I Fell in Love with David Burns at The Park Hill Library

“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 “CBT 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, I woke up and heard myself ask, “Can depression really be treated in two hours?” 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 published an interview about our article on their new Feeling Good Podcast https://feelinggood.com/category/podcast/. And that was not as easy at 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 behavioral 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.

Feeling Good in London

Just back from London where colleague Nicole Bitter and I were promoting T.E.A.M therapy with Dr. David Burns, MD, author Feeling Good.  David definitely “hit it out of the park” here in London at his first European conference. Definitely a big win! The Brits loved him. And so did so many others from other areas of the world who flew to London to participate. Everyone Nicole and I spoke with said they spent their money wisely in choosing his two-day anxiety workshop “Scared Stiff: Fast, Effective, Drug-Free Treatment for Anxiety,” orchestrated by Jack Hirose & Associates.  Most said they had never experienced anything like it, and that their heads were swimming with information and ideas to transform their therapeutic skills.

Here are some of the comments coming in over the wire, so to speak: “No model of therapy inspires me more than his.” “What a bliss!!! Please come back.”

You might expect someone who is one of three eminent pioneers (including Aaron Beck, MD, Albert Ellis, PhD) in the creation and development of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to be haughty, cold, and dismissive. But that’s just not in David’s DNA. In his customary warm and charming way, he worked non-stop for two days talking, listening, role playing, teasing, counseling, cajoling, coaching and inspiring.

He makes us laugh. He makes us cry. He helps us accept ourselves as flawed human beings. We start to like ourselves when we work with David. We give ourselves some grace.

That makes us want to spread the word because we are so grateful for our teacher who so generously gives of himself in sharing wisdom from the decades of research and development he has invested in CBT.

CBT, now considered the gold standard in the treatment of depression and anxiety, helps clients change distorted, self-defeating thoughts that create depression and anxiety. Major life-saving mood shifts can occur when clients realize that when they change their thoughts, they can change their feelings, and change their behaviors.

CBT has evolved since the early 1980s when David wrote Feeling Good. He found many people benefited greatly from CBT, while others resisted and suffered. That troubled David, so he went back to the drawing board and created a new model that addressed critical parts of the therapeutic hour that had been grossly overlooked. These oversights prevented many clients from getting better.

He developed T.E.A.M., which he refers to as “CBT on steroids.” He says it is “therapy at warp speed” and is far more effective than regular CBT or even “talk therapy.” The goal is to get dramatic change in just a few sessions by helping patients and therapists become more on-task and accountable. Guess what? It works!

Read more about David’s groundbreaking work at www.feelinggood.com. And then check out the Feeling Good Institute at http://www.feelinggoodinstitute.com. That’s where you’ll find therapists trained in this cutting-edge therapy and opportunities for therapists to be trained.

Stay tuned for more exciting T.E.A.M. news coming this fall in Denver!

I’m Failing

Each week for the past year, I have taken a virtual class in advanced therapeutic techniques called T.E.A.M. therapy through the Feeling Good Institute in Mountain View, CA with Dr. Jill Levitt, Ph.D. adjunct clinical professor at Stanford.

And each week I continue to fail, and I’m really, really happy about that. In fact, I’m over the moon with relief.

I stumble, stammer and stutter. I feel incredibly anxious. I must get the right answer. I should, after almost 15 years as a therapist and an excellent education, be able to nail it, and get a blue ribbon for my 10 performance. I must prove I’m worthy enough to work with this world-class therapist and prove my competence to the other therapists facing me on my laptop screen: “I’m not a fraud!” But my haunting voice from childhood whispers, “Your worthiness depends on your achievement.”

And this is how I can beat myself up because my performance sometimes doesn’t match my high expectations for myself. Sometimes I think I should just give up because the anxiety of not being my personal best is hard to bear.

I gotta be perfect, and sometimes I fail. Why? Because I’m human, that’s why.

Jill admires us when we make mistakes because we’re taking the risk to learn. We’re stepping up to the plate and learning to make mistakes and discovering nothing catastrophic erupts. She will unconditionally accept us, and in fact admires and encourages us. She wants us to make mistakes and fail — as quickly as we can — so we can strive for excellence rather than “perfection” — an illusion held exclusively by the most neurotic among us, including myself.

So that’s what I’ve learned this year. And guess what? I’m signed up for another year, and will participate as often as I can in FGI workshops, conferences in CA and across the country. Heck, I’m off to London this month with a colleague to help Dr. David Burns, M.D., author of the blockbuster Feeling Good, at his first European conference. He’s the one who created this nurturing environment allowing us to fail as quickly as we can. I’ve learned from years of trial and error in this business to to reassure myself when taking on challenges. My mantra, “Progress not perfection. we’re only human,” comforts me and quickly gets me back on track when I’m feeling wobbly.

Wow, now I’m worried I’ll some how trip up and blunder in London. My worst nightmare would be unknowingly embarrassing one of the three founding fathers of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Maybe he will even be angry — and no oneshould be angry with me or I’m, shamefully, not good enough. My feared fantasy is that he would expel me. I would be the worst colleague ever to help at an important event like this. I’ll be shunned. I will live in a world of nothing versus all that I aspire.

And then the much more confident me reminds the doubting Thomas within: “Don’t worry, I got this. The world will not come to an end if I trip up. You’re catastrophizing. Relax and enjoy the ride.”