350: Master Class on Perfectionism, Part 1 of 2

A Visit to David and Jill’s

Tuesday TEAM Training Group at Stanford

In 1980 I published an article entitled “The Perfectionist’s Script for Self-Defeat” in Psychology Today Magazine, in an attempt to get some publicity for my (then) new book, Feeling Good. At the time, it was the cover feature and became the most popular article in the history of that magazine. Perfectionism is definitely one of the most common themes I have confronted in my clinical work and teaching over the past many decades. If you would like to take a look, you can check it out at this link. They had fantastic colorful illustrations, including a bleeding dart board wtih a dart in the bullseye, and sadly you’ll only get the text in black an white at the link.

It seems that almost everyone succumbs to this mindset from time to time, and it can cause many negative moods. But at the same time, the attempt to be perfect brings many benefits at the same time. This can be a dilemma.

The next several podcasts will be based on a two-week perfectionism class I developed for the weekly Stanford TEAM-CBT training group that I direct along with my esteemed colleague, Dr. Jill Levitt. This podcast class is suitable for therapists and non-therapists alike. These podcasts will give you the opportunity to “attend” the group and witness the procedures we use to train therapists.

You will have the opportunity to practice the same techniques the students will practice when we break into small groups. I would encourage you to turn off your podcast temporarily so you can practice the exact same techniques on your own when we break into small groups for practice. For example, in the first class you are about to hear, we will spend 20 minutes doing a Cost-Benefit Analysis for perfectionism. You will find a blank CBA if you click HERE. I would encourage you to practice the same thing for 20 minutes during each practice group.

During the first breakout group, you can spend 20 minutes listing the advantages and disadvantages or perfectionism. Ask yourself, “how might this mindset help me? And how might it hurt me?” You can use this blank CBA.

After listing the advantages and disadvantages, weigh them against each other on a 100-point scale, and put two numbers adding up to 100 in the two circles at the bottom. For example, if the advantages are greater, you might put 75 and 25 in the two circles. If they are about equal, you can put 50 and 50. And if the disadvantages are somewhat stronger, you might put 40 and 60 in the circles.

Remember, it’s not the number of items in the columns, but how you feel about them overall. Sometimes, one powerful advantage might feel much more important than the five disadvantages, and sometimes one powerful disadvantage might feel more important than numerous advantages.

Part of the fun (hopefully) of this podcast is that you’ll get to hear the questions and suggestions of many of the 45 or so students in the class that night. As you will hear, we have a multi-cultural rainbow group with therapists from around the world.

We started Part 1 of the Perfectionism Master Class with these important two questions:

  • What is perfectionism? How would you define it?

  • What is the difference between perfectionism and the healthy pursuit of excellence?

Then we went on to the Cost-Benefit Analysis (CBA) in small groups. I forgot to record my small group, but you will hear a long list of advantages and disadvantages discussed when the large group reconvenes. As I mentioned about, I would encourage you to do your own CBA while we are in the small group.

When we reconvened in the large group, we talked about the therapeutic strategies you would use once the patient has balanced the advantages against the disadvantages of perfectionism, including Sitting with Open Hands with patients who are reluctant to give up their perfectionism.

I also discussed my strategy of aiming for “average” or even “below average,” as opposed to perfection. As I’ve aged, I’ve actually lowered my standards so low that everything looks pretty awesome to me! And my productivity, as well as the quality of my work, has actually improved greatly as a result.

This paradoxical strategy may seem foolish to many devoted perfectionists at first, but it has proven exceedingly powerful and helpful in my life since I screw up so often! Seeing failures and mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow, rather than signs of failure or inadequacy, has been huge for me. Joy seems to spark my creativity and productivity way better than feelings of shame and anxiety.

After the CBA exercise, we used the Semantic Technique to revise the perfectionistic belief, like, “I should always try to be perfect,” or “My worthwhileness as a human being depends on my performance (or achievements, etc.). The goal, as you will see, is to reword the belief with this goal in mind: Your new belief can reduce or eliminate most or all of the disadvantages or perfectionism while preserving most or all of the advantages.

We DID record Jill’s small group, so you can hear her students working on the Semantic Revision of their perfectionistic belief, but I would strongly recommend that you turn off your podcast and see if you can revise your own perfectionistic belief while we are doing our small group work. Again, this was a 20-minute exercise.

I am attaching some of the feedback from the first Tuesday group on perfectionism, Part 1. Next week, you’ll hear Part 2 of the Master Class on Perfectionism.

If you are a therapist, you might want to join one of our weekly training groups. The group I conduct with Dr. Jill Levitt is the Tuesday group, and we meet from 5 to 7:30 (PST) on Tuesdays. In addition, Dr. Rhonda Barovsky and Richard Lam have a Wednesday training group that meets from blank to blank PST.

Both groups involve an introductory 12-week curriculum for individuals who are not familiar with TEAM-CBT. After that, you may join the advanced group, learning with 40 to 50 colleagues every week.

Both groups are free, but you will be required to:

  • Sign the consent form for group membership and agree to the terms on it.

  • Purchase the required course materials, including my psychotherapy eBook, Tools, Not Schools, of Therapy.

  • Purchase the Therapist’s Toolkit and use the assessment instruments with every patient / client at every session. These tools are for sale in the shop at, and discounts are available for therapists who want but cannot afford the tools.

  • Practice during sessions using role-playing techniques and receive immediate specific feedback on what you did effectively and ineffectively so as to refine your skills.

  • Do homework and use the techniques with your patients between sessions.

  • Attend at least ¾ of the training groups. These are NOT drop-in groups.

The free weekly training is available to licensed health / mental health professionals as well as graduate students in mental health who are studying to become psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, clinical social workers, and so forth. TEAM-CBT is immensely powerful and looks easy, but it’s not. A great deal of commitment, time, and training is always needed to develop expertise. Many of our group members have continued with the group for many years, and we encourage that.

Part of the training involves live personal work, which is recommended but not required. Jill and I believe that doing your own personal work is vitally important on the road to world class therapy skills. As you probably know, Rhonda and I publish many of those sessions as two-part podcasts, but only with the permission of the participants who are in the “patient” role on one of the evenings when we do personal work.

Probably 15% or 20% of the sessions feature personal work with members who volunteer and ask for help. Social anxiety and feelings that “I’m not good enough” as well as relationship problems are popular themes for the individuals doing personal work on any given night.

The personal work does not involve the development of an actual therapeutic relationship. It is simply a one-session, 3.5 hour experience in front of the group which is part of your personal development, so you can experience the TEAM-CBT in action in real time. If you have loose ends or unresolved issues at the end of your session, you can continue working on them with your own therapist. Dr. Levitt and I will not be involved in the development of an ongoing therapeutic relationship with you. The focus of the class is training, not treatment.

After each class, members provide negative and positive feedback. The following are selected excerpts from tonight’s group, with light editing to improve readability. I think you will enjoy reviewing the feedback, especially if you are thinking of joining one of our training groups. The feedback is used to improve the teaching methods.

Contact Information:

If you want to join David and Jill’s Tuesday group, that meets from 5:00-7:00 pm PST, please contact Ed Walton:

If you want to join Rhonda and Richard Lam’s Wednesday group, that meets from 9:00-11:00 am PST, please contact Ana Teresa Sliva:

Thank you for listening,

David, Jill and Rhonda

Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek and Berkeley, California. She can be reached at She is a Level 5 Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and trainer and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems.

You can reach Dr. Burns at

You can reach Jill Levitt, Ph.D. at She is the Director of Clinical Training at the Feeling Good Institute in Mountain View, California (

Selected Post Class Feedback

from the students in David and Jill’s class


  • nothing

  • Would’ve preferred some more clarification at the beginning on what kind of belief that we’d be working on in the small groups. It seemed like Jill and David focused on each individual’s belief rather than the general belief “I must not fail or make mistakes.”

  • I liked everything.

  • I would have enjoyed hearing more of the ideas for new beliefs that people generated. Hearing others’ ideas always gives me ideas for refining my own.

  • Too Short…

  • would have liked David and Jill to have done their demo per usual.


  • I really like the small group/larger group format. It was effective to have separate discussions within smaller groups and then share our insights with the larger group.

  • I learnt that I can rewrite my SDB while retaining the advantages of the old belief and minimizing or eliminating the disadvantages.

  • I like how I am getting less anxious about talking and practicing. I learned more about how to use the CBA.

  • I liked the focus of getting the therapists to use the techniques on themselves.

  • Loved the practice- so helpful-

  • What Dr Jill suggested: PRACTICE. It looks easy but rehearsing your lines with your colleagues as if they were patients requires thoughtful effort

  • I found it helpful and powerful when we came together as a large group to share the advantages and disadvantages of perfectionism. There were some important items on both sides that hadn’t occurred to my small group, including some disadvantages that feel incredibly important to me and helped me realize that I’m less in the recovery stage from perfectionism than I thought I was–but I’m now very motivated to change!

  • Going through the semantic technique

  • This was warm and inviting. I did not have any of the nervousness that i usually have fearing I will be “less than.”

  • I love to learn Perfectionism and I love to hear David’s 60’s stories. Looking forward to Part 2 of Perfectionism and next class of David’s stories from his zany hippy days as a medical student at Stanford during the late 1960’s!

  • I liked the format tonight with the 2 small groups. It was a nice change but mostly I like coming back to the large group to hear more about the experience of the other groups. It enriches the learning.

  • I really enjoyed today’s group and was able to do quite a lot of personal work while studying the skills. For me, the most significant moment of the group was when David discuss the “striving to mediocracy.” Prior to that I added “helped me to survive” to my advantages list”. When David discussed the lowering of the standard , acceptance and love I had a physiological feeling of softness and openness. Surviving is a tough place to be and striving promotes peace of mind and wellness. It gave me the permission to be vulnerable and care about my relationships. It was a wonderful moment for me.

  • The new format was interesting, sort of integrating large and small groups in smaller units, and coming back to discuss. I like it! Can’t wait for David’s stories, too!

  • We had more small group time.

What you learned

  • I learned that perfectionism is a super detrimental mindset to have and ultimately leads to unhappiness!

  • With an oppositional patient you can list just the advantages of their perfectionism instead of the full CBA

  • I learned today more about using the semantic method for changing the self-defeating belief

  • new ways of framing the semantic method, which I seldom use

  • I learned that the disadvantages of perfectionism are even greater than I had realized (and I knew they were weighty)!

  • I learned using CBA effectively for Perfectionist and liked that Jill added instructions on how to do the set-up of Semantic method. This was very helpful. Coming out of breakout group to the main group to Q& A was also very helpful to learn about the ideas that the other teams came up with

  • Focusing on the art of the CBA and how to determine when to sit with open hands.

  • I learned about a great many advantages and disadvantages of Perfectionism, and how to respond to patients depending on how the balanced them on the 100 point scale. I also learned how to introduce Semantic technique and apply it.

  • Ways to positively reframe Perfectionism.

  • How to approach perfectionism treatment as well as conceptualize the re-definition of our own and our patient’s value system to allow for greater wellbeing and peace of mind.

  • A bit more structure for how to do semantic technique for any Self-Defeating Belief (SDB) so you can retain all the advantages of a belief like perfectionism, and minimizes and get rid of the disadvantages.

  • the importance of Sitting with Open Hands when a client doesn’t want to change an SDB.

This is the cover of my most recent book, Feeling Great.

It’s on sale at right now on Amazon and is ridiculously cheap!

The kindle, audio and paperback versions are also available.CoverFeelingGreat1

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