This podcast features David D. Burns MD, author of "Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy," describing powerful new techniques to overcome depression and anxiety and develop greater joy and self-esteem. For therapists and the general public alike!
Ask David: Is human "worthwhileness" worthwhile? Why am I always the the last to find out about anything? A Daily Gratitude Log, Positive Reframing and more!
Today's Ask David features four terrific questions.
Kevin asks: Why is the concept of worthwhileness and worthlessness so important to people and their emotional health? Vallejo asks: Does the statement, "WHY AM I ALWAYS THE LAST ONE TO FIND OUT ABOUT ANYTHING?” correspond to overgeneralization, or self-blame? I’ve been listening to the early podcasts on the ten positive and negative cognitive distortions. David P asks: Do you think there is anything to be gained from a daily gratitude log, to go along with the daily mood log? Harvey asks: I don’t see how Positive Reframing actually contributes to the therapy. Kevin asks: Why are the concepts of worthwhileness and worthlessness so important to people and their emotional health? Hi David,
I have a quick question about the concept of being a worthwhile human being. Suppose a person believes they are unconditionally worthwhile, what are the implications of this? Why are the concepts of worthwhileness and worthlessness so important to people and their emotional health?
Thanks! That’s a very important question. However, it is abstract and philosophical. I have found that philosophical discussions tend to go on endlessly with resolve. In contrast, when someone asks for help with a specific moment when she or he was upset, then I can usually show that person how to change the way she or he is feeling. And when that happens, the person generally suddenly “sees” the solution to some very profound philosophical or spiritual questions.
All that being said, I’ll take a crack at it. The goal of TEAM therapy is not to go from thinking that you’re a worthless human being to thinking that you’re a worthwhile human being, but to give up these concepts as nonsensical. Specific activities, talents or thoughts can be more or less worthwhile, but a human being cannot be more or less worthwhile. We can judge specific events, actions, and so forth, but not humans. At least I am not aware of how to validly judge a human being, or a group of humans. We can only judge their actions, attitudes, thoughts, and so forth.
Unconditional self-esteem is definitely better than conditional self-esteem, since you don’t have to be perfect or a great achiever or a great anything to be “worthwhile,” but you are still focused on being "worthwhile."
I'm not sure what that means, but there is a downside, to my way of thinking. If you think you are worthwhile because you are a human being, does that mean that you are more worthwhile than animals? Lots of people abuse animals, hunt animals, and so forth, which many people find immensely disturbing. These are some of the consequences of thinking that animals are less worthwhile, for example.
Not sure that helps, but like your line of questioning!
Kevin follows up: What is the implication then of giving up these concepts at all? I assume that thinking that you have unconditional worthwhileness because you are alive or to drop these concepts entirely have the same emotional implications for people. What are these implications? For example, if I think that worthwhileness and worthlessness are meaningless concepts, so what? What’s the point? What do I gain?
Let me start by saying, once again, that I am not an evangelist spreading the “gospel,” so to speak. My goal is simply to help people who are struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. So, if your way of thinking about things is working for you, there’s no reason to change.
But my focus is always on someone who is suffering, and that’s where these concepts can sometimes be important.
I can tell you what I gained by giving up the idea that I could be, or needed to be “worthwhile” or “special.” I gained a great deal of joy. It was a lot like escaping from a mental prison. It freed me to find incr
Cool Questions about Should Statements!
Ask David featuring four terrific Should questions, and more questions about “asinine, stupid, narcissistic, self-serving humans! “
Oliver asks: Can a thought be thought as moral or immoral? Vincent asks: I have suffered from depression for about 3 years and say to myself, "I should have gotten better sooner." Isn't this "should" appropriate? Charles says: Your concept of “no self” shot my anxiety way up and made me feel hopeless. . . . It makes me feel worse than before! Michelle asks: How is your requirement that new patients must agree to not make any suicide attempts for the rest of their lives any different to a “suicide contract” which you mention are not effective? Brian asks: I’ve done a few things that made me feel intensely guilty. . . . The knowledge that I didn’t do what I should have done led to a lot of guilt and shame, and eventually depression. Just wondering your thoughts on this Carrel asks: I'm a Democrat in Texas. How can we use disarming to heal the political rifts in our country? Natasha asks: How do I stop the dark thoughts of wishing harm to come to stupid humans who do asinine, narcissistic, self serving, irresponsible things—like driving massive, loud pickup trucks around the neighborhood, honking incessantly as they wave their 20 ft political flags; or bringing the family for a paddle boat ride in the local pond, taking delight in teaching their human offspring to paddle the boat as quickly as they can to chase after the beautiful, innocent geese and ducks trying earnestly and fearfully to swim to safety. and more.
Dear Dr. Burns,
Can a thought be thought as moral or immoral?
In many podcasts and articles, you use "Thou Shalt Not Kill" to demonstrate morally should statement, which is one of the 3 valid should statements in English. I'm still somewhat confused about this concept. To tell you where I get stuck, I come up with three thought experiments.
Imagine the following situations in which a should statement may come to mind:
Lisa stole some money from a grocery store. When arrested by police, Lisa said with tears, "I shouldn't have stolen money. I feel ashamed for what I have done."
In this case, it is obvious that "I shouldn't have stolen money" is a morally should statement, and also a legally should statement, because Lisa did something that violates the law and her moral principle.
DAVID’S COMMENT: YES, YOU ARE CORRECT. LISA’S STATEMENT CAN BE CLASSIFIED AS A LEGAL SHOULD AND A MORAL SHOULD.
One day, Bob went to Walmart to buy a suit. When he was passing by a shelf, a thought appeared in her mind. "What would happen if I steal this suit? I really want it, but I have very little money." When he came back home, he talked to himself," I shouldn't have felt the urges to steal things. And I shouldn’t have thought about stealing the suit."
DAVID’S COMMENT: THESE WOULD NOT BE CONSIDERED VALID SHOULD STATEMENTS BY MOST PEOPLE, SINCE WE HAVE FREEDOM OF THOUGHT. HUMAN BEINGS HAVE ALL KINDS OF FANTASIES AND URGES ALL THE TIME—AT LEAST I KNOW THAT I DO! AN URGE ONLY BECOMES IMMORAL OR ILLEGAL WHEN YOU ACT ON IT.
HOWEVER, ALTHOUGH I DO NOT THINK THESE ARE VALID SHOULDS, BUT I TRY NOT TO IMPOSE MY VALUES ON OTHERS FOR THE MOST PART. I AM A SHRINK, SO I WORK WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE ASKING FOR HELP.
FOR EXAMPLE, PEOPLE WITH OCD OFTEN PUNISH THEMSELVES JUST FOR HAVING “FORBIDDEN” THOUGHTS, FEELINGS, OR URGES. THE FIGHT TO CONTROL THEM IS THE ACTUAL CAUSE OF THE OCD. THE SHOULDS TYPICALLY MAKE THE PROBLEM WORSE, NOT BETTER. SELF-ACCEPTANCE CAN BE ONE OF MANY HELPFUL TREATMENT STRATEGIES.
RELIGION CAN SOMETIMES BE A SOURCE OF OPPRESSIVE SHOULDS, ESPECIALLLY THE MORE FUNDAMENTALIST TYPES OF RELIGION. RIGIDITY MAY BE A PARTIALLY INHERITED TRAIT. FOR EXAMPLE, MANY RELIGIONS AROUND THE WORLD PROMOTE THE IDEA THAT HOMOSEXUALITY IS “WRONG” A
The Approval Addiction: Live Therapy with Sunny, Part 2
Last week, you heard part 1 of the live work with Sunny. Today, you will hear the dramatic conclusion of that session. My wonderful co-therapist is Dr. Jill Levitt, the Director of Training at the Feeling Good Institute in Mountain View, California. Jill also co-leads our Tuesday training group at Stanford. This session took place between 5 and 7 PM at a recent Tuesday group because we feel that personal healing is a critical part of psychotherapy training.
We will begin with a summary of A = Assessment of Resistance.
David will summarize Sunny’s Positive Reframing list, as well as the “turning point” when David challenged Sunny’s first negative thought, telling himself that he shouldn’t be getting anxious again. Once again, the moment he saw that he actually should be getting anxious, and that this was a good thing, and not a bad thing, the dam kind of broke open, and Sunny suddenly saw everything in a radically different perspective.
This is one of the core principles and goals of TEAM—helping the patient suddenly see that his or her suffering is not the expression of what’s wrong with you, like a “chemical imbalance” in your brain, but what’s most beautiful and awesome about you, and your core values as a human being.
During this phase of the session, Sunny expressed anger about parents who tell their children they SHOULD do X, Y, and Z, and thus sowing the seeds of low self-esteem and the need for approval.
We continue and conclude the M = Methods, using:
Identify the Distortions The Enhanced Cost-Benefit Analysis (Enhanced CoBA) The Externalization of Voices, with Self-Defense and the Acceptance Paradox The Hidden Emotion Technique The Five Secrets of Effective Communication Final T = Testing.
You can see Sunny’s end of session mood ratings on his completed Daily Mood Log, as well as his end of session scores on the Brief Mood Survey and Evaluation of Therapy Session.
Here is Sunny’s follow-up email to the Tuesday group:
Just want to give you an update of what happened after our group meeting. I was exhausted after our session. But I felt very good - even different than other times when I did self disclosure and deep-down part of me was looking for some validations from others. This time, I came out feeling very confident about myself and my ability to swim without the floating bubbles (approval from others). Most importantly enjoy life now. In fact I didn’t think talking with my mom was necessary because I was not angry with her the next day. Somehow I wasn’t blaming her anymore because I know she changed since then. And I was thankful because I wouldn’t be where I am without that push. But I did chat with her tonight.
I told her how I was hurt when I felt a lot of pressure from her when I was young. And that I love her very much and now am happy that I am confident about my own life decision without needing approval from others. And she told me that she is happy that I am happy. And when we were young, she And she will always love me and support me. And she is happy that I am doing whatever I love so I don’t regret in life. And on and on... lots of loving languages that we don’t use together usually :)
Net net: it was an awesome chat and we are closer. But as importantly, I wasn’t looking for any validation from her - more like giving her some good news about my personal growth. And I felt more confident and equal but loving when I talked with her. So it’s all good :)
I do have an insight on self disclosure. From my experiences, there is a fine line between self disclosure vs approval seeking type of sharing. Both can have similar Immediate results - feeling good and emotional. So make sure our clients are clear of the objective of the self disclosure. And that there is no approval seeking hidden inside - if that’s not the objective.
See you all next
The Approval Addiction: Live Therapy with Sunny, Part 1
In today’s podcast, we will work on another common Self-Defeating Belief, the Approval Addiction. Here are two definitions:
My worthwhileness as human being depends on getting approval. I need approval to feel happy and fulfilled. I thought of calling this podcast “Curing a Case of Siliconitis” because here in Silicon Valley, there is a pronounced tendency for people to measure their self-esteem based on their accomplishments, so today’s program also has some overlap with the Achievement Addiction we featured recently.
Of course, you don’t have to live in Silicon Valley to struggle with the Approval and Achievement Addictions. These problems are almost universal throughout the United States as well as the entire world. In fact, for today’s special guest, Sunny Choi, the problem originated in Hong Kong when he was growing up.
And although your life may be very different from Sunny’s, you may discover that you, too, sometimes struggle with the need for approval, and the tendency to base your self-esteem on your achievements. So I’m hoping that the healing Sunny experienced might be contagious and end up helping you!
I want to thank Sunny for allowing his personal work to be broadcast, raw and unedited, on the podcast. Personal work is absolutely essential to becoming a world-class therapist, because you can’t really heal others until you’ve healed yourself. But sharing your inner struggles, your tears, and your shame, can be extremely frightening, making you totally vulnerable, so Sunny has given all of us an incredible gift!
I also want to thank my amazing co-therapist, Dr. Jill Levitt, who helps lead the Tuesday group. She is also the Director of Training at the Feeling Good Institute in Mt. View, California. I love teaching and doing co-therapy with Jill. TEAM therapy does NOT require two therapist, but I love to work with a co-therapist whenever I do live therapy in a teaching situation, as it often makes for a richer and more dynamic session.
The session will be broken into two consecutive segments. Today, you will hear the T = Testing and E = Empathy parts at the start of the session. Next week, you will hear the A = Assessment of Resistance and M = Methods parts. At the end of next week’s podcast, Sunny will join us for a follow-up so we can see how he’s been doing since the end of this session.
At the beginning of the session, we reviewed Sunny’s scores on the Brief Mood Survey, which indicated minimal feelings of depression, mild anxiety, and just a touch of anger. However, his happiness score was only 22 out of 40, indicating significant unhappiness, and his Relationship Satisfaction score, thinking of his mother, was only 16 out of 30, which is also not very good. However, he said that this score is higher than it’s been, indicating longstanding dissatisfaction with his relationship with his mother.
Sunny explained that he’s been seeking and getting approval since he was a small boy. He was the “good golden boy” who always wanted what his mother wanted, and he always got rewarded. In addition, since he was a boy, he always got the best food, and his sister always got the less desirable dinner. In addition, she was a rebel, and often punished and beaten by their mom, which made Sunny feel guilty. At the same time, he was good at getting approval from just about everybody, so lots of people like him.
His first frightening step toward independence was coming out as a gay man in his 20s. This was an intensely anxious time in his life.
After his family migrated to California, he pursued a career in high tech, which was what his mother wanted, and he was very successful and earned a high salary. But he was unhappy, because it wasn’t what he really wanted to do with his life. He wanted to help people, but because of a lisp in his speech, his mother urged him to pursue enginee
From Feeling Good to Feeling Great!
In today’s podcast, we discuss a few of the many differences between Feeling Good, my first book, and my new book, Feeling Great, which was just released. We also discuss some of the differences between the cognitive therapy that I launched in Feeling Good, and the powerful new TEAM therapy that I feature in Feeling Great.
I wrote Feeling Great because there’s been a radical and enormous evolution of the treatment methods and theories in the 40 years that have elapsed since I first published Feeling Good in 1980. I now have many more techniques than I had then, and there’s been with a radical development in my understanding of the causes of depression. I also have new ideas about the most effective treatment techniques, based on my clinical experience since I wrote Feeling Good (more than 40,000 hours treating individuals with severe depression and anxiety), as well as fresh insights about what's important, and what's not, based on four decades of my research on how psychotherapy really works.
Rhonda asks many questions about the unique features of TEAM including the new T = Testing techniques, the new E = Empathy techniques, the A = Assessment of Resistance techniques, as well as the M = Methods.
Rhonda is particularly curious about the four “Great Deaths” of the therapist’s ego in TEAM therapy, which correspond to the four TEAM components of TEAM, as well as the four “Great Deaths” of the patient’s ego, which correspond to recovery from depression, anxiety, relationship problems, and habits and addictions. One of the goals of TEAM is not simply the complete and rapid elimination of the symptoms of depression and anxiety, but the development of personal enlightenment and the experience of great joy and a deeper appreciation of life.
Toward the end of the podcast, David tearfully talks about the life of his hero, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who is viewed by many as the greatest philosopher of all time, and David, a philosophy major when he was a student at Amherst College, would definitely agree with this assessment. But Wittgenstein was very lonely, and prone to depression, because very few people understood his ground-breaking contributions when he was still alive. In fact, it was thought that only five or six people in the world “got it.” Part of the problem is that what he was saying was so basic and obvious that most people just could grasp it, or the extraordinarily profound implications of his work.
His depression and loneliness, sadly, perhaps also resulted from the fact that he was gay, and living at a time when this was far less acceptable than it is today.
He never published anything when he was alive, because when he was depressed, he thought he'd made no meaningful or enduring contributions. However, his remarkable book, Philosophical Investigations was published in 1950, following his death, and was soon regarded as the greatest book in the history of philosophy. Because of that book, David gave up his goal of a career in philosophy, since Wittgenstein wanted all of his students to give up philosophy and do something practical instead.
So that’s what I did! My only regret is never having the chance to meet Wittgenstein and tell him, “I got it!” and thank him for his incredible contributions. If you want to learn more, check out the short read by his favorite student, Norman Malcolm, who wrote “Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir.” I cry like a baby every time I read the book, and tears come to my eyes when I even look at the book, which is proudly displayed in my office. If you ever visit me at home, make sure you check out the book.
I feel so fortunate to be able to work with Rhonda and bring my message to so many of you every week. Thank you for your support! [Note from Rhonda: I feel extremely honored to work with David and be a part of bringing David's message, and the TEAM t
The Achievement Addiction: Bane or Blessing? Part 2
How to Change a Self-Defeating Belief (SDB) (cont'd)
Last week, you had the chance to listen to our Tuesday training group at Stanford as we worked on the "Achievement Addiction," Part 1 (Podcast 211). Although we were working with a therapist named Zeina Halim, it turned out that just about everybody in the group had this belief, and perhaps you do, too--thinking that your worthwhileness as a human being depends on your achievements, hard work, and productivity.
This belief, which is also known as the Calvinist work ethic (e.g. you are what you do) is actually at the heart of Western Civilization. And while it can trigger intense achievement, it can sometimes also trigger angst, including feelings of depression, anxiety, and endless self-doubt, wondering if you and your achievements are "good enough."
In last week's podcast, we played the first half of the Tuesday group's session, featuring the Cost-Benefit Analysis. In today's group, we play the the recording of the last half of the group, featuring these three additional techniques. At the end of today's recording, Zeina joins us and talks about the session, and the techniques that were the most meaningful for her.
The Semantic Technique. This involves change at the intellectual level. If you decide that a SDB is not working to your advantage when you do a CBA, you can you modify it so you can keep all the advantages you listed while getting rid of most if not all of the disadvantages. This is a bit of practical personal philosophy exercise with significant emotional implications. The group members came up with a wide variety of alternate beliefs, and I critiqued several of them, pointing out the benefits and pitfalls of each new version. The Feared Fantasy. Here's where change at the gut level begins, and you also can begin to challenge the idea that high achievers really are more worthwhile. We did a version of this technique that I've often demonstrated in my workshops called the "High School Reunion." It is a humor-based technique, but the goal is to make a powerful point at the gut level, so you can (hopefully) suddenly "see" that it is simply not true that people who achieve a great deal really are more worthwhile human beings. The Double Standard Technique. Here's where change at the gut level continues, and you will hear a beautiful example in Zeina's dramatic interaction with Dr. Levitt. Dr. Levitt plays the role of someone trying to figure out if she really is less worthwhile than people who achieve a great deal more. Rhonda and I hope you enjoyed our podcasts on the Achievement Addiction. We'd also like to thank our courageous Zeina for sharing her very personal work with all of us. Live work--and showing how a technique works--is generally far more inspiring and illuminating than simply teaching how a technique works.
Please let us know if you'd like more Feeling Good Podcasts like this in the future, with recordings from our weekly training group, and also if there are additional Self-Defeating Beliefs you'd like us to feature.
My new book Feeling Great, is now available on Amazon (see the link below) as a hardbound volume or as an eBook. It features all the new TEAM therapy techniques, and is geared for therapists as well as the general public.
Rhonda and David
Customer ReviewsSee All
Love this podcast
I love this and as a therapist it’s so amazing as a resource but please work on the audio! It’s so quiet at times it’s hard to listen to
At some point exercises from Feeling Good book stopped helping me. It was until I found this podcast and learned about Paradoxical Agenda setting. With self-acceptance that this methodology brings I feel much happier in life.
Thanks David and Fabrice!
I used Dr Burns' original book, Feeling Good, in the 80s, and have returned to it periodically over the years when patches of anxiety or depression have hit. These podcasts are fantastic for explaining Dr Burns' techniques, and also the new approaches, particularly paradoxical agenda setting, that he has developed. Each podcast is a good mix of introducing new material but also reitterating material already covered - as it's only once you've tried things, that you then start to appreciate the nuances. The life sessions are particularly helpful and a real credit to the people who agree to be part of them.