I hope you can attend one of the two summer intensives this July. The intensives are my best training by far, and a lot of fun, too.
You’ll receive an introduction to T.E.A.M. Therapy, which is, I am convinced, the most effective form of therapy for depression and all of the anxiety disorders, as well as for troubled relationships. But then, of course, I am biased! T.E.A.M. is not a new “school” of therapy, but rather a data-driven, systematic approach to treating human suffering that is based on research on how psychotherapy actually works. Here’s what the acronym stands for. T = Testing, E = Empathy, A = (Paradoxical) Agenda Setting, and M = Methods.
Using T.E.A.M. therapy, my colleagues and I are now seeing recovery at speeds I would have thought impossible as recently as ten years ago. If you want to drastically improve your therapeutic effectiveness, I think you will enjoy the intensive. You will leave the workshop with a radically different understanding of how psychotherapy works, along with many new skills.
One of the unique features of the intensive is the chance to heal yourself at the same time you learn new techniques. To me, that’s the difference between a technician and a healer. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my teaching at workshops, as well as in my weekly training groups in the SF Bay area, it’s that therapists are a wounded group who chose this field, in part, because of our own search of our own personal enlightenment and healing.
Sometimes, unexpected things happen at intensives, and I am often taken by surprise. That’s part of the excitement of the intensive format.
At the San Francisco intensive two years ago, I asked for a volunteer to demonstrate a technique I had just described in my lecture just before the lunch break, using role-playing. A clinical social worker named Rose volunteered, but when she joined me on the stage I realized I had not been sufficiently clear that I only needed a volunteer for a brief role-play to show how a technique worked. Rose began sobbing and said she felt worthless and inferior. I was taken aback because I was not prepared to do a live psychotherapy demonstration at that point in the workshop, especially just before the lunch break.
I explained that we only had five minutes, and that I’d only intended to do a brief role play, and not actual therapy, but said perhaps I could at least provide a little empathy and support, and asked if she could tell me more about her negative thoughts and feelings.
Rose explained that she had grown up in one of the poorest areas of Los Angeles, and had never had the chance to attend any fancy schools. She went to the public schools, which weren’t very good, and had to start out at the local junior college after high school. But at the intensive, she noticed that many of my colleagues and students from my weekly Bay Are training groups were there to help out with the small group exercises. She discovered that many of them had fancy degrees from places like Harvard and Stanford, and said she felt intensely inadequate by comparison, and was convinced she was just average, at best, or even below average, and saw herself as a second-rate therapist and human being.
Did you ever feel like that? Did you ever go into a dark place because you were telling yourself you weren’t good enough? Do you sometimes beat up on yourself, comparing yourself to others, and listing all your flaws and failures? This is one of the most common thinking patterns I have seen in individuals struggling with depression and anxiety, and therapists are no exception.
We sometimes tell ourselves things like this:
- I’m not good enough.
- I’m a fraud.
- I have more problems that most of my patients.
- If anyone knew how poor my skills were, they’d be shocked.
- I’m a bad father (or mother, or wife, or husband, etc.)
- I should be smarter than I am.
- I should be better than I am.
- I’m defective.
Do any of those thoughts sound familiar? I’ve sometimes felt that way myself, and I know how real and painful those thoughts can feel. The pain of low self-esteem and hopelessness can be very intense—this is one of the worst forms of suffering. I’ve had many patients tell me they’ve never even had one truly happy moment in their entire lives.
One of the techniques we use in T.E.A.M. therapy is called the “Miracle Cure” question. I asked Rose what she would be hoping for, if our psychotherapy demonstration were effective. What would change? How would things be different?
Rose explained that her feelings of depression and anxiety and shame would disappear.
Another technique we use is called the “Magic Button.” I asked Rose to imagine that we had a Magic Button, and if she pressed it she would walk out of the workshop at the end of the day in a state of euphoria, and all her feelings of depression, inferiority, shame, and inadequacy would vanish, and she’d experience enormous joy and self-esteem. Would she press the Magic Button?
Rose said that she would definitely push the Magic Button, but doubted that this was possible.
A third technique we use is called the Acid Test. This is one of many techniques we use to melt away therapeutic resistance. It’s based on the idea that when we’re suffering, we want to change, but at the same time, we cling to the status quo for a wide variety of conscious and subconscious reasons. And if the therapist learns how to bring the resistance to conscious awareness, and to melt it away, therapy will far more effective, because the patient will be strongly motivated to collaborate with the therapist and to use the tools of therapy to change his or her life.
I said, “Rose, I’m really glad you want to press that Magic Button, but there’s one thing I want to explain before you decide to press it. You have to understand that the Magic Button has only limited power. The only thing that will change is how you think and feel—but the facts of your life will not change. You’ll still be a second-rate therapist with a poor academic background and training. And while it’s great that you’re here and learning new techniques in the intensive, I can’t make you a therapeutic giant by the end of today.
So the only thing that will change if you press the Magic Button is that you’ll be a euphoric, second-rate human being. That’s the only thing I’m offering you just now. So here’s your choice–you can walk out of the workshop as a miserably depressed, second-rate human being, or a euphoric, second-rate human being. Do you still want to press that Magic Button?”
She got the joke, fortunately, and began to laugh. She said she’d still press the Magic Button, because all the misery and shame she felt was not doing her any good, and was actually interfering with her capacity to learn and grow.
I explained that now we only had 90 seconds left before the lunch break, and it’s probably way too short to do anything meaningful, but at least I could demonstrate a couple potentially helpful techniques called the Externalization of Voices and Acceptance Paradox. If you come to the intensive, you will learn and practice these methods as well. Essentially, the therapist becomes the Negative Voice within the patient’s brain, and attacks the patient with the patient’s negative thoughts, but puts them into the second-person, “you.” The patient does battle with the thoughts, speaking in the first-person, “I,” and uses two opposite strategies: the Self-Defense Paradigm and the Acceptance Paradox. Of course, you explain this first, so the patient doesn’t feel caught by surprise. Rose said she wanted to give it a try.
A bizarre thing happened. When I attacked Rose with her negative thoughts, she immediately hit the ball out of the park, and her responses were very convincing. I asked how she felt and she said that here depression had suddenly vanished and she was feeling fantastic. The entire “treatment” took only five minutes. It was pretty amazing. The next morning she stood and took the microphone and expressed gratitude for her experience, and the enormous outpouring of warmth and support she’d received from others in the workshop, and said she was still on a high.
Later that morning I had the participants pair off in groups of two for some live work for 20 minutes, using the Externalization of Voices and Acceptance Paradox to challenge their own negative thoughts and feelings. At the end, I asked if anyone would like to describe what they had experienced or had any questions. One woman raised her hand and explained that she’d been in the patient role and had just had a transforming personal experience as well, and that it was because of the skill and compassion of the woman she’d be paired up with as her “therapist.” And who was her therapist? It turned out it was Rose!
One last point. Therapy doesn’t always work that quickly, of course, but recovery frequently does happen quickly using the new T.E.A.M. Therapy methods. This excites some therapists, and enrages some others who have been trained to believe that therapy must go slowly, or it’s not the real thing, and that real, meaningful change takes years, and requires “deep work.” Some therapists also argue that high-speed, dramatic change is just a flash in the pan, and won’t last.
There are actually two parts to treatment, and I call them Feeling Better and Getting Better. Feeling Better is the first, mind-blowing recovery, when all the negative feelings suddenly disappear. Getting Better is learning how to overcome relapses for the rest of your life, so you won’t get rapped in black holes of depression and self-doubt, but can quickly climb back out. Getting Better is actually Relapse Prevention Training.
One of them is easy to learn, and one of them is very challenging. What do you think is the easy skill to learn as a therapist—Feeling Better, or Getting Better?
Most therapists think Feeling Better is easy, but it’s the other way around. Getting Better, or Relapse Prevention Training, is actually really easy to learn and implement at the end of therapy, and you’ll learn exactly how to do it at the intensive.
Feeling Better means showing people with years or decades of suffering and failed treatment how to completely overcome their negative feelings and get back to joy, self-esteem and intimacy. That is a high art form and skill requiring lots of training and commitment—but it’s a fantastic thing to learn, because you can’t heal another person without healing yourself at the same time.
Well, I hope you can join us this summer at one of the two summer intensives. And thanks for reading this!
David D. Burns, MD