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Aug 14, 2017

The Dark Night of the Soul (Part 1)

The first live therapy podcasts with Mark (the man who felt like a failure as a father: podcasts 29 – 35) were enormously popular, and many people have asked for more. David and Fabrice were delighted with your responses, so the next three podcasts will feature a therapy session with Marilyn by David and his highly-esteemed colleague and co-therapist, Dr. Matthew May. These three podcasts will include the entire session plus commentary the session unfolds.

We are extremely grateful to Marilyn for her courage and generosity in making this extremely private and intensely personal experience available to all of us. I believe the session will touch your heart, inspire you, and give you courage in facing any problems and traumas that you may be struggling with.

According to the theory behind cognitive therapy, people are disturbed not be events, but rather by the ways we think about them. This notion goes back nearly 2,000 years to the teachings of the Greek Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, who emphasized the incredible importance of our thoughts—or “cognitions”—in the way we feel. Fifty years ago, this notion gave rise to a new, exciting, drug-free treatment for depression called “cognitive therapy,” which was based on this basic notion: When you CHANGE the way you THINK, you can CHANGE the way You FEEL—quickly, and without drugs. That’s why I wrote my first book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, because I was so excited about this notion and the powerful new “cognitive therapy” that was rapidly emerging.

The idea behind cognitive therapy is simple. When you’re upset, you’ve probably noticed that your mind will be flooded with negative thoughts. For example, when you’re depressed, you may be beating up on yourself and telling yourself that you’re a loser, and when you’re anxious you’re probably thinking that something terrible is about to happen. However, it may not have dawned on you that your thoughts are the actual cause of your negative feelings.

In addition, you’re probably not aware that your negative thoughts will nearly always be distorted, illogical, or just plain unrealistic. In Feeling Good, I said that depression and anxiety are the world’s oldest cons, because you’re telling yourself things that simply are not true. In that book, I listed the ten cognitive distortions, such as All-or-Nothing Thinking, Overgeneralization, and hidden Should Statements, that trigger negative feelings.

In the years since I first published Feeling Good, my list of cognitive distortions has gone worldwide, and is used by enormous numbers of mental health professionals in the treatment of individuals struggling with depression and anxiety. The notion that depression, anxiety, and event anger result entirely from your thoughts, and not upsetting events or circumstances external events is enormously liberating, because we usually cannot change what’s actually happening, but we can learn to change the way we think—and feel.

But a lot of people don’t buy, or understand, this notion which seems to fly in the face of common sense. For example, you might argue that when something genuinely horrible happens, such as failure, losing a loved one, or being diagnosed with terminal cancer, it is the actual event and not your thoughts, that triggers your negative feelings. And you might also argue, perhaps even with some irritation, that your thoughts are definitely not distorted, since the actual event—such as the cancer—is real.

Would you agree? I know that’s what I used to think! The next three podcasts will give you the chance to examine your thinking on this topic, because Marilyn is struggling with a negative event that is absolutely real and devastating.

As the session with begins, Marilyn explains that she was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 (terminal) lung cancer, which came as a total shock, especially since she’d never smoked. As Drs. Burns and May go through the T = Testing and E = Empathy phases of the TEAM-CBT session, they learn that Marilyn has been struggling with extreme levels of depression, anxiety, shame, loneliness, hopelessness, demoralization, and anger, to mention just a few of her negative feelings.

If you’d like, you can review a pdf of the Brief Mood Survey and Daily Mood Log that Marilyn completed just before the session began. You will see that her negative thoughts focus on several themes, including

  • Her fears of cancer, pain, and death.
  • Her thoughts of spiritual inadequacy, doubting her belief in God, wondering if there really is an afterlife, feeling that she’s not spiritual enough, and thinking that she’s perhaps been duped by religions.
  • Her feelings of incompleteness at never having had a truly loving life partner.
  • Her feelings of self-criticism, beating up on herself for excessive drinking during her life.

Click here for Marilyn's Brief Mood Survey, pre-session.
Click here for Marilyn's Daily Mood Log.

The next Feeling Good Podcast with Marilyn will include the A = (Paradoxical) Agenda Setting phase of the TEAM therapy session, and will include the Miracle Cure Question, the Magic Button, the stunning Positive Reframing Technique, and the Magic Dial. The third and final podcast will include the M = Methods phase, including Identify the Distortions, the Paradoxical Double Standard Technique, Externalization of Voices, and Acceptance Paradox, end of session testing, and wrap-up.

Although the subject matter of these podcasts is exceptionally grim and disturbing, we believe that Marilyn’s story may transform your thinking and touch your heart in a deeply personal way. Because Marilyn is a deeply spiritual person who suddenly finds herself without hope and totally lost, we have called part one, The Dark Night of the Soul.