The LearningMethods Library
Just Ask the Right Questions
LearningMethods brings clarity and resolution
to a perplexing problem like depression
by Ben Kreilkamp
Reprinted from The Phoenix, Vol.
23, No. 2 (February 2003), page 10, 13
Copyright © 2003 Ben Kreilkamp, all rights reserved worldwide.
Used with permission
Also available as a downloadable
PDF file here:
Just Ask the Right Questions
A year ago last May I attended a workshop
by David Gorman on LearningMethods, a process that he developed
for creating positive personal change. This encounter changed
my life in significant ways. In a single talk of about three
hours, he managed to change my, perspective on the depression
I’d suffered from for some 40 years. This change in perspective
eventually resulted in a happy miracle–an end to my depression,
and I have since learned how to apply LearningMethods to create
changes in other areas of my life.
LearningMethods grew out of David Gorman’s
discoveries from his work as a teacher and trainer of the Alexander
Technique (a widely-taught approach to efficient muscle use)
and other independent study. The LearningMethods process consists
of some very simple techniques. Its underlying premise is that
we are born with built-in abilities to solve any problem that
arises in our lives. All that is needed is a process for looking
quite closely and clearly at the exact experience of the problem
In Gorman’s workshop, I described my problem
to him as “chronic low-level depression,” and I told him about
the sadness I suffered from and how it affected my life. Gorman
used the LearningMethods process to help me clarify my thinking,
mostly by asking simple questions. He explained some of his
techniques as we went along and I have since come to understand
and use them on my own.
One of these techniques is completing a word
or phrase. There are many words we use which, in effect, represent
incomplete thoughts. We use the words, and we know what they
mean in a general sort of a way, but a lot is left unsaid. What’s
unsaid often contains some unexamined misconceptions which can
lead to unconscious behavior. Completing a word or phrase that
we use can help us understand what exactly we are thinking and
check it for accuracy.
For instance, when I said I was sad, Gorman
asked me to complete that word (or thought). He asked me, “Sad
about what?” I told him that everything seemed to make me sad.
I added that, because the problem was so pervasive, I had concluded
that the cause was an imbalance in my body chemistry. I told
him that, on the advice of a therapist, I had tried the antidepressant
Zoloft briefly. Gorman said that it was possible that some chemical
intervention might prove necessary but he suggested that first
we took to see if there was something in my own actions or beliefs
that might make a difference. That sounded reasonable to me
and we continued.
When I told Gorman I was sad about many things,
and how that could at times “paralyze me with sadness,” he asked
me for a specific example from my life. It is another technique
of LearningMethods to look at a specific experience. This was
how Gorman’s process brought our investigation and analysis
out of the realm of theory, where I had stalled so often in
my past efforts at therapy. Since any problem exists only in
the experiences of actual moments, that is also where any possible
understanding must be sought.
When Gorman asked for a specific example
of my sadness, a very common experience of mine came to mind.
When depressed, I would wake up and feel sad about the list
of tasks for that day. These could seem quite overwhelming.
Gorman asked me if, in fact, the list itself was overwhelming.
I admitted it wasn’t, nor was anything on the list. This was
precisely why I called myself depressed, because I couldn’t
explain why ordinary things should overwhelm me so.
Gorman then asked what made the list seem
overwhelming. The best I could answer was because I didn’t want
to do the tasks on it. Gorman asked me why I didn’t want to
do them. I answered that it was not an “attractive” list. It
was quite “humdrum.” For Gorman, these words I used about the
list presented opportunities to look for more information about
how my depression worked. He asked me what “humdrum” meant.
I have never experienced quite the level of clarity about my
own experience as I achieved with Gorman’s method of questioning
me. Through his very simple techniques (completing words, filling
in the content of vague terms), I became aware that my sadness
might not be due to a chemical imbalance but rather to something
I was doing unconsciously — comparing current “humdrum” moments
to past moments. I was judging present moments of doing tasks
on my list — such as making phone calls for my job–as inadequate
compared to past moments of satisfaction or great joy.
This realization is what came out in David’s
questioning of me, and it is easy to see why any such comparison
would be bound to make the present moments look bad. It was
an unrealistic comparison, like apples to oranges, but until
my encounter with LearningMethods, this fact had managed to
escape the scrutiny of my consciousness. Veiled as it was, this
comparison could make me very sad, even to the point of the
paralysis I experienced.
As I write about this conversation now, it
is somewhat embarrassing, as depression often has, been for
me. From talking with various therapists and from my readings
about cognitive therapy, Buddhism, and Taoism, I had long understood
that my suffering was due to something I called unrealistic
idealism, but it had remained only a theoretical understanding
for me. What was eye-opening, even thrilling, was the amount
of difference this one conversation with Gorman has made in
my life. What he managed to do, with his LearningMethods process
and the techniques that comprise it, is to bring these pieces
of realistic wisdom into actual relevance within my own life.
The results of this new awareness continue
to unfold as I’ve applied the process in my life since. At first
the changes were surprising and even bewildering, as I found
myself no longer seeing the world through my accustomed filter
of being “depressed.” For instance, some weeks after my conversation
with Gorman I found myself enjoying a garden party. It hit me
suddenly in the midst of conversing with friends that I’d felt
no discomfort at all at this party. This may not seem like much,
but I’d grown quite used to something close to panic in social
situations, even with friends I’d known for some time, and this
feeling had disappeared.
LearningMethods is designed to address any
personal problem, from a hurt foot to psychological problems
or relationship problems. The main point when studying LearningMethods,
however, is not so much to solve a particular problem, but to
learn the tools for how to solve any problem that comes up.
Learning this process is a matter of studying
with a trained teacher. All it takes is a willingness to address
one’s problems directly and a curiosity about how humans are
designed to function. There are certainly problems that seem
intractable, but it’s surprising and interesting to discover
how many problems arc within our own built-in powers of transformation.
There is an article with a longer and
more complete version of this session with Ben and his liberation
from depression on the
Ben Kreilkamp is now a certificated teacher
of the LearningMethods work. Contact him at 612-721-3569 for
more information about the work or to set up an appointment.
There are three other LearningMethods teachers
in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area: Babette Lightner (612-720-7127),
Elizabeth Garren (612-375-9142 who also hosts David Gorman’s
workshops in Minneapolis), and Rebecca Frost (612-827-7956).
Visit the web site at www.learningmethods.com for a calendar
of workshops, for more information on LearningMethods, a collection
of articles about the various aspects of the work and available
publications and recordings.
There is a small biography
of personal details about the author below.
About the Author
Kreilkamp has been an actor, playwright and director.
After the session he describes above, he became fascinated with
the LearningMethods work and decided to enter teacher training
to learn how to help others escape from their problems. He recently
became a certificated and licensed LearningMethods Teacher.
He lives and teaches in the Minneapolis / St. Paul area of the