Dr. Levy's CBT Blog
Insights on Well-Being, Contentment, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
When presented with important choices in their lives, clients often ask me "Is this the right choice?...Is this OK?..." The clear answer for that is "It depends!!!". What is right for your life obviously hinges on your personal values, dreams, and aspirations. While no one can give you answers on what to aim for, we can suggest parameters to consider when weighing your choices and making important (or even everyday...) decisions.
A "great life," however it looks like for you, should maximize your ratings and satisfaction across the dimensions below:
In short, choices that increase your purpose in life; social, financial, and physical well-being; or community belonging are likely "right" and definitely "OK." Sometimes we move along these axes in unison, other times we need to make trade-offs among them. But those are the key ingredients in a great life for everyone of us. How you mix them up to create your own unique recipe, it's up to you.
Before starting therapy, clients often wonder "How long will I be in therapy?" This funny video from The Onion provides a clever satire of the open-ended, long-term model of therapy that is often portrayed by the popular media:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) tends to operate within a much more short-term, focused model of psychological intervention that aims to reduce current symptoms, address specific problems, and build skills that the client can take with him/her after treatment ends. Hence, treatment length is usually measured in weeks or months, rather than years or decades.
Indeed, there is ample research evidence that response to psychotherapy follows a 'negatively accelerated' curve where more and more effort is required to achieve smaller and smaller changes (that is called a log-normal curve for the math geeks out there). Dr. Ken Howard was the first to analyze this correlation and posit markers for response to psychotherapy according to dosage. Here is his original article.
The original dose-effect study was run in 1986, based on psychodynamic or interpersonal treatment only, with the following findings:
* About 15% of patients improve before the first session of therapy
* 50% of patients typically improve at 8 sessions
* 75% of patients typically improve at 26 sessions
* 85% of patients typically improve at 52 sessions
It is possible that modern psychological techniques have accelerated that theoretical curve in the past 30 years. In practice, however, there are many factors influencing the right dose of psychotherapy for each client, including diagnosis, acuity, readiness to change, social circumstances, and frequency of treatment (more regular treatment is shown to be more effective). But what we can glean from the data above is that longer and longer treatment periods may indeed offer diminishing gains at increasing levels of effort.
With CBT, you and your therapist will have powerful tools for change readily available. The specific length of psychotherapy treatment will vary for each person and each presenting problem. But with commitment and focus in the context of a true partnership, CBT can lead to fast and meaningful change.
In TEAM-CBT, when patients are looking to improve their interpersonal relationships, we first spend some time analyzing the nature of the conflict that they're facing before jumping in to solve it. Even though there are as many different flavors of interpersonal conflict as there are people in the planet, if we look closer, we can find a few broad patterns of common relationship concerns.
If you are having problems with someone close to you (romantic partner, family member, boss, co-worker, etc), odds are that the issue will fall into one of these three categories:
1- Character Issues: they don't see themselves!
These are problems where you firmly believe that the person with whom you are in conflict is just flawed. They may be self-centered, dumb, histrionic, unfair, needy, controlling, unreasonable...and a lot more! For example:
"He is mean and stubborn!"
2- Appreciation Issues: they don't see me!
These are problems where you feel under-appreciated in the relationship. You firmly believe that the person with whom you are in conflict doesn't see you for everything that you do. They may frequently criticize, blame, disrespect, ignore, or belittle you. All said, they either don't value you, don't value your needs, or don't value the relationship. For example:
"They never recognize how much I do for them!"
3- Give-and-take issues: they don't see us!
These are problems where you find a fundamental imbalance in the relationship in terms of the give-and-take. It can be that the other party just doesn't listen, no matter how hard you try to communicate with them. Or they just don't share, regardless of your valiant efforts to engage them. Or it can be that they don't reciprocate when you do something nice for the relationship. For example:
"They ignore my advice!"
There are naturally many other ways of thinking about interpersonal issues. This is just one of them. But the goal here is to recognize that the first step in solving a problem is defining it! If you are suffering because the relationships in your life are not intimate, respectful, and fulfilling, cognitive-behavioral therapy can help.
Finding the right therapist is a bit like finding a date. You have to understand what is it that you're looking for and prioritize characteristics such as cost, location, style, and availability. And then do the legwork of searching for them. You can search online at sites such as psychologytoday.com, ask your doctors or friends, call your company's EAP or insurance carrier, or look through neighborhood lists. Many therapists, myself included, will offer a free phone screening consultation in order to get a better understanding of your needs and share more about their background and work style. I highly recommend leveraging this opportunity before making the trek to someone's office.
Your first appointment with a new therapist is usually an intake, which is a longer visit focused on getting a history of your current concerns along with an overview of your social, personal, and professional history. Depending on the complexity of the case, a full intake can take up to 2 or 3 sessions, but it is generally quicker. After that, your therapist will discuss a treatment plan with you, which likely will involve regular (weekly) appointments. Most therapists work with a 50-minute visit, although a 80-minute visit can be very helpful in the beginning to get the treatment going faster. For then on, you and your therapist will work to monitor progress against goals and define new steps.
So, it all begins with finding the person that is right for YOU! The New York Times recently posted an article discussing one reporter's path to find their perfect match:
Now it's your turn to take your first step to finding yours!
This article in the New York Times describes the author's struggles with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and how he managed to overcome it after years of struggles. OCD is a mental health illness that encompasses obsessions, compulsions, or both.
Obsessions are repeated thoughts, urges, or mental images that cause anxiety. Common forms of obsessions include:
Compulsions are behaviors that an individual suffering from OCD feels the urge to do in response to an obsessive thought. The function of the compulsion is to alleviate the tension, anxiety, and nervousness that comes with the obsessive thought. Common forms of compulsions include:
The author of the article above was able to overcome his OCD on his own, using a form of interpersonal exposure that we call in TEAM-CBT "self-disclosure." He slowly started sharing his deepest fears with his loved ones and learned, over time, that he got support and acceptance in return. That reduced his anxiety and allowed him to manage his OCD.
When motivation and self-disclosure alone are not enough to kick OCD, exposure therapy (exposing patients to their feared stimuli) combined with a technique called response prevention can help. It is a scientifically proven intervention to help most individuals suffering from OCD to learn how to better manage their compulsions, tolerate the obsessions, and quickly overcome both of those.
Dr. David Burns is a world renowned psychiatrist and one of the pioneers in the development of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. In the past decades, Dr. Burns has been focusing on advancing the clinical applications of CBT through a new therapeutic approach that he calls TEAM-CBT. You can read more about the elements of TEAM-CBT in one of my early blog posts or on Dr. Burns website.
TEAM-CBT is a framework for delivering evidence-based interventions in psychotherapy (and evidence-based here means techniques that have been corroborated as effective by rigorous scientific research). It combines Routine Outcome Monitoring, Motivational Enhancement, and CBT Methods with a strong focus on empathy and rapport building to deliver meaningful symptom reduction in fast periods of time. Indeed, in his current clinical work, which revolves mostly around training of therapists and professional workshops, Dr. Burns has, on many occasions, observed that individuals who had been struggling with depression or anxiety for years can experience near complete recovery in just a few hours.
To explain how that can happen, and provide more background and perspective on the TEAM-CBT approach, Dr. Burns was interviewed by one of our colleagues, Lisa Kelley. The transcript of the interview is an excellent primer to learn more about this powerful new modality. Here it is:
As a Level 4 Certified TEAM-CBT trainer and therapist, I would be delighted to help you learn more about these tools to to enhance your life or, if you are a health care provider, to revolutionize your clinical practice!
Dying for a Paycheck is a new book by long-time Stanford GSB professor and business guru Jeffrey Pfeffer. In it, Professor Pfeffer argues that the long hours and round-the-clock availability expectations of today's fast-paced workplaces have led to unprecedented levels of high stress, burn out, disengagement, as well as low physical and emotional health.
His findings and viewpoints match well with my own academic research on Work Attitudes and Behaviors Among Professional Women. I posit that it is not simply how much you work, but how you relate to your work that determines its repercussions on your satisfaction and wellbeing. A summary of the study methods, analyses and conclusions is included below.
If you find yourself struggling with career and balance issues, take a break, do something pleasurable or meaningful to you, and connect with friends and loved ones. If you find yourself in need of greater support, consider seeking a therapist.
Dr. Daniele Levy is a licensed psychologist offering CBT therapy in Menlo Park, CA. Her background uniquely combines leading edge training in behavioral sciences with deep expertise coaching and mentoring working professionals in dynamic organizations.