Ex­or­cise the ‘demons’ mess­ing up your life

Gwyneth Pal­trow’s Goop psy­chother­a­pists re­veal their Hol­ly­wood treat­ment se­crets in a new self-help book

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFESTYLE - By JANE MULKERRINS

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).


Those who paid for the most ex­pen­sive tick­ets at the Goop sum­mit could have their lunch with Gwyneth Pal­trow.


Hol­ly­wood A-lis­ter Gwyneth Pal­trow en­dorsed psy­chother­apy.

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