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Apr 30, 2020

On April 9, 2020, David and Rhonda did a live TEAM-CBT session with Dr. Taylor Chesney, a former student of David’s who is now the head of the Feeling Good Institute of New York City. Her husband, Gregg, is an ER / ICU (Emergency Room / Intensive Care) doctor in New York, and she was terrified he might contract the corona virus and die. Gregg was also terrified, as he had to intubate two of his colleagues who are struggling in the ICU, and recently had trouble breathing. He is working long hours and lives in a separate apartment to protect Taylor and their three young children.

The response to that podcast was extremely positive. Here's an email from a therapist in India, Nivedita Singh:

Dear Dr Burns, Rhonda and Taylor,

Just finished listening to your 4th podcast of the Corona series. What an emotional roller coaster learning and healing journey it's been. Can never ever thank you enough. Living far away in India and watching the Corona story unfold on the international news channels has been overwhelmingly scary for most of us, especially those who have our kids attending different schools in the United States. They share their fears and anxieties or protect us (their parents) by withholding it ... both of which makes us feel helpless and fills us with dread.

The podcast today built some amazing perspective. Taylor is a Braveheart to Gregg being a Superhero. The podcast was so pure, had such integrity and absolute raw honesty! It required great courage from Taylor to allow her vulnerability to surface and an equal amount of brilliant skills set by both the therapists to communicate empathy that soothed the right spot not just for Taylor but for everyone of us across the globe who are dealing with the pandemic. When you addressed the distortions you were addressing all of us and our anxieties.The role play method had us confronting our own demons! Yes! All of us on this planet who have families stranded somewhere ...  who are battling the virus ...  or fighting in the front-lines, felt therapeutically addressed.

I personally found myself choking when Taylor did, relaxing when she relaxed and found myself to be gripped by fear when she became vulnerable again. I was on the rollercoaster with her. By the time the podcast drew to an end I could sense my shoulders relaxing ... my breathing getting even and my fists unclenching. Something in the head or somewhere inside of me felt right. I insisted my family and friends listen to the podcast ... and the unanimous feedback was that plenty of pennies dropped for all of us at different times in the podcast. You, Dr Burns and Rhonda made all of us feel less anxious, less fearful and more in control of our emotions; and also compassionate and super, super proud of the Greggs and Taylors of the world.

I am extremely grateful to Taylor (who I have met as a beautiful and driven young professional; and I got to see the devoted mum and wife in her) for letting us in to be a part of her journey. Wish her and her family lovely times ahead.This too shall pass ...

Stay safe. Take care.

Warmly and even more awestruck (by you Dr Burns). Thank you again for giving us TEAM.

Nivedita Singh

(Your biggest fan this side of the Pacific).

One week after the recording of that podcast, Taylor learned that Gregg, has, in fact, been struck by the Covid-19 virus, so her worst fear has become a reality. What do you think happened? Did the monster have no teeth, as David sometimes argues?

Listen to this powerful podcast and you will find out!

David describes several patients he treated who had intense fears of going bankrupt, who did, in fact, go bankrupt while in treatment. What happened when their worse fears were realized--and why?

The cognitive model states that only our thoughts can upset us, and that the thoughts that upset us will be distorted. Depression and anxiety, David argues, are the world's oldest cons. Could the cognitive model be correct in this era where we are fighting something that IS real and IS dangerous?

During today's podcast, Rhonda asks Taylor about her romance with Gregg, how they met, what happened on their first date playing frisbee in Central Park, and how their relationship evolved. Taylor recalls the psychodynamic training she received during her graduate work in clinical psychology, which was all about listening without teaching patients to use specific tools to change. Taylor's teachers explained that there was no point in trying to change until you discovered the cause of your problems.

Gregg did not agree and urged Taylor to think more about helping her patients change their lives, using specific tools. After all, a medical doctor doesn't just help patients understand why they have pneumonia--the goal is rapid cure whenever possible--understanding the causes doesn't necessarily help or lead to change. In addition, the causes of all psychiatric problems are currently unknown, so the focus on endless talk to understand the causes of depression, anxiety, relationship problems or habits and addictions could even be seen as nonsensical.

Taylor had a chance to check this out when she and Gregg moved to California shortly after they were married in 2012. Gregg had a two-year Critical Care fellowship at Stanford, and Taylor joined Dr. Burns TEAM-CBT weekly training group at Stanford to prove that the rapid-change techniques wouldn't work. But they did work. She concluded that TEAM-CBT really IS all it's cracked up to be and fell in love with TEAM. The rest his history. When Taylor and Gregg returned home to New York two years later, she founded the highly acclaimed New York Feeling Good Institute. 

During today's interview, Taylor is caring for her three beautiful and charming children, but they all want mommy's attention. It's obviously an overwhelming job, on top of her clinical work with patients, and most moms face similar challenges. Taylor provided several tips for moms who may be listening to the show from home during these days of "Shelter in Place" orders, restricting people all around the world to their homes.

1. Emotional Intelligence Training. I try to check in with each child every day to get an emotional read on how they're doing. This varies for each child based on their age. For my 6 year old, we use the Yale Mood Meter since that's what he uses in school. For my 4 year old, I name a few emotions such as happy, angry, sad, and ask her what's a time today she felt any of those. For my 2 year old, I try to find a time where he's thrown a toy or pushed a sibling and mention an emotion he might be feeling such as happy, sad, or angry, and act it out. He often just laughs but it starts to help him develop his emotional intelligence.

2. Scheduling. Every evening I write out our daily schedule for the following day. This helps to keep me organized, but also helps my children know what to expect each day and gives us a flexible guide for the day. This includes things such as meals, brushing teeth, nap time, screen time, social time, exercise, and academics.

Certain activities are required, while others are more flexible. Since my kids are just 2, 4, and 6 years old, there are fewer "requirements" but over time I plan to try to push them a little more to stick to the schedule. Since social distancing and being home is something we have not had any practice with, I want to ease into our new schedule.

3. Independent play. I schedule some time for independent play each day. This is a skill I've really been focusing on with each child, and find that it's important for them to learn to play by themselves. Social playing is great, but learning to be alone is important as well!

For my 6 year old the goal is 20 mins, for my 2 year old it's 10 mins with minimal help from mommy. We make it a fun game, and they get a  small reward if they are able to reach their goal. The rewards could include a hug, high-five, praise, stickers or even a new action figure. I try to switch the types of rewards to keep it fun and interesting, and also so they're not just doing it so that they get X privilege or Y toy.

4. Little Steps for Big Feets. I try to set small, manageable goals each day for each child as well as myself. Sometimes it's something I impose on the kids such as "today each of you will help me with one chore, such as taking the garbage out, cleaning up your toys, washing the table, etc."

At other times it's something they want to learn. For example my daughter wants to learn to write her name so for several days her goal was to practice writing her name four times. For me it's usually a small manageable goal related to work or house-cleaning. This is similar to David's principle of "little steps for big feets!" For example, instead of saying I'll clean my entire apartment today, I focus on one small goal that I can attain.

Taylor gives an awesome example of how to use the Five Secrets of Effective Communication with small children, especially when they are angry or upset. This is an example every parent might want to emulate! And it's the first example I've heard of how to do this!

Thanks for tuning in, and please let us know what you thought about today’s program!

Rhonda, Taylor, and David