Over the last few days…
I have been speaking with Dr. Kevin Fleming. He specializes in Executive or “High Profile” addiction treatment patients. These executive patients are typically of higher social or financial status. Obviously, some his Dr. Flemings patients have strong personalities. Many times it takes being broke or “broken” to admit to having a problem. The bottom is usually a good motivator for us to get into recovery. For this reason, these “high profile” patients can present curtain challenges when treating him or her and when getting into recovery.
I intervied Dr. Fleming, and I am very pleased and excited to share our conversation. The interview is printed below. Some liberties were taken in edited the interview to make it more reader friendly, but Dr. Fleming signed off on this content and these are his words.
Sober Nation – Let’s get started. First, tell us a little bit about yourself. How you got started in the field of Neuro Science. You appear to be very passionate about your work and the concept of challenging thinking and decision making. Where does this all come from?
Dr. Fleming – Good question. Well, for years, as a shrink, I did the psychotherapy thing and got quite frustrated with the dynamic of those talk therapy sessions, that is, describing the water to clients while they drowned and calling it success. For many, this 50 minute way of manufacturing contrived “happiness” through self-obsessive sharing was like a needle in the vein; seemed to give a narcissistic fix but rarely led to lasting behavior change. That’s when I got curious to dive deeper in neuroscience, and it led me into cutting edge areas of insight that shed light on how deceptive and right-making-at-all-costs the brain really is. It merely predicts patterns that “work” and repeats those—and what I realized, what “works” in soothing the brain and what works in changing problematic behaviors are two different things. And therapy processes could be something that the vain brain figures out how to “play the game”, protecting the client from taking the leap, no matter how challenging the shrink was.
So, in this area of critical ambivalence of decision making, Grey Matters Intl was born. A play on words to show both the elusive air of “grey” in our life’s drive to change and of course the allusion to the brain’s gray matter. Pulling from fields such as neuroeconomics and social cognitive neuroscience, my work features some renegade tools, technologies, and strategies to bust through all types of irrationality……not just listen to them 🙂
Sober Nation – You are the founder of “Assumtpive Coaching.” Could you tell us about this? What exactly is the concept behind it?
Dr. Fleming – This is a model of coaching that I use that really taps into an area we call “meta-cognition”, or, “thinking about thinking”. It hit me as I strived to create a brand between the overly diagnostic and pathological shrinks and the overly motivational feel-good coaches, that both sides were missing the brain, missing the truth of “what is really going on.” I realized that we all had this addiction to information, but rarely knew what knowledge was. It was in this bandwidth that assumptive coaching was born; to not fix and label irrationality, nor to motivate a brain away from its patterns, but to bring back the notion of ontology to care plans. This is just a fancy way to teach people the reality of things first, before we instruct or get overly pedantic on ways to change. For we all seem to want change; but rarely TO change. This to me was a neuro area of concern that was really about showing people in creative ways how the brain’s foolery tries to rise above the laws of this world. So in my coaching I speak a lot about illusions, biases, and the “feeling of being right” that blocks actual transformation.
Sober Nation – You have worked with some high profile professionals. What is it like to deal with such intimate issues with people in positions of power? Do you find that ego and power play a role?
Dr. Fleming – Great question. To me all pathology, or misguided attempts at change, especially in areas of power and privilege, have to do w/foolery….the fine line between hedonism/pleasure-seeking and utter contentment and joy. These guys are rewarded quite extensively in the “pleasure” based model of the brain, w/many dopamine hits being reinforced in the Board Room and in their private life. However, there comes a time in every “successful executive’s life” where what used to work doesn’t seem to work anymore – be it in their marriage, some next level type of vision/plan in their company, or in their own health. This is a train track switch, as I call it, that ushers the high profile client from first order change ways of thinking to second-order change arenas. What do I mean?
First order areas of change are when the rules don’t need to be changed, just a subset of thinking/action inside it. For instance, got an itch, scratch it. But when the doing of a behavior moves from remedying a problem into the subtle creation of more problems, a radical new and many times seemingly irrational approach is needed. Forgiveness is a great example of a second order change element. Doesn”t make sense to surrender to gain. Also, the behavioral economic research on money and happiness is also one of these secret second order change nuggets of wisdom. It appears to be correlated up to 50,000 bucks a year. So, that is, a one to one correlation. Up to this point first order change decisions make sense. After this line, more nuanced governors on self-gratification and ego are called for to achieve radical peace.
Sober Nation – Staying on the topic, you say that you enjoy working with such high profile or executive clients. I would imagine the social or financial status of these clients presents problems unique to that particular realm. Do you find this to be true?
Yes indeed. These folks won’t find their way to shrink offices. And if they do, they will use the shrink’s ineptness to contain their narcissism (for therapy and processing emotions is still a feminine construct at its core) as more reason the shrink’s an idiot and they shouldn’t change 🙂
I do feel they need an interesting paradox: to be treated differently to show that they are needing to do the same sorts of habit changing strategies as us all. But this is the delicate work of combining the art and science of what I do. The moment their brain feels you have an agenda for them, their high control needs will push it all away. That is why the neuroscience awareness of how to “go in the back door of a brain” is essential for high profile work. Their levels of cortisol, their stressors/constraints, and milieu they work in need to be acknowledged. But also need change.
Sober Nation – Finally, what is it you look to achieve in your work. What is your “legacy?”
Dr. Fleming – My legacy is really all about truth. I am very interested in how the brain protects us all from “doing what is right and needed”. Take marriages for example, a big area of work nowadays, for we all want relationships but struggle on what it takes to make them last. I do believe that 50 percent (at least) of the 50 percent that divorce can be saved through the kinds of neuroscience-based hard-hitting truth telling that I do. For I believe most of our myopia around change isn’t in the “doing” part around the prescriptions given to us by helpers. It is the skewed understanding of what we truly believe is the “way things work”. For if that is off, if the “what is really going on” of things is constantly challenged, then no push or nudge to change a behavior will be successful. For the fool in us all will always rewrite the rules of change w/our convenient half-truths
And so my legacy is to show us all our philosophical addictions we harbor around rightness, ego and the pursuit of foolery.
To learn more about Dr. Kevin Fleming and Grey Matters Intl – please feel free to contact him. His work with addiction and compulsive behavior is important indeed.