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Apr 4, 2022

Helping the Poor in Heart, featuring Victoria Chicurel and Silvina Carla Bucci

One of my favorite New Testament quotations comes from the “Sermon on the Mount” by Jesus: “Blessed are the poor in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8. I’m not 100% sure what this means, exactly, but it seems to me to suggest the values of compassion and humility, as opposed to self-aggrandizement.

I once had the chance to speak to a Catholic priest with a PhD in philosophy who had just returned from several years working with the indigenous people in Paraguay. He said that although the people were poor, and sometimes experiencing the effects of repression from the government, he said they were mostly happy and supported one another.

He also said that when he flew into Miami and walked through the airport, he was shocked to see so many overweight and visually unappealing people, after living for many years in Paraguay among the “poor.”

Who, really, is “poor,” and who, in contrast, is “wealthy?” That’s kind of the meaning I attribute to the Biblical quotation from the book of Matthew. I looked him up on Google, and apparently he worked as a tax collector in Copernicium prior to becoming a preacher in Judea.

At any rate, today’s podcast features two women who are working with the poor in Mexico and in the Pomona Valley in Southern California. Victoria Chicurel and Silvina Carla Bucci and working to promote TEAM-CBT in Mexico and Victoria is working with a group of Mexican women immigrants, some un-documented, most with limited English-language skills in the Pomona Valley teaching them a simplified version of TEAM-CBT.  Victoria calls these women, Promotoras.

In a pilot study sponsored by an organization called Common Good, Victoria has trained a group of approximately ten women in the ten cognitive distortions as well as the Five Secrets of Effective Communication and other simple cognitive therapy techniques, so they can teach these skills, called “psychological first-aid,” as coaches, to women without access to mental health care. These lay coaches trained are paid $15 per hour by Common Good, and the clients are treated for free. They were very enthusiastic about the results of their informal study. (The director of Common Good is Nancy Minte, the sister of one of our esteemed colleagues, Daniel Minte, LCSW.)

Victoria described a shame attacking contest organized by Daniel Minte, a Level 5 TEAM therapist. Shame-Attacking Exercises were developed by the late Dr. Albert Ellis from New York City, one of the founders of cognitive therapy,. Shame-Attacking Exercises are designed to help people with social anxiety get over their fears of looking foolish in front of others. You intentionally do something bizarre in public so you can discover that the world doesn’t come to an end when you make a fool of yourself. . The goal of the contest was to do the most weird and courageous Shame Attacking Exercise.

The winner was a woman who was one of the promotoras working with Victoria who suffered from severe social anxiety and who was greatly helped by a “Shame Attacking Exercise.” In one of her English classes, she stood and announced she was going to do something ridiculous to overcome her fear of making a fool of herself in public, and warned them that she had a terribly singing voice. She then burst into song, singing the national anthem of Mexico, and received enthusiastic cheers from her classmates at the end. This experience changed her life!

Prior to her experience, she had been so shy that she was afraid to express her opinions in public. After the exercise, her shyness instantly become a memory and she won first place in the competition!

Many others have been helped, too. I mentioned the experience of Sunny Choi who worked for years with Asian immigrants in the SF Bay area. He said that these patients did not expect long term treatment, and often responded in just four or five sessions, even if they were struggling with very severe problems. Victoria said they were seeing the same thing, and described a woman struggling with perfectionism who recovered in just five sessions.

The coaches in the program use my Brief Mood Survey, translated into Spanish, to track progress, and have access to the Spanish version of my first book, Feeling Good.

Silvina is working to promote TEAM-CBT in Mexico and other Spanish speaking countries like Ecuador, Peru, Spain, and Columbia. She has even created a TEAM-CBT licensing program for Spanish-speaking mental health professionals.

She says that her biggest challenge is one I have run into in my efforts to teach in the United States as well: The therapists are skeptical and have an attitude of “prove it to me.” In addition, they have difficulties learning to use the Five Secrets in their clinical work and personal lives, especially “I Feel” Statements and the Disarming Technique, as well as the paradoxical techniques of TEAM-CBT.

For me (David) personally, I welcome skepticism, but find the arrogance behind some if it to be hugely annoying! Sadly, I think that our field of mental health / psychotherapy consists, to a great extent, of competing “cults” that are not based on science, or on data-driven treatment, but rather the teachings of cult-leaders, like Freud and the hundreds of others who have started this or that “school” of therapy.

I often say that TEAM is NOT another new therapy , or “cult,” but rather a research-based structure for how all therapy works. I would love to see the gradual disappearance of schools of therapy and the continued emergence and evolution of data-driven therapy.

I applaud the efforts of Victoria and Silvina in their work with the “poor in heart.” In the mid-1980s, I developed a large scale cognitive therapy program for the residents in our inner-city neighborhood at my hospital in Philadelphia. It was a group program based on my book, Ten Days’ to Self-Esteem, and the therapists were simply people from the neighborhood who received some training in CBT and followed the Leaders Manual for The Ten Days’ to Self-Esteem groups they were directing.

The program was largely free and very successful. Many of our patients could not read or write, and some were homeless. Most had few resources, and many might be considered among those are “poor in heart.” But they were definitely not poor in spirit! Our hospital had “Feeling Good” days every six months, and they even had a Feeling Good jazz band. That program was the most successful and gratifying program I have ever been associated with.

Rhonda and I are very proud of these two fantastic women! If you would like to learn more about their work in Mexico and in the Pomona Valley, please feel free to contact them at www.TEAM-CBTMexico.

Thanks for tuning in today!

Rhonda, Victoria, Silvina, and David