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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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There will be three awesome intensives
for you this summer and fall!
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
Coming Up Soon–
Step by Step Training for Therapists
by David Burns, MD and Jill Levitt, PhD
Learn how to reduce patient resistance and boost motivation to change. Master skills that will enhance communication skills and increase intimacy with loved ones. This workshop is highly interactive with many case examples and opportunities for practice using role plays.
Join us for a day of fun and inspiring learning on site in Palo Alto OR online from anywhere in the world by this dynamic teaching duo!
Sunday October 28th, 2018 (9am-4pm PST) 6 CE*s. $135
To register, go to Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.
or call 650-353-6544
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Rapid Recovery from Trauma
a two-day workshop
by David D. Burns, MD
October 4-5, 2018–Woodland Hills, CA
November 1-2, 2018–Pasadena, CA
The November workshop includes Live Streaming
if you cannot attend in person)
For further information, go to http://www.IAHB.org
or call 1-800-258-8411
Online Training and Continuing Education Credit in TEAM-CBT
The Feeling Good Institute (FGI) offers many online and in-person training opportunities, as well as TEAM-CBT consultation groups for therapists. All of their upcoming course offerings are listed here.
Please note my upcoming one day workshop with Dr. Jill Levitt (#5 below) on the treatment of clients with troubled relationships on October 28, 2018. This is one of the most challenging areas of psychotherapy since the resistance to change is almost always intense. It should be really good, since Jill is an esteemed colleague and a fabulous teacher. I always love working with her.
You can come in person or attend online. If you attend online, we will have online breakout groups for you to practice the skills we describe and illustrate live.
- Mike Christensen’s twelve week training entitled Comprehensive Live Online CBT Training for Therapists. Mike is a TEAM-CBT Level 4 Clinician and Trainer and a fantastic teacher. Space is strictly limited to fifteen participants to provide an intimate learning experience with lots of opportunity to practice, receive feedback, and improve your skills. This course meets weekly online for 12 weeks and starts Monday 9/10/18 (3:00 – 4:45 PM PST). 21 CE*s. $720.
- Jill Levitt’s six week training entitled Practical CBT Methods for Depression, Anxiety, and Unwanted Habits. Jill is a Master Therapist and Trainer in TEAM-CBT and the Director of Training at Feeling Good Institute and a warm and engaging teacher. This course focuses on TEAM-CBT methods and includes didactic teaching as well as ample opportunities for role playing and practice. Jill’s course meets weekly online for 6 weeks and starts Monday 10/8/18 (11am-12:45pm PST). 10.5 CE*s. $360
- Taylor Chesney’s twelve week training entitled Comprehensive Live Online CBT Training for Therapists Working With Children and Adolescents. Taylor is a Master Therapist and Trainer in TEAM-CBT and the director of Feeling Good Institute NYC. Her practice focuses on the application of TEAM-CBT to kids and teens. Space is strictly limited to fifteen participants to provide an intimate learning experience with lots of opportunity to practice, receive feedback, and improve your skills. This course meets weekly online for 12 weeks and starts Wednesday 10/3/18 (9:30 AM – 11:15 AM PST). 21 CE*s. $720
- Daniel Mintie’s online training entitled CBT Skills, Training, and Practice: A Case-Based Course.This course meets every other week for three months. Daniel is a Level 5 TEAM-CBT Therapist and Trainer with Feeling Good Institute and a warm and thoughtful teacher. Each class in this biweekly series will begin with a presentation of one or more aspects of the TEAM-CBT model, followed by practice using case material from participants clinical work or instructor case examples. Daniel’s course meets every other week online for 3 months and starts Friday 10/5/18 (12-1:45pm PST). 10.5 CE*s. $395.
- David Burns and Jill Levitt’s Step by Step TEAM-CBT Methods for the Treatment of Relationship Difficulties: A Daylong Workshop for Therapists.Join us for a day of fun and inspiring learning on site in Palo Alto OR online from anywhere in the world. This workshop will teach you how to set a collaborative agenda with your patients in order to reduce resistance and boost motivation to change. In addition, you will learn and practice skills that will help your patients identify their own communication errors and enhance their communication skills to increase intimacy and closeness with their loved ones. This workshop is highly interactive with many case examples and opportunities for practice using role plays. Sunday October 28th, 2018 (9am-4pm PST). 6 CE*s. $135
In my Tuesday evening psychotherapy training seminar at Stanford, we train therapists in TEAM-CBT, and one of the teaching methods involves personal work for the therapists, kind of on the idea of “Physician, heal thyself.” (Luke 4:23) We work on mood problems, like depression and anxiety, relationship problems, and habits and addictions. One of our favorite members, Paulita, just made a brief video describing the work she did recently on her addiction to a certain kind of candy, and graciously allowed me to publish it here! I think you’ll enjoy it!
In her email giving me permission, Paulita wrote,
I would like to be a “Possibility” Model (not Role Model) – because I am an example of the possibility that even old dogs can learn new tricks!
Here’s the way I would put it–are you old enough yet to learn some new tricks? Paulita just turned 80 and is one of our liveliest and most beloved members. She is a local marriage and family therapist, and was originally from the Philippines.
Paulita made the video to help promote a workshop at the Feeling Good Insititute tomorrow (May 21st, 2017) on overcoming habits and addictions using TEAM-CBT. They may have a few spots left, so feel free to check them out if you’d like to attend!
By the way, my Tuesday psychotherapy training group is free of charge to northern California metal health professionals, so contact me if you’d like to visit or learn more about the work we do!
The goofy picture of me at the top (at least for some of you who read this on social media) was taken after our hike on sunday, in a place where you can order exotic Chinese drinks like Mango Lychee Green Tea Teazer (which I had). More on that later! It was a fantastic hike with a special guest.
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 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 firward my blogs to friends as well, especially anyone with an interest in mood problems, psychotherapy, or relationship conflicts.
Hi web visitors and friends on social media. Yesterday I got a really interesting email from my esteemed colleague, Angela Krumm, PhD, who created the certification program for TEAM-CBT. Angela’s clinical practice is located at the Feeling Good Institute in Mt. View, California. and they also offer training for therapists. I thought you might enjoy the question, as well as my answer. You will see that the information is relevant to everybody, and not just therapists.
If this topic of developing more loving and satisfying relationships interests you, you can read more about these techniques in my book, Feeling Good Together, available at Amazon and other book sellers.
The TEAM Certified list serve is having a colorful discussion about the use of apologies (specifically, saying “I’m sorry”) within the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. People are pretty engaged and arguing both for and against “I’m sorry.” Would you like me to share the comments with you?
If you’re interested, I’d love to post a response from you about whether you teach people to say “I’m sorry.” I think your general mode (if I remember from past training) is to avoid “I’m sorry” since it’s so generic and less specific than the Five Secrets.
Let me know if you want to see the comments and have a chance to respond. I can send them to you!
Angela Krumm, PhD
To my way of thinking, “I’m sorry” can be effective or dysfunctional, depending on how it is used. In my experience observing clinicians in training, as well as troubled couples in treatment, it is nearly always dysfunctional, but it doesn’t have to be. Let me explain.
I recently treated a troubled couple from Los Angeles who had treated each other shabbily out of anger for many years. Without going into all the details, the husband had an affair with a woman they both knew from their church, and slept with her every night for six months. The affair appeared to be his way of getting back at her for something she had done that hurt him.
His affair was devastating to the wife, and she kept making up excuses for the children why Daddy can’t come home tonight. Every time she tried to express her feelings of being hurt, angry, anxious, humiliated, and betrayed, her husband would say, in a defensive tone of voice, “I’ve said I’m sorry! You have to put that behind you so we can move on! We’ve already talked about this!”
As you can see, he used “I’m sorry” as a way of avoiding listening and hearing how his wife felt. And although they’d bickered about their problems endlessly, he’d never really listened or giving her the chance to be heard.
I don’t want to scapegoat him—she gave the same dismissive and defensive answers when it was her turn to listen to his complaints and feelings. But it seems pretty clear to me that his use of “I’m sorry” was defensive and aggressive. It was his way of saying, “shut up, I don’t want to hear what you have to say.”
Therapists frequently do much the same thing in response to criticisms from patients. For example, a patient might say, “Last session you interrupted our session to take an emergency call, but I’m paying for the time!”
The well-meaning therapist might apologize and say, “I’m really sorry. I’ll remind my secretary to hold calls during our sessions unless it’s something super severe like an actively suicidal patient.”
It should be easy (I hope!) to see that this therapist is also using “I’m sorry” as a way of brushing the patient off, so the therapist doesn’t have to deal with the patient’s anger and hurt feelings. But those kinds of feelings may be a central problem in the patient’s life, and the therapist has missed a golden opportunity to deepen the relationship through the skillful use of the Five Secrets.
I have often said that no therapist in the United States or Canada is able to deal with or acknowledge a patient’s anger. Of course, this is an exaggeration to make a point, but it is SO TRUE most of the time! In my experience, it is very difficult for therapists to master the Five Secrets, for use in therapy, as well as in their personal lives, which can be even harder.
Of course, you can apologize skillfully. Apologies aren’t inherently dysfunctional. For example, you could respond to your patient’s criticism like my example below, which is based on the Five Secrets of Effective Communication. The abbreviations in parentheses at the end of each section indicate the communication technique(s) used in that sentence.
“I felt badly about interrupting the session, too. (IF) This is your time, and any interruption is unfair, and I want to apologize. (DT) The call was from an actively suicidal patient, but still my focus should be on you. (DT) I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re feeling hurt and ignored, and maybe even a bit angry with me, for good reason. (FE; DT) This is especially painful for me, because one of the themes you have described is that ever since you were a kid, the people you care about seem to ignore you, and don’t take you seriously. You said they gave your older brother all the attention, because he was a straight A student, so you end up feeling lonely and rejected most of the time. (IF; FE; DT) Now I’m in the role of ignoring you, and it’s especially painful for me because I respect you tremendously (IF; DT; ST) At the same time, I’m excited, because this is really important and can give us the chance to slay that dragon and deepen our relationship. (ST; Positive Reframing) Can you tell me more what that was like for you, as well as other times I’ve said or done things that hurt your feelings? (IN)”
I’m sure that can be improved upon, and is perhaps too long. But the important thing is that you are honoring your patient’s feelings, and encouraging him or her to open up. In this context, the apology is okay. However, notice that the phrase, “and I want to apologize” probably isn’t even needed.
I would also say that therapists, as well as patients, sometimes polarize things as “this way” vs. “that way,” so they can argue and feel like experts. Sorry if I sound a bit cynical here! Skillful and effective therapy is rarely “this way” vs “that way,” but exists on a higher plane. TEAM-CBT does not consist of simple formulas you can apply. It is an art form that is difficult to master, and simplistic approaches usually won’t be effective.
The bigger issue is that every one of the Five Secrets can be used in a skillful, compassionate, helpful way, or in a dysfunctional way. In fact, this is true of every method and technique in TEAM-CBT. For my two cents, I’d rather hear that people are asking for help in learning, rather than arguing about who is right and who is wrong, but I’m old and probably sound pompous or annoyed, so I will stop babbling!
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 relationshp conflicts.