088: Role-Play Techniques —Feared Fantasy Revisited

088: Feared Fantasy, Part 2, and the Anti-Brushfire Technique*

Hi everybody!

Fabrice and I are thrilled to share this podcast with you, which I think you will really enjoy! We decided to include a second podcast on the Feared Fantasy Technique since it is so dynamic and powerful. We will also demonstrate the “Anti-Brushfire Technique,” which is another useful role-playing technique for individuals who fear disapproval.

We are joined tonight by two members of my weekly Stanford training group for Bay Area mental health professionals, Alisha Beal and Werner Spitzbaden. Both have brought along lists of some of their negative thoughts, which are based on real concerns.

Alisha has just completed our 12-week introductory “newbies” training group in TEAM-CBT. That group will merge with our “advanced” group next week, and she is feeling anxious and insecure for two reasons:

  1. She is concerned that people in the advanced group will think she’s not up to speed, and she’s worried that she will make a fool or herself when she has to practice techniques and get feedback from her colleague or answers questions in the class.
  2. Alisha blushes easily and is concerned that people will think she isn’t very bright and doesn’t know any anything when they see her blushing.

These concerns feel very real, and trigger fairly strong feelings of anxiety! Her negative thoughts included these:

  1. I’ll mess up.
  2. They’ll think I didn’t learn anything.
  3. I’ll blush and they’ll know I don’t know what I’m doing.
  4. I’ll make a fool of myself.
  5. David will realize that he wasted time and people when he created the introductory training group.

Werner’s concerns are similar. He has been in the advanced group for many months and has been doing a tremendous job of learning TEAM-CBT. However, he hasn’t work as a therapist for several years, but has been doing administrative work for a prominent California health delivery system. Werner is excited about the new TEAM-CBT skills he’s been developing, and wants to get back into clinical work. He has just accepted a part time position at the Feeling Good Institute in Mt. View, California.

This is great, but Werner is worried that his therapy skills won’t be good enough, and he’s afraid that the other staff members may judge him. He’s telling himself:

  1. I won’t succeed.
  2. I should know so much more than I do!
  3. I won’t do a good job!!
  4. I’ll develop a bad reputation, and no one will want to work with me.
  5. They’ll judge me and think that I’m not competent.

As you can see, although the details of his situation are quite different from Alisha’s, the underlying fears are similar.

And perhaps you’ve had similar fears and insecurities at times as well! Have you? I know that I’ve often felt that way! And that’s one of the reasons I find the techniques in this podcast so incredibly helpful and fascinating!

As you listen to the podcast, you will see what happens when Alicia and Werner both enter into an Alice and Wonderland Nightmare World where they will confront the monster they fear the most. I think you will find the results interesting, powerful, and entertaining, as they both suddenly achieve what the Buddhists have called “laughing enlightenment” for 2500 years!

* Copyright © 2018 by David D. Burns, MD


Fabrice and I hope you like our Feeling Good Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!


At least one listener has had problems leaving an iTunes review from his i-phone, so Fabrice has created some simple to follow instructions if you need help.

Some Cool Upcoming Workshops


Coming in June! One of my best two-day workshops ever!

“Scared Stiff: Fast, Effective Treatment for Anxiety Disorders”
a two-day workshop Sponsored by Jack Hirose & Associates
June 4 -5, 2018 Calgary, Canada
June 6 – 7, 2018 Winnipeg, Canada
Mike Christensen and several others will be joining me at both locations to help out with supervision of the small group exercises. You’ll LOVE this workshop and you’ll learn TONS of powerful techniques to treat every type of anxiety. You’ll learn how to heal your clients and your own feelings of insecurity and self-doubt as well!

I greatly appreciate your support, and hope you will continue to spread the word about TEAM-CBT and www.feelinggood.com. i am trying hard to reach as many people as possible with my free programming and blogs designed to help individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, relationship conflicts, and habits and addictions, as well as the therapists who treat them!




7 thoughts on “088: Role-Play Techniques —Feared Fantasy Revisited

    • I think Fabrice must have forgotten to put in the audio, and I just emailed about it! Sorry! It is a cool podcast you will enjoy, so hope we can get it posted shortly! david

  1. That was really enjoyable, and rich with valuable teachings. One concern I have with the feared fantasy technique in this particular setting, Since it’s being done in such a friendly and supportive environment it doesn’t reflect in a meaningful way a real life fear, does that not minimise it’s effectiveness?


    • I just replied and lost it! Will try again. Great question, Avi! Therapy needs to be friendly and safe. The Feared Fantasy is not preparation for real life. The “enemy” is actually the projection of your own negative thoughts about yourself. The method is very intense, and the warmth and safety makes it possible to use such a powerful method. The compassion and safety actually enhances the effectiveness quite a lot, in my opinion. In another reply I pointed out that this is not preparation for real criticism. For that, we use the Five Secrets! david

  2. Thanks Dr Burns.I’m amazed when this “laughing enlightenment” happens. It seems like you can see clearly how you were lying to yourself.
    I have a question:
    Why we should put a “voice” in the “Feared Fantasy” technique?
    What if the fantasy that someone fears is only people look down on him/her? this person only fears gestures of disappointment, anger or resent.

    When we add a dialog with the thoughts that we think they will have it doesn’t seems that dreadful but the fear is still there.

    • Thanks, Joshua! I greatly appreciate your listening, and also your great question.

      In the Feared Fantasy, you are not preparing for the real world, it is an imaginary world where you respond to what you believe people may be thinking about you, but not saying. In the Feared Fantasy exercise, they actually say it. That way you can confront your worst fear. What are YOUR fears in this regard. If someone is giving you gestures of disappointment, anger, or resentment, what is it that they are thinking? If you tell me, we can create a little Feared Fantasy dialogue for you!

      For the real world, I use the Five Secrets of Effective communication. That is a slight different problem, but of course also important. david

  3. I was intrigued by your comment in this podcast, “trying to calm down is a mistake…then your emotions become your enemy” and you said “but that’s for another podcast.” I hope you will do a podcast on that topic!!! I’m eagerly waiting to hear more about that.

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