Benjamin Fry

The invisible lion: flatpack instructions for life

Aired on: February 24, 2023

Episode Description

With an apparent golden youth, Eton, Oxford, brains, money and looks he appeared to be destined to a successful life. Yet for how many of us does life turn out as anticipated? He discusses his journey from being a mental patient with extreme anxiety to finding approaches that work for him. He believes mental health as practiced in some areas need to grow to incorporate other alternatives that are based in science. He looks at the Nervous system, which can be heavily influenced by attachment issues in youth. The nervous system can be over or under reactive and how such physiological states impact relationships, reactions and love. More important he explains what happens to our nervous systems as a result of past events and how to fix it.

Benjamin Fry

Personal Website: Khiron House and Mental Health Service and a residential clinic in Oxford


  • The invisible lion: Flatback instructions for
  • How I f**ked up my life and Made it mean something
  • Mental and spiritual well-being are important
  • Have you noticed you can be your own worse enemy and are sabotaging yourself?
  • Have you noticed that it is clear what your friends are doing, but they keep doing it?
  • Is this due to the complexes and traumas that we had along the way?
  • Do we go into “fight or flight” when we encounter similar situations as past traumas?
  • What do we do about this

These were a mask for the underlying emotional journey that was buried in his infancy

  • His mother died when he was a baby
  • This had an effect on him, particularly at age nine
  • Everything he had done in his life was compensation to cover over the “crack”
  • All of his relationships were coloured through the process of unprocessed and unfinished business from his childhood.
  • Treatment for his trauma saved his life

How did his childhood affect him?

  • He started having panic attacks in his twenties
  • He started on journey learning about himself and managed his anxiety
    • His anxiety overtook him: he stopped sleeping
    • He found help at a clinic in the US and began to recover

His experience with the mental health system

  • As he was trained as a psychotherapist, he had the bias that psychotherapy had all the answers
  • The mental health system has the view that “one size fits all.”
  • There is not enough humility and heart for the suffering of the individuals
    • Can we offer more choices and modalities rather than saying, “this is what must be.”
  • He found that psychiatrists knew little about psychotherapy
  • He found there were parallel tracks in therapy
  • The mental health approach of “one size fits all” did not match his thinking
    • His thinking was about ow anxious he was (because he was in the state of “fight or flight”
  • He was identified as the problem and labeled as “a very difficult patient because has asked questions on why the treatment would work well known psychiatrist down
    • He felt that he was letting the
  • He tried everything. Faith healing, prayer, natural medications, therapy, the hospital and psychotropic medications
  • Patients are asking for a sliver of hope
  • None of these had answers that fitted him
  • The system should try to meet the patients’ needs and not the system’s needs
  • Note, I (Dr. Susan) tell my patients that I am your coach, cheerleader: you are in change of your healing
    • Need to look under the hood for the cause.  For example, anxiety can be caused by low zinc, low vitamin B6, pyrrole disorders.
    • For example, poisoning from a copper IUD lowers zinc and can result in anxiety
    • Functional medicine is one stop better
    • Energy of connecting with patient is a start.
    • Dr. Gleenblatt, David Perlmutter are excellent in these areas.
    • Empathy, compassion, tuning in and going to space of the client are important
  • Mental health is heavily about the body and the nervous system
  • There can be causal events
    • For example, if mother was shut, down child learns to shut down in relationships
    • Attachment studies should explain why
  • He feels pioneer work is being down particularly in US
  • He hopes for a tsunami of change
  • He wants to get across to client new way of looking at symptoms


  • Overactive or shut down underreaction are two sides of nervous system
    • Over reaction, stress, fight or flight, increased cortisol
    • Healthy nervous system responds to threat, get fight or flight which is normal highly energized eg., lion attacks
    • Once lion catches prey, the prey collapses (dorsal vagal collapse deer in headlights, freeze state)
    • Freeze state encapsulates frozen energy
      • The frozen prey will turn into active state discharging energy and then relaxes into a parasympathetic state
      • Now some people have not come out of freeze state
    • So, this results in people
      • Over reacting
      • Under reacting
        • Tend to under react at work
        • Inactive state in response to threat is worse than active state
  • Two over reactive persons – volatile relationship, too much energy, separate
  • Over react person with under reactive- abusive with someone not defending self
  • Two underreactors
    • Sterile, distance, nothing goes wrong, not nourishing
    • More common
  • Goldylocks nervous system works just right
    • In a therapist resonates with each; can hold the client’s nervous system

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

  • Thoughts effect perceptions, so CBT includes examining one’s thoughts.
  • If you woke up saying “ I probably will be fired today” will have a worse day and may perform in a manner to elicit being fired.
  • Threats change biology
    • Threats could be a lion or self-created thoughts
    • Can create (with thoughts) the physiological reaction that mimic   response to    external danger (by creating internal danger
    • Creates dysregulated nervous system that responds to threats rather than safety
    • Behaviour is important
    • If spend day communicating with others, this regulates nervous system well
      • Reason twelve step programs work?
  • Doctors were persuaded that CBT could cure all depression and anxiety
    • He was told that that CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) which studies show are as effective as medications in treating anxiety
    • In the UK, CBT became the only recommended therapy      
    • From NICE. National Institute for Clinical Excellence
    • CBT became a monolithic cult
  • David Clark was involved in putting CBT to use
    • Benjamen asked what happens to those for whom CBT does not work, but there was no answer.

A US clinic helped him

  • Patients there had similar histories where everyone else thought they knew what was wrong, but they were wrong
  • This was a clinic where folks understood