Solution to David’s Tuesday Tip #6*

This was yesterday’s paradoxical tip of the day–

Few therapists can recognize, or acknowledge, the patient’s anger. Most therapists appear to have a fairly intense “anger / conflict phobia.”

This is true of non-therapists as well. The attempt to avoid anger will cause it to mushroom.

The mean of this tip is pretty straightforward–nearly all therapists don’t do a good job of acknowledging or dealing with patient anger. I didn’t realize this until I began training therapists in the Five Secrets of Effective Communication.

I’ve developed an Intimacy Training exercise that goes like this. Two therapists pair off, and one plays the role of an extremely critical, hostile patient who criticizes the therapist, saying things like:

  • You don’t really care about me!
  • You’re making my marriage worse.
  • All you care about is the money.
  • You don’t understand me.
  • You’re not helping me.

Then the therapist tries to respond, using the Five Secrets. At this point, the role play must STOP. Then we give the therapist a letter grade on his or her response (was it an A? a B? a C? or worse?) along with specific feedback about what he or she did right and what he or she did wrong. Then we model how to respond more effectively, using the Five Secrets.

Here’s the interesting thing. In almost every role-play, the one in the “patient” role is extremely angry. But therapists will almost NEVER acknowledge this.

For example, I did a workshop on empathy and was setting up a demonstration for the staff at a really beautiful Mennonite mental hospital in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and asked for two volunteers for the Intimacy Exercise. Two participants eagerly volunteered, and the one who volunteered to play the therapist role was one of their very most senior clinicians. Before they started the role play, I emphasized the importance of acknowledging the patient’s anger, and mentioned that no therapist in the United States had ever been able to do that. For effect, I added that no therapist in the United States would EVER be able to acknowledge anger. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one, I’m afraid!

So we started, and the participant who played the role of the difficult patient really lit into the more senior clinician. Her criticisms were extremely powerful, and even though it was just a role-play demonstration, her criticisms of him sounded real! I was glad I wasn’t in his shoes!

When she stopped, there was a long and awkward silence for about twenty seconds. You could have heard a pin drop in the room.

Then he leaned for and said, in a bit of stuffy voice, “You must have had a VERY troubled childhood!”

Yikes! Sadly, he was zero for five on his use of the Five Secrets, and as I had predicted, carefully avoided any mention of her anger.

Now, if you’re a therapist, you’re probably thinking, “I wouldn’t make that kind of ridiculous error, or respond in such a lame way!” Almost everyone thinks that until they have to do a role-play! It’s really hard to be in the therapist role, but the exercise presents tremendous opportunities for growth and learning if you’re willing to check your ego at the door.

The same problem, I believe, exists in the general public. Although we’re an extremely violent, aggressive society, people do tend to avoid dealing with anger. The anger / conflict phobia that is so widespread (almost universal) among mental health professionals is an interesting and little-known fact.

Well, there’s an awful lot more to learn about communication, and this blog is just one tiny slice. To learn more, check out my book, Feeling Good Together, and do the written exercises while you read. The book can transform the way you related to others, and you can purchase it on if you’re interested in having more loving and satisfying relationships with the people you care about.

You might also want to tune in to my free weekly Feeling Good Podcasts, available right on this website, I’ve had many podcasts on intimacy training and how to use each of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication.



* Copyright © 2018 by David D. Burns, MD.


Coming in June! It’s just around the corner–

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

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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.

On the evening of day 1 of each workshop, I will do a live demonstration with someone from the audience who’s been struggling with some type of anxiety, such as social anxiety or public speaking anxiety. Mike Christensen will be my to-therapist. The live work is nearly always the highlight of this workshop.

You’ll learn how to heal your clients and your own feelings of insecurity and self-doubt as well. In fact, on the afternoon of day 2, I will catapult at least two-thirds of the audience into a state of euphoric enlightenment. You can’t beat that!

I greatly appreciate your support, and hope you will continue to spread the word about TEAM-CBT and 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!