Roderick Borrie, Ph.D.
B.Sc. 1969 Denison University
M.A. 1973 Temple University
Ph.D. 1978 University of British Columbia
American Psychological Association
American Academy of Pain Management – Diplomate
International REST Investigators Society – former President
N.Y. Milton H. Erickson Society for Psychotherapy & Hypnosis Certified 1987
New York State Licensed Psychologist
My Journey with the Mind
My awareness of the mind as an object of analysis probably began in response to my father’s probing questions about the nature of motivation and emotion. He loved analytic discussion and it was his way of bringing work home. In the 1950s and 60s corporations shuffled their managers around the country, so my family had a new start every few years. Sports and music helped me fit in to each new setting.
In 1969 the country was entrenched in Vietnam, and, not knowing quite what to do with my new Bachelors in psychology, I went to live with my brother in New York’s east village. This experience at the height of war protesting and psychedelic rock was interrupted by my acceptance into the Peace Corps. After training and immersion in Swahili in North Carolina, I was assigned to teach English and Geography in the Kenyan countryside. Later, an opportunity arose to move into Nairobi and teach Psychology and Psychiatry to student nurses. One day ahead of my students in Psychiatry I realized was teaching them “Western beliefs about mental illness”. My students taught me of their tribal views of mental illness and arranged for me to meet with a traditional doctor in the western reaches of Kenya. This wizened old man with seven wives and dozens of children demonstrated his techniques of diagnosis and treatment using bones, potions and amulets. It was a great lesson in the power of believing in the treatment.
Returning to the states to complete a Master’s in psychology at Temple University, I became interested in environmental influences on the mind and learned of Dr. Peter Suedfeld’s work using sensory deprivation to change attitudes and behaviors like smoking. He moved to the University of British Columbia and enticed me to follow him to Vancouver to complete a Ph.D. and work in his new lab equipped with two freezer-like rooms that enveloped one comfortably in quiet and darkness. Essentially we were studying what happens to the mind when the chaos around it is temporarily shut off.
At UBC we changed terminology: sensory deprivation became restricted environmental stimulation technique or therapy, a more accurate term and friendlier acronym – REST. In the absence of stimulation from outside the body, the mind usually begins by turning inward for stimulation. Awareness of the body increases making every twitch and heart beat more noticeable. Thoughts come much more into the forefront of awareness. Gradually the body and mind begin settle down and most people then slip into something between waking and sleeping. Meditative and hypnotic states are common, producing experiences of serenity or vivid imagery. I began a long pursuit of exploring how these altered states could be applied therapeutically.
In Vancouver I began a long friendship with Hugh Fraser, an exuberant, young jazz musician. In 1980 I joined Hugh’s Vancouver Ensemble of Jazz Improvisation (VEJI) . Hugh has kept VEJI alive for 30 years and I am happy to still be part of his musical tribe in spite of having left Vancouver in 1983.
I returned to New York for music and psychology. It is a veritable Mecca for jazz and flotation tanks were becoming popular there. Flotation is a bed-sized pool filled with water supersaturated with mineral salts to the point that you float effortlessly on the surface. A sense of weightlessness combined with controlled temperature, light and sound make one feel comfortably removed from the outside world.
I set up my practice at Tranquility Tanks on lower Fifth Avenue to integrate flotation REST with psychotherapy. A flotation room, when equipped with intercom and sound system, becomes the ultimate couch and ideal setting for hypnosis. I was on staff at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn and commuted into Manhattan in the evenings for my private practice and for music. In developing the “guided float”, I worked with music, sounds, stories and suggestions on a canvas of silence to enhance my patients’ perspectives.
I was able to establish a flotation REST lab at SUNY Stony Brook where we discovered new uses for flotation in the treatment of spasticity and pain. The late Dr. Jim Dana, a physiatrist near the university, offered space in his facility to establish a therapeutic flotation center and in 1990 The Sensorium Center for Supportive Care was established. We combined REST with psychotherapy, meditation, yoga and massage, treating pain, illness and psychological disorders. I hope we were ahead of our time and, although not a financial success, our work yielded profound temporary relief to hundreds of patients, and greatly enhanced my understanding of how the mind works in illness, pain and healing.
Hugh and I explored music in flotation using sound to drive the brain into altered states while retaining a musical integrity. He created beautiful music for use in flotation that would induce the deepest relaxation possible. [link to the music catalog]
In 1992, I learned about mindfulness meditation and studied with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Jack Kornfield. I consider mindfulness the finest tool for studying the mind and one answer to the question, “What is life about”? I believe life is about being in your life as fully as possible. At the Sensorium and later at South Oaks Hospital I led workshops in mindfulness. Now weekly meditation workshops are held Friday afternoons in my home studio.
Today I practice in medical pain clinics, helping people reclaim lives shattered by injury, trauma and despair as well as with those with emotional difficulties. I encourage my patients to reach their fullest potential, to evolve personally. This idea of personal evolution is based on the assumptions that our minds have unrealized potential, that we can develop greater control over our minds and our experience and that this control can be used to enhance the quality of our lives.
At my home on Long Island, family is the focus. In 2007 tragedy struck us. My wife, Rebecca, went out for a walk and was struck down by distracted drivers. The practice of Mindfulness continues to provide a means of coping with this loss. In her memory I created Drive Mindfully, a not-for-profit dedicated to teaching drivers to maintain a single focus. http://drivemindfully.org Rebecca had grown up with a mother ahead of her time in her approach to nutrition, clean foods and the dangers of additives and pesticides. This orientation plus awareness of the benefits of exercise, yoga and meditation keep us striving to lead conscious, healthy lives. I believe that we teach what we need to learn and we are surrounded by opportunities to learn and expand ourselves.
Dr. Borrie believes that words and music together can be far more powerful than either alone. Towards that end, he has commissioned award-winning Canadian jazz performer and composer Hugh Fraser to create music with an extraordinary power to soothe. Hugh’s long and varied career has seen him form the Vancouver Ensemble of Jazz Improvisation and the Hugh Fraser Quintet. He has toured with some of the legends of jazz, including Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstine, Dave Holland and Chucho Valdes. Now, he uses his considerable talents to score the guided meditations found on Dr. Borrie’s Audio Programs.
Check out Hugh’s own website for more information. http://www.hughfraser.com
Alejandro Godoy, CSW-R
Alejandro Godoy is the translator and narrator for the Spanish Audio Programs. He comes from Talca, Chile. He is a psychotherapist in private practice on Long Island where he has a special interest in helping the Spanish population. Alejandro runs Anger Management Clinics and does pain management. His interests include tai chi, hiking and mountain climbing. Dr. Borrie met Alejandro when they both worked at South Oaks Hospital. Alejandro shared his love of hiking by taking Dr. Borrie back to his home for a trek through the Andes.