041: Uncovering Techniques (Part 3) — The What-If Technique

Uncovering (and Facing) Your Deepest Fears

In this podcast, David and Fabrice discuss the third uncovering technique called the “What-If” Technique, developed by the late Dr. Albert Ellis. The What-If Technique can will help you identify a terrifying fantasy under the surface that fuels your fears. David brings this technique to life with an inspiring story of a woman from San Francisco suffering from more than 10 years of mild depression and paralyzing Agoraphobia—the intense fear of leaving home alone. You may be surprised when you discover the Negative Thoughts that triggered her fear of leaving her apartment alone, as well as the core fantasy at the root of her Agoraphobia. David and Fabrice also discuss the dramatic techniques that helped her completely defeat her fears and overcome her depression.

Below, we have included a PowerPoint presentation for you so that you can follow along when David and Fabrice do the What-If Technique together on the podcast.

In the next podcast, David and Fabrice will discuss Shame-Attacking Exercises. This is a powerful and bizarre exposure technique that can helpful in the treatment of shyness–but there’s a hook. Therapists must be willing to do Shame Attacking Exercises themselves before they can ask patients to do them! And that can be intimidating!

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12 thoughts on “041: Uncovering Techniques (Part 3) — The What-If Technique

  1. Fabrice’s comment about not being afraid of death, but of a diminished life was powerful for me. I realized if my worst case scenarios happened, I could handle it and still have a good life. This was a very enlightening podcast!

    • Thanks, Rob! Just as you look forward to the Monday podcasts, I look forward to your wonderful comments! We just finished another live session on Saturday that was truly blow-away, and it will be published in a series of three podcasts with Marilyn entitled, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” I hope you enjoy them, but it will be four or so weeks from now, as we have several podcasts scheduled and ready to go first. Hope you are doing well! Your pal, david

  2. Pingback: Now You Have Something to Look Forward to Each Monday | goodnewsintherapy

  3. Dear David.

    These podcasts are really insightful and useful, thanks for putting them online.

    There’s a bit of an echo in the recordings, as sound bounces off the bare walls.

    You could improve sound quality by putting a sound barrier behind you, like a portable Japanese screen (or even something hung on the wall). This would absorb the sound waves and stop the echo.

    However, no matter what bouncing goes on, we’ll enjoy the podcasts!

    • Not sure what device you are using, but I corrected this on my own computer by clearing the cache on my browser. Let me know if this works! d

  4. Thanks Dr. Burns for the great podcast.

    I have had trouble understanding your agoraphobia example since I first read When Panic Attacks last year. When you get to the ultimate fear (her son’s growing up without their mother), it doesn’t seem like you had the patient actually do the exposure therapy against this final fear, or o any daily mood log exercises against it.

    I have had trouble using this technique because often when I get to the bottom of mine, I don’t know what to do. Do I do daily mood logs and/or cognitive exposure against all of the thoughts in the chain? the last one? or do I do something else? Thank you so much for your time and insight.


    • Glad you liked the podcast, and thanks for the excellent question about my book, When Panic Attacks. I used the Hidden Emotion Technique with regard to her unexpressed anger toward her delinquent sons. This was very helpful to her, to learn how to discipline them more effectively, and to use express her anger constructively, in a loving but firm manner. I used Exposure (Flooding), to have her confront her fear of being alone away from her apartment, thinking she’d be arrested for some non-existent crime. Hope this helps a little! With regard to your own issues, if you can provide a Daily Mood Log on one specific moment you were anxious, and show me your own Downward Arrow / What-If Technique, I might be able to do a podcast or FB Live Broadcast on it. I only work through specific examples, as the ONLY learning comes through the specifics. I cannot meaningfully address your question about what to do when you “get to the bottom” if I have a specific example. Many therapists try to work on a general, abstract level, but this has never been effective for me because I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Still, I loved your excellent email, and thanks again, and ll the best, david

    • Hi D, one other thing is that the Hidden Emotion phenomenon is frequently happening with anxious individuals, so it is a powerful method that always need to be included in the selection of treatment techniques. but it is radically different from the motivational, cognitive, and exposure treatment models and techniques I describe in When Panic Attacks. Sadly, most therapists who treat anxiety are not familiar with my Hidden Emotional Technique. david

  5. do you have any case examples i can read or experience of clients who’s trigger for a panic attack is pains in their stomach?

    IE: they are out to dinner….they feel a slight pain in their stomach…which triggers their mind to start spiraling and then they run to the bathroom and actually gets sick and has a panic attack

    • yes, this is not unusual. You can read about the Hidden Emotion Technique and other useful treatment methods in my book, When Panic Attacks. Thanks for the note! d

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