. Stopping the build up of tension and gradually resolving patterns of tension greatly facilitated my understanding of the interaction between mind, body and emotion and made it much easier for my patients and students to understand and resolve mental and emotional concerns.
I recognized that restoring natural breathing and resolving chronic tension had a significant effect on the state of mind and emotion while working with people who had problems with violence at residential facilities in the 1970’s. I continued this focus when I began counseling a few years later and found it particularly helpful to people diagnosed with anxiety and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I studied the anatomy and physiology associated with breathing and, whenever my approach didn’t seem to have the desired effect, worked on identifying and working through obstacles. Over a number of years, it became clear that a specific rhythmic movement of the diaphragm appeared to directly stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and that this played a key role in resolving symptoms of every mental health diagnoses. This became a core component of my work and I found it to be consistently helpful to thousands of students and patients over the past thirty five years.
My most significant learning experiences came from working with people who had been diagnosed as profoundly and severely mentally impaired in the late 1970’s and early ‘80’s and with the patrons and volunteers of the Hard Times Café (HTC), an empowerment program for disadvantaged persons that I founded and facilitated from 1991 through 1999.
Establishing relationships with people who had limited or no language taught me to be open to experience without forming judgments based on information from others. Working with people who had problems with violence showed me the importance of remaining calm, grounded, and open.
I learned not to place knowledge before experience and discovered that there are both broad similarities and wide differences in how each of us sees and experiences our world. I learned that being fully present was more important than data, details, or diagnosis in determining the best course of action.
I understand learning as an ongoing interaction between experience, study, and reflection and learned that it is when I am most certain that I am most likely to be wrong.
HTC patrons and volunteers showed me that potential emerges in an atmosphere of dignity and respect. They also demonstrated the capacity to rise to the level of responsibility given to them when it was chosen and supported. They taught me the power of community, and with my patients and students, revealed the incredibly beauty and resilience of the human heart.
I am aware that I can never be fully aware of my own blinders. I believe that truth and understanding can only flourish in interaction with others and, to the extent that I place myself above or below another person, I diminish us both.
I retired from counseling in 2012 due to back problems and focused on a project, “Practical Psychology: What Works and Makes Sense,” to provide a summary of what I had learned from my patients and students over the previous forty years. Sample pages from this project can be viewed under “Essentials” on the main menu and at http://bobvanoosterhout.com/id5.html
After Brexit and the U.S. elections in 2016, which followed similar paths taken by Poland, Hungary, and Turkey, I was deeply concerned about the direction that democratic states appeared to be heading and put “Practical Psychology” on the shelf. I identified three factors which appeared to be influencing this shift: (1) the increasing effectiveness of the use of fear and divisiveness as a political tactics; (2) a decreasing lack of respect for truth and (3) increasing inability for people with different beliefs to engage in respectful and intelligent conversation.
I focused on developing simple tools and resources so average citizens can identify and confront fear based thinking, restore respect for truth, and work together to understand and address the problems and opportunities we face. I called this effort “Bring Truth to Fear” and reserved that name for a website to disseminate what I was learning.
This work was interrupted when I was injured in a fire in December 2017. A slow and uneven recovery process deepened my understanding of the effects of fear and trauma on body, mind, and emotion. I began writing a book on fear as first in a series that would describe what I had learned over my career.
When the Coronavirus crisis emerged it became clear that fear was widespread and misinformation a serious concern. I decided to activate the Bring Truth to Fear website so that what I learned might be immediately useful to others.