Integrated Brain Function © Martyn Carruthers 1998


Many people use drugs instead of solving relationship problems. Self-medication with alcohol, nicotine or prescription anti-depressants, is easier than applying focus, intelligence and analytical skills to goals, emotions and relationships.

I began using the name Soulwork in 1994, when I attempted to describe a stable resource state that seemed to provide stable experiences of well-being and connectedness. As some of my students and clients called this stable experience Soul, we called that part of our work Soul-work. (See Origins of Soulwork.)

As many symptoms of mental and even physical health problems seemed to vanish during and following our counseling (see Human Consciousness), I wanted to better understand and improve the results that we already enjoyed [i].

Whenever I could, I interviewed people who had recovered from serious mental or physical symptoms without professional medical assistance.
My challenge was, “How could I help people enjoy such healing?” What was the underlying psychology and psychobiology?

I translated many of your articles into Slovak language. You talk to the whole brain.
You understand connections and bonds. That is why people mark your coaching
methods and articles as effective and understandable.
Samo Grznar, Slovakia

Which Reality is Real?

People who confuse their inner and outer worlds may be called neurotic or psychotic. I sought to model how people maintain healthy inner worlds (see Quantum Thinking and Chaos Coaching), to help people make better decisions (see Expert Modeling) and to enjoy their relationships (see Enjoying Partnership).

Consciousness is a long-standing mystery. Why are we aware of a few (7±2) thoughts or feelings, while everything else lurks below our conscious perception? Why are some memories readily accessible, while more important memories are apparently buried without trace? There are so many theories.

I liked the global workspace theory developed in 1983 by Bernard Baars of The Neuroscience Institute in San Diego, California. Bernard said that people become conscious of information only if signals are simultaneously broadcast to many regions of their brains – a systemic activity.

Yet it seems that people make this global workspace inaccessible if the information could damage important relationships. This supports theories of protective unconscious processes.

Many clues to helping people develop health and happiness appear to lie in the psychobiology of the neurological structures that mediate perceptual, emotional and cognitive experiences – often called the body-mind. Changes in the body-mind are quickly followed by changes in emotional reactions, relationship behavior and even in the physical body.

Consider your brain to be an ecosystem of living organisms
that are continually preoccupied with multiple relationships.
Each of them is vital to the environment in which they exist …
and that environment responds to your name.

Coaching the Body-Mind

While short-term change is commonplace, long-term change seems to require:

  • appropriate neurotransmitters are generated
  • changes are acceptable to many sub-personalities
  • simultaneous communication between many brain structures

It seems clear that cognitive interventions (thoughts) are unlikely to communicate with brain structures that mediate emotional, perceptual and somatic change (feelings). However, spoken words can affect psychobiology and psychobiological change.

Most adults can acknowledge and respond not only to logical questions and requests, but to questions and requests embedded in imagery, music, metaphors, movement and symbols. Confirmation that messages are received, and whether they are accepted or rejected can be observed as nonverbal (body language) responses.

The words conscious and unconscious seem to refer to which parts of the brain process certain information. The left cerebral hemisphere is currently considered to dominate the processing of logic, reason, judgment and understanding (thoughts), while the right hemisphere is believed to dominate the processing of images, metaphor and inferred communication (feelings).

Coaching the Left Cerebral Hemisphere

If the left brain hemisphere stores and processes logical information, we can help people define their goals, to explore the consequences of achieving those goals and the blocks to achieving them. Motivated people can become actively involved with the details of their own coaching.

Coaching the Right Cerebral Hemisphere

How would Western philosophy be different if Descartes had said,
‘I feel therefore I am’

Research on alexithymia (people who cannot express emotions may develop psychosomatic symptoms) implicates the right cerebral hemisphere for storing and creating emotions. We can communicate with the right brain using humor, metaphors, puns and symbols.

Coaching Both Sides Simultaneously

The work of Milton Erickson, MD, inspired me to research Hawaiian dreamtime rituals (moe uhane and ho’omoe) and develop what I called interactive metaphors. Interactive metaphors appear to simultaneously stimulate both cerebral hemispheres. I generally call this Dreamwork – that is, using interactive isomorphic metaphors to help people understand and integrate both their emotional and cognitive responses.

With Dreamwork, I can help people identify and change the sources of emotional reactions that have delayed or prevented their happiness.

How can you stimulate left and right brain activity simultaneously? When verbalizing goals, people unknowingly communicate their objections with nonverbal incongruence. I assume that incongruence indicates dissonance between verbal language processing (left brain) and nonverbal or body language (right brain), or between the cerebral cortex and the hind-brain.

Have you seen people say, “I understand”, while gently shaking
their heads from side to side? Other common signs of
incongruence include coughs and asymmetry.

Dissolving incongruence is a powerful way to help people manage their own objections to their own goals. (We teach this on our Systems 2 training). The key is to understand how the two sides of the brain communicate with each other.

Continued … Coaching the Limbic Brain

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Coaching the Limbic System

Right brain and left brain communications appear to be simultaneously processed through the limbic system, which associates thoughts with feelings. States generated by the limbic brain influence and can override both the cognitive and the emotional processes of the neo-cortex. The limbic brain appears to trigger both somatic sensations and psychosomatic symptoms.

Coaching the limbic brain can help people change emotional states. (Common examples include emotional reactions to art, poetry or music). When the limbic system is engaged, people’s physiology and emotions change. Many people find better solutions for problems if they listen to music, for example. This concept is utilized by teenagers everywhere, and is commonly used in hypnosis and meditation.

A knowledge of the limbic brain helps explain incongruence, for example knowing (intellectually) that something is false, while feeling (emotionally) that it is true. (This seems especially common when thinking is distorted by limiting beliefs).

The limbic brain is the source of feelings of conviction. Paul MacLean, a neurobiology pioneer, said: “The limbic system, that primitive brain that can neither read nor write, provides us with feelings of what is real, true and important.”

However, logical arguments (mediated by the neocortex) rarely change emotional beliefs (mediated by the limbic system). Intuiting this, effective salespeople and politicians make emotional, rather than logical, appeals. Emotions may not be subject to the logical neocortex – even professional actors may be unable to spontaneously choose to feel angry or happy, unless they access appropriate memories first.

As the limbic system operates without conscious logic, classical conditioning can be used to access people’s emotions, and to merge or dissociate them, often outside people’s awareness and usually without their consent. Such techniques are taught in some predatory sales trainings and seduction workshops.

By communicating with the limbic brain, we help people evaluate their own emotions, so that they can experience emotions as interesting body-mind communications. People can become more aware of non-verbal compliance and rapport tricks.

The resulting integrated brain functioning seems to minimize the impact and influence of hypnotic language, sales pitches, seduction attempts and political rhetoric! People can better choose how they want to react! Let’s move on to the pineal brain.

Coaching and the Pineal Gland

The pineal gland is in the center of your brain. It is helped regulate activities until puberty, when it shrank and may have calcified. It is rich in lecithin, which has both neural and endocrine properties. The neural connections between your eyes and pineal gland can sensitize your nervous system to ambient light.

Your pineal gland synthesizes and secretes melatonin and pinoline during darkness, entraining your nervous system to the local 24-hour clock and perhaps acting as an antidepressant. Melatonin helps regulate pre-puberty sexual development and may protect the nervous system against degeneration. Pinoline also induces sleep and dreams.

The pineal gland has been a mystery for centuries and has been
attributed with superstition, myth and many metaphysical theories.
Many people claim that the pineal gland is an intuitive third eye chakra.
Lao Tzu described a ‘gateway to heaven and earth’ in the center of the brain behind the eyes and wrote that concentrating on it leads to realizing oneness. In this pearl is supposed to be a light which Confucius called virtuous perfection (jen); the Book of Change (I Ching) called it the ultimate (wu chi), the Buddha is said to have called it perfect knowledge (yuan ming) and Taoist literature called it an elixir of immortality and spiritual light.

People are affected by the rhythm of their pineal glands and thus by ambient light. (This hints at why dark retreats are favored by many spiritual seekers). While it is relatively simple to change light intensity, I find that the use of interactive metaphors (Dreamwork) can lead to predictable ecstatic states of consciousness which are often described as light-filled or inner light, etc, which may be related to pineal gland function.

As the pineal responds to light, and as the limbic system provides a sense of reality, both real and subjectively perceived light (during guided meditations, for example) seems to affect the pineal gland’s production of melatonin and pinoline.

(Pineal stimulation resolves some sexual and erectile dysfunction issues … more needed on this).

Coaching the Amygdala

The amygdala is an ancient brain structure that is activated during fear and anxiety. It associates emotions with symbols. It receives information from the neocortex, and integrates sensory information from both the external (objective) and internal (subjective) worlds, resulting in experiences that are called “reality”. It can override rational thought in the event of perceived threats.

The limbic brain also mediates speech intonation and metaphor. Systemic strategies that communicate directly with the limbic brain are interactive metaphors and symbolic integration. As the limbic brain responds emotionally to symbols, such as icons, mandalas and art, people can use symbols to stimulate their limbic brains.

The amygdala has been called the heart of the limbic brain. If you take a moment and recall the bitter taste and smell of lemon juice … what happens to your saliva flow? Your amygdala rapidly responds as if those imagined events were actually taking place.

By stimulating the amygdala, we can better help people explore strategies for achieving worthwhile goals, and to reduce the emotional impact of trauma. I help people recover from traumatic, phobic or abusive events without being overwhelmed by emotions; and I help people assimilate traumatic or abusive memories.

Systemic Psychology and Synesthesia

We often use synesthesia to help people ‘unhook’ heavy emotions. Counseling at the limbic level helps people interpret unpleasant feelings as communications, without being overwhelmed by sensations such as rage, guilt or anxiety. This is useful for people who want to resolve psychosomatic symptoms, in which emotions seem to be unconsciously expressed or communicated as body problems.

Synesthesia is an experience in which the stimulation of one sense elicits a perception that ordinarily would be elicited had another sense been stimulated, as when a noise registers as a light, or vice versa : Encyclopedia Encarta

As the limbic system also attributes meaning to music, speech intonations and metaphors, we can communicate directly with the limbic brain by changing the tempo, tone and pitch of our voices, and by using interactive metaphors, music and symbols. (Many people find symbolic or metaphoric maps to be useful when evaluating their histories, relationships and goals.)

Coaching the Hind Brain (Cerebellum)

The hind-brain also translates body-mind communication. It is sometimes called the reptilian hind-brain and it controls everyday repetitive behaviors such as habits, rituals, routines and motor skills. (You might think of it as an auto-pilot when you are daydreaming – even if driving a motor vehicle. I sometimes call it the inner lizard).

The hind-brain associates emotions with action (action can be called honest communication). People communicate aggression, submission and sexual interest through their often-unconscious body movements and nonverbal communication.

Like the limbic system, your hind-brain responds to metaphors and symbols. Hence interactive metaphors, symbolic language, puns and non-verbal signals can communicate with this part of the brain. This is useful when coaching people to pull themselves together as they assimilate parts that were split off during trauma.

Coaching the Adrenal Glands

The adrenal glands are not in the brain – they are above the kidneys. They guide the fight or flight response to stress. Healthy adrenal glands release adrenaline, which causes people to feel alert and focused, and cortisol, which converts proteins into energy. Adrenalin also increases the heart rate, respiration and blood pressure while tensing muscles, sharpening senses and slowing digestion perhaps so that people can better fight or run away.

Chronic stress may cause the adrenal glands to maintain high cortisol levels, which can damage body tissues. Some people say they have adrenaline addiction; although adrenal fatigue is related to mood swings – depression, fatigue and insomnia. Adrenal exhaustion can cause serious health concerns and mental breakdown.

The adrenal glands respond to limbic neurotransmitters which are affected by metaphors and symbols. Hence interactive metaphors, symbolic language, puns and non-verbal signals can affect these glands. This is useful for disconnecting fight or flight reactions during sessions, especially with angry or fearful clients.

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A Psychobiology of Love

Falling in love can feel profoundly wonderful; while falling out of love can bring profound suffering. Our brains change when we are in love, in similar ways to the effects of psychoactive drugs. Falling in love can be addictive, and falling out of love can trigger withdrawal symptoms that are similar to those associated with addictive drugs!

Hard-core science focuses on what can be easily measured, and may not appreciate nor include important aspects of human existence such as personality, beliefs and values.
Kosjenka Muk, Soulwork Trainer

Falling in love seems to have three phases, each accompanied by hormones and neurotransmitters

  1. Lust is associated with estrogen and testosterone (male and female).
  2. Attraction is associated with dopamine and serotonin. People in love may feel obsessed – they may eat less, sleep less and day-dream about someone.
  3. Attachment is associated with vasopressin and oxytocin, which supports lasting commitment and helps bond lovers together.
There’s convincing evidence that oxytocin is involved in mediating stability, pair bonding
and monogamy; the enduring parts of love …
Hans Zingg, McGill University.

Many people experience a surge of oxytocin bonding during extended touch, for example during sex or massage, and a surge of dopamine during arousing activities. Both trigger feelings of love and romance, but as dopamine gives a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction (see Wikipedia), a desire for more satisfaction motivates behaviors that release more dopamine … for example food, sex and displays of power …

People who are unusually willing to manipulate others for personal gain – such as psychopaths – have unusually high levels of dopamine, a chemical that motivates people to seek pleasure. Joshua Buckholz, Nature Neuroscience, DOl: 10.1038/nn.251O

Buckholtz suggests that a strong desire for dopamine stimulation can motivate
people to act impulsively, without considering the consequences of their actions.

Hence love can be addictive (probably to forms of amphetamine-like adrenaline), and falling in love can have symptoms similar to substance abuse. Falling out of love can have symptoms comparable to withdrawal from addictive drugs (adrenaline), perhaps accompanied by a dopamine-driven urge to regain the lost love and/or to express power over the ex-lover.

A Psychobiology of Soul

When stimulated in harmony, the various parts of our brains can function and communicate simultaneously … and ecstatically. We can enjoy a stable experience of integrity as a basis for congruent decisions and long-term inspiration.

People experiencing this integration display verbal congruence and nonverbal symmetry, which may indicate that the both cranial hemispheres, limbic system, amygdala and hind-brain are in an unusual state of cooperation.

During this experience, people can simultaneously focus on abstract concepts and details. Many people describe a transcendental awareness. (As many people called this experience Soul, I called this part of my coaching Soul-work. The name stuck.)

I asked you for coaching to plan a new business … and now I have a sense of mission and almost transcendent life purpose! I can focus on achieving this goal without losing anything … the beliefs that slowed me down were parts of me that were concerned that my project might damage my relationships with my husband or children … I feel I have communicated with my Soul … I am a complete person … it’s impossible to describe … London

Many people, during and after Soul experience, have told us that Soul has an independent existence; that Soul existed before they were born; and that Soul will somehow continue after the death of their bodies. (Psychobiology cannot confirm or deny this concept!)

Some of our graduates believe that our work can enable or enhance spiritual connectedness – while others believe that Soul experience is a normal result of integrated brain activity. Whatever is true, what we call Soul experience seems to provide a rational basis for significant body-mind healing in short time frames.

Some People Cannot Experience Integrity (Soul)

In 1998 I wrote that about 25% of people cannot experience this existential harmony without first making some changes. The main reasons seemed to be: immaturity (lack of responsibility), trauma (preoccupied), guilt (need to suffer) and codependence (independent happiness may damage an important relationship). Also common are people who suffered long term dissociation (lost identity), had identified with another person (identification) or had identified with two people (identity conflict).

We developed systemic strategies for quickly dissolving these issues. This appears to help reduce aging, increase resistance to disease, and offer potential solutions for psychosomatic illness and autoimmune diseases.

Please consult a physician about medical conditions!


Since I wrote this article (15 years ago!) my colleagues and I have improved our methodology and changed our paradigms. I have not incorporated our recent work into this article

While we expected people to welcome fast, effective change … most people prefer to remain loyal to their conditioning and cling to their suffering. Most people seeking relief from emotional and relationship problems prefer to medicate or distract themselves.

Are you searching for sense of life – without drugs?
Are you searching for integrity? Explore our transformational coaching.