Healing the Real Self:
Dr. Mark Masi discusses the unique role of flower essence therapy beyond traditional psychotherapy and psychotropic medication
interview by T. M. D'illon
Many people seek flower essences because they are natural, non-toxic, and without harmful side effects. Yet, flower essence therapy offers something more than a benign substance to ingest. Practiced with sensitivity and skill, flower essence therapy provides a pathway to self-discovery and depth. It is a journey that leads beyond the amelioration of symptoms, to the realization of untapped potentials within us.
Dr. Mark Masi exemplifies the combination of compassion, insight and professionalism which can harness the full potential of flower essence therapy. In this interview, conducted in February, 2001, Dr. Masi shares his philosophy of healing, illustrated by case studies.
Finding Flower Essence Therapy
Dr. Mark Masi is a licensed, clinical psychologist and certified Bach flower practitioner based in the Chicago area. He began integrating flower essences into his practice two years ago, after experiencing positive results from using them personally and with patients.
I was at a point in my professional life where I was looking for something more to add to the healing work," Dr. Masi explained, "especially in those situations in which patients were blocked in working through intensely painful emotions, memories, or conflicts with psychotherapy alone. I also realized psychotropic meds were not the answer to resolving deeper issues."
"Through integrating the essences in my work I proved to myself that the healing happens much better," he said. "What I love about them is they bring issues to the surface in a manner that patients can tolerate. It goes so well with the type of therapy I practice. Flower essences and psychoanalytic therapy are so similar in the layer work. What we're trying to do is foster the emergence of the real self which can experience pleasure and joy, and handle the challenges that life brings."
Dr. Masi believes whenever symptoms occur there are a lot of underlying issues, conflicts and painful effects which are being defended or protected in some manner. "We try to support the Real Self to emerge and develop - giving the person the space to focus inwardly and put thoughts, feelings, wishes and conflicts into words."
"But I found that very often clients felt blocked," he continued. "Either the emotions they were feeling were just too intense or they couldn't really get at the more underlying issues...feeling too overwhelmed by the despair at times. I was also noticing that some clients just weren't getting the results we were hoping for. I felt there was something more needed, so people could have feelings and awareness, but not be as overwhelmed by them. Also, some clients couldn't recognize what was blocking them from feeling greater relief. I often felt at an impasse - either the client's feelings were too intense or we weren't getting the deeper issues to come to the surface. I was looking for something to address those types of blocks."
At a luncheon Dr. Masi heard a Bach flower practitioner speak of using essences with eating disorders. "At the time I really pooh-poohed all of it, to be honest. But I ended up calling her and she suggested that I start reading about flower essences. I did and also took one of her small, tutorial classes. I also decided to try the flower essences, myself."
Using Mimulus for Fear: his own experience
The first essence he chose was Mimulus. "I had had a lifelong struggle with the fear of death, despite my Christian faith and relationship with God. The anxiety would manifest itself especially during the night. I had also been rather shy and timid in ways, which was noticeable in groups of people, so I thought the Mimulus might work for me."
Dr. Masi took the drops straight from the stock bottle. "The results were very interesting. I woke up one morning and realized that my death anxiety had not plagued me the night before. This was the first lift from this fear I had felt in years. I believe that the Mimulus has helped me beyond that initial fear treatment, too."
From that point, he began to use other essences and started to suggest essences to some of his patients. He was amazed by the results he began to see. "I enrolled and completed a Bach flower certification program through the British Homoeopathic Institute.
Since that time, the essences have become an integral part of my personal and professional life. I consider them to be gifts from God."
Centaury helps a depressed woman
Dr. Masi shared the classic Centaury-type case of "Ms. S," a client in her 30's. The patient, married and working full-time, came in depressed. According to Dr. Masi, the patient suffered from intense sadness, crying spells, an extremely negative self-view, was overly harsh and self-critical, and unable to find anything positive about herself. She felt very hopeless and lost in life. She also had appetite fluctuations - either overeating or losing her appetite. Ms. S was having suicidal thoughts without the intention to act upon them, and felt there was nothing in life really giving her pleasure. Hers was a chronic and ongoing depression, which had begun after her parents divorced when she was sixteen. She had tried medication and did not like the results - she felt it wasn't helpful.
"We began weekly sessions but increased them to two per week, because of the intensity of her pain," Dr. Masi recalled. "Ms. S said she didn't really know who she was. She had a strong wish for love and connectedness to others, yet an intense fear that if others knew of her needs, it would drive them away. So she worked hard to keep her needs more concealed and focused her energy on accommodating others, ultimately making herself more lonely and frustrated and sad."
He began Ms. S's therapy in mid-September. "By the first week of January, we were progressing. Although she desired to break out of the 'hostess' role, she felt blocked. She seemed to be feeling emotional pain more intensely. At this point I suggested the flower essences. Ms. S was very open to the essences and I sent home a questionnaire and literature about them," he continued. "I told her to see which ones she thought might apply to herself. I feel it is important that the patient is involved... I don't just listen and then recommend the essences. I really feel that the flower essences are a self-healing tool. Patients can select essences which they feel might help them, with the practitioner offering guidance. Ms. S identified Larch, Centaury and Cerato."
Dr. Masi felt Ms. S had made a good initial selection, given her dynamics. "Centaury addressed the 'hostess' role and difficulty in asserting her own needs. Larch for the negative/harsh self-appraisal, and Cerato was indicated to aid in helping her to trust her judgment regarding situations in which to self-assert."
Dr. Masi believes a client should prepare one's own dosage bottles when possible. This was the case with Ms. S. She made her dosage bottle preparations with spring water, adding three drops of each essence, then adding a preservative. She was instructed to take them four times per day, especially upon rising and before going to bed.
Ms. S noticed an immediate reaction to the essences.
"Negative ideas and feelings were still there but they felt much less intense and she was not quite as overwhelmed by them," he said. "Ms. S said she felt a little fuzziness or cloudiness in her thinking. I suggested she cut back on her dose. After that I noticed she was more assertive in our sessions. She was able to speak up for herself in her work situation in an assertive way, which she was unable to do before. This showed us she was moving out of the 'hostess' position.
She felt she was rising above her 'no hope' feelings. Ms. S said medications usually made her feel more defective and worse, but the essences made her feel like she was really participating in the therapy. She also began to speak up about a personal event that she had kept hidden all her life, which left her feeling shamed and defective."
Ms. S also reported when she forgot to take her essences she seemed to notice a difference of "slipping back" or "a dark cloud" over her. Dr. Masi suggested she use Mustard. They also have discussed adding Crab Apple for the feelings of being defective and ashamed of the self.
While it pleasantly surprised both Dr. Masi and Ms. S to see such immediate, positive effects from flower essences, this is only the beginning of the transformational process. "Deeper issues are likely to emerge as we go deeper into the psyche. Other cases do not show such immediate results. The symptoms and underlying conflicts for many clients are much more complex," Dr. Masi said.
Treating an Adolescent Boy for Panic Disorder
He cited the case of "R," a 14-year-old male who initially came to Dr. Masi with panic disorder. R exhibited heart palpitations, dizziness, and a fear of dying. He worried about having additional attacks, and he feared that he may have had an underlying physical condition, concerning the heart. Recent psychosocial stress included his father's recent increase in job-related travel.
Upon Dr. Masi's recommendation, R's mother took him to a doctor for a full medical evaluation. A complete physical work-up was conducted and R was found to be in good health.
R's panic attacks started to subside through education, relaxation techniques, and lots of reassurance--but he subsequently became very preoccupied with the belief that he had a physical disease, which he misinterpreted from his various body sensations. If R had shallow breathing, he thought he had a heart problem. If R read about cancer, he couldn't get it out of his mind that he might have cancer. His unwanted fears plagued him. R's physician had prescribed Zoloft to treat his obsessive-type thinking.
Through the therapy R began to recognize that when he focused on some kind of physical ailment that didn't exist, it could be a kind of disguise or camouflage to keep him from dealing with any other conflicts which might be going on with him.
"In therapy it came out that these fears and physical reactions to the emotions started when he was very young and when his mother had a change in work schedule," Dr. Masi said. "He remembered chasing after her car when she would leave. His mom felt that maybe some of the intensity of her son's feelings were partly due to him entering puberty."
Dr. Masi began treating R in late September. "By January, I realized that the symptoms were refractory to psychotherapy and medication alone. Even though his panic attacks had subsided, R was still preoccupied with thoughts about his physical well-being. He was afraid of illnesses and dying. He was superstitious that if he stopped worrying about these ‘imagined' illnesses, that something bad really would happen. I discussed using the flower essences with him and his mother. R was very open to them. We decided to start with Mimulus for the specific fear of death, heart disease, cancer, and probable underlying fear of separation. We also used Aspen to help him release his superstition. White Chestnut was selected to address the obsessional quality of his thinking. I felt he needed something that would give him some immediate relief and recommended Five Flower Formula."
He showed R and his mother how to prepare the formula bottle.
Under most circumstances Dr. Masi does not believe new essences should be added to an existing formula until he sees the effects from the first dosage bottle. About two weeks into R's treatment, Dr. Masi noticed a positive sign from him--in the midst of a panic attack, R reported he was able to stop it.
"R regained a sense of well-being and reminded himself that it was probably anxiety happening, instead of thinking he must have a heart condition," Dr. Masi explained. "He displayed a better sense of equilibrium and ability to hold on to reality. But the negative thoughts were still very present and still plaguing him. He also began to talk about intense fears of transitioning into high school. Once, while we spoke about this during session, R noticed a physical sensation that alarmed him. I tried to show him how talking about something that had a lot of risk associated with it, made his body react as a way to protect himself from feelings that probably felt very scary. I suggested he use the essences more frequently to use them whenever he had the negative or worrisome thoughts about himself. I also realized that Walnut was indicated to help address the fears of transitioning into high school."
The following week R told Dr. Masi that he had stopped obsessing about having something physically wrong. He still had the feelings, but they were much less intense. "This was a real positive sign of his healing and we rejoiced. The next week R felt that he experienced two full weeks without being obsessed about his body. He became more aware of how his anxiety created a physical reaction in his body."
Dr. Masi said he is thinking about adding Walnut and Red Chestnut in a future combination.
"Walnut is definitely indicated as R has shown strong reactions in times of transition and change — as a child when his mother's work schedule changed and his current symptoms began when his father's work schedule changed and when faced with high school. It is also striking to note that the symptoms also began during the onset of puberty, a time of physiological change. Red Chestnut is being considered to address possible fears about the well being of his father when they are separated due to travel."
"I believe that the flower essences help to restore psychic equilibrium which allows for the Real Self to emerge. The Real Self is able to be expressive, creative, spontaneous, enjoy relationships, and cope with life's demands and challenges."
Dr. Mark Masi is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Certified Bach Flower Practitioner with over fifteen years of experience working with adolescents and adults. As part of his practice, Dr. Masi provides clinical training for doctoral and masters students from several local universities and professional schools. He is also an adjunct faculty member at National-Lewis University, and an adjunct clinical faculty member at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology-Meadows Campus.
He can be reached at Allied Clinical Psychologists, 3295 N. Arlington Heights Road, Suite 109, Arlington Heights, IL 60004. His phone number is 847-253-6698.
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