Brainz Magazine Exclusive Interview
Ken Pierce is a board-certified clinical psychologist and CEO of The Pierce Institute of Psychology Inc. He has authored many psychological works including seven books and 400 case study web posts. Ken is considered a human behaviour expert having worked in business, education, and private practice for over 40 years. He has served thousands of people of all ages from a diverse spectrum of life challenges. This group includes executives, teams, organizations, individuals, couples, and families. He has served on the faculty of two post-secondary institutions, Holland College and the University of Prince Edward Island.
Ken was also the first psychologist globally to achieve Master Facilitator credentials with the renowned Demartini Institute and is a Senior Faculty of the Glasser Institute. He has spoken at many regional, national, and international events. As head of The Pierce Institute of Psychology Inc. (TPI), a community service facility, he is a leader in moving clinical psychology forward by transforming a labeling and medicating focus to appreciating human adaptions as tools for empowerment. This is demonstrated in the latest research in evolutionary anthropology, biology, neurology, psychiatry, and psychology. This scientific approach is found in the work of Drs. William Glasser and John Demartini and the services of TPI.
Ken resides in Stratford, Prince Edward Island with Anna, his partner of 50 years. They have three daughters and three grandsons. Ken´s interests vary widely from quantum theory to energy efficiency to building stone walls.
Can you tell us about your background and experience as a psychologist?
Picture for a moment…a family in the 1940s, living in a simple, small, cold water flat located in an industrial city of Atlantic Canada. The father, Jack, is a seasonally employed dock worker, a publicly devoted Catholic but also a private, dedicated alcoholic. Jack had lost his own two fathers before he was three years of age and probably spent the rest of his life trying to figure out why it had happened to him. His mother, Margaret, raised her four boys on her own, by selling life insurance door-to-door in the years leading up to the First World War of 1914-18.
Jack’s wife, Marjorie, was a converted Anglican whose father, Joseph, was run out of the city for unnamed illegal activities. He fled to the United States only returning once, many years later, for his own funeral. This left Marjorie’s mother, Nellie, to raise her four children by herself. She would see all three boys enlist during the Second World War of 1939-45, only to have her baby boy die when a U2 Rocket hit his truck in the English countryside. Since both had little education, Jack worked as a cargo checker seasonally, at the harbour front. Marjorie stayed at home caring for their growing brood of children. They already had three young toddlers when their fourth boy was born. This latest child was to be the sickly one, a continual emotional and financial burden to their already struggling family. As time passed, the family expanded with four girls and another boy, creating a baseball team of nine. At several points during this time, Marjorie’s Mother, Nellie, moved in to help raise this large brood.
This is the story of my family. I was that fourth sickly child who would watch his four sisters and four brothers grow in poverty but strong and healthy. I, on the other hand, developed a variety of diseases including cowpox, asthma, eczema, allergies and much later, heart disease. Being sickly meant missing school frequently. This worked well for me in one way as I didn’t like school anyway. I am not sure many kids did back then. But, I struggled when I was there, performing marginally, failing grade 7, and “not working to my potential”, according to my teachers. Not surprising since I had concluded at a very young age I was intrinsically imperfect in many, many ways!
Looking back now, I notice how my illnesses gave me extra time with my Mother. I have fond memories of being at home with her while my eight siblings were at school. However, I also have nightmarish memories of being up late at night, alone, fighting for every breath and/or scratching my itching limbs until they bled.
The imperfection I perceived in me and my life became a catalyst to study perfection in all of its forms. Initially, I focused on physical fitness, then art, music, children and eventually mental fitness. This led me to become a psychologist so I could help people become perfect, that is, perfectly healthy and perfectly happy. I studied the major approaches available in psychology. But it was at the exclusion of the other pure sciences, which I perceived had little to contribute to the understanding of human behaviour. However, as time passed, I found it increasingly difficult to avoid biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, cosmology...these pure sciences. This was driven by five factors that repeatedly emerged:
1. I realized in my personal life and professional work, there were patterns. I realized I was missing a bigger picture.
2. I frequently met successful people who had evolved through what society called terrible traumas.
3. I realized these traumas had made these individuals smarter and stronger.
4. I noticed from studying neurobiology that we are hard-wired for survival.
5. This led me to wonder why we spend most of our time focused on our losses, and not equally, on our gains from our life traumas?
These insights led me to explore many leading-edge ideas that have appeared not just in psychology, but also in other sciences. It resulted in my study of three unique yet surprisingly similar works. My first study began about 35 years ago with the work of Dr. William Glasser, the founder of Choice Theory™, Reality Therapy™ and Lead Management. What drew me to Glasser’s work were three things:
- His questions regarding the usefulness of many of the psychological labels.
- His questions about psychotropic medication, viewing them as merely masking the situation and slowing learning.
- His contention everyone is a helper and involved in therapy of some form either with family, friends, or paid professionals. Glasser’s key contribution was every behaviour actually has, in total, four parts. This concept expanded my understanding of human behaviour. He explained how each behaviour actually has four components:
1. What a person is actually doing with their body at that second.
2. What they are thinking about the situation they are in, and simultaneously, what they are thinking about being in the situation.
3. What feeling is generated with those actions and thinking within the mind?
4. What physiological responses are generated with those actions within the body? This simple but powerful biological concept was critical in helping others learn they have the ability to exercise self-control. People readily understand the idea they have choices about what they do. But, it was more difficult to get them to consistently take control of their thinking in the same way. Glasser’s simple and practical model proved useful in many contexts. However, it was useful for part of the time or usually, for temporary periods because of how the person’s values intervened.
This led me to explore neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and the work of Dr. John Grinder and Dr. Richard Bandler. Grinder and Bandler created the field of NLP during their analysis of the successful therapeutic styles of Virginia Satir, Frederick Perls and Milton Erikson. They uncovered specific thought and language patterns that were unknown to these successful therapists. Bandler and Grinder found these patterns could be effective in helping people adopt more effective actions and thinking. The tools developed within NLP provided new avenues for my work on the thinking part of Glasser’s total behaviour concept. I also noticed the power of the human imagination was utilized in NLP. This encouraged me to believe there could be new tools to help people fix their thinking. As Bandler had said, “The purpose of consciousness is to run your own brain.”
NLP technology showed people how to take control of their own thinking processes and thereby influence their feelings and their physiology. Yet, an implicit aspect of NLP was the assumption a person’s current behaviour is bad, ineffective, unhealthy, or dysfunctional. But, if this was so, why would they retain such behaviours in the face of the pain associated with them? Originally, I thought people didn’t know how to act or think, or they believed change was not possible for them. I now realized people did not change the way they think or act because it served them in some way, but they were not conscious of it.
The next step in my journey was to find an explanation of why we would continue to choose, what appeared to be painful behaviours, despite having an awareness of the pain it generated. It became apparent pain served our lives in important ways. It reminded me of some of the old clichés found in most cultures which suggest a duality to things, people and events such as, “No kindness goes unpunished.” and “Every cloud has a silver lining.” I began noticing this duality idea in many other forms including weather systems (high and low pressure); relationships (optimists and pessimists); political parties (liberals and conservatives) and even economic markets (bear and bull). Everywhere I looked I could find two sides, a duality.
There were many examples everywhere in science. But they were called by different names in each science. For example, in biology, there is the term “homeostasis” which refers to the body’s natural inclination to achieve a state of balance or symmetry whether it be in temperature, blood pressure or any other system within it. Within and between organs, it is cooperation, and in bodily structure, it is manifested in a balanced design of two eyes, two arms, two legs, etc. In physics, this principle of equilibrium, symmetry or synchronicity is demonstrated at the subatomic level with positrons counterbalancing electrons. In chemistry, it is displayed at the level of cellular life.
In mathematics, often termed the ‘language of nature’, it is referred to as the mean, the median. In geology, it is visible in earthquakes when high and low-pressure systems are seeking balance. It can be seen in cosmology within star systems, galaxies and galaxy clusters. Even in psychology, sociology, philosophy, theology, and other areas of study, there are parallel concepts. There is a duality, balance, and symmetry to all aspects of our existence. This awareness was demonstrated again just recently in particle physics with the discovery of the Higgs Particle for which François Englert and Peter Higgs were awarded a Nobel Prize. This discovery contributes to our understanding of the origin of the mass of subatomic particles which also demonstrates this law of balance.
This awareness led me to the work of a world-renowned human behaviour expert, polymath and author, Dr. John Demartini. His work focuses on how the underlying laws of nature, including the law of balance, apply to human behaviour. His work uncovered and linked these laws of symmetry to all aspects of human life. Demartini has focused on many fields of study in order to collect the latest research findings. He then links these findings to other empirically proven laws of nature. His work foreshadows some major shifts in the future of psychology. He is among the leading thinkers who are actively linking clinical psychology to the hard sciences. In this endeavour, his work has focused considerable attention on at least two laws, symmetry and conservation. He developed a tool that enables one to apply these laws to any human perception. This transforms a person’s thinking into a state of both intellectual and emotional equilibrium.
This focused transformational learning process, of course, is the fundamental purpose of a significant portion of the clinical psychology field, particularly most therapeutic interventions. Demartini’s transformation process is called The Demartini Method®. It is an effective personal transformation methodology which results in a new perspective and paradigm in thinking and feeling in a very short time. It is the culmination of Demartini´s 44 years of research and study in numerous disciplines including physics, philosophy, theology, metaphysics, psychology, astronomy, mathematics, neurology and physiology.
The implications and results are quite remarkable for clinical psychology. I have been studying and using Demartini’s transformation process for over thirty of my thirty-five years as a board-certified psychologist. The Pierce Institute of Psychology Inc. offers this methodology to its clients. I have already had the privilege of assisting individuals of all ages, and groups of various sizes, to transform and equilibrate such perceptions as abuse, addictions, ADD, ADHD, allergies, assault, auto-immune diseases, bankruptcy, bi-polar disorder, cancer, Crohn’s disease, depression, divorce, grief, harassment, incest, injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), unemployment, vehicle collisions and other traumatic events.
Could you elaborate on the key principles of CBT and how you incorporate them into your practice?
Research shows the most effective therapy is one which is equally supportive and challenging for the client because it optimizes their biological learning system. This is the cumulation of the contributions of many of the past leaders in therapeutic psychology. For example:
From Freud, Erickson and Jung we learned we are unconsciously motivated by our past. From Alfred Adler, (Alderian Therapy), we learned we can reinterpret our past with new beliefs.
Frankel and May, (Existential Therapy), showed us self-awareness is essential and we can redesign our life.
From Carl Rogers, (Person-Centered Therapy), we learned we are innately self-actualizing. Fritz Perls, (Gestalt Therapy), reminded us we unconsciously self-regulate, can reconcile perceived polarities and need to be aware of the present moment.
William Glasser, (Reality Therapy), pointed out the four parts of behaviour, cited earlier, and how self-evaluation is critical for effective choices.
Lazarus, (Behavior Therapy), contributed to how we can control what we think and how our actions influence our thinking.
Beck and Ellis, (Cognitive Behavior Therapy), demonstrated belief systems can be altered which creates new outcomes.
From Baker-Miller, Zerbe-Enns, Espin and Brown (Feminist Therapy), we learned the client knows what is best for them.
From Bower, Satir, Whitaker, Minuchin, Hanley and Madances, (Family Systems Therapy), we found out we can evolve by focusing on the here and now and how blaming is non-productive.
The Demartini Method reflects and expands on all of these insightful experts and so is standing on the shoulders of the work of these leaders from the history of psychology.
Your website highlights your expertise in working with individuals dealing with anxiety and depression. Could you discuss some of the strategies or techniques you utilize to help clients manage and overcome these challenges?
Anxiety or stress is a natural condition of human existence because our environment is regularly endangering our lives in many different ways. The challenge we face is managing it in a way that enables us to get smarter and stronger from each experience. No one is stress-free unless they are deceased or heavily drugged which gives the illusion of being anxiety-free. Each challenge we face, while painful, is also equally an opportunity for us to increase our adaptability for our future well-being. So, each challenge is a ‘learning opportunity’ that we can exploit to our advantage if we have the awareness and commitment to do so. What clients are often looking for is someone who will assist them in uncovering this biological truth of human existence.
Can you explain how mindfulness contributes to the therapeutic process and how you incorporate it into your sessions?
The word “MINDFULNESS” actually means “full of mind” which means full of, not emotions of positivity or negativity, but rather of “presence… fully present with your body’s senses and your mind…” Presence is a state of gratitude for your life, the certainty of who you are and love for both the pleasure and pain of every second of your life, past, present and future. It is a state of being OK with who you are, as you are at this very minute, second, nanosecond. Mindfulness is often misinterpreted as “noticing the positive and ignoring the negative.” This is not achievable in the human mind because both the body and the mind are constantly seeking a balanced duality to ensure survival. For example, just like the physical body is constantly finding a physical balance within the laws of gravity, the mind, another part of the body, is constantly finding a mental balance. So, seeking a one-sided perception of positivity or negativity is an exercise in futility…chasing a fantasy or a nightmare.
You emphasize the importance of creating a safe and supportive environment for your clients. How do you foster this environment and what steps do you take to ensure your clients feel heard, validated, and comfortable during their therapy sessions?
A safe environment is one in which the individual perceives they are respected for who they are and as they are at this moment. It is created by respecting their personal values and assuming they, at every second in the past, have been choosing the most effective option for their well-being. This attitude needs to be demonstrated at all times in the therapeutic process.
As you continue to grow and evolve as a psychologist, what are your plans or aspirations in terms of professional development and expanding your practice?
Currently, I am seeking other evolutionary psychologists who are willing to explore this scientific approach with me within the Institute. I have two currently who are pursuing evolutionary psychology as a career. I am next pursuing additional training in using these ideas and tools with addictions.
Are there any specific areas or populations you are interested in exploring or incorporating into your practice in the future?
I have had the privilege of working with clients who are dealing with the challenges of immigration, sexual identity and death. These are areas in which I would like more practice at using an evolutionary approach.
Thank you so much, Ken!