RTP Highlights Emotional CPR

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Emotional CPR
by Lauren Spiro

For several years Emotional CPR (eCPR), a public health education program, has taught people to assist each other through emotional crisis, in communities throughout the United States and overseas. Many people tell us the skills learned from our training help them communicate better in their relationships. We have also heard eCPR is a "way of life," as a practice of being more accepting of and present with ourselves and others. This is very good news and we see it as an invitation to take our understanding of eCPR to a deeper level.

A few months ago I had the great honor of speaking with Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, after a talk he had given locally in Washington, D.C. We spoke about eCPR, and in a moment I will remember for the rest of my life, he looked deep into my eyes and said, "We are in the same line of work. We are peacemakers." It was a profound statement that inspired me to think more about eCPR as a tool for peacemaking.

Gangaji, a spiritual teacher, reminds us that human beings have been making war for a long time in all cultures-meaning in all minds, because culture is a reflection of the mind. The bumper sticker on my car that reads "Inner Peace Creates Global Peace" reminds me to think about this concept often.

I am coming to a clearer understanding that when I am not at peace in my own mind, I am waging an internal war, and that war is projected onto or communicated to others.

The war in my head can be framed around a variety of battles. It can center on the ancient and false belief that I am not good enough, not smart enough, or if this or that condition were met, all would be wonderful, great, and peaceful. I have constructed a story that tints the lens through which I see myself, others, our relationships, and the world.

If I remain unaware of how I have tinted the lens... if I remain stuck in the story, the conditions for peace will not be met. Peace is revealed in the absence of war-in the absence of labels, judgments, and conditions.

If we take a step deeper, we can see the source of this war is the belief that we are some thing separate from others. This early learning, this sense of separation and human disconnection, is so pervasive and integrated into the threads of our culture that it makes it hard to see. The experience of human disconnection-a separation of self from self and self from others-is a fundamental concept in both trauma-informed practice and eCPR. The impact of trauma and human disconnection played out in my early childhood, for example, when I experienced such a profound lack of safety that it resulted in my clinging to anyone who offered safety and anything that could numb the pain.

Another result of the belief that we are some thing, and this thing is separate from each other, is that we get focused on protecting this thing. Whatever the thing is-our territory, home, family-we protect it and hold on to fear, anger, and revenge. We wait for someone else to do something differently so we believe we can find peace.

My tinted lens reinforces the idea that the other person is different-separate from me. And this separation perpetuates conflict and war. It perpetuates the war in my head that perpetuates the war I wage with others. The inner war creates global war.

When I am practicing eCPR I am cleaning the lens. I intentionally focus on letting go of judgments and labels-there is nothing to protect. We focus on perceiving a person in distress in her full humanity. The distress is a particular patterned way in which this person's internal war has escalated. As supporters, our role is to be with the person and assist her in finding peace. We do this by seeing the genuine person underneath her lens, underneath the social conditioning, underneath her story. And when we do, we are perceiving or "being" underneath our own lens. From this place, where peace is revealed in the deep connection of two people, I mirror back the best I see in her... my great hope for her, my belief in her, my knowing that together, in this moment, we will move through this.

This experience of being together in raw, vulnerable moments is so profoundly validating that when we try to find words to explain it, the process is diminished. It must be felt to be fully understood. The emotional bond, the spiritual bond, the energetic bond are mutually transformative and healing. It is often these bonds that transform crisis into new learning and pathways to healing. In this process we think more clearly and see new possibilities we may not have realized existed.

Why is this? I think by getting beneath what the person has been taught to believe about him or herself, his or her relationships with others, and his or her relationship with the world, we are offering a contradiction to past negative or limiting beliefs and an invitation to feel, see, and do things differently.

Crisis is often, if not always, a time of shifting, rebalancing, or disconnecting between what has been and what we are feeling, perceiving, or experiencing. It is a disruptive opportunity that is also an invitation for a perceptual shift and a shift in our actions. It is an opportunity to live our lives more aligned with our deepest values and beliefs.

In this manner, eCPR is a tool-a process-for finding inner peace. The invitation is for each one of us to take responsibility for creating peace.


Gangaji. (2003). Being in Peace [CD]. The Gangaji Foundation.

Lauren is Director of the National Coalition for Mental Health Recovery, Co-Founder and Co-Director of eCPR, and a member of the Council on Social Work Education RTP Steering Committee. Contact her at Laurenspiro1@gmail.com.

This article was first published on the Mad in America Web site on April 4, 2013: http://www.madinamerica.com/2013/04/emotional-cpr-ecpr-a-tool-and-a-process-of-peacemaking.

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