Part 4—A = Paradoxical Agenda Setting (PAS, cont’d
As the session continues, Jill and David encourage Mark to develop his list of positives. Mark draws a blank at first. This is very common among patients and therapists alike. Most of us have not been trained to think about depression, anxiety, shame, defectiveness, hopelessness and anger as being good or positive. In fact, we think of them as symptoms of “mental disorders,” according to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.) So we think of them as bad, something to get rid of, something needing treatment.
But after David and Jill prime the pump, Mark is surprised that they quickly come up with a list of 16 positives that are real and powerful. At this point, they ask Mark why in the world he’d want to press the Magic Button and have all of his symptoms suddenly disappear–given all these positives. This is called the Acid Test and it’s also paradoxical. David and Jill have now become the resistant part of Mark’s subconscious mind–the part that clings to these symptoms. And when the therapists become the voice of the resistance, the patient will nearly always become the voice that argues for change.
The paradox is resolved with the Magic Dial. Toward the end of this podcast, you will want to review Mark’s Daily Mood Log, with the Goal column filled out on the table of negative emotions.
David points out that there is no single tool or technique that triggers recovery in patients. Instead, each component of T E A M contributes in radically different ways to the substantial or even dramatic improvement the therapists are hoping to bring about it today’s session.
In the next Podcast, David and Jill will begin the M = Methods portion of the session.
Part 3—A = Paradoxical Agenda Setting (PAS), Initial Segment
In the early days of my career, I (Dr. Burns) would have assumed that Mark definitely wanted to change–after all, he’d been in a lot of pain for a long time, and he came to the session because he wanted help. So, following the empathy phase of the session, I would have jumped in with a variety of cognitive therapy techniques to help Mark challenge his Negative Thoughts, such as “I’ve been a failure as a father,” or “my brain is defective.” Although this might have been effective, there’s a good chance that it might not have worked. That’s because Mark might have “yes-butted” me or insisted that he really was a failure and that I just wasn’t “getting it.”
In fact, the attempt to help the patient without first dealing with the patient’s resistance is the cause of nearly all therapeutic failure. But most therapists make this mistake over and over–and don’t realize that their well-intentioned efforts to help actually trigger and reinforce the patient’s resistance.
Instead, TEAM Therapists use a number of Paradoxical Agenda Setting (PAS) techniques designed to bring the patient’s subconscious resistance to conscious awareness. Then we melt the resistance away before attempting to change the way the patient is thinking and feeling. I (DB) have developed 15 or 20 PAS techniques, and Jill and I used several of them in our session with Mark:
The Invitation Step
The Miracle Cure Question
The Magic Button
The Acid Test
The Magic Dial
When Jill and I use Positive Reframing, we are hoping that Mark will make an unexpected discovery–that his negative thoughts and feelings, such as his sadness, shame, discouragement, and inadequacy actually reflect his core values and show what a positive, awesome human being he is. In other words, he will discover that his core values are actually the source of his symptoms as well as his resistance to change.
This approach represents a radical departure from the way many psychiatrists and psychologists think about psychiatric symptoms as well as resistance. When I was a psychiatric resident, I (DB) was trained to think about resistance as something negative. For example, we may tell ourselves that resistant patients cling to their feelings of depression and worthlessness because they want attention, because they want to feel sorry for themselves, because they fear change, or because they are afraid will lose their identity if they recover. While there’s some truth in these formulations, they may not be helpful because they tend to cast the patient in a negative light, as if their symptoms and their resistance to change were somehow bad, or childish, or based on some kind of chemical imbalance in their brains. As you will see, the TEAM-CBT approach approaches resistance is radically different manner.
We will give you the chance to pause the podcast briefly and try your own hand at Positive Reframing before you hear it live during the session. Specifically, we will ask you to review Mark’s Daily Mood Log,and ask yourself these two questions about each of his negative thoughts and feelings:
What does this negative thought or feeling show about Mark that is beautiful, positive, and awesome?
What are some benefits, or advantages, of this negative thought or feeling? Are there some ways that this thought or feeling is helping Mark?
As you so this, make a list of as many Positives as you can on a piece of paper. See what you can come up with.
I want to warn you that it may be difficult to come up with your list of Positives at first. If so, this is good, because when you hear the next podcast, you’ll have many “ah ha!” moments and it will all become quite obvious to you. Then you will have a new and deeper understanding of resistance–an understanding that can help you greatly if you are a therapist or if you are struggling with your own feelings of depression and anxiety.
Jill gives a great overview of why the paradoxical approach is necessary during the Paradoxical Agenda Setting phase of the session.
To learn more about Paradoxical Agenda Setting, you can read David’s featured article in the March / April 2017 issue of Psychotherapy Networker entitled “When Helping Doesn’t Help.” You will see how he helped a woman struggling with intense depression, anxiety and rage due to decades of horrific domestic rape and violence.
In this Podcast, David answers two intriguing questions posed by listeners, and one question posed by his host and colleague Dr. Fabrice Nye.
How do you deal with a patient (or friend) who is boring? David describes a technique he learned from a mentor, Dr. Myles Weber, during his second year of psychiatric residency at Highland Hospital in Oakland. The technique works instantly 100% of the time, and is guaranteed to make any boring interaction with any patient instantly exciting! David and Fabrice emphasize that the same technique can be used with a friend, colleague, or loved one who seems boring, including someone you are dating and can’t seem to connect with at anything other than a superficial level.David also describes powerful, shocking and illuminating experiences he had when attending psychodrama marathons sponsored by the Human Institute in Palo Alto during his medical school years, and what he learned about the differences between the off-putting “outer” selves we display to others and the more genuine “inner” selves we often try to hide.
How do you deal with a patient (or friend) you don’t like? David describes a method he always used with patients he didn’t like, including one who he found intensely offensive—even disgusting. He explains that the patients he disliked the most almost always became the ones he liked the most, and ended up feeling the closest to, once he used this radical technique. The technique can also be effective with friends or colleagues you’re at odds with.Fabrice reminds us that the approaches David describes in this podcast involve several of the Five Secrets of Effective Communication discussed in previous podcasts. He warns us that they require considerable training, skill and practice, and are likely to backfire if done crudely.
How do you get patients to do their psychotherapy homework? Every therapist who assigns psychotherapy homework is keenly aware that many patients, perhaps most, “forget” or simply refuse to do the homework. And these are the patients who don’t improve much, if at all. Dr. Burns explains how he tried dozens of techniques that didn’t work early in his career, and finally discovered an approach that was almost always effective.
In this episode, David and Fabrice bring the Five Secrets of Effective Communication to life, based on a question submitted by two listeners: How can you help a depressed friend or family member? You may be surprised to discover that the attempt to “help” is rarely effective, and may even make the problem worse. In contrast, the refusal to help is nearly always helpful. But to understand that paradox, you’ll have to give a listen to this fascinating edition of “Ask David!”
David and Fabrice also address a related problem nearly all of us confront from time to time: How do you deal with a friend who is a relentless whiner and complainer? When you try to help them or suggest a solution to the problem, they just say, “That won’t work” and keep complaining. You end up feeling frustrated and annoyed, because the other person just won’t listen! David and Fabrice illustrate a shockingly easy and incredibly effective solution to this problem.
Finally, David discusses some disturbing recent research indicating that the ability of therapists—as well as friends or family members—to know how suicidal someone is, is extremely poor. David and Fabrice explain how to assess how suicidal someone actually is, and what to do if you discover that he or she really is at risk of a suicide attempt.
In previous podcasts David and Fabrice have discussed how negative feelings are created and how to change them. In this podcast, they address another question—when we’re feeling depressed, anxious, or angry, should we accept our feelings or try to change them?
Dr. Burns describes his confusion when he was an insecure Stanford medical student and a favorite patient began to die. He discusses the concept of sadness as celebration, and summarizes Aaron Beck’s theory of Cognitive Specificity.