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Nov 7, 2022

Horrific World Events: Can TEAM-CBT Help Us?

Featuring Live work with Meina

Today, we see lots of horrific events, and violence and hatred seem to be on the upswing. There are the repeated and horrible mass shootings in the US, the horrific war in the Ukraine, and the extensive protests that are rocking Iran. Those problems are real, and terrible in reality.

So, maybe the TEAM-CBT model, with its emphasis on our interpretations of reality, and our relationships with others, might seem like irrelevant and useless tools.

Or are they? Let’s check it out. Sometimes, as you’ll see, things can a take sudden and unexpected change in direction in TEAM-CBT if you follow the energy. There is no “formula” for treating anything. We treat humans, not diagnoses or problems. But we do go through the T, E, A, M model in a systematic way so we can find out what, if anything, each patient wants help with, and then design an individualized plan to make that happen, if possible.

Part 1

T = Testing

Today’s guest, whom we’ll call Meina for protection, migrated to the United States from her mother country, Iran, as a young woman, and she’s definitely upset. In fact, her mood scores are among the most severe that I’ve seen recently. Her depression score of 15 out of 20 indicates severe depression, and her anxiety and anger scores of 19 and 20 out of 20 indicates extreme anxiety and anger.

You can see Meina’s Daily Mood Log at the start of the session as well, with nine categories—depression, anxiety, guilt, loneliness, humiliation, hopelessness, frustration and hatred all estimated between 90 and 100 out of 100, again confirming the most extreme upset a human being can experience.

As you might expect, her happiness score was 0 out of 20, indicating no happiness at all, and her Relationship Satisfaction Scale score, thinking of her husband, was only 19 out of 30, indicating considerable marital distress.

What’s causing those feelings? Well, let’s take a look at her negative thoughts and how strongly she believes them:

  1. I’ll always suffer because of being born in Iran: 90%

  2. My heart will stop from feeling so much hatred. 80%

  3. There’s nothing I can do to help (the women who are protesting.) 100%

  4. It is pathetic that I can’t stop feeling so angry. 90%

  5. I’m going to get sick because of these feelings. 90%

  6. Many young women will be tortured and killed. 100%

  7. I’m going to lose all my friends because I’m so angry. 70%

  8. My marriage will also be negatively impacted. 100%

E = Empathy

In the empathy phase of the session, Rhonda and David simply listened, as Meina described terrifying memories of the being a child during the Iran Iraq war, and being left alone to care for her younger sister when her parents were away every day, and bombs were coming down all over the city. She said that on many occasions she was so scared that she wanted to commit suicide by jumping out of the window of their apartment in Iran.

And now, all those terrifying memories have come flooding her mind again, triggered by the events in Iran, as well as her fears and run-ins with the “morality police” when she was a young woman. She expressed profound connection with the young women who are now fighting the intense suppression of human rights in Iran, all in the name of religion!

Once their car was stopped, and a policeman put a gun to her mother’s head because she had not covered her hair properly. She also described the attempts always to separate the girls and the boys to prevent any type of dating or romantic behavior, and the constant fear of being imprisoned if you did the wrong thing. Meina tells us:

I saw friends who were beaten up, and was humiliated for eating an apple. I was arrested for wanting to go to parties to listen to music. I lived in constant fear of being tortured and had panic attacks by night and by day. . . I left Iran when I was 22 and have never gone back, for fear of ending up in prison. . .

Then, when I finally escaped to the United States, I never fit in. The young people were interested in the latest music, and did not seem interested in my story, in my experiences. I never felt like I fit in. I think I’ve felt lonely my entire life.

Now I feel embarrassed, being from Iran, because it’s such a violent country. . . And I have panic attacks every night. I cope by imagining that I’m in Iran, visiting and counseling girls who have been imprisoned, and giving them tips on how to use the Five Secrets of Effective Communication so they won’t be tortured, raped, and murdered.

Meina said she still feels alone, since few people, including her husband, are really interested in her story, including her horrific memories of growing up in Iran, or how she feels now. She said she also feels intensely guilty, since she still has friends and one relative in Iran who are facing desperate circumstances, while she enjoys comfort and safety here in California.

She rated us as an A+ on empathy, so that brought us to A = Assessment of Resistance.

She added that she always hides her emotions, something she learned to do for survival in Iran, and that she’s afraid to let them out, and continues to hold and hide them. As a result, she struggles with constant tension and anxiety of constantly hiding her anger.

David commented on the paradox that she looks chipper and in control, and can be funny at times. But she feels incredible loneliness because other people rarely know or care about how she actually feels. She added:

What if I’m just being selfish. Maybe I shouldn’t complain so much!

A = Assessment of Resistance

Meina said this about her goals for the session:

I know I’m not in a position to change what’s happening in Iran, but what I do want help with is the fact that I’m so overwhelmed with negative feelings that I’m losing my effectiveness at work and I also don’t seem to be able to connect with my friends and colleagues.

I don’t want to have such hatred and anger for the morality police. And I don’t want all those painful memories to keep coming back and ruining my life, like my uncle and grandmother who suffered from dementia and almost constant terror towards the ends of their lives.

At this point, we ran out of time, and had to schedule the remainder of the session two days later.

End of Part 1

Tune in next week for the fantastic and unexpected conclusion of the work with Meina!