Anxiety and Magical Thinking

Hi web visitors,

The following is a note about anxiety that I just sent to my Tuesday training group at Stanford this week, and it occurred to me that you might find it of interest. You may need the definition of Outcome Resistance and Process Resistance to grasp the note. Outcome Resistance means that although the patient is suffering, he or she will resist effective treatment for a wide variety of reasons. In anxiety, the Outcome Resistance nearly always results from Magical Thinking. In other words, the patient has the superstitious belief that the anxiety, although uncomfortable, protects him or her from some terrible catastrophe.

Process Resistance means that the patient may (or may not) want a positive treatment outcome, but does not want to engage in the therapeutic process required to cause a successful outcome. For anxious patients, the focus of the Process Resistance almost always has to do with Exposure Techniques. Nearly all anxious patients will fairly forcefully resist using Exposure because it is so frightening to them. They simply do not want to have to face their fears. If the therapist gives in, and agrees not to use Exposure, the likelihood of full recovery is poor.

And about 75% of mental health professional do give in to the patient’s resistance, because the therapist also fears Exposure therapy, thinking it is, indeed, dangerous for this or that (erroneous) reason. I call this “Reverse Hypnosis.” In other words, the patient has hypnotized the therapist into believing that Exposure is dangerous as well!

If you’d like to read about my new insight on this topic of the effect of Magical Thinking on Outcome Resistance and Process Resistance for anxiety disorders, CLICK HERE.

4 thoughts on “Anxiety and Magical Thinking

  1. Hi David,

    First of all a big thanks to you. Your books have helped me a lot and I follow your blog regularly. Based on my personal experience, I think you are right that Magical Thinking (cognitive distortion) motivates patients to be in touch with their mild anxious feelings; they believe that that awful things wont happen if they worry constantly about it. They may also believe that panic attacks can catch them off-guard anytime if they aren’t tuned into their feelings of mild anxiety. So they believe that the anxiety about the panic will protect them–that is an expression of their magical thinking.

    In a nutshell, if I keep my worry or anxiety active, it will protect me from: 1. Threat (perceived or real); 2. Greater anxiety or panic; 3. Panic about my panic.

  2. Dr. Burns, I’m truly appreciative of all the valuable information/strategies shared, it has made such a significant difference in my life. While I still confront anxiety, stress, fears I’m learning ways to counteract these distortions. I’m so very grateful

    I’m hooked on the Podcasts, also I think you and Fabrice work so well together, what a terrific team!!!

    Thank you so very much



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