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Dec 9, 2019

Today, Rhonda could not join us due to the religious holidays, so we have recorded several podcasts with my wonderful neighbor, Dave Fribush, as host. In addition, we are joined by Michael Simpson, a friend and colleague from New York.

Dave, Michael and I answer two thought-provoking questions!

1. Working with Abused Women

Hi David (and Rhonda!),

I want to start out by stating how much I love your podcast. It has helped me understand myself, and, in turn, has made me a much more effective counselor.

I'm a drug and alcohol counselor, working here in Los Angeles. I work primarily with women from 18 - 25 years old who have aged out of the foster care system. They are an endearing group of women, as I know you are aware (I've heard you speak of working with this population), and they just want to feel loved and worthy. However, their deep-seated beliefs of being unworthy of good things happening in their lives prevents them from attaining their goals of getting jobs, getting their children back, and gaining housing.

These deep-seated beliefs are based on mistreatment by their families of origin, and their subsequent experiences in the social services system. Most were sexually abused or physically abused as children, taken out of their homes, then bounced around from one Foster Care family to the next.

Despite my best efforts, the majority of these women go back out to the streets just shy of completing our 6- to 12-month treatment program. Once on the streets they return to drug dealing, prostitution, and crime. After which, if they are lucky, they get picked up and incarcerated. Many die on the streets of drug overdoses or murder.

I'm using all of the tools I can to help them change their core beliefs, but it is challenging to say the least!

My question to you is—is there a book coming out which goes into depth about T.E.A.M. therapy? I need to become the most effective counselor I can in order to help these women recover and lead normal lives.

Thank you so much for your help! Keep up the good work. You are definitely saving lives!!


Hi Pennie,

Thank you so much for your question. I did work with this population at the Presbyterian / University of Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, and found the patients to be incredibly rewarding and hungry for help, love, and connection, as you have said. I’m sure it is heart-breaking for you to see so many fall short, continue to struggle, and even die on the streets.

I found this population to be particularly easy and rewarding to work with because they seemed so grateful to be getting any kind of help at all. Many of our patients were homeless, and about a quarter of them could not read or write. We gave them more than eight hours of cognitive group therapy every day in a residential treatment setting, so they got 40 to 50 hours of therapy per week. The program was very inexpensive to run, and was more or less free to the participants, paid for by some type of medical assistance insurance, as well as by our hospital. Most patients showed dramatic changes within three or four days. The average length of stay was something like a week or ten days or so.

In today's podcast, I describe a patient in one of our groups, a woman who was severely depressed. She thought of herself as "weak" and "a bad mother." She recovered from her depression in just 20 minutes or so when I used a TEAM-CBT method called "The Paradoxical Double Standard Technique.

My book, Ten Days to Self-Esteem, is the program we used at my hospital in Philadelphia when working with this population. It is a simplified version of CBT, and it is a ten-step program that can be administered individually or in groups (which I prefer.) It is written using simple words for individuals with little education.


We gave a copy to every patient entering our program, and found that really boosted our outcomes. The hospital purchased them in quantities of 50 or more, and got the wholesale price, which made the books cheaper than having to copy the materials for the patients.

There's also a companion Ten Days to Self-Esteem, The Leader's Manual, that you can get as an eBook. It shows the group leaders how to set the groups up and what to do at each of the ten group sessions.


There are many additional resources for you, if you'd like to learn more about CBT, as well as TEAM-CBT. First, my new book,  Feeling Great, is now at the publisher, PESI, and should be coming out in 2020. I'll update you as more details become available. But yes, it does have all the new TEAM-CBT stuff in it. It is intended for therapists as well as the general public, and features lots of written exercises while you read, so you can really master the many new methods and concepts.

My psychotherapy eBook, Tools, Not Schools, of Therapy, is for therapists, and we use it in all of our TEAM-CBT training programs. It is an interactive book that shows you how to do TEAM-CBT in a step-by-step way. this book also features many challenging interactive written exercises to complete as you read.

You might enjoy some of my in person workshops, as well as the many weekly online TEAM-CBT training programs at the Feeling Good Institute.  My one day workshops with Dr. Jill Levitt are really well received, and you can join online from anywhere in the world. My yearly intensives in the US and Canada are usually pretty awesome as well.

I hope this information is helpful, and Iwish you the very best in the important and compassionate work you are doing with this incredibly deserving group of women who are suffering so greatly!

2. Why don’t you advocate “Wellness” or “Holistic” Approaches?

A therapist named Georgina recently emailed me and was pretty excited about her clinical work which was dedicated to “Wellness” and to “Holistic” treatment methods. I mentioned in an email that I am “intensely anti-wellness and anti-holistic.”

She sounded a bit shocked and added: “I'm one of those clinicians who provide consults to other clinicians on Pilates and yoga in integrative psychiatry.”

Hi Georgina,

Thanks for your thoughtful emails! I know my statement was “politically incorrect” in an era that emphasizes lots of non-specific treatment methods like meditation, healthy dieting, daily exercise, yoga, and so forth.

The quick answer to your question, which you can also hear in the podcast on “fractal psychotherapy,” ( is that I focus narrowly on one specific moment when the patient was upset, and if it is an individual mood problem, like depression or anxiety, I ask the patient to record his or her negative thoughts and feelings at that specific moment on the Daily Mood Log. This activates just a few brain networks, out of the billions or trillions of networks in the brain, and we selectively modify those networks using techniques specifically chosen for this individual patient. There are no no-specific interventions.

The goal is rapid complete recovery followed by highly specific Relapse Prevention Training, so the patient will know exactly what to do the next time s/he falls into the black hole of depression, hopelessness, and despair. Essentially, I give the patient a little ladder that she or he can use the next time the Negative Thoughts return.

No one can feel happy all the time, but nearly all people can learn to limit those bumps in the road that we all encounter from time to time.

It sounds like the work you do for patients with Parkinson’s Disease is terrific, and desperately needed. My father in law died of Parkinson’s Disease several years ago, and we saw and experienced personally what a devastating and tragic disease it is.

Although I do not include any ”wellness” or “holistic” tools or concepts in my treatment plans, I have nothing against aerobic exercise, yoga (my daughter totally loves it!), meditation (my host, Rhonda, is a strong advocate), or a healthy diet, or anything else someone may find fun, exciting or helpful. It’s just that I’m trained in, and have developed, highly specific, super-fast acting treatments.

I believe that “non-specific techniques” have only a placebo effect on mood, although the placebo effect itself can be quite strong and potentially very helpful. In addition, I believe that non-specific techniques can ONLY change mood if you change the way you think.

So, if you jog, or eat a healthy diet, or meditate daily, and tell yourself, “Wow, I’m really living a healthy life,” you will feel good if you believe this thought. The jogging or food you eat will not, itself, cure your depression, or panic attacks, or fix your broken marriage, or help you recover from OCD, or PTSD, and so forth.

These conditions ARE highly treatable, however, using specific, fast-acting techniques that are individualized to you. We call this treatment TEAM-CBT. Again, I’m sure that many people will HATE what I just said, but I guess we will need some pretty refined research—research that’s never been done—to find out! The research that’s out there definitely cannot answer this question.

All I offer is a quick cure for specific problems. I’m not offering “everything” to “everybody.” I am aware, too, that my answer may be cheered by some and may be angrily booed by others. I like to speak from the heart, and from my experience, but I’m often wrong, and sometimes way off the mark, so no problem if you disagree or think I’m nuts!

You might also find our first and second podcasts on Mindfulness Meditation to be useful or interesting.