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Feeling Good

146: When Helping Doesn’t Help!

146: When Helping Doesn’t Help!

Hi listeners,

Most people do not do a very good at helping loved ones, colleagues, or friends who are upset and complaining. Have you ever noticed that when you try to help or give advice they just keep complaining? This can be very frustrating–fortunately there’s a fabulous solution to this universal problem. 

This special podcast features our guest, Dr. Jill Levitt, the Director of Clinical Training at the Feeling Good Institute. Jill is also one of the teachers at David’s Tuesday evening psychotherapy training group at Stanford, as is our esteemed podcast host, Dr. Rhonda.

Jill describes the “helping” errors she made when her son became despondent after some painful foot surgery. Following the surgery, he was in a cast for weeks, and when the cast was removed, he discovered that he could not move or feel his toes. This is common, and results from muscle atrophy when you are in a cast, and is not dangerous.

However, Jill’s son was very discouraged and frustrated, and told his mom that he didn’t feel like going to school and thought he wasn’t ever going to get better. Jill felt exhausted from all the demands on her that day, trying to get him off to school, and trying to get to work on time, and so forth, and gave in to the urge to say things like, “You’re going to be fine,” which were totally ineffective. 

Jill describes a similar error that she made when her mother also complained about foot problems and the need for surgery. Her mother loves to hike and was upset that she’d be unable to hike for some time. Jill, perhaps feeling a little impatient with her mom, suggested other forms of exercise, like swimming, and this simply increased her mother’s complaints.

I’ll bet you’ve experienced this same thing when you tried to “help” someone who was complaining. Even therapists make this type of error all the time. 

Rhonda, Jill, and I discussed the most common errors we all make when we lose patience with someone who’s complaining, and illustrated the techniques that are effective. As usual, they involve the Five Secrets of Effective Communication, especially Disarming, Stroking, and Feeling Empathy, along with some compassionate I Feel Statements.

We also discussed the phenomenon of drifting in and out of Enlightenment, a concept first described by the Buddha. It is easy to drift out of enlightenment when we are rushing around, trying to get breakfast on the table, lunches made, kids to school, and ourselves off to work. It’s so easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated at those moments.

Part of the process may include forgiving ourselves when we make mistakes, and using the 5-Secrets to repair relationships with our loved ones when we do. In fact, this can even lead to deeper and more loving relationships. 

We also discussed a closely related and possibly controversial theme–is it okay to use the Five Secrets just to get someone to stop complaining, especially if you’re angry with that person and they tend to complain most or all of the time? Do you always have to use the Five Secrets in a totally sincere manner? 

I want to thank Dr. Levitt for joining us in this inspiring and illuminating podcast. Whenever Jill teaches, the heavens open up, and this podcast is no exception. Jill is simply a fabulous therapist, teacher, and human being! 

Click here if you are interested in some online training with Jill!

David and Rhonda



You can reach Dr. Burns at david@feelinggood.com. Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California, and can be reached at rbarovsky@aol.com.

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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There will be three awesome intensives
for you this summer and fall!

July 15 – 18, 2019
Calgary, Canada four-day intensive
Sponsored by Jack Hirose & Assoc.


July 29 – August 1, 2019
South San Francisco four-day intensive
Sponsored by Praxis


November 4 – 7, 2019
Atlanta, Georgia four-day intensive
Sponsored by Praxis


088: Role-Play Techniques —Feared Fantasy Revisited

088: Role-Play Techniques —Feared Fantasy Revisited

088: Feared Fantasy, Part 2, and the Anti-Brushfire Technique*

Hi everybody!

Fabrice and I are thrilled to share this podcast with you, which I think you will really enjoy! We decided to include a second podcast on the Feared Fantasy Technique since it is so dynamic and powerful. We will also demonstrate the “Anti-Brushfire Technique,” which is another useful role-playing technique for individuals who fear disapproval.

We are joined tonight by two members of my weekly Stanford training group for Bay Area mental health professionals, Alisha Beal and Werner Spitzbaden. Both have brought along lists of some of their negative thoughts, which are based on real concerns.

Alisha has just completed our 12-week introductory “newbies” training group in TEAM-CBT. That group will merge with our “advanced” group next week, and she is feeling anxious and insecure for two reasons:

  1. She is concerned that people in the advanced group will think she’s not up to speed, and she’s worried that she will make a fool or herself when she has to practice techniques and get feedback from her colleague or answers questions in the class.
  2. Alisha blushes easily and is concerned that people will think she isn’t very bright and doesn’t know any anything when they see her blushing.

These concerns feel very real, and trigger fairly strong feelings of anxiety! Her negative thoughts included these:

  1. I’ll mess up.
  2. They’ll think I didn’t learn anything.
  3. I’ll blush and they’ll know I don’t know what I’m doing.
  4. I’ll make a fool of myself.
  5. David will realize that he wasted time and people when he created the introductory training group.

Werner’s concerns are similar. He has been in the advanced group for many months and has been doing a tremendous job of learning TEAM-CBT. However, he hasn’t work as a therapist for several years, but has been doing administrative work for a prominent California health delivery system. Werner is excited about the new TEAM-CBT skills he’s been developing, and wants to get back into clinical work. He has just accepted a part time position at the Feeling Good Institute in Mt. View, California.

This is great, but Werner is worried that his therapy skills won’t be good enough, and he’s afraid that the other staff members may judge him. He’s telling himself:

  1. I won’t succeed.
  2. I should know so much more than I do!
  3. I won’t do a good job!!
  4. I’ll develop a bad reputation, and no one will want to work with me.
  5. They’ll judge me and think that I’m not competent.

As you can see, although the details of his situation are quite different from Alisha’s, the underlying fears are similar.

And perhaps you’ve had similar fears and insecurities at times as well! Have you? I know that I’ve often felt that way! And that’s one of the reasons I find the techniques in this podcast so incredibly helpful and fascinating!

As you listen to the podcast, you will see what happens when Alicia and Werner both enter into an Alice and Wonderland Nightmare World where they will confront the monster they fear the most. I think you will find the results interesting, powerful, and entertaining, as they both suddenly achieve what the Buddhists have called “laughing enlightenment” for 2500 years!

* Copyright © 2018 by David D. Burns, MD


Fabrice and I hope you like our Feeling Good Podcasts, and also hope you can leave some positive comments for us and five star ratings if you like what we’re doing!


At least one listener has had problems leaving an iTunes review from his i-phone, so Fabrice has created some simple to follow instructions if you need help.

Some Cool Upcoming Workshops


Coming in June! 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
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. You’ll learn how to heal your clients and your own feelings of insecurity and self-doubt as well!

I greatly appreciate your support, and hope you will continue to spread the word about TEAM-CBT and http://www.feelinggood.com. 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!




Escape from the “Abuse Contract”

Hello Dr. Burns,

I am Elif from Istanbul Turkey. Several years ago i found myself in a depression due to my boyfriend’s oppressive attitudes. For many years i accepted his oppressive personality because i loved him. But one day i realized that oppressive attitudes were just a form of psychological violence. And I started to hate myself and my boyfriend.

Then I read your book, Feeling Good, and it really healed me. I just want to say thank you for giving me back my happiness!


Hi Elif,

I am so glad you were able to overcome your depression and get your happiness back after reading Feeling Good. That’s heartwarming and awesome. I am so happy for you!

I am currently doing workshops on the treatment of trauma victims for mental health professionals in the United States and Canada. I describe what I call the “abuse contract.” This is an unwritten contract between someone who is the victim of abuse and the individual who does the abusing. There are three parts to this contract.

  1. I (the abuser) get to hurt you for my own pleasure. (The abuse can come in many forms—sexual, psychological, financial, physical, social.)
  2. The blame will be entirely on you, my victim. You are dirty and bad. You are abused because you deserve it. I am faultless, like a god.
  3. We have to keep this a secret, even between ourselves. You cannot tell anyone. If you ever suggest, even to me, that I am doing anything wrong, I will really hurt you!

Although this contract sounds totally absurd, for some strange reason many humans will buy into it, just as you had done. Victims will sometimes blame, even hate, themselves because someone else is treating them shabbily and exploiting them. This happens to children who are abused, but adults who are abused will also buy into the Abuse Contract.

Escaping from this horrible trap represents a form of enlightenment, liberation, and self-love.

Thank you for giving me permission to publish your email on my website under an assumed name. I appreciate your generosity, especially since your note may bring hope to some others who are currently experiencing abuse. Sadly, there seems to be an epidemic of abuse worldwide, and even of more concern is that the violence, aggression and exploitation seems to be on a dangerous increase throughout the world just now.

So many men seem to think they have the right to own and exploit women! The insensitivity and cruelty of humans is truly mind-boggling.


David Burns, MD

Elif kindly gave me permission to publish her photo proudly holding the Turkish edition of Feeling Good! Click here and enjoy!