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Foundations of ACT and the Limits of CBT

Steven C. Hayes, PhD

Steven C. Hayes, PhD (@stevenchayes) is Foundation Professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is the developer of Relational Frame Theory (RFT), an analysis of human language and cognition, and the creator of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

He’s the recipient of numerous awards including the Nevada Psychological Association Psychologist of the Year Award, a B. F. Skinner Award from Palo Alto University, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.

He’s the author of more than 530 scientific articles and 38 books, including the  #1 selling “Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life“, and his TEDx talks “Psychological flexibility: How love turns pain into purpose” and “Mental Brakes to Avoid Mental Breaks” have racked up 150,000 views and counting.

In today’s episode we talk about the foundations ACT and the limits of CBT. What exactly is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and how does it differ from, and improve upon traditional CBT?

We discuss the concept of psychological flexibility and its role in either preventing or provoking the development of mental health issues. We ask whether or not there is value in addressing issues from your past, the importance of self-compassion during periods of psychological distress, how to discover your own personal values, and putting it all together, in Steve’s own words:

“How to back out of the war within, come into the present moment, focus on what we care about, and get on with the business of living.”

Steve’s website: stevenchayes.com

 

 

SHOW NOTES

 

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Image courtesy: martinak15

Feeling Good With CBT

David D. Burns, M.D.

Amongst many other achievements in a very long and distinguished career, David D. Burns M.D. is probably most famous as the author of “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy”, a book which more than any other is responsible for thrusting CBT into the public consciousness in the early the 1980s, and has since gone on to sell in excess of 4 million copies in US alone.

This episode was a pretty special event for me. Not only because David is a huge figure in the cognitive therapy movement, while this is still a piddly little podcast with barely any listeners. But on a personal level because this very book had a massive impact on me during the peak of my struggles with mental illness, and gave me the impetus needed to take control of my situation. So it’s crazy that here I am almost two years later, well on the way to recovery, and interviewing him for a podcast.

Dr. Burns is currently Adjunct Clinical Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He has received numerous awards, including the A. E. Bennett Award for his research on brain chemistry, the Distinguished Contribution to Psychology through the Media Award, and the Outstanding Contributions Award from the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists.

In addition to Feeling Good, which also boasts the distinction of being the book most frequently “prescribed” for depressed patients by psychiatrists and psychologists in the United States and Canada, Dr. Burns has written a number of other popular books on mood and relationship problems, such as “10 Days to Great Self Esteem“, “When Panic Attacks“, and “The Feeling Good Handbook“.

He’s the creator of the Burns Depression Checklist, a 25 point questionnaire used by mental health professionals to detect and measure the severity of patient depression, which some of you may have filled out during the consultation phase with your therapist.

He’s also hosted a TEDx talk about “Feeling Good” which has so far amassed more than 95,000 views and counting on YouTube.

During the course of today’s episode we discuss the origins and trajectory of David’s career, the chemical imbalance “myth”, his phenomenally successful self-help book “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy”, the 10 cognitive distortions, his development of a new approach to cognitive therapy known as T.E.A.M therapy, and much more.

David’s website: feelinggood.com

 

 

SHOW NOTES

Further Reading

Mind over misery – A brilliant article about David by Robert Strauss in the Stanford Magazine.

Try, try again – How Dr. Burns turned “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” into an international best-seller.

Albert Ellis – The “godfather” of cognitive therapy.

Aaron Beck – The “father” of cognitive therapy.

In-Depth: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – A brilliant primer on CBT from PsychCentral.

The cognitive revolution: a historical perspective – by George A Miller.

Feeling Gloomy? A Good Self-Help Book Might Actually Help – 1989 New York Times Article discussing the antidepressant effects of David’s book “Feeling Good”.

A summary of the “10 Cognitive Distortions” – from Everyday Health.

Books Mentioned in This Episode

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How to Write the Perfect First Blog Post?

How many of you can relate to this experience?

You’ve decided, for whatever reason, to start a blog. For days you agonize over a name for your project where the .com, .net, or .org hasn’t already been snapped up by some parasite domain squatter. Fifty attempts later, you finally settle on something you’re happy with and fork out £1.99 on GoDaddy.

You buy a little web space, install WordPress, and upload a theme to suit your chosen topic. And just like that, you’re ready to go. The world is your oyster.

You click “New Post”. A pristine white blank page opens up before you. The little cursor seems to flicker with impatience, ready to skitter across your screen spilling letters by the truckload. You crack your knuckles in preparation for the wordy symphony you’re about to hammer out on your keyboard. Just call you Williwig van Shakeshoven.

But hang on a minute. Hold your horses, sunshine. Let’s not be too hasty now.

Online, as in real life, first impressions matter. There’s fifty gazillion other blogs floating around out there in the ether. A bajillion of which already cover your chosen topic. Umpty-seven of which are authored by writing geniuses with God-tier marketing skills and eleventy squillian subscribers.

You can’t just wing it and toss out any old codswallop. Not if you hope to compete with these behemoths of the blogosphere. No siree, Bob. You need to hit these mofos with a haymaker of an opening gambit. Come in like a wrecking ball, like that little Miley Cyrus fella says.

Your first ever blog post needs to be fun. It needs to be witty. It needs to be informative. It needs to be profound, amusing, intelligent, relatable. It needs immaculate spelling and punctuation. It needs flawless grammar and syntax. It needs structure and flow and character and style. It needs to be, well… Perfect.

Your heart sinks. You sit and stare at your laptop screen. All that white space glaring back at you that mere moments ago seemed like a blank canvas of infinite potential suddenly morphs into a bottomless abyss of nothingness. The words don’t come. The cursor flickers, slow and laboured. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off.

Five days later, you still haven’t written a thing.

Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to writer’s block.

Shit.

Oh, don’t worry. I know I’m being a drama queen. But that’s anxiety for you. And this, along with depression and other mental health issues is what this blog is all about.

Anxiety, however, is my specialty. I’m the Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, Roger Federer of worry. Place me in any innocuous situation and I can catastrophize the bejesus out of it.

My heart skips a beat, I’m going to have a heart attack. Every minor stomach ache is stage four bowel cancer. If a loved one doesn’t answer their phone after three attempts, they’ve died in a car crash. And the content of my first blog post is as critical a piece of writing as Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”.

What this latter delusional anxiety boils down to, is self-consciousness. I care what you think. I wish I didn’t. I’d like to pretend I don’t. But I can’t. Because I do.

Like all world-class professionals though, I have my off days. And today is one of those days where I’m off my anxiety game enough to be able to step back and take a sober look at this self constructed predicament.

Those of you with experience in CBT might be familiar with cognitive restructuring exercises. These are (usually) written exercises where you identify your negative thought patterns or limiting beliefs and then subject them to a little rational scrutiny. The goal being to contradict them and thus undermine the emotional power they exert over you.

Let’s say you berate yourself for being a “loser”. You might look for evidence why this isn’t true, such as listing off your past victories. Or maybe you could reframe your past mistakes by finding the important lessons they contained, and turn them into a win.

The limiting beliefs fueling my writers block are twofold:

1) It matters what you, the reader, think of me. Therefore…
2) My first blog post needs to be perfect.

There are plenty of surface level criticisms to be leveled at these limiting beliefs, and plenty of vacuous platitudes I could employ to counter them. i.e. Why do you care what people think? You can’t please everyone. Who says it needs to be perfect? There’s no such thing as perfect. Blah, yada, fart noise.

However, I’ve discovered a couple of deeper misconceptions in these limiting beliefs which are slightly more profound, and infinitely more entertaining.

First of all, I said a moment ago, that I care what you think. You! But who is this “you” exactly?

As this is the first draft of my first blog post, by definition, there’s no blog to read yet and hence no readership. So this “you” that I’m speaking to isn’t a separate other you at all, because an actual other you doesn’t even exist yet.

Even if I claimed to be writing for a future you, having imagined what you might be like, you’re still no more real than the nudist Kerry Washington who occupies my thoughts whenever I start daydreaming at a stop light.

This you that I’m so desperate to impress is really just a Frankenstein’s monster of my own paranoid projections. In other words, you aren’t you at all. You are actually just me in disguise and relabeled with the pronoun “you”.

This whole situation is like going on date with your doppelgänger and worrying you won’t like you. In fact, it’s worse than that because there aren’t even two separate minds at play. It’s more akin to sitting in front of the mirror and being worried about having something of interest to say in case the reflection staring back at you disapproves in some way.

In short, I’m worried what to say myself because if I don’t say the right thing and impress myself, I’ll disapprove of what I have to say, and as a result of this I’ll feel bad about myself.

Jesus!

But this is just a transient issue. The fact is, there will at some point in the future be other people who aren’t me who read this blog post. Which brings me to the matter of whether or not this first blog post even matters.

It doesn’t. And neither does yours. Not that it doesn’t matter, period. It just doesn’t matter yet. And by the time it does matter, what it actually says won’t matter much anyway. In fact, the worse it is now, the better it will eventually be.

Confused? Let me explain.

I’m sure there are some examples of bloggers out there who went from total anonymity on a Monday, to a viral sensation by Wednesday off the back of their first blog post. And good for them. But for the rest of us, more often than not, no matter how revolutionary it is, our first blog posts will go completely unnoticed.

Launching a blog is like setting up a market stall in the middle of the desert. The only people who know you’re there are you parents and three of your friends. Sure they’ll pay you a token visit. Maybe they’ll tell their friends. And if you’re lucky, some of them will pop by for a minute or two.

But after this, the bulk of your early readership will consist of little more than the occasional straggler who stumbles across your blog by sheer fluke of a misspelled Google search.

If you want to get past this and build an audience, you have to expand your inventory. Write and write and write some more. Rack up those blog posts until people begin to arrive on purpose. By which point your first blog post is buried so deep in the archives, even you might struggle to unearth it.

Regardless of what you anxiety might try to tell you, your first blog post will not shape the first, nor the lasting impression that 99.99% of your readers will form of you. That’s the responsibility of future blog posts you haven’t even thunk about thinking about yet. So, save your writers block for those.

The sole purpose of your first blog post, is to get yourself off the starting blocks and into the race. Nothing more. For everyone else, the only use your first blog post will serve is to satisfy the curiosity of those readers who want to see how much of an amateur you were when you first started out.

So, do these future readers a favour and let your first blog post be shit. The shitter the better. With any luck, by the time anyone actually reads it, you yourself will have turned into the kind of blogging royalty that intimidates the next generation of newbie bloggers into a bout of writer’s block about their own first blog post.

Genuine spontaneous side note. As I sit writing this, finally coming to the end of my own first blog post, I’ve begun to suspect that writing your first blog post about the anxiety of writing your first blog post is probably one of the biggest clichés in online publishing.

But bollocks to it. I’m not going to check. I don’t even want to know. I’m not starting over again now, you’ve got no chance.

Anyway, I’m sorry if you stumbled across this blog post while searching for some practical advice on how to construct an amazing, original, SEO-friendly masterpiece that will make you an overnight viral sensation. I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m sure it can. I’ll bet it has. But I don’t know how to do it.

I don’t know what makes a great first blog post. I don’t even know what makes a good first blog post. But, in my humble opinion, the perfect first blog post is the one that gets published.

Here’s to perfectoin!

 

Image courtesy: Drew Coffman