Sunday, 1 February 2009

mood

My everyday psychological understandings and clinical practice give me little handle on mood. Yet it is mood which so often radically constrains and inspires those habitual actions that bring people to the clinic.

My psychologist's training certainly helps me think about emotion, and about thought, and about belief. It is through such notions that I formulate and address a client's difficulties together with them.

Lying in the background, however, is mood. And mood constrains the way in which anything, at any time, is understood. It constrains motivation. It shapes belief. It is a kind of total framework within which the whole of my experienced world shows up. It is more general than an emotional feeling.

I am thinking of pervasive states of boredom, agitation, numb neediness. I am thinking too of the kind of state of mind in which an obsessional person performs their compulsions, or of manic excitement. And, to put it simplistically, whilst emotions disclose the self and the other in relation to the self to itself, moods disclose the entire world to us. They are always 'behind' us, the from-where of our attention.

Perhaps there is a sense in which it is true to say that mood is, or can be, repressed emotion. It is what happens when emotions are not able to be felt; they are flipped inside out - and now they have us, rather than us having them. (It is we who are in moods, not vice versa.) Freud, for example, explained feelings of unfamiliarity - which are not simply the absence of feelings of familiarity but have a positive yet baffling content - as due to the repression of something familiar. (Freud, The Uncanny).

In the group I run for people trying to lose weight, it has become apparent that people tend to overeat when they are in a particular mood. It is often a kind of numb and compulsive state, an opaque neediness, a restless oral urge, a boredom. Everyone understands what they have to do to lose weight; everyone very much wants to. But the charioteer of their actions is at these times not their better self, but an uncomprehending mood. A different mood prevails in the group, and the difficulty of transporting the message home consists, in part, in the different mood-states in which good intentions and restless orality find their repose.

In the psychotherapy literature, I am only aware of two methods for tackling mood. The first is the psychoanalyst's interpretative endeavour: trying to condense out a mood into that emotion which has hitherto been 'held from awareness'. The second is Gendlin's focusing, where a mindful and respectful interrogation of the body invites the articulation of the felt sense operative in the self. I am not sure that either are readily applicable procedures in many therapeutic contexts. My challenge to my CBT colleagues is, now, to develop a new therapy of mood.