Today’s podcast features a most unusual and incredibly inspiring guest, Dr. Cai Chen. Cai is a fourth-year general psychiatric resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Tyler, Texas. He’s also currently enrolled with Mike Christensen’s “Live Online CBT Training Courses for Therapists.” Cai has told me that Mike Christensen is a “friggin’ amazing teacher” and that everyone who is interested in starting their journey in TEAM owes it to themselves to take his class.
My first contact with Cai was an email he sent me after listening to Podcast #187 on the live work I did with Dr. Michael Greenwald and Thai-An Truong at the Atlanta intensive about a year ago. Cai wrote:
Hi David, Michael, and Thai-An,
This podcast episode helped me truly change my life. I thought I had things figured out before, but man! The work you three did that day crystallized my own social anxiety issues and gave me the courage to finally do some very hefty self-disclosure. I was in tears throughout the podcast and well after even waking up in the middle of the night crying, knowing that I had to do the exact same thing that Michael had done. So I finally told all the people I knew on social media that I struggled with social anxiety and that my deepest fear was my negative feelings inconveniencing people, hurting them, and showing how I was being selfish by taking the spotlight. I also told everyone how all of these fears led to a lifetime of loneliness, rejection, and helplessness. I cried writing it all out because it finally felt like I was letting all of that go for the first time in my life.
The response I received from so many on social media, including people I hadn’t heard from in years, was astonishing and so supportive! My social anxiety was completely shattered! Now I see the truth: that our feelings are an expression of our humanity and the most honest, loving thing to do is to share them with people! I’d be damned if I’m going to tell myself anymore that my negative feelings “inconvenience” or “hurt” people. Screw whether I’m being “selfish”! I finally understand what you mean, David, that the problem was NEVER that I have been inconveniencing, hurtful, or selfish. It’s that I’m telling myself that these things about me are WRONG and that I SHOULDN’T be that way.
I share my feelings all the time now! The constant feelings of nervousness/unease, OCD, and panic attacks I had before are gone 99% of my days! I feel more human and myself than I’ve ever felt for the last 20 years.
You should call it “re-learning how to be human” therapy! God bless you David, Thai-An, and of course yourself Michael! I’m truly in your debt, Michael. You’re my own personal hero and I wish I was there at the intensive to give you a big hug! I’m grateful, honored, overjoyed, and just so happy for the help you’ve all brought me it’s making me tearful again. I love the work you’ve done and I love you all! I’ll remember this for the rest of my life.
Today, Rhonda and I were thrilled to meet with Cai face to face for the first time to get an update on what’s happened since that time. Cai emphasized that his intense feelings of depression, anxiety, crippling shyness and loneliness have vanished because of the intense effort he put in learning and using TEAM-CBT entirely on his own.
He described how he first became acquainted with the podcasts. He felt a lack of clinical training in his residency program on how to do psychotherapy, so did a google search for therapy training, and came up with two podcasts, one of which was ours. So, he flipped a coin and the Feeling Good Podcasts won.
He listened to the first podcast on measurement and testing, and said he was immediately excited about testing the idea that you could see exactly how effective or ineffective you were in every session with every patient. He was also excited by the idea that rapid changes in depression and anxiety really are possible, and that long term treatment is often not necessary.
He describes his determination to use TEAM-CBT in his clinical work, after a tremendous amount of practice based on what he’s been learning in the Feeling Good Podcasts. He stressed:
The importance of T = Testing, and how helpful and challenging it was at first because, as I had predicted, he initially got failing scores on the Empathy and Helpfulness scales from nearly all of his patients. But this led to opportunities to deepen his relationships with them while processing their feedback from the previous session. He said that he was initially embarrassed about handing his patients the Brief Mood Survey and asking them to fill it out before and after each session.
This was helpful, but very challenging, both from a technical and emotional perspective, since it was painful to have to view his failures. I mentioned that it has been the same for me, and described a recent extreme failure with a patient who was livid with me after a session I had thought was great. But talking it over with that individual subsequently led to a tremendous breakthrough, confirming the idea that “your worst therapeutic failure is often, or always, your greatest therapeutic success in disguise.” Of course, you have to have the willingness and skill to talk it over with your patient in a respectful, non-defensive, and genuine way.
My patient’s Achilles heel was perfectionism and a fear of anger. I believe it was helpful to her to see that it was absolutely okay to be angry with me, and to express feelings that she so often avoided, and to see that my failure did not have to be “awful,” but presented genuine opportunities for growth and a deepening of our relationship.
Cai also emphasized the value of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication, since these tools showed him HOW to be empathic with his patients. Prior to that, he thought that empathy was something you just kind of acquired spontaneously, on your own.
He also said he now realizes the incredible importance of doing your own personal work if you are a therapist.
Cai was so determined to learn and to do his own personal healing that he did tons of Daily Mood Logs, every time he was upset in fact. He also did many Relationship Journals to improve his skills with the Five Secrets of Effective Communication, and even role-played with himself! He unearthed many of his own Self-Defeating Beliefs with the use of the Downward Arrow Technique, including Perfectionism and the Achievement and Love Addictions, as well as the Conflict and Anger Phobias, as well as a kind of underlying “worthlessness” schema, thinking of himself as an inherently “useless person.”
Cai described his struggles with shyness, described in his email above, and identified with one of my podcasts about a young man I treated for shyness who “froze” with anxiety when in line at a Safeway store and seeing an attractive young lady checking groceries who seemed to be looking at him and smiling. Similarly, Cai froze when seeing a cute young lady and similarly felt “mortified.”
He describes how he overcame his own shyness, and how he did the “What-If Technique,” while working on a Daily Mood Log, and discovered his belief that “If I open up to people about my feelings, I’ll just be wasting their time.” He decided he also had to take action, and begin forcing himself to use Self-Disclosure with strangers, as well as all the people he knew on social media, plus patients, and colleagues, telling them about his shyness instead of hiding it.
He says that the positive responses he got blew his mind. He can now share his honest, vulnerable feelings with complete strangers in public and talk with them without shame or anxiety, something he never thought would be possible in the last 20 years.
He also described using a two-and-a-half-hour TEAM CBT session with a woman with decades of failed treatment for incredibly severe depression, including several series of electroconvulsive therapy that had minimal effects. Althought the shock therapy worked for several months, she relapsed when she remembered why she was depressed and became miserable again).
But when he did Positive Reframing, she was astonished to realize for the first time that her symptoms were actually the expressions of what was most awesome and beautiful about her, and when he used the Externalization of Voices during the M = Methods portion of the session, her symptoms not only disappeared completely for the first time, but she became euphoric.
He described this personal rule: anytime he becomes upset: He immediately does a Daily Mood Log or Relationship Journal ASAP, and sometimes spends two to three hours a day doing this. He would also stubbornly skip out on meals to finish a session with himself, something he doesn’t recommend other people do! I am in awe of his commitment, not only to defeating his own demons, but also to learning to become, not just another “shrink” who prescribes drugs, but a true “healer.”
Of course, Rhonda and I were pretty happy when he described the free assets on feelinggood.com, especially the podcasts, as “freaking amazing!” He mentioned how convinced he is that with dedication, time, the courage to face a lot of pain, and a lot of homework, anyone can learn how to heal themselves and better heal other people through TEAM just with the podcast and other self-learning material. He feels strongly that this is the case even if you don’t have access to any readily available teachers or trainers in your immediate area.
At the end of the podcast, to bring his story to life, he shared three of his negative thoughts after seeing a woman’s new relationship status on Facebook. At the time, he previously believed all three thoughts 100%, but now no longer believed them at all.
- This proves that I’ll never find anyone special.
- There must be something inherently wrong with me because I haven’t found a lifelong partner.
- There’s no point in trying anymore because I keep screwing things up.
I’m sure that many of our listeners, including maybe you, have had thoughts like this at some time in your life!
We demonstrated Externalization of Voices, using his first thought, and Cai blew it out of the water. This was his response: “This one’s a real tear-jerker for me. I dated someone a couple of months back and it was one of the best moments of my life. It didn’t last long, but I really loved her. She wasn’t special, but that’s the exact reason why I loved her.”
And then, when thinking back on the women he loved, he said, “none of them were special, but I loved all of them tremendously,” and broke into tears—showing us the beautiful and awesome human being he is.
Cai was so inspired by this short session that he went back to his Daily Mood Log and came up with some more killer, emotional responses. For another of his negative thoughts “Everyone else is succeeding more than I could ever hope to”, he responded: “It’s not in my interest to believe in success and accomplishments anymore. To live is to fail because being human means being defective, flawed, and imperfect. We’re all human and we’re all failing fantastically every day. It’s time for me to join the rest of the human race by letting my success and accomplishments die. Luckily there’s not very much there so I don’t think it will be too painful to let it all go.”
He mentioned how this brought on a lot of tears as well because it finally felt like he could let go of what he “needed” and still be ok.
Hey ladies, I’m going to post his photo with this podcast! Go for it! This incredible young doctor is—believe it or not—available!
Cai (Dr. Chen) plans to start his clinical practice in Dallas next summer following his graduation. He plans to be certified in TEAM-CBT, and will join one of our weekly free training TEAM-CBT training groups. If you would like to contact Dr. Chen, you can do so at: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
David and Rhonda
You can reach Dr. Burns at email@example.com. Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California, and has recently opened the Feeling Great Therapy Center, a collective of TEAM therapists, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is a Level 4 Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and trainer 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!
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This is the cover of my new book, Feeling Great. The kindle is available now, too, and the audio version may be available by the time you read this, too!