Hearing the Music Behind the Words
This podcast again features the music of two beloved colleagues we introduced last week, Brandon Vance, MD and Heather Clague MD. We will be listening to music again this week, but it will be, for the most part, a different kind of music—it’s the music behind the words when someone criticizes you. We will be focusing on the most challenging and important of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication, the Disarming Technique. This week, Brandon and Heather will help Rhonda and David illustrate how to use this technique when you’re under the fire of criticism. But in addition, Brandon and Heather will also sing one more of their extremely beautiful and fun songs, appropriately entitled, “The Five Secrets!”
When you use the Disarming Technique, you find the truth in a criticism, even if the criticism seems untrue, unfair, or exaggerated. This technique is based on the Law of Opposites. The essence of the Law of Opposites is that if you genuinely and immediately agree with the criticism that seems untrue, you will put the lie to it, and the critic will stop believing the criticism. This is a remarkable phenomenon that can be enormously helpful in conflicts with patients (if you’re a therapist) as well as friends, colleagues, and loved ones. However, it is challenging, because you have to be able to really listen and “hear” the music behind the other person’s words.
If you use the Disarming Technique, or any of the Five Secrets, in a mechanical way, it will backfire. And I (David) have noticed that even trained mental health professionals can have a tremendous difficulties learning to use the Disarming Technique.
Here’s an example of POOR technique. Although this is a therapy example, it is equally valid for conflicts between friends and loved ones.
Let’s say that you’re a therapist, and your patient confronts you by saying, “This is the second week in a row that you’ve been late for my session.”
I’ve seen therapists respond like this: “You’re right. I have had emergencies which made me late for your sessions last week and today.”
Is this a good example of the Disarming Technique?
NO! Can you see why?
It’s because this therapist is agreeing with the criticism in a literal way, and not hearing the “music” behind the words. What is this patient really saying? He’s probably saying that he feels a lack of caring from his therapist, and this may be one of his core conflicts, thinking that the people he cares about never care about him. So the therapist’s “mechanical” answer misses the boat.
Here’s an improved response that addresses what the patient really said. After each sentence, I’ll put the name(s) of the technique(s) I used in the sentence.
“Jim, it’s painful to hear you say that, because you’re right. (“I Feel” Statement; Disarming Technique) I was late and I let you down, and I feel embarrassed. (Disarming; “I Feel” Statement.) I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re feeling hurt and annoyed, and maybe even a bit angry with me, and for good reason. (Feeling Empathy) This is particularly uncomfortable, because you’ve told me that everyone you care about seems to let you down. (“I Feel” Statement; Thought and Feeling Empathy) I care about you and have tremendous respect for you. (Stroking) Although I was delayed by emergencies last week and this week, the fact is, you had to wait. (Disarming) I will try to correct the problem of getting emergency calls when I’m in the clinic, which definitely is irritating and unfair to you, and I’ll gladly offer a free session to compensate the fact that you had to wait. (Disarming Technique, Feeling Empathy) I want to know more about how you’ve been feeling, and if there have been other times when I’ve let you down or perhaps said things that seemed uncaring? (Inquiry)”
Can you see that this response addresses the music, or feeling, or message behind the words, and not just the words?
And can you see the Law of Opposites in action? When this therapist agrees that he has let the patient down, and shows some humility, the patient will probably suddenly feel very cared about.
In today’s podcast, Brandon, Heather, Rhonda and David play a kind of Disarming Round Robin, taking turns responding to unexpected criticisms, using the Disarming Technique as well as any other communication techniques that may be needed. For example, one of the therapists is attacked by a patient who is a person of color who calls him “one of the rich white privileged people.”
You will also hear the immediate grading of each response–was it an A, a B, a C, or a D–along with what worked and what didn’t work, followed in some cases by a second try. If you want to learn the Five Secrets, and especially the Disarming Technique, this type of practice will be a must! You can practice with a colleague, or with a friend. But be prepared to check your ego at the door so you can learn from failure, because it will be very challenging for you at first!
A neighbor who was helping with the recording, Dave Fribush, said that he really liked the podcast, but was disappointed it was so short–he wanted to hear more examples. So Rhonda and I recorded a brief supplement two days later, which we will edit in.
Here are the additional criticisms we practiced:
- Angry friend who feels jealous / betrayed and says: You were hitting on my girlfriend last night!
- Irate mother, who feels neglected / used, and says: Forget it! I’ll just do it myself!
- Hurt colleague, who says: You didn’t support me during the meeting!
- Indignant patient, who tells her therapist: You just called me Jane, but my name is Lisa!
If you are serious about learning the Disarming Technique, as well as the other Secrets of Effective Communication, I would strongly urge you to study this list of Common Five Secrets Errors in addition to practicing with a friend. I know I’m asking a lot from you, but we are giving you, or hoping to give you, something precious!
And here are the words to today’s featured TEAM-CBT song!
She Used the Five Secrets
Lyrics by Heather Clague
to the tune of Blue Velvet by Bernie Wayne and Lee Morris.
She used the Five… Secrets
Madder than angry, oh was I
Pissed and unhappy, I could cry
At the start
She used the Five Secrets
She spoke my words to ‘ empathize
She ‘ guessed my feelings, oh she tried
From the heart
How could I stay harmed
When she so skillfully disarmed
How could I want to fight
When she asked, did I get it right with
With my Five Secrets
she told me plainly how she felt
Her stroking made my whole heart melt
And I can still hear her Five Secrets
In my ears
The Five secrets
Now I have learned to use them too
To give up blame and follow through
And face my fears
And I practice my Five Secrets
With my dears
I love the Five Secrets!
Conflict fuels intimacy
Not about me but about we
It’s more sincere!
So with the five secrets
Let love appear!
More about Brandon and Heather
Brandon Vance, MD and Heather Clague, MD are both psychiatrists and certified TEAM-CBT therapists. They practice in Oakland, California.
In addition to her brilliant work as a TEAM-CBT psychiatrist and teacher, Heather is a singer and improviser who collaborated in the creation of lyrics for some of Brandon’s songs. She is a member of the performance group, The Berkeley Players, and is the director of Berkeley Improv, a Bay Area school of improv that offers improv acting classes for adults and youth. Heather says, “Improv is a lot like TEAM CBT – full of laughter and enlightenment. The best moments tend to happen when we throw shame to the wind and let magic arise from the ordinary and let our ‘mistakes’ become gifts.”
In addition to his brilliant work as a TEAM-CBT psychiatrist and teacher, Brandon has a musical group that is connected with the Justice Arts Collective at Chabot College in Hayward California. In that group, he works with students to create musical pieces with social justice themes, often in the style of hip hop with Latin beats. Most, if not all of the students have experienced personal trauma and social inequity. Through music, they can share their truths, their hearts and their wealth of experiences with each other and the community, while at the same time working for social change.
Brandon explains that “we form deep connections with each other, and it’s become something of a family . A couple of years ago, we made a music video for our song, ‘From Mt. Tamalpais to Fruitvale Station,’ and actually won first place in the My Hero International Film Festival and in the World Independent Film Festival, as well as awards in many other film festivals. Check it out! We’re now working on a new video about immigration with our song, ‘Bring Down the Wall.'”
Brandon has also worked with Amy Specter in the creation of a company called Gameful Mind. He explains that “we wanted playful ways to support adults and kids in developing skills to be and stay emotionally well. So, we made the game TuneIN TuneUP, as well as some other games and playful shirts and such.”
David and Rhonda
You can reach Dr. Burns at email@example.com. Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is a Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. She also does forensic work in family court, but finds TEAM-CBT to be way more rewarding!
If you like our jingle music and would like to support the composer Brett Van Donsel, you may download it here.
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You may have missed the summer intensives, but there will be one more awesome intensive in November.
High-Speed Treatment of Depression
and Anxiety Disorders
A Four-Day TEAM-CBT Advanced Intensive
November 4 – 7, 2019
The Atlanta, Georgia Intensive
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Coming up in 2020
High Speed Methods to Reduce Resistance
and Boost Motivation
With Drs. David Burns and Jill Levitt
Feb 9. 2020 | 7 CE hours. $135
The Cognitive Distortion Starter Kit:
How to Crush Negative Thoughts
With Drs. David Burns and Jill Levitt
May 17, 2020 | 7 CE hours. $135