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Basic Study Group

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Basic Study Group

12 weeks
All levels
12 lessons
0 quizzes
3 students

The Tomkins Institute Basic Study Group is designed to present Tomkins theory in a systematic and structured way.  Tomkins’s own writings are read alongside commentary by people who have applied the theory in therapeutic and other settings. The material for this course was developed in 1999 and it has been taught continuously since then among small groups the world over.  This is the first time this course is being made available online.

Time commitment:

The main activities of the course include

  • Reading the assigned readings (Readings for each lesson are estimated to take 3 hours)
  • Attending the monthly discussion session for each lesson (Each session lasts 2 hours and uses Zoom as a virtual classroom)
  • Writing a short reflection after each discussion session (This can be as short or as long as the learner wishes).

Because it is important that each learner be actively engaged in all discussions, this course is limited to 10  participants.

Required Readings:

To participate in this study group will be expected to purchase threebooks:

Continuing Education Credits:

Continuing education credits are available, though an additional fee is required.

Start Course

  • Section 1: Basic Affects

    In the history of psychology and psychiatry, emotions have been seen as vital to survival and detrimental to survival; as present only when triggered by thought and as forces that make a mockery of thought; as generalized physiological arousal that becomes a specific emotion only when a cognitive evaluation is added to it; and as derivatives of drives. Tomkins started his investigation into the nature and function of the affect system by observing infants. From these observations it became clear to him that we are innately “wired” to experience nine basic affects. Each of these affects has a distinct pattern of facial expression, breathing, vocalization, posture, and quality of feeling. Each gives different information important to survival and well-being. In this section you will be introduced to the nature of affect and, specifically, to the nine basic affects. It is important that you become familiar with them since they are the foundation of Tomkins’s psychology.

  • Section 2: Gradients, Analogs, and Dynamics

    Affects call our attention to some things and thereby insure that we will ignore other things. A specific affect can call our attention to anything. Thus, for example, we may be afraid of heights, or success, or standing in the path of a speeding car. What do these fears have in common? There is an infinite variety of other things that human beings can fear. Tomkins studied triggers of fear in infants, children, and adults and concluded that the com- mon element in all these experiences of fear is a non-optimal increase in the activity of the nervous system. He found that six of the primary affects were triggered by particular profiles of neural firing. On this premise Tomkins could integrate a systematic theory of affects. Not only can any affect call our attention to a variety of situations, but each does so in a uniquely re- warding or punishing way, hence stimulating different kinds of responses.

  • Section 3: Scripts

    Scripts explain the highest level of organization of the affect system. Tomkins laid the foundation of his affect theory by studying the nine affects and their interactions. Then he came to see that a sequence of affects comprises a scene. If you sort through a series of scenes stored in memory, you can file them into sets of scenes matched by their particular sequences of affects. Each set of scenes then becomes a unit that is in turn charged with an affect that makes it salient: this is affect magnification. Now the nested set of scenes has become a script. The script becomes a vehicle for sorting the affect sequences as they enter the system. And then it triggers a predictable response. Scripts manage the operation of the affect system economically, since they eliminate the need for a fresh response to each affective experience. But this is an inefficient system, since there is a margin of error in sorting incoming sequences of affects and matching them to scripts. Scripts achieve consistency at the price of novelty. They limit our range of emotional freedom but make it possible for us to establish a relatively stable emotional life. Tomkins classified scripts. Thus, he could demonstrate how the predominance of negative affects give rises to types of scripts that involve distinct patterns of suffering, while the predominance of positive affects gives rise to affluence scripts. By releasing patients from scripts that perpetuate suffering, psychotherapy achieves the highest level of its power to heal.

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