Professor Ivor Browne is sceptical about the whole concept of Burnout and its implications.

Here he talks to Mavis Arnold about a different way of approaching it.

“Burnout is a silly concept. If you work in the correct way it will simply not occur, but most of us don’t have an effective method of cleaning out the impressions that we have taken in during the course of the working day. The medical profession have never been able to come to grips with the necessity for this. They see stress as something external whereas it is really to do with an internal way of working. You can work extremely hard so long as you can process the material at the end of each day and clear it out. The amount of work you do does not matter and is not significant. It is what you do with what you receive that counts.

“For example, someone in middle management may be under stress because he or she does not have complete control over decisions. But you seldom hear of the person at the top of the organisation – the O’Reillys or Smurfits of this world – suffering from stress or burnout. They may go off and play a game of golf which may be their cleaning out process. They can distance themselves from what has gone on. But to be constantly faced with problems we cannot resolve can be very stressful and often means they are taken out on the family at the end of the day.

“Neurologically when we are faced with a threatening situation we gear up to flight or fight in order to avoid danger. To do this we use the primitive part of our brain that we share with animals. It is a circular system that, when threatened, goes into activity. It triggers the hypothalamus which is linking into the endocrine system and increases the blood supply to the muscles. But then the peripheral hormones feed back into the system to turn off the reaction. This is the automatic control system formed by the nervous system and the brain.

“In the long journey through evolution culminating in the development of our neo-cortex we have let nothing go. And beneath this is the old reptilian brain or R. system and, developing out of this, the limbic system. These comprise the emotional brain referred to above. This primitive core is still responsible for all our main survival function, including our response to threat or danger.

“In a therapeutic situation where we are dealing with clients or patients, we can offer guidance but we have no direct way of influencing what they do. Only they can make the changes necessary for recovery. We take in disturbed emotions but may find ourselves in a situation which threatens us and which we cannot resolve because only our clients can undertake the work. This alerts us to the danger, but if another potentially dangerous situation comes along before we have dealt with the first, and then another and another, the system has no chance to balance itself and the therapist can be left in a highly stressed state.

“In any therapeutic relationship we are communicating with each other in subtle ways. We take in a lot of emotion and disturbance if we are truly empathetic with our clients and do not distance ourselves from them, and we must find a way of discharging it. Therapists get burnt out if they are unable to clean out these clammy emotions. Another danger would be where therapists are working in an area of major disturbance. Say, for example, sexual abuse, where they may not have fully worked through their own experience. The traumata they have suffered may be suspended leaving them in a state of “the frozen” present. They may have pieces of frozen trauma present which remain unresolved and which can be triggered by their work. This fires the whole system into a state of alertness which often remains undealt with.

“I believe that many people are attracted into psychiatry who have their own unresolved disturbance but are unwilling or unable to open it up. So they use the organic model of treatment with their disturbed patients, give out pills and use labels like schizophrenia because they don’t know what else to do. They are more subject to burn-out because they are unable to work honestly. Once unresolved areas are activated and not dealt with, the personality tightens up.”

Professor Browne’s meditative practices are well-known and he regards his own particular way of meditating to be the very best method of achiev­ing the complete “cleaning” process required to avoid burn-out. “Western science looks outside ourselves for answers whereas the answers all come from within. Heart disease is not caused by diet or lack of exercise. It is a failure to clean out all the emotional disturbance which has resulted in stress which in turn leads to eating or drinking too much, smoking or taking sleeping pills. The heart attack occurs at the point of greatest stress.”

He himself practises Sahaj Marg – the natural path. “It is the taking in of the divine breath, availing of divine transmission or whatever the ultimate source is by linking into the true master who has opened that channel.” In his case his spiritual master is Rajagopala, an Indian with the power to channel the transmission of this divine energy, or sanctifying grace. He accepts that other forms of meditation also have something to offer but believes they are not fully satisfactory in that they use old techniques which do not achieve a cleaning out of the impressions of the heart.

Increasingly he is coming to believe that the heart is another form of intelligence. “Either our nature is spiritual or it is not. Incarnations appear at different times in history to put us back on the path. I would like you to use the following quotation which seems to sum up what I have been saying. “In 1932 an American Indian medicine man told Carl Jung that white men, with their wrinkled faces and constant anger were insane and killed so wantonly because they thought in their heads. Whole people, he explained, think in their heart.”