Exorcise the ‘demons’ messing up your life
Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop psychotherapists reveal their Hollywood treatment secrets in a new self-help book
Earlier this summer, in a cavernous studio in Los Angeles, 600 well-groomed women were gathered, bellowing “I’m an animal”. All of them had paid between $500 (£390) and $1,500 (£1,162) for the privilege.
The workshop, run by the noted Hollywood psychotherapists Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, was designed to help attendees “get in touch with that animalistic part of themselves and harness the power to fight fear and pain,” according to the latter. The larger, day-long event, In Goop Health, was organised by Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow, an offshoot of her enormously successful (and widely mocked) “wellness” empire Goop.
But for anyone without a spare £390 sloshing around for a one-day jamboree — including workshops on “cosmic flow” and “foam-rolling” — or $400 (£310) for a one-hour consultation in LA with Stutz or Michels, it’s still possible to get a piece of Paltrow-approved psychotherapy, with their new self-help book, Coming Alive, published recently. A followup to their bestselling 2011 title, The Tools, Coming Alive’s strapline promises “4 Tools to Defeat Your Enemy, Ignite Creative Expression and Unleash Your Soul’s Potential”.
The pair do not, it must be said, seem likely to endorse the cupping, vaginal steaming and gong-baths that have made Goop, and Paltrow, the target of widespread derision. Both bespectacled, with grey goatees, Stutz, 70, is dry and wry, with a heavy New York accent, while Michels, 63, is more effusive, sitting underneath his three degree certificates — from Harvard for undergraduate study, Berkeley for law school, and USC for his master’s degree in social work. Dubbed “Jungian mavericks”, they borrow elements from the famed Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung, and employ a practical, unconventional, solution-focused approach to therapy. (“Phil wanted to call it: “Shut the F*** Up and Use the Tools’”’, quips Michels of the new book).
It is, in part, their no-nonsense, no-mollycoddling methods that have made the pair Hollywood’s go-to shrinks for dozens of (by their own admission) “narcissistic, needy, insecure” actors, directors and scriptwriters, with waiting rooms that have been compared to a red-carpet roll call.
Although the contents of their client list are a closely guarded secret, the author Brett Easton Ellis has been known to argue at parties with the actress Sharon Stone about their approach, and Coming Alive features a glowing endorsement from A-lister Drew Barrymore, as well as Paltrow herself.
For all of their practicality, however, a certain suspension of cynicism may be required to accept the notion of Part X, which Michels calls “the underlying, undermining force that lives inside of everybody, the part of you that is trying to f *** with you every minute of every day.”
The concept is the focus of Coming Alive and is no less mysterious and sinister than it sounds. “It is the inner enemy — self-sabotage, basically — and it is a very powerful demonic force,” says Stutz. He believes Part X is that within us that deliberately prevents us from reaching our full potential, in four main ways: through destructive impulses, exhaustion and apathy, negative thoughts and demoralization, and pain and hurt. Again, they offer four tools, which use visualization techniques to combat Part X, and release the Life Force it is blocking.
After living in the US for seven years now, I’ve probably lost a modicum of my innate scepticism towards such ideas, and, after a summer spent trying, and failing, to knuckle down and write a book proposal, I’m willing to try anything that might help me discover some willpower and self-discipline.
My daily ambition — to get up at 5am and work on the proposal for two hours before doing my day job (this) — is hampered by my chronic inability to stay in at night. In spite of my noblest intentions, I am easily persuaded out, into bars and beyond, leaving me tired, unfocussed, sometimes hungover, and always full of frustration and selfloathing when I inevitably hit the snooze button the next morning.
“This is why we use the word demonic,” enthuses Michels, seemingly thrilled by my confession. “What better way to sabotage someone than, in the evening, to get them to give into temptation, go past the limits they should be keeping for themselves, and then show up the next morning, saying to them, ‘You loser, you’re never going to finish this book.’ If that goes on day after day after day, that’s demonic.”
Instead of berating myself, he advises I try instead using their tool, The Black Sun. “The great thing about labeling Part X is that, even if you can’t control it at first, you are getting into the habit of saying: ‘That’s my enemy’, he urges. “‘It’s my enemy at night, it’s enemy in the morning. And even if I lose it at night, I don’t want to beat myself up — I want to clean the slate and move on.’”
The Vortex, meanwhile, is a tool they’ve developed to increase energy levels, both physically and emotionally, to better engage with our partners and children as well as projects, and fight exhaustion and fatigue.
“Evil has two intentions: one is to pit groups and individuals against one another, to get them to demonise one another, to lose the sense of our common humanity, which is happening to a great degree right now, and its second is to kill the potential that each person has inside of them,” says Michels. “I have a normally very productive writer and producer who is up all night tweeting anti-Trump messages, but he is not doing his job. That’s another way evil wins — he is getting sucked in.”
“With the tools, we try to reverse that,” adds Stutz. “That doesn’t mean you can’t call out evil; what it does mean is that you don’t give up your own forward motion and end up demoralised.”
I query their frequent invocation of the word “evil”, but they don’t shy away from the quasi-spiritual overtones of their concepts. And, apparently, they are not alone; a course of workshops Michels held on the subject earlier this year sold out within minutes.
There are also some strongly Jungian ideas contained in Coming Alive, such as the concept of The Mother Inside, designed to increase resilience, something they feel can be lacking in contemporary society. “You are fed these false promises that you will get to a certain point in life and adversity is going to go away,” says Stutz. “I don’t know that the culture and the school system ever consciously trained people to deal with adversity, but because everything was more adverse in the past, there were fewer opportunities to whine and complain.” He advises seeing the recent film Dunkirk to appreciate the resilience of previous generations.
“Parents and teachers have overemphasized validation, prizes and positive feedback, but children really need to bump up against limits that are irrevocable if they are to learn how to recover from setbacks and disappointment,” agrees Michels.
Before we say goodbye, they urge me to build into my daily routine the practice of their tool The Black Sun. “Don’t even berate yourself if you go out,” Michels tells me. “Just use the Black Sun tool, and in a few weeks, you will find yourself wanting to stay home, and you won’t even know how it happened. That’s the magic of the tools: they activate forces within you that you aren’t even aware of.”
Maybe I’ve bought into the hoopla more than I’d like to admit, but I’ve been dutifully working on my Black Sun technique, and I’m taking yesterday’s solar eclipse as a sign. I even stayed in last night — take that, Part X.
Coming Alive: 4 Tools to Defeat Your Inner Enemy, Ignite Creative Expression and Unleash your Soul’s Potential by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels is published by Ebury Publishing (£14.99).
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