You meet with your EBT Provider and your group by telephone or in person once a week. Each session starts with participating in sharing news or ideas from the week’s EBT practice and reading. Then the EBT Provider leads a brief relaxation activity and everyone has a few moments to connect more deeply with themselves. One or more participants volunteer to use the Cycle Tool and others in the room become a loving presence for that person. There is plenty of time for each person to share accomplishments and challenges and access a “Connection Buddy” from the group to check in with for support during the week.
During the week you set aside time to do kit work, which involves reading, writing, and watching videos online, each week becoming more skilled in processing old circuits and creating new ones that move you toward a sense of joy. In the EBT paradigm, joy is not happiness, but the state of the brain in which we have neural integration; that is, brain fitness, where stress is low, and we feel a slight surge of pleasure in our bodies. That is the optimal state for health, and the passion and desire to live an exceptional life. You learn about how your brain works, so you know what the tools are doing and can picture them operating in your brain to stop the cascade of stress hormones and to activate surges of feel-good neurochemicals. You learn how to become comfortable processing your emotions and training your brain to become hooked on natural pleasures and joy.
There is no real separation between the brain and the body, so creating a lifestyle of natural pleasures that build brain fitness is a core part of the program. Over time, EBTers rewire stress drives so it is easier and more motivating to live a life that is rich in natural pleasures. The 8-point “Life in Joy” program includes only strategies that are evidence-based and highly effective in reducing stress and boosting emotionally rewarding chemicals. It includes using the tools of the method as well as 60 minutes per day of exercise, (such as walking, dancing, gardening or working out), 8 hours of sleep or relaxation, eating gene-friendly foods such as vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and lean protein, going light on stress-inducing chemicals (e.g., certain stress-related foods and alcohol) late in the evening, so by morning the body feels balanced and vibrant, and taking 10 minutes for Sanctuary Time (meditation, reflection, prayer or inspirational reading) every day. This brain fitness lifestyle is easy to accomplish because these simple practices create so much energy and vitality.
We are social creatures. Stress causes us to isolate, and even if we are around other people, it can make us feel alone. In EBT, that changes. Between group sessions we connect with other group members. We begin to break our habits of solitude and start to interact with more people in ways that are meaningful and memorable. During the week you will be asked to contact other group members and do Community Connections. This will usually take about 5 minutes – no more than 10 minutes – where you check in with your emotional state, and if one or both of you want to use an EBT tool, you can. These connections are by telephone, and do not involve advice or long conversations. If the other person is using a tool, all you do is listen and be a loving presence for them. These “Connection Buddies” are people you get to know over time, who share this training – and the journey – with you. This kind of support creates more practice and therefore, you experience better results more easily and more rapidly.
Once you learn how to process your emotions, you start to see that instead of relying on your external solutions (whether it’s getting stuck in anxiety or depression, ramping up appetites for food, alcohol, cigarettes or drugs, people pleasing, rescuing, isolating or overworking) you can take contol of your emotions and your stress level. You are warmly connecting with yourself. Instead of trying to “fix” a whole range of problems, you deal with the root cause, so most problems tend to improve or resolve, and those that would otherwise emerge due to stress may be delayed or may never appear.
Once people know how to process emotions through their brain in a highly effective way, life become easier. They know that they can “score” a Joy Point (a surge of joy) whenever they want, and they begin using moments of intense natural pleasure to swamp their stress. However, EBT does not lead to perpetual happiness. The natural gift of life is that it is always changing – and so are we. Each new experience activates the emotional brain’s wiring that ramps up stress. However, instead of shutting down or stalling during those inevitable transitions in life, we learn how to use the tools to move through it and refresh our lives. Instead of ignoring change and hoping that it will go away, we process our feelings and gain and deeper and deeper access to the rewards of Sanctuary, Authenticity, Vibrancy, Integrity, Intimacy, Spirituality and Freedom.
During the first half of the training the focus is on rewiring the circuits that have blocked our joy. It’s a time of separating from the old hurts, attachments to various excesses, and the sense of feeling empty inside. The tools create the feeling of secure attachment, and peace and power from within. Once problems begin to fade, most people turn their attention to their joy. They start to realize how much better their life could be if they had the skills to obtain the higher level rewards of life: Sanctuary, Authenticity, Vibrancy, Integrity, Intimacy and Spirituality.
Current methods of helping people better process their emotions are largely based on the idea that if you have insight into why you feel a certain way (such as a problem you had in childhood), you would change. However, if you are stressed out, standing in front of the refrigerator looking for something to make you feel better, you don’t need insight. You need emotional tools. Using emotional tools changes the state of the brain to create peace and power from within, and so, for example, you stop needing that extra food. Most programs are based on changes in knowledge, planning, insight, and decision-making. These “thinking brain” strategies do not change the emotional brain. The problem is the way which we process stress in the emotional brain, and the solution is to use emotional tools to change it.
Before we understood more about the nature of the emotional brain, most people thought that stress was bad, and wanted to avoid it at all costs. Now we know differently. In EBT, you will learn how to move through stress back to joy, but also, to use stressful moments as “moments of opportunity” to change your brain. When we are stressed, we shut down feelings or ramp up (hostility, depression, panic, anxiety, shame). In those moments, if we use the EBT tools, we can quickly move to joy, and at the same time rewire the circuit that caused that stress. We use the Cycle Tool to “pop” into a state of joy and relaxation, and to weaken the wires that caused the stress to begin with. It’s a great feeling!
The emotional brain is the social brain. It learns best with others. That’s why EBT is based on small, supportive groups. The emotional brain wiring opens up when we are with others, and using the tools together causes the brain to change more easily and more quickly. In addition, the mirror neurons in the brain “catch” the work of others, so in the group, as we listen to others express emotions, our own brain becomes more effective. We see results without having to do the work ourselves. Some people fear doing emotional work in groups, but quickly they notice how safe and secure they feel, and how much more they progress when working alongside others than by doing it alone.
We are more alike than we are different, especially in the emotional brain. The first step in EBT is to learn how to use the tools of the method to optimally process stress and emotions. The EBT Kits (books and videos) give step-by-step support to move up the set point in the brain (“the emotional set point”) out of stress and into a state of feeling balanced and present, with a slight glow of feeling rewarded. The kits will guide you in rewiring and overcoming any issues in your past that block your experience of joy. You will actively and effectively rewire your brain for a greater capacity to obtain the higher order rewards of life: Sanctuary, Authenticity, Vibrancy, Integrity, Intimacy, and Spirituality.
EBT is a transdisciplinary method that requires extensive training and skills for health professionals to practice. For that reason only licensed or registered health professionals (e.g., licensed mental health professionals, registered dietitians, board certified physicians, registered nurse practitioners) or health coaches can apply to become an EBT Provider. All providers have completed 18 months or more of training and many have 10 to 20 years of experience in facilitating coaching and group training in rewiring the emotional brain with this method. In essence, EBT Providers are transdisciplinary professionals, even though their scope of practice and licensure may be in a specific discipline.
Our emotional brains are highly sensitive to the inner lives of others, an encoding we all have: our ancestors needed to read the emotional brain of intruders to determine if they were friend or foe, and parents need to read the emotional brain of offspring to know how to respond effectively. As a result, you will be aware of your provider’s emotional brain and how their emotional brain is impacted by lifestyle and health. Within the limits of genetics and circumstance, EBT Providers embody the method, rewiring their own brain for joy. Much of their wisdom and guidance in facilitating groups and providing coaching comes from their own experience of the method in their own life, as well as their clinical training in how to make the method easier to learn and more effective in the lives of others.
All EBT Providers complete extensive training in self-regulation, brain-based behavior change, biopsychosocial assessments, advanced training, and responding to the needs posed by various stress symptoms. From reading articles on neuroscience to lab work on how to expertly coach the Cycle Tool, over the course of a year of classes, these health professionals become experts in the tools and theory behind EBT. They learn how to empower participants to understand their own brain and to use the tools in highly effective ways, even if life is stressful and time is quite limited. In addition, they complete all of the courses of the method with the coaching of EBT Master Trainers. In short, EBT Providers are a new generation of health care practitioners who are bringing this new paradigm of integrated health care to the world.
Once certified, EBT providers are required to complete continuing education and to keep up to date with the latest scientific findings. EBT will continue to evolve using evidence-based methods and emerging research. Providers do not just learn EBT and implement its existing method, but keep abreast of comprehensive health care and current neuroscience to offer you new findings, emerging research and, most of all, the techniques and practices that make EBT the most powerful training of its kind.
When people get stressed, they do the best thing they can to make themselves feel better. If they do not have the tools to process emotions effectively, they cope any way that they can, from overeating to worrying. Stress mounts up and results in serious health issues. Then these health issues are treated with medication or surgeries. The problem is that this only focuses on treating the health issues, which are symptoms of stress and ignore the underlying cause, the inability to process stress. This results in excessive reliance on pharmaceutical drugs, medical procedures, and invasive surgeries. The health issue may be solved temporarily, but unless the underlying cause is addressed, more often than not, other problems crop up or the old symptoms return.
Health Professionals devote their lives to helping people. Laurel Mellin and other health professionals were frustrated with the current approach to health care, which often does not create lasting improvements in the quality of people's lives. They wanted a way to use their time to greatly impact the lives of their patients.
For much of our history, the emotional brain, which is the seat of emotions, pleasure drives, relationships, spirituality and health, was seen as a “black box.” We couldn’t change it so we had to rely on overthinking and impulsively taking action. The only trouble is that when the emotional brain is exposed to repeated episodes of stress it becomes stuck in stress. Our thoughts become repetitive and our behavior becomes unhealthy. We now know that the emotional brain can change. All we need is the knowledge of how to do it and the desire and support to change it.
In 1940, Hilde Bruch, MD, a physician and professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, discovered that the root cause of being overweight in children was the missed emotional connection between parents and children. In 1980, Laurel Mellin, Phd who was researching adolescent obesity was inspired by her work to develop tools that enabled children and adults to experience that missed emotional connection and enabled them to process stress in a highly effective way. She developed the very effective Shapedown Program, which is still administered in hospitals throughout the United States and Canada.
Laurel observed that children who used the tools stopped wanting extra food. Their parents saw their children becoming emotionally secure, psychologically healthier, and happier. She sensed that these tools could help a lot of people, not only for weight but for other stress-related problems. She began writing about the method and developing certification programs for health professionals, so that more people could have access to and utilize these tools. She wrote several books on the underlying ideas in EBT: " The Solution ," " The Pathway " (New York Times Bestseller), " The 3 Day Solution ," and " Wired for Joy. " In time, as brain science evolved, other scientists became interested in EBT.
Meanwhile, researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College, Rockefeller University, UCSF, New York University and others were engaged in the “decade of the brain” that led to greater insights into the plasticity of the emotional brain. Igor Mitrovic, MD. , a highly respected neuroscientist and professor of physiology began collaborating independently with Laurel, becoming the scientific director of EBT. Contributions from Lynda Frassetto, MD, Lindsey Fish, MD, Judy Zehr, LPC and our entire scientific research team enabled us to design a program that integrates the best of scientific knowledge and more than 30 years of EBT research. For the full list of contributors, see the homepage.
There are three main parts of the brain. The brain stem or Reptilian Brain regulates your fundamental responses to life: heart rate, respiration and basic life functions. The neo-cortex is where you do most of your thinking, planning, and reasoning and your limbic brain or mamailan brain is the seat of emotions. The two lower brains – the reptilian brain and the mammalian brain – make up the emotional brain. It is this brain that is the site of our unconscious memory and is encoded with the "wires" or habits that shape how we respond to the stress of daily life. It is the emotional brain that is activated when you feel stress, an intense craving, or respond with fear or love to another person.
The emotional brain is neurologically wired primarily during the first three years of life and at times later in life (during stressful situations). The brain likes to remember stressful moments, so that it can learn from them and repeat the same response that found successful before. When we endure a challenging or even traumatic experience, the brain figures that it is an experience worth remembering. It encodes the neurological response or wire and reactivates that response when we incounter that same situation without our conscious awareness for the rest of our lives. Parents transmit about 70% their own neurological wiring for processing stress to their children. In later life, during moments of stress, even when we feel, think, or do things that don’t work very well, those wires are triggered. We find ourselves doing the same thing over and over again. Scientists have shown that we can rewire these emotional circuits. With the emotional tools of EBT, and the hard work of using them, adults can change the way the brain processes stress. They do not have to repeat the patterns of the past.
The tools of EBT are based on natural brain pathways, mirroring the effective connections between parent and child (“secure attachment”) and the natural way that the brain changes in states of stress. These EBT tools will equip you with the power to process stress in a highly effective way. You learn how to be present, aware, open and loving, and to use the tools to actively switch your brain state from stress to joy. In addition, you learn how to process wires that trigger common excesses so that the drive for that particular behavior fades. You stop using it because you stop wanting it, not because you are being “good.” By practicing these tools over time you rewire the way your brain processes stress and eventually the tools become automatic. On a cellular level, they are part of who you are, and you can continue to use them for the rest of your life.
Most people start EBT because they want to solve problems and have more joy in their lives. Some people say that they have tried everything and are tired of relying excessively on medications that they are not sure they really need. Others have noticed that when they work hard to stop one excessive behavior, like overeating, they take up another one like overspending, overexercising, overworking, or drinking too much. They sense that they are not dealing with the root cause of the problem. Others come to EBT because they feel good, but they want to feel great. They want more of the deeper rewards of life that naturally appear when the brain is in balance and seem completely beyond our reach when it is not, such as Sanctuary, Authenticity, Vibrancy, Integrity, Intimacy, Spirituality or Freedom.
In reading the material below, you will notice that EBT takes time and it is intensive. However, being stressed wastes a lot of time and it’s intensive, too! The truth is that in order to change something that is as ingrained in all of us as how our emotions work, we need that level of intensity. Fortunately, the emotional brain changes not only with practice (rather than with knowledge or insight), but also with having a good time. The dopamine surge that comes with a good belly laugh or a moment of intense pleasure locks in the new wires more strongly. So, EBT is designed to integrate both deep practice over time and moments of intense pleasure and joy. It is this combination of meaningful experiences and pleasure that motivates people to do the hard-earned emotional growth in EBT that creates lasting results.
Many EBTers join our groups because they sense that there must be more to life than they are experiencing. Stress “flattens” our emotions and makes us feel as if we are living on the surface of life, not accessing the gritty, glorious rewards of an exceptional life. By using EBT tools, you can gently begin to access your emotions and feel more peace and power from within. You can encourage your emotional brain to feel more deeply and access otherwise difficult emotions in a safe environment. You can watch a moment of stress turn into a moment of intense joy. You can do this in a loving community in which others share your vision of wiring your brain to move through stress and experience an abundance of life’s richest rewards: Sanctuary, Authenticity, Vibrancy, Integrity, Intimacy and Spirituality.
The secret to changing the emotional brain is through the practice. The emotional brain prefers to stay with old ways. Our job is to awaken it to change by surrounding it with an enriched environment: with lots of ways to practice the tools that are interesting, inspiring and effective. In essence, we “outsmart” our emotional brain with the sheer force of repetition and the pleasure of moving through stress, returning not to a mediocre state of balance, but to a state of pure joy. The emotional brain does not change by insight, knowledge, analysis or decision-making. That’s how the neocortex or thinking brain changes. The emotional brain only transforms through repeated practice, so we give it just what it needs so that we can create better lives for ourselves.
Rather than attending a session then going back to old ways for the rest of the week, your EBT group is your launch pad for a week of using the method in many different ways. Perhaps you duck out of a meeting for two minutes and use the tools to get to a state of joy, and re-enter the meeting with a fresh idea and a more effective way of communicating. Or you pick up your smart phone and in a few clicks, are guided in using the tools. You get your joy back. Now and then you take 5 minutes to telephone a Connection Buddy and use the tools, and you watch videos, too, to see what is new in your EBT Kit that week. You write in your workbook (included in each kit) and jot down notes about your brain state in your pocket journal. You are always learning with EBT. Instead of your brain learning new things one hour a week and tuning out the rest of the time, with EBT you are learning and making small but important changes day by day. It all adds up!
It’s a great feeling to be in stress, reach for the tools (instead of reaching for food, alcohol or the tv remote) and spiral up from stress to joy. Yet balancing those psychological tools with lifestyle and good health enrich the program. The lifestyle of EBT is consistent with our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who celebrated natural pleasures, honored community and the environment, and enjoyed the deeper rewards of life. Not only does this integrated health approach improve outcomes, but it’s more fun to balance the deep emotional work with joy from the natural pleasures of life.
© Emotional Brain Training, 2014