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You don't always need drugs to debug your brain

By Joseph Pond

This article might never have been written if it had not been for Admiral Grace Hopper. Oh, you've never heard of her? She was the first person to ever "debug" her computer by finding and removing an actual bug in an actual computer.

The year was 1945 and the place was Harvard. Their new Mark II calculator wasn't calculating. Now, this was in the days when a computer software problem was in the hardware, so the staff literally had to spend hours pulling out vacuum tubes, blowing on them, reinserting, checking connections etc.

Eventually, Dr Harper found the problem. It was a small, dead moth stuck in the machinery. Thus the verb, "to debug" was born.

The computer is a good metaphor for how the brain works. We, too, seem to get bugs in the machinery. Scientists and psychiatrists still debate the extent to which "unhelpful" thoughts come from the hardware, or your software.

Is a depressed person experiencing depression because they have a chemical "bug" in their brain - ie, too little serotonin - or because they are using their brain in an unhelpful way, ie, focusing on the wrong sorts of things?

The medical model has concentrated with great success on "fixing the machinery". Drugs can give you more of what you need or slow down the rate at which you are consuming the feel-good neurotransmitters. This is a very sophisticated way of taking out the vacuum tubes and blowing on them.

Yet researchers question the supremacy of this model. Dr Michael Yapko, in his new book, Mindfulness and Hypnosis, lists some of the latest papers which challenge the practice of using drugs as the first, and often only, resort.

There's a huge body of evidence demonstrating mindfulness to be at least as effective as drugs in a large percentage of cases. Returning to the computer analogy, we all know how to turn it on and click on icons. Practising mindfulness is like mastering the code to debug your brain.

Joseph Pond is a clinical hypnotherapist, an acupuncturist, and a mindfulness instructor. He is co-founder of Hypnosis Explorers NI and conducts workshops in hypnosis with PowerTrance. Reach him at or at Hypnosis/?ref=hl/?ref=hl

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