052: Your Responses to the Live Work with Marilyn — Are People Honest in Their Ratings, and Do the Improvements Stick?

052: Your Responses to the Live Work with Marilyn — Are People Honest in Their Ratings, and Do the Improvements Stick?

The responses to the Marilyn session were extremely positive. At the start of the podcast, Fabrice reads a response from a listener who was moved and inspired by the work Marilyn did.

David and Fabrice discuss two questions commonly raised by people who have seen David’s live demonstrations with individuals experiencing severe depression and anxiety. Since the change in Marilyn’s scores were so fantastic, some skeptical listeners have asked, “Was this real, or was it staged?” Others have asked if patients are simply giving favorable answers on the Brief Mood Survey and Evaluation of Therapy Session forms as a way of being “nice” to the therapist.

David points out that the opposite is true. If patients are in treatment voluntarily, without some kind of hidden agenda such as applying for disability, they tend to be exceptionally honest in the way they fill out the forms. In fact, most therapists find that they get failing grades from nearly every patient on every scale at every session at first. This can be very upsetting, especially to therapists who are narcissistic and defensive about criticism. But if the therapist is humble and open to the feedback, the patient’s feedback on the Brief Mood Survey as well as the Evaluation of Therapy Session forms can provide a fabulous opportunity for growth and learning.

So in short, it is not true that patients fill out the forms just to be “nice” and to please the therapists. The scores are brutally real! If you are a therapist and a doubters, you can give the assessment instruments a try, and I think you’ll be surprised, and perhaps even shocked when you review the data!

Still, David acknowledges that the rapid and phenomenal changes he now sees most of the time when using TEAM-CBT are hard to believe, especially when you’ve been trained to think that recovery is a long, slow process. David discusses a model of brain function proposed by a molecular biologist / geneticist, Dr. Mark Noble, that allows for extremely rapid change.

David and Fabrice also address the question—can these kinds of miraculous results last, or are they only a flash in the pan? David emphasizes the importance of ongoing practice whenever the negative thoughts return. The “one and done” philosophy is not realistic. Part of being human is getting upset during moments of vulnerability, and that’s when you have to pick up the tools and use them again!

David describes experiencing three hours of panic just a few days ago, and Fabrice asks what techniques he used to deal with his own negative feelings, including Identify the Distortions, Examine the Evidence, Reattribution, and the Acceptance Paradox.

David agrees with the Dalai Lama that happiness is one of the goals of life, but emphasizes that it is not realistic to think one can be happy all the time. Fortunately, you can be happy most of the time–but you have to be willing to pick up the tools and use them from time to time when you fall into a black hole!

David and Fabrice

If you are reading this blog on social media, I appreciate it! I would like to invite you to visit my website, http://www.FeelingGood.com, as well. There you will find a wealth of free goodies, including my Feeling Good blogs, my Feeling Good Podcast with host, Dr. Fabrice Nye, and the Ask Dr. David blogs as well, along with announcements of upcoming workshops, and tons of resources for mental health professionals as well as patients!

Once you link to my blog, you can sign up using the widget at the top of the column to the right of each page. Please forward my blogs to friends as well, especially anyone with an interest in mood problems, psychotherapy, or relationship conflicts.

Thanks! David


Can We Prevent Suicide Attempts?

Can We Prevent Suicide Attempts?

tHi www.FeelingGood.com friends and colleagues,

I just received the following email from a therapist who was shocked to discover that her patient was suicidal after reviewing his scores on the Brief Mood Survey. Her intervention likely saved his life.

Patient suicides are not uncommon, sadly, and represent the dark side of our profession. The death of any patient is an enormous tragedy for the patient, obviously, and is devastating for the family and friends as well. Patient suicides can be incredibly demoralizing and anxiety-provoking for the therapist, too. It is imperative, in my opinion, that therapists have the best, state-of-the-art tools for detecting the emergence of suicidal urges so that we can intervene and have the greatest chance of preventing these horrible events.

In two upcoming Feeling Good Podcasts, Fabrice and I will discuss what happened to a psychologist named Harold who thought he did not need to use the Brief Mood Survey to track his patients’ symptoms at the start and end of every therapy session. Like so many therapists, Harold  was convinced that he was sensitive and empathic and really understood how his patients felt with reasonable accuracy. When his favorite patient unexpectedly committed suicide following a particularly “good” therapy session, Harold was understandable devastated. He felt intensely depressed, anxious, ashamed, inadequate, alone, hopeless, and angry. You may find these two podcasts interesting and sobering.

My research and training experience indicate that therapists’ perceptions of how their patients feel (in terms of suicidal urges as well as severity of depression , anxiety and anger) are often way off-base, but therapists don’t realize this because most of them are not assessing assessment scales to track progress at every session. In addition, therapists’ perceptions of how empathic and helpful they are also way off-base much of the time for the same reason. They don’t measure empathy, and most don’t even ask patients to rate how warm and understanding they are.

That’s why I developed tools like the Brief Mood Survey, so therapists can track patient progress in multiple dimensions before and after every therapy session. I believe it’s use represents a major breakthrough in psychotherapy, because it’s like having an emotional X-ray machine to inform the therapist about what’s really going on, and to guide the treatment. Of course, I’m more than a little biased on this point! And the use of the BMS requires lots of courage, because the vast majority of patients are shockingly honest in the way they rate their therapists on these scales, and while the information can be invaluable, and even life-saving, it can also be quite disturbing and threatening to the therapist’s ego.


Hi David,

I just wanted to let you know that I recently started using the THERAPIST’S TOOLKIT and found myself in a similar situation you described. I recently had a patient whose scores were virtually ZERO on the Brief Mood Survey one week (meaning no symptoms at all), so I was convinced he was doing well. However, the following week I was alerted to high scores on your two-question “suicidal impulses” scale, which, to my chagrin, I nearly missed. That’s because I am in a new office with low lighting and I am visually impaired. But when I looked more closely, I discovered there my patient not only had suicidal thoughts and urges, but an actual plan for suicide!!!

Boy was I grateful having on hand the full blown Suicidal Urges Survey and Suicide Assessment Interview, which I proceeded to do in a two-hour session the following day. Just as surprising, his scores following THAT session were all ZERO again (except for Empathy and Self Help:-)

(David’s explanation. Scores of zero on the Depression, Suicide, Anxiety and Anger Scales are the best possible scores, indicating no symptoms at all. In contrast, scores of 20 out of 20 on the end-of-session Empathy and Helpfulness Scales are the best possible scores, indicating that the therapist was tremendous empathic and helpful during the session.)

Although I was/am at least temporarily relieved by the rapid reversal, I can’t say I know how to account for it, since most of the interview was assessment based, unless I just ooze TEAM-CBT without realizing it!

All that came to mind was “Hawthorne Effect.” As an aside, I know the “Suicidal Urges” survey is one of the “experimental” ones, but I saw no scoring sheet; I imagine they generally correspond with the BMS, the higher the worse.

Also, in answer to your query, I for one would LOVE to learn more about the Self-Defeating Beliefs survey and/or any info you impart in this regard. I was focused on that with the patient when I almost missed his staggering scores on the two questions on suicidal impulses. But I would like to return to it, and I will plan to give it for homework on a weekly basis to check his “emotional temperature” which is vitally important for this patient as you can imagine, I will consult some colleagues as well who have expertise in ethics and legal issues.

My TEAM CBT group (with Lynne Spevack) meets tomorrow, and we will focus on Testing, yay! And on Monday I will be starting Taylor Chesney’s TEAM CBT group! Both groups meet 2x/month. If only there were a group that met every day:-)

Meanwhile, I hope you’ve received my check by now for the EASY Diagnostic System which I cannot wait to get my hands on and need it desperately!!! When might I expect to receive the email with this valuable info?

I am enjoying your Feeling Good Podcasts, as well as your Feeling Good Blog and newsletter. I am more than fairly certain, were it not for your inventory (the Brief Mood Survey), I would have missed this potentially life-saving intervention. I’d even done a brand new Intake the week before. Although we do not have the power 100% to prevent a person from committing suicide, if we do not detect it we don’t have a fighting chance. I at least have the peace of mind now that with this knowledge, I can do everything in my power to insure this patient gets all the help he needs and hopefully the right help.

Thank you for being you and your contributions for making such a meaningful difference in the world for our patients and us therapists!


PS I also really appreciated your podcast on anti-depressants, which I LOVED and wasn’t surprised. I’m sure that took tremendous courage, along with your well-intact integrity to speak your truth. I wish more Psychiatrists were like minded. Until there is such a paradigm shift, which I think is coming, such decisions will have to be decided between the patient and their doc largely comprised of big Pharma mentality. who’ve drunk the cool aid, sadly.

Hi Kathy,

Thank you for your enlightening email. I greatly enjoyed reading it, and kudos to you for saving your patient’s life.

You asked about the scoring of the two-item Suicidal Urges scale. I intentionally don’t have a strict numerical scoring key, as I want the therapist to attend to it thoughtfully. There are some guidelines in the massive update to the Therapist’s Toolkit. You probably have it already, but email me if you need it.

The first of the two screening items asks about suicidal thoughts and fantasies. Most depressed individuals will have these thoughts, such as the idea that they might be better off dead, but this is not generally alarming if there are no suicidal urges. Of course, you will always want to back up the survey with some questions to make sure.

The second of the two screening items asks about suicidal urges or plans. Any endorsement of this item is more worrisome, and usually merits a suicide assessment interview, just as you did. In general, you will only have to do this once with any particular patient, and it should ideally be done at the beginning of therapy, at the initial evaluation.

A third thing is to note changes in how the patient answers these two items, since any increase in the scores can indicate the development of increased suicidal urges. And as you say, we cannot 100% prevent suicide attempts in our patients, but the Brief Mood Survey will give you vastly improved information, since you will have the patient’s scores at the start and end of every therapy session.

One additional point, most versions of the Brief Mood Survey ask how the patient is feeling right now, just prior to the start of the session, and once again right after the end of the session. This is so the therapist can find out how effective, or ineffective, the session was. Such information is incredibly valuable! However, you can also ask if the scores reflect how the patient was feeling during the week, between the sessions. This is important, because the patient may have had times when he or she was feeling more suicidal, and this might merit a more intensive interview to assess the risk.

When you receive you EASY Diagnostic System from me (I assume you’ve already don this), you’ll find a structured screening interview for suicidal patients at the end of the diagnostic manual. This can be very helpful. There’s also a chapter in my psychotherapy eBook (Tools, Not Schools, of Therapy) on “The Prediction and Prevention of Suicide and Violence” that can be helpful as well. I have also included that chapter in the upgrade to the Therapist’s Toolkit.

Finally, please give Lynne Spevack my regards. She is a terrific teacher and therapist! I enjoyed catching up with her at the Newark workshop and encouraged her to meet more frequently with her training group. I agree that twice a month is not really enough. Keep in mind we now have three TEAM-CBT training centers in New York (for links, check out my referral page), plus numerous weekly online training groups that therapists around the world can join.

All the best,



If you are reading this blog on social media, I appreciate it! I would like to invite you to visit my website, http://www.FeelingGood.com, as well. There you will find a wealth of free goodies, including my Feeling Good blogs, my Feeling Good Podcasts with host, Dr. Fabrice Nye, and the Ask Dr. David blogs as well, along with announcements of upcoming workshops, and resources for mental health professionals as well as patients!

Once you link to my blog, you can sign up using the widget at the top of the column to the right of each page. Please firward my blogs to friends as well, especially anyone with an interest in mood problems, psychotherapy, or relationship conflicts.

Thanks! David

035: Live Session (Mark) — Final Testing, Wrap Up (Part 7)

035: Live Session (Mark) — Final Testing, Wrap Up (Part 7)

Part 7: T = Testing Revisited, Conclusion of the Live Therapy Session with Mark

This is the last live therapy podcast with Mark, the physician who was convinced he was a failure as a father because of his difficulties forming a close, loving relationship with his oldest son. Although the session appeared to go well, we can’t be sure until we see Mark’s end of session mood ratings on the Daily Mood Log and on the Brief Mood Survey and and Evaluation of Therapy Session. David emphasizes that therapists’ perceptions of patients are notoriously inaccurate, but most therapists are unaware of this because they don’t use the rigorous testing procedures at the start and end of sessions.

To review Mark’s partially completed Daily Mood Log, CLICK HERE. Jill and David will ask him to complete the additional negative thoughts on his own after the session.

To review mark’s end of session Brief Mood Survey and Evaluation of Therapy Session, CLICK HERE.

After David review’s the phenomenal changes Mark reported from the start to the end of the session, David asks if the ratings were genuine, or, as some listeners might suspect, faked in order to try to please the therapists. Mark bursts into tears and says, in a choked voice, that it was a life-changing experience.

After the end of the session, David and Fabrice discuss a number of highlights from the work with Mark:

  • The testing indicated a complete or near-complete elimination of symptoms. In 2 ½ hours, Jill and David have essentially completed an entire course of psychotherapy. Although there may still be some work to be done with Mark, the hard part has already been completed.
  • David emphasizes that he now views psychotherapy as a procedure to be done at one sitting, much like surgery, with brief follow-up visits, rather than a long, drawn out procedure meeting once pre week for months or even many years. And although a single 2 or 2 1/2 hour session may be more costly than a traditional 50-minute hour, it can be vastly more cost-effective Than dozens of sessions with little or no progress. In addition, it is vastly better for the patient who walks out feeling good today, rather than having to endure weeks, months, or even many years of traditional talk therapy or antidepressant drug therapy.
  • David and Fabrice talk about the fact that no one is permitted to feel happy all the time, and that Mark’s negative thoughts and feelings WILL return, David defines a “relapse” as one minute or more of feeling lousy. Given that definition, we will ALL relapse forever! But it doesn’t have to be a problem for Mark if he is prepared for this, and knows how to pop out of the relapses quickly, rather than getting stuck in them. This is where Relapse Prevention Training (RPT) becomes so important following the initial dramatic recovery. RPT only takes about 30 minutes and is easy to learn, and will perhaps be the topic for a future Feeling Good Podcast if our listeners express an interest in it.
  • David discusses the difference between an Internal Solution and an External Solution. In this session, David and Jill have guided Mark in the Internal Solution—this means crushing the negative thoughts that triggered Mark’s feelings of unhappiness, anxiety, shame, failure, and anger for years, if not decades. Now that he is feeling so much better about himself, he may want some help with the External Solution. This will involve learning how to develop a more loving relationship with his son using tools like the Relationship Journal and the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. This will be far easier now that Mark is no longer using up all his energy beating up on himself and feeling depressed and inadequate.
  • David wraps up by talking about the true wealth we have as therapists. Although we won’t develop the riches of a Bill Gates doing psychotherapy, we do have the fabulous and precious opportunity to see people as they really are inside, and to witness miracles like the one we saw in the session with Mark.
  • David expresses the hope that listeners have benefitted by listening. Although we are all different, most of us have had the painful experience, like Mark, of believing we were somehow failures, or inferior, or defective, or simply not good enough. We are deeply indebted to Mark’ courage and generosity in giving us the opportunity to see the solution to this ancient and almost universal human problem!

There are many resources for listeners who want to learn more about TEAM-CBT, including:

  • David’s exciting two-day and four-day training workshops, listed on his website, feelinggood.com.
  • Tons of free resources for patients and therapists at feelinggood.com. Please sign up using the widget in the upper right hand corner of any page on his website and you will receive email notifications and links to every post.
  • David’s psychotherapy eBook entitled Tools, Not Schools of Therapy.
  • David’s Tuesday psychotherapy training groups at Stanford, which are co-led Jill Levitt, PhD and Helen Yeni-Komshian, MD. The training is free of charge to Bay Area and northern California therapists. You will have the chance to do free personal work, too!
  • David’s famous Sunday hikes, also free to members of the training groups.
  • Paid online and in-person weekly TEAM-CBT training groups, plus intensive TEAM-CBT treatment programs, at the Feeling Good Institute in Mt. View California.
  • In addition, many TEAM-CBT training and treatment programs are now offered in many cities throughout the US and Canada. For more information, visit feelinggood.com or www.feelinggoodinstitute.com.

029: Live Session (Mark) — Introduction & Testing Phase (Part 1)

Podcast Live Therapy Session: “I’ve been a failure.”


Jill & DavidThis is the first in a series of podcasts that will feature live therapy. As you listen, you’ll have the opportunity to peak behind closed doors to see how TEAM-CBT actually works in a real-world setting, and not role playing.

The patient is a physician named Mark who has been haunted for decades by a problem with his oldest son, and he feels like a failure as a father. Although the facts of your life are likely to be very different, you might understand what it’s like to feel like a failure, or to tell yourself that you’re defective, or simply not good enough.

The two co-therapists include David and his highly-esteemed colleague, Dr. Jill Levitt. We have broken the session down into a number of podcasts that will include excerpts from the session along with commentaries on the thought patterns of these two master therapists as the session unfolds.

Part 1—T = Testing

As the session begins, David and Jill review of Mark’s scores on the Brief Mood Survey (BMS), which he completed just before the session began. The scores indicate that Mark is only feeling mildly depressed, anxious, and angry, but is extremely dissatisfied with his relationship with his son.

Click here to view Mark’s initial Brief Mood Survey.

At the end of the session, David and Jill will ask Mark to complete the BMS again. By comparing his patient’s scores at the start and end of the session, they will be able to see exactly how effective, or ineffective, the session was. Mark will also rate David and Jill on Empathy, Helpfulness, and several other important dimensions.

Testing at the start and end of every therapy session is one of the new and unique components of TEAM therapy. The testing can revolutionize psychotherapy, because therapists can fine-tune their therapeutic strategies based on the scores, and make critical important changes if the session was not particularly helpful. However, the assessment instruments are extremely sensitive and pick up the smallest therapeutic errors. This can be quite threatening to therapists who don’t want to be held accountable.

The Ten Worst Errors Therapists Make–and How to Avoid Them

The Ten Worst Errors Therapists Make–and How to Avoid Them

The Ten Worst Errors Therapists Make–and How to Avoid Them*

©2012 by David D. Burns, MD

Do not copy, publish or reproduce without the written permission of Dr. Burns.

Really good therapy may tend to go against human nature to a certain extent. Unfortunately, therapists keep gravitating toward familiar approaches that are comfortable but ineffective. I have created a list of the ten most common errors therapists make, with the solutions I have proposed for each error. In today’s blog, I will focus on the first of these errors.

Error #1. The Failure to Measure

The great majority of therapists want to work “intuitively,” without quantitative assessment of changes in symptoms each session, and without a quantitative assessment of the quality of the therapeutic alliance. This failure to measure results from the belief that we “know” fairly accurately how our patients are thinking and feeling, based on our training as well as our own feelings and perceptions during the session.

My research and clinical experience have indicated that this belief may be misguided and, in some cases, even dangerous. Therapists’ perceptions of how their patients feel tend to be inaccurate. In other words, your patient could be enraged, and yet you may believe that she or he is not at all angry. Or your patient could have significant negative feelings about you as well as the treatment you are offering, but you may be convinced that you have developed warmth and understanding with that patient. Or, your patient could be planning a suicide attempt within the next couple days, but you may think that he or she is making good progress and feeling a lot better.

Here’s my solution to this problem: My colleagues and I require all patients to complete the Brief Mood Survey (BMS) in the waiting room immediately before each sessions begins, indicating how they feel right now. The BMS includes brief, highly accurate scales that measure depression severity, suicidal urges, anxiety, anger, relationship problems, and positive feelings such as joy, self-esteem, and productivity. It only takes about one minute to complete the BMS.

The patient hands the BMS to the therapist at the start of the session, and the therapist will instantly know exactly how the patient is feeling. The therapist records the scores on a flow sheet in the chart—this takes less than 15 seconds, and a glance will show the therapist exactly how much, or how little, the patient has been progressing since the first session. The therapist also knows exactly how disturbed the patient is feeling right now, at the start of the session, so any serious problems can be addressed.

After the session is over, the patient completes the BMS once again in the waiting room, indicating how she or he feels right now. The patient also rates the therapist on warmth, empathy, helpfulness, and other therapy process dimensions, using extremely sensitive scales, and writes down what he or she liked the least, and the most, about the session. It takes the patient about two minutes to complete the end-of-session assessments. The patient leaves these end-of-session assessments in the therapist’s box before going home.

You can review this information right away, when the session is still fresh in mind. It is like having the world’s greatest supervisor providing specific and accurate feedback at the end of every single therapy session. You will discover exactly how effective you were (or weren’t), and how much your patient improved (or failed to improve) during the session. If you are courageous, this information has the potential to transform your clinical work. However, humility will be required, because the information will often be disturbing to you.

In the Bible, there is mention of the “unforgiveable sin.” Theologians have debated about what this sin might be. I have to confess that I don’t know the answer, but I do believe there is an “unforgiveable sin” that therapists make—and that is the failure to measure. I am convinced that it is impossible to do world-class therapy without measuring at each session. I also believe that the failure to measure reflects a kind of therapist arrogance, or narcissism—the belief that we are “experts” and that our own perceptions of how patient feel (or feel about us) are somehow more accurate than the patient’s perceptions of how they actually do feel. In most cases, nothing could be further from the truth.

Some therapists resist the use of the assessment scales, arguing that patients won’t be honest in the way they fill them out, and will simply tell therapists what they think the therapist wants to hear. Once again, nothing could be further from the truth. When my students (psychiatric and psychology graduate students) use the assessment scales initially in the clinical work, most get failing grades from nearly every patient at nearly every session. So their patients are NOT telling them what they want to hear—they are telling them what they DON’T want to hear!

How about seasoned clinicians like yourself? Unfortunately, your experience will probably be similar. Initially, most seasoned clinicians receive failing grades on the therapeutic empathy and therapy helpfulness scales from almost every patient as well. This can be a huge blow to the ego, and it is one of the reasons that many clinicians refuse to use the scales. They can’t stand the heat.

But there is a silver halo around this cloud. Most students and community clinicians who use the scales with every patient at every session, and who do some Empathy Training using methods I’ve developed, report that within a few weeks, they receive perfect scores 80% of the time, rather than failing scores nearly 100% of the time. So there is hope for a remarkable transformation in your clinical skills—if you have the courage to take this huge step!

Thanks for listening. David Burns, MD