50 Years of Psychotherapy! And it Finally Worked!

Topics in this blog:

  • Can we be happy ALL the time? 
  • What causes depression and anxiety?
  • Can patients really recover from depression and anxiety in just a few sessions, or in a single, extended therapy session? 

Hi Dr. Burns,

Here’s a hypothesis that I’ve been working on. Both the Freudians and the Transactional Analysis (TA) schools divide the psyche into three parts. In the case of the Freudians the three parts are Id Ego and Superego. In the case of the TA school the three parts are PARENT, ADULT, CHILD. My hypothesis is this: “Under development of any one of the three parts is the cause of many types of mental disorders.”

In my particular case, an under development of the Parent part, caused by very inadequate parents for the most part caused me to never develop the Parent part. After nearly 50 years of psychotherapy, (I started in 1968), I finally realized what was wrong, that I hated all authority. Now, I have somehow magically transformed my psyche to have a parental part. I’ve been pretty “cool” ever since.

That was about three months ago. I wanted to share this with you as my current and best therapist is “sold on your book, Feeling Good,” and I even have a hardbound 1st edition.

What do you think?



Hi Gary,

Thanks for your note, and congratulations on finally achieving your goal after 50 years of hard work. Sometimes the sweetest victories come from the hardest fought battles! Your patience and persistence are amazing. Way to go!

Please thank your most recent, and best therapist, for supporting my work! I greatly appreciate that. And hey, the hardbound first editions of Feeling Good are pretty rare now! I hope I can sign it for you one day. The publisher predicted that the book would not be popular, so the initial hardbound printing was small.

You might be interested that with TEAM-CBT, we are trying to bring about the “magical” changes you described much more rapidly, sometime even in a single extended therapy session, although this is clearly not always possible. But most of the time, I pretty quickly see the sudden emergence of a compassionate, realistic, and wise voice from within an individual who has been struggling with issues involving low self-esteem, depression, and inferiority for a long time, often decades. The wise voice finds the power to crush the distorted negative thoughts that have been triggering the painful feelings and robbing the patient of joy, self-esteem, and intimacy.

I’m not sure how that would fit into your hypothesis, but I suspect there might be some overlap! Perhaps this “wise voice” that emerges so quickly in TEAM-CBT would be similar to the “adult” voice, or healthy self? Maybe that is the “adult” voice? You’ll have to teach me about this! I am thinking there might be a healthy and unhealthy version of the three voices?

Here are some links if you would like to read about the new developments in TEAM-CBT, and how and why they emerged. If you get the chance, let me know what you think! The first link is to my recent article in Psychotherapy Networker entitled, When Helping Doesn’t Help. The second is my recent blog asking whether some people can really be treated for depression and anxiety in a single, extended therapy session.

Incidentally, lots of people attribute their difficulties to their parents or childhood, and certainly most parents are flawed, and most of us have had painful experiences growing up. However, I am not convinced we yet know the causes of emotional problems. Most experts think depression and anxiety result from some combination of genetic and environmental causes, but beyond that, the specifics are still unclear. Sadly, the lack of scientific knowledge does not prevent many people from promoting this or that theory! I guess, some people believe that a wrong theory is better than none at all! I put my efforts more into developing fast, effective tools to help people change, regardless of the cause of our insecurities.

And if therapists begin to measure symptom severity at the start and end of every therapy session, as we do in TEAM, then we’ll know when we’re being effective, and when we’re not. I believe that data-driven, outcome-accountable psychotherapy will be the wave of the future. And I also believe that the future is NOW. We already have these tools, if therapists are brave enough to use them!

How important are childhood experiences in shaping how we think and feel as adults? About thirty years ago I read about an interesting research study from Sweden. They compared something like 500 children from the worst homes, in terms of stability, warmth, and so forth, with a similar number of children raised in the most loving homes, and studied them for twenty years in terms of emotional development, academic performance, and antisocial / criminal activities. Which group do you think did better? Think about it for a moment before you continue reading. You will find the answer at the bottom of this blog. Here are your choices:

a. the children from the worst homes did better.

b. the children from the most loving homes did better.

c. both groups of children did about the same.

Once I was on a morning television talk show in Philadelphia discussing my book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy. A viewed called in when the show was live and asked if it was possible to be happy all the time. I said I didn’t know, but didn’t think so, but if anyone knew of anyone who’d been happy all the time, to have that person contact me because I’d love to talk to them and find out the secret of their success.

As I was leaving the show to go back to my office, the producer said there was a call for me from a man who claimed he’d been happy every minute of his life! I invited him to my office to tell me about it, and was curious to find out more about him.

The next day he arrived and explained that he’d been happy every minute of every day, in spite of numerous catastrophic events. I think he’d gone bankrupt once, had been betrayed by a loyal friend, and had successfully battle two forms of cancer. But no matter what happened, nothing got him down.

I asked him if he had any idea why? Had he had a particularly loving childhood, for example?

He said when he was about five or six years old both of his parents suddenly died, so he was adopted by his grandparents, who lived on a farm. The day he arrived, his grandfather told him that there was a tremendous amount of work to do to survive on a farm, and everyone had to pitch in and help. So he shouldn’t expect to get a lot of love because there wasn’t enough time for that type of thing. But his grandfather told him this: “Don’t ever let anyone put you down, and you’ll be fine.”

Apparently, that advice was all he needed!

Didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but his story was interesting, to say the least. Personally, I don’t aim for being happy all the time, for lots of reasons. First, I think the contrasts of emotions make for much of the joy in being human, including the many moments of self-doubt, anxiety, and despair, that most of us experience. Second, I think the down times provide us with enormous opportunities in terms of personal and spiritual growth. And third, I am convinced that negative emotions, such as sadness and grief, without distorted thoughts, can actually be a form of celebration, and one of the highest experiences a human being can have.

Answer to the question in the blog, Surprisingly, the correct answer is c. There were no statistically significant differences in the two groups of children! The children from the worst homes did just as well as the children from the best homes in all of the outcome variables. I wish I still had the reference to that article! if I can find it, or if a reader can find it, I will pass it on to all of you. I am recalling this from memory, and memory can be flawed, so take it with a grain of salt until we can get more confirmation. But I found the article to be mind-boggling, and it reminded me once again of how little we know about the causes of emotional distress!


If you are reading this blog on social media, I appreciate it! I would like to invite you to visit my website,, as well. There you will find a wealth of free goodies, including my Feeling Good blogs, my Feeling Good Podcasts with host, Dr. Fabrice Nye, and the Ask Dr. David blogs as well, along with announcements of upcoming workshops, and tons of resources for mental health professionals as well as patients!

Once you link to my blog, you can sign up using the widget at the top of the column to the right of each page. Please firward my blogs to friends as well, especially anyone with an interest in mood problems, psychotherapy, or relationship conflicts.

Thanks! David

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