In our recent podcast surveys, one of the highest rated show
topics was learning therapy techniques, both for therapists and for
the general public. That’s why today we’re going to take a deeper
dive on some of the fine points of the Five Secrets of Effective
Communication. We’ll show you how to use them with individuals who
are angry and hostile, including some patients with Borderline
Personality Disorder as well as kids who may be ticked off at a
parent. These topics were specifically requested by people who
completed the podcast survey.
The Five Secrets are like a fantastic musical instrument,
capable of working magic for troubled relationships. You can’t just
sit down at a fine grand piano and pound on the keys and expect
great music to emerge. You’ll just get cacophony.
To learn the Five Secrets, you need:
Great determination and desire
The willingness to endure the “Great Death” of the “self,” or
Tons of ongoing practice with immediate feedback and deliberate
practice involving role reversals until you get it “right,” or
receive an “A.”
To get started, Rhonda and David made a list of a few of the
most challenging criticisms a therapist might hear from a patient,
or a parent might hear from a teenager.
Criticisms from patients included:
You don’t care about me!
I’m not getting better. You’re not helping me!
You charge too much!
All you care about is your darn techniques.
That’s not my child’s name! You’re not listening to me!
And this one, from a first time patient referred by the
I got anxious last night and masturbated to your image, which I
found on the internet, and it really helped!
These are some criticisms from kids:
Stop nagging me!
Stop giving me advice. I don’t want any advice!
We demonstrated the “Intimacy Exercise” I have created for our
training programs. You can use this exercise to work on conflicts
with patients and conflicts with loved ones. It works exactly the
same way in both situations. You’ll need someone to practice
Step 1. One of you agrees to play the critic and the other
plays the role of the person being attacked (therapist or parent,
Step 2. The person playing the role of the critic verbalizes
the hostile comment.
Step 3. The person playing the role of the therapist / parent
responds as effectively as you can, using the Five Secrets of
Now you must STOP. The exchange is done. No further interaction
in the role playing format is permitted.
Step 4. The person who played the role of the therapist /
parent gives himself / herself a grade between A and F. Ask
yourself, “How well did I do just now?”
Step 5. The person who played the role of the critic gives the
therapist / parent a letter grade, and then provides the following
specific kinds of feedback using Five Secrets language.
Positive Feedback: Here’s what you said that worked pretty
well. Your Thought Empathy was great, and your Disarming Technique
was fairly good. Your Stroking was excellent, especially when you
said X, Y, or Z.
Negative Feedback: Here’s what you said that needs a little
fine tuning: Your Feeling Empathy was completely missing—you did
not acknowledge how the other person was feeling. Your “I Feel”
statements were also missing, and there was no Inquiry at the
Then you can suggest ways to include the Five Secrets elements
that were missing or “off,” and demonstrate how you might improve
the response to the criticism with a role reversal, followed by
another round of grading and positive and negative feedback.
Continue using role-reversals until both parties can get an A
on the exercise, always using the same harsh criticism that you’re
trying to learn how to master. Don’t try something new until you’ve
mastered the thing you’re working on.
The practice is powerful but hard, and requires the philosophy
of “joyous failure.” This means welcoming the chance to get
immediate feedback about your skills, or lack of skill, instead of
getting blown away, defensive, or “yes-butting” the person who’s
trying to correct your technique.
You will hear some pretty dramatic examples of this on today’s
The Five Secrets can be life-changing, but the price of
learning is fairly stiff. If you want the rewards, the exercise we
demonstrate in today’s podcast can be incredibly helpful—but
Also, you can read my book, Feeling Good Together, and
do the written exercises while reading if you’re a therapist or a
general citizen. This helps a lot. Dr. Jill Levitt said she kept
Feeling Good Together on her nightstand for more than a
year when she first joined by training group at Stanford. Her
dedication and hard work have clearly paid off for her.
If you’re a therapist, you can also read the chapters on E =
Empathy in my Tools, Not Schools, of Therapy book, and
make sure you do the written exercises while reading!
Thanks so much! And good luck if you’re brave enough to try our
David and Rhonda
About the Podcast
This podcast features David D. Burns MD, author of "Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy," describing powerful new techniques to overcome depression and anxiety and develop greater joy and self-esteem. For therapists and the general public alike!