I am a very optimistic psychologist, but with reason. For 25 years I’ve been working with people who have had psychological problems in every conceivable area. Many psychologists have problems with burnout, especially early in their careers. For me, this has been very different. By using the treatment techniques that I do, I feel anti-burned out. It is so gratifying to see people get out of their serious problems, that I look forward to every day of clinical work.
The reason why many in the mental health field get burned out may be that they are not able to make changes in people’s lives as they had hoped.
I often get frustrated when patients come to me after a treatment career with four or five previous psychologists. The clients have been very close to giving up, but they often give it a last try, especially in the anxiety clinic where I work. Having failed in many therapies, having been made very pessimistic, I really admire them for not giving up completely.
Usually these patients have been to psychologists who are very concerned with childhood experiences. For years they have been talking to the psychologists about all kinds of bad things that have happened to them, in an attempt to find out what may have caused their psychological problems.
The problem is that even if we could reliably find exactly what caused the problems, this does not give us any direction about how to help cure the problem. The sad fact is that we cannot change people’s childhoods.
Another sad effect, is that doing psychotherapy that is not working may be very demotivating and give people the feeling that there is no hope for their condition.
What makes more sense, especially to clients, is to look at their everyday situation, and find out what problems they have within their daily lives. In technical terms, this is called formulation. Many British psychologists see this as a very useful alternative to diagnosis. The formulation would describe in everyday language what triggers your problems, how you react, what makes the problem worse or better, and eventually what may be done with this in the here and now.
By using such formulation, there is no need for diagnosis. I got a very nice experience the other day when one of my patients, who had been to many psychologists before, said that she liked to come to me because I told her of things that she could practice between sessions.
This attitude, of seeing all kinds of psychological problems, including psychosis, as mental habits that can be changed by psychological training, is very liberating, and very effective.
I got a very strong demonstration of this personally, when I was studying psychology. I had always been a worried person, but many of the worries went away by themselves. However, I had one problem it seemed impossible get rid of. Even when I was 23 years old, I was still extremely afraid of spider-like creatures with wings. These are creatures, the size of big spiders, which come into people’s bedrooms in the summer. I was totally scared by these, and had a very typical phobia. I realized that they were not dangerous, but I just could not control my panic if they came into the room.
Phobias like this one may seem like details to people who don’t have them, but they can have very far-reaching effects on people lives. For me, the problem was that I was losing faith in psychology and, especially, in my own ability to help people, since I wasn’t able to help myself. Then one day – out of curiosity – I picked up a colorful book where I found a very short article about how to treat a phobia in five minutes.
In my psychology studies, I have learned that anxiety could be very difficult to treat, and that we would have to be patient, maybe waiting several years for a cure. This article promised that phobias could be cured in five minutes. My immediate thought was that this was impossible.
However, I thought to myself, if this technique is so effective and it takes only five minutes to do, I would be very stupid to not try it. It was a very simple visualization technique, where I would imagine a picture of the insect right in front of me, and then very quickly send it away to the horizon. Then I would imagine a picture of myself being rid of the phobia, coming from the horizon and stopping right in front of me.
I did that visualization exercise as specified; out with the phobic image and in with the success image very quickly in one second, and then a break for 20 seconds. Then I repeated this five times as stated in the article. I felt a bit stupid doing this, but I said to myself – if it can make a big difference in my life, if this can help, I would be very stupid not to try it.
Then summer arrived and the insects started coming into my bedroom at night. I used to wake up my father in the middle of the night because of this fear, and I now noticed that I wasn’t afraid at all.
“Wow,” I thought to myself, “this is working, but it is probably very short-lived, since it was so easy.” Then after a few weeks I got the insect in my room again, and there was absolutely no anxiety. Another “wow,” and I started realizing that every time I saw this insect, I got a very positive feeling of mastery, and that this mastery was becoming attached to the insect.
So now instead of having anxiety, I had a feeling of mastery whenever I saw this insect. I have now had a 30-year anniversary for this fear-conquering experience.
Like all psychological techniques, it doesn’t work for everyone. However, it has been so reliable that when I have given courses for other mental health professionals I have used it as a live demonstration. It works every time. In a group of mental health professionals there will always be one or two with phobias. Usually it is either phobias of snakes, rats, elevators or heights. These are usually not debilitating, because people are usually able to avoid them. Just like with my phobia, the consequences in daily life may not be so great, but the consequences for self-image may be serious.
In the course, I do the treatment on a volunteer by promising that I will never really make them face their fear if they don’t want to themselves. They usually insist that they don’t believe that the technique is going to help, and that they will never take the elevator or touch the rubber snake. We do the procedure, it takes five minutes, and then I ask them if they’re willing to test out if they are cured. In every case they have been quite willing to try, and they have discovered that the fear is gone.
The first one I tested this on had phobia of heights, and she was so grateful when she saw that she was cured that she flung her arms around my neck and gave me a big hug.
Some may say that this is just a superficial technique that can be used just for very simple problems. However, psychological processes are very connected, which makes diagnosis in many cases relatively unnecessary. I worked for a while in a clinic for so-called psychotic and traumatized patients, and here I would see clients who had what are considered the worst symptoms in psychiatry: negative commanding hallucinations.
One woman was on five antipsychotics at the same time (which may have been part of the reason for her hallucinations), but according to the doctors everything had been tried with her to prevent hallucinations.
The voice, a very aggressive male voice, told her: “go and hang yourself you swine.” She was so devastated by this hallucination that she said: “maybe I should just do it so the voice goes away. Maybe I should just hang myself.”
There aren’t any easy solutions for this kind of problem in psychiatry, but she was suffering so much that I just had to use my imagination. The problem was that she wasn’t afraid of anything she could see. She was afraid of a voice. So I thought that maybe the technique that had cured me could be used on voices. I told her: “try to imagine hearing the voice and then you quickly say “no, I’m going to live,” in a very optimistic voice. Then you take a break and repeat these two sentences, in sequence, 50 times, with 20 second breaks between each repetition. This will train your brain to go in the direction of the positive thoughts whenever you have the negative hallucination.
The patient did as I told her, and after three days the hallucinations were gone, and she finally got some hope maybe she could get better.
This was a woman who had had a lot of talk therapy and medication during 18 years of problems. I also treated her with very simple trauma techniques. This patient, who was seen as the worst of the worst, the most hopeless of the hopeless became quite functional, and started stepping down on all her medications gradually.
These simple and often extremely effective techniques are part of the reason why I look forward to every new patient and especially patients that have been given up on by other therapists.
Often, concrete psychological training methods – and reformulations of psychological problems as manageable faulty learning – have a very strong impact on patients. Luckily, with YouTube, I can now present these techniques in a very understandable way.
Conclusion: psychological problems, including schizophrenia, and serious trauma, PTSD, serious OCD, serious bipolar disorder, can be helped significantly through psychological retraining techniques. Some of these techniques are represented by CBT, Meta cognitive therapy, and many techniques from Neuro Linguistic Programming and energy psychology.
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