“Just one look. That’s all it took” as the song goes. And I fell head over heels in love with Dr. David Burns at the Park Hill Library in Denver. It’s been 25 years, and I’m still as passionate as the day we met.
Nine months pregnant, hot, exhausted and depressed, I waddled into the 1920 Spanish Renaissance branch of the Denver Public Library with what felt like a Butterball turkey strapped to my waist. My two preschool daughters each took a hand and we trudged into the blessedly air-conditioned library for story time.
Perchance, I glanced to my left and saw the blue words “Feeling Good” on a yellow book beckoning me to come hither. Without hesitation, I breathlessly said, “Yes, yes! I want to feel good!” And then he swept me away with words of hope, encouragement and the belief I was good enough. I was worthy. And my life was worth living.
That was 25 years ago, and my passion for the work of Stanford Adjunct Clinical Professor Emeritus David Burns, MD is as ardent as that moment I laid my eyes on him. Picking up that book changed my life and kept me from sinking like the Titanic into the dark, cold depressive ocean following a traumatic corporate restructuring. It allowed me to talk back convincingly to the relentless, cunning voice in my head whispering, “You’re a bad person.” “You’re not good enough.” “Nobody likes you.”
Learning to challenge “Neville the Devil ” as I now call that convincingly abusive voice, helped me survive major depression, amplified by terrifying postpartum anxiety without the help of drugs or a straightjacket. I hung on by my fingertips and was able to pull myself back into the boat. I promised myself I would one day help others buffeted by depression, anxiety, shame and guilt.
I left my stressful career in corporate communications, delivered my son, and went back to graduate school to become a psychotherapist. And I’ve devoted this chapter of my career to voluntarily publicizing his TEAM-CBT, also referred to as “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy on steroids.” So don’t be surprised when I pop up here and there, bringing good tidings of therapeutic training, intensive therapy opportunities, and joy from The Feeling Good Institute http://www.feelinggoodinstitute.com/. It’s all about what I love to do, and what makes me very, very happy.
But every step forward personally and professionally has been terrifying. I fearfully put one foot in front of the other and put myself out there. Last year, I invited Dr. Burns to present his trauma workshop here in Denver. I really didn’t know him at all; I only had participated in his four-day intensive workshop and an anxiety workshop in London.
One morning after his rapid recovery trauma workshop, I woke up and heard myself ask, “Can depression really be treated in two hours?” “How could this be true?” I grabbed my laptop and fired off a series of confrontational questions to David, as I now informally call him, challenging him as a critical reporter –one of my former personas. Back and forth we went, pushing and pulling, until finally, we published our controversial interview, “Can Depression Really Be Treated in Two Hours? on https://feelinggood.com/ What a gift it was to open on Christmas morning!
Today David, psychologist Dr. Fabrice Nye and I broadcast an interview about our article on their new Feeling Good Podcast https://feelinggood.com/category/podcast/. And that was not as easy as it sounds. It would be analogous to singing on stage with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. But I heard David’s voice, “You have to face the monster and find the monster has no teeth.”
So I faced the fear of stuttering, stammering and freezing. I once again asked myself, “Why not me? I can do this. Be bold.” And then I dove into the deep end of the pool with David guiding and shaping the conversation as only an experienced teacher can do. And then the self-consciousness melted away as I danced with a partner who knew all the steps.
“Feeling Good The New Mood Therapy”, published in 1980, saved my life and many of the clients I have worked with as a psychotherapist. We have voyaged over really rough waters in tiny boats with “Feeling Good” as our guide. Many people are alive today after reading that self-help book and using the cognitive restructuring skills he helped pioneer. They are equally as grateful, and that explains why so many people love this irascible fellow for his wisdom, humor and generosity.
So it really was more than just one look. It was just one book. That’s all it took.