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The Work?
June 16, 2011 7:09 AM   Subscribe

Am I right to be concerned about "The Work", created by Byron Katie, being used it real therapy? How do I diminish the toll of three years of therapy that definately wasn't right for me?

If you really like Byron Katie, you might want to skip this question.

I experienced severe PTSD after a traumatic abusive relationship and extreme loss 10 years ago. I went to a counselor that I really liked in many ways but there was a certain part of the counseling that seemed really off to me.

Had I been in a healthy state, I think I would have identified this wasn't working for me right away but since I had already been worked on by an abusive partner (and of course already had issues prior to that) being able to identify belief systems that didn't work for me was not very possible. So I was in this form of counseling for three years. I discovered toward the end of it that I what I didn't like was when my counselor was using something called "The Work" in which you take any negative thought, as questions about it, and then turn it on yourself.

I.e. instead of thinking you were abused by someone else you would then say, "I abused myself" or "I abused the person I previously thought was abusing me."

Other Byron Katie strategies include: We don't need suffering. If you feel a negative emotion you should question it and undo it mentally and no longer have the negative thought or you are harming yourself.

Everything in reality is as it should be. Anything that happens should be seen as good and something to love. If a child dies you shuold celebrate. If someone is abused you should undo your negative thoughts about it and see it as a positive thing. When war happens you should undo your negative thoughts about it and see it as a positive thing.

All experiences that humans go through should be seen as beautiful including the holocaust, war, torture, child death, rape, and child abuse.

Byron Katie has said herself that if she were in the holocaust and someone was throwing her baby into a fire she would say, "Yes throw my baby in the fire! I celebrate reality as it is!"

Another Byron Katieism is that we don't need love and needing love causes abuse. In theory I agree that we don't need love from ONE particular person, so that could be freeing if applied in that way. But the idea that we don't need love from anyone but ourselves seems completely off to me. And that was how it was presented to me. No love. Never need love from anyone at any time, in any way or you are harming yourself. Even if you are a child, don't need love from a parent. If a parent abuses you, you actually abused yourself by needing love from your parent. (These are things Byron Katie has said verbatum.)

I find all of this rather disturbing honestly, and it concerns me that counselors would use these techniques as presented by Byron Katie with people who need to mourn devestating loss, or who are processing past abuse, or who have seen horrific events. On the one hand, I think it would be possible to take some of her methods and restructure them to fit into a healthy therapeutic approach, but left exactly as they are, I think the techniques are in themselves harmful to the human psyche.

We need to grief when we lose a loved one. Sometimes we need to talk about negative events in our past so that we can reprocess them, learn why they happened and learn how to go in a different direction.

During the course of this "therapy" I was basically unable to talk about anything that happened in the abusive relationship I was in because I had to redifine it as not abusive or as me abusing myself and have no negative emotions or thoughts about it or I was considered to be harming myself. That's another thing-- if you have a engative emotion you are the one harming yourself. It is no such thing as pain other than people hurting themselves with negative thoughts.

So basically other than "Stop thinking about that relationship or you are harming yourself" there was no discussion of what happened in the abusive relationship.

It's been really hard for me to undo the toll this has taken on me. Cognitively I disagree with these methods but I still feel inhibited about ever speaking about anything I've ever been through because if I ever let myself think about it "I'm harming myself."

I've done a lot of research on emotional suppression and the brain and I don't think the science is behind Byron Katie's method. I think we need emotions and we need to let ourselves feel them, and we need to process experiences we've had in order to make sense of them and go a different way.

Circumstantially-- applying an emotional suppression technique to emotions that are no longer needed might be helpful--- but applying byron katy to everything completely dysregulates the process of having normal human emotions.

I can say all of this, but I still find it hard to even consider trying a different therapy method and I still feel like having emotions or talking about them is something I should avoid even though cognitively I feel like it's something I need to do. Has anyone faced years of a therapy method like this that was harmful for them, and what kind of therapy (or other suggestions) helped you undo what you feel was harmful about it?

Also, does it sound like using this therapeutic technique in real therapy is something that should be done and occasionally it won't work for some people (like me) or does it seem like an unhealthy therapy technique? People compare it to CBT but it's NOT the same as CBT and it's affects on people haven't been researched at all. that kind of concerns me. Thanks for reading.
posted by xarnop to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Seems a little funny, as practiced by your therapist at least. I can only say that it sounds somewhat orthogonal to the work I've done that has had a positive effect.

It seems lacking in basic principles: We need love and responsibility and boundaries.
posted by krilli at 7:22 AM on June 16, 2011


I've had some similar thoughts reading through Byron Katie's work. Like a lot of therapeutic models, I reckon a lot of it is useless for abusive situations. Couples therapy doesn't apply to abusive situations for similar reasons - the problem isn't solved by the abused person's taking responsibility for their contribution to the conflict, it's solved by the abuser's cutting out the abuse. The therapeutic process actually becomes part of the abuse, in these cases.

If you haven't already, try reading tons of stuff by Lundy Bancroft and Patricia Evans. They'll soon have you feeling better, at least that's what I've found. Or at least thinking better.
posted by tel3path at 7:26 AM on June 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Uh... so apparently Byron Katie is insane, then? Seriously, I just don't buy that bit about that being her honest response to her baby in the fire.

I think the people who preach about Optimistic Thinking can go way too far, and while I don't know jack about this woman (beyond thinking, "Why the hell isn't she named Katie Byron?"), it sounds like she has gone too far. That's nuts.

I have never heard of this woman being used in therapy before, and I'm thinking that you should just try another therapist.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:32 AM on June 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm afraid I can't provide much of an answer to your question but thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'm involved in fields where people might be taking this sort of thing seriously to the detriment of their clients, so I'm going to

It may be helpful for you to write a more detailed article or story about this. You process a lot of things that happened to you in somewhat more detail which can help healing, and you will also be able to help others by raising awareness of this potentially harmful techniques. You have already done a lot of good work by confronting it here. Thanks!
posted by fuq at 7:36 AM on June 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Honestly, I don't think "the science" is clearly behind any from of talk therapy. While there are multitudes of published studies they are purely statistical... works for some percentage of the people some of the time. Actual therapists pick and choose what approaches they want to use and the good ones apply different ones to different situations. It sounds like your therapist had a dogmatic, one-dimensional approach that she brought to everything. That's not going to work, hammers should only be used for nails. If you go to another therapist, pick one that is adaptive and responsive to your reservations. I don't think that your ex-therapists "suppression techniques" are indelibly part of you now. You will most likely shake off what's not useful for you and try new things as you go to someone else.
posted by blueyellow at 7:37 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with you the "science" is pretty sketchy and subject to interperetation on talk therapy (and everything? LOL)-- there are some studies that seem to indicate that talk therapy with peers is as affective as talk therapy with a professional--- it really doesn't seem to have the kind of affects people often hope it will.

But the reason we do research different techniques is that some could be harmful- there are certain things that could result in revocation of licensure such as making sexual comments to a client or berating a client with insults--- what I mean to say is that we should definately have some protections in place that prevent vulnerable people (the type often going to therapists to begin with) from being treated badly.

Telling someone who was sexually abused as a child that they caused the abuse by needing love, and that in reality they should admit they were the one abusing their parent is quite honestly something that seems closer to "thing that should be illegal in therapy" than "different strokes for different folks" to me.

Byron Katie was investigated by the board psychiatry of california for requiring a woman to say she was the one abusing her step father because she liked the attention she got when he sexually abused her.

The board was unable to do anything because Byron Katie is not licensed and claims The Work is not therapy and that people who do the work are as responsible for their own mental health before they do it as after.

Which is all well and good until you stick The Work in real therapy.
posted by xarnop at 7:58 AM on June 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've even seen studies that show that just writing your thoughts is significantly more effective than talking with someone.

In terms of things being harmful ... the worst part of your story is as that you were so vulnerable when you came for help that your ability to take things with the requisite grain of salt was non-existent. Vulnerable people are constantly at the mercy of people with "solutions". Look at how effective fringe religion is for those in trouble. When we're weak we want out and are willing to accept things we wouldn't otherwise.

I don't think psychiatrists are necessarily any less likely to say stupid things to people as well. They are also quite destructive in their own ways these days with the over prescription of medications with known and unknown consequences.

In terms of having the woman say she was the one abusing her step father ... I agree that it sounds absurd. If its stated as a statement of fact like that then it is ridiculous. I can see some aspect of it that are useful therapeutically if used correctly. First, stating that she was in control somehow allows her to not feel like a victim any more, takes her our of constantly feeling powerless. Second, allowing her to realize that she wanted attention from her dad might allow her the possibility to find other ways to get attention, otherwise she is likely to seek abusive relationships to get attention.

Here are some other approaches for grief that might be useful for you:
http://www.steveandreas.com/Articles/grief02.html
http://www.amazon.com/Forgive-Good-Frederic-Luskin/dp/006251721X
posted by blueyellow at 8:29 AM on June 16, 2011


I agree with you that examining beliefs is a good thing to do, and the beneficial thing about Byron Katie's techniques is that she is more willing to address personal responsability in issues of allowing abuse to occur. However people who have experienced abuse tend to feel at fault already. Some therapists go so overboard with "It's not your fault" that they fail to examine the beliefs and actions that contributed to the abuse continuing--- such examination is essential to finding a new way of interacting with people that does not involve being abused.

However Byron Katie goes overboard in the opposite direction and kind of in an aggressive way. If you watch videos of byron katie doing "inquiry" with people she continues to question them until they give her the interpretation of their own lives and experiences Byron Katie wants.

A woman who is having fear of the sound of bombs because she lives in a war zone is continually questioned until she "admits" that her fear of bombs is just silly and she is causing all this fear in herself for no reason when she should just hear the sound of bombs and think "How delightful! I am so happy those bombs are not hitting me right now and I'm still alive."

Meanwhile watching this interaction I find it profound that Byron Katie doesn't have to live in a warzone and finds it so easy to make this woman who has lived through destruction and suffering feel completely silly for the entirety of her emotions in that experience. I wonder how much that woman will actually have been helped when she returns to the sound of bombs and being around death. While she now feel silly every time she is afraid? Will that actually help her or just make her feel both afraid and also guilty for being afraid when being afraid is so silly and wrong?

I do however agree with you that accross the spectum there are therapists and professionals using really wacky techniques on people. I just don't dig it, and think we should at least make attempts to keep the professionals from going overboard with techniques that are pretty destructive. I also know that it's complicated and one persons destructive is another persons healing. I think I probably disagree with a lot of the principles used in cognitive therapy as well. The idea that our thoughts are "THE cause" of negative emotions and that the logical conclusion is therefore to stop any thought that results in any difficult emotion sounds totally wacky to me. Reinterperetation of thoughts, integrating thoughts, processing thoughts, examining thoughts for truth in new ways--- those are all fine. But eliminating all difficult emotions seems like a great way to feel even more disconnected from reality than you did previously.

I'm certain that I will always be more prone to be concerned about bad therapy than some people because that experience was so devestating, and I certainly think that elements of byron katies techniques could be used to some people's benefit. I do think that responsible therapists should think pretty hard or whether or how to use any of byron katies techniques and consider the fact that numerous people feel like it was really harmful for them ( I have talked to a few others.)
posted by xarnop at 8:50 AM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


In my opinion, you are more than right to be concerned. In fact, I would characterize The Work as an extremely unhealthy therapy "modality." Any therapist who suggested this extremely damaging practice would find him- or herself talking to me as I ran the other way.

I attended a weekend workshop with my BFF, who is a Byron Katie devotee. I found it suffocating to be around a group of people so fearful of any negative emotion. I heard her speak. I thought she sounded delusional. Hell, part of the time she sounded like a huckster selling her approach to between 60 and 100 gullible saps. I felt like a sap for spending my time on it.

I have a diagnosis of PTSD, OCD, and social anxiety, and I've had better results from CBT than any I ever got from years (I mean at least a dozen years) in talk therapy.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 8:51 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thank you guys so much for your responses. Along the lines of "writing being more helpful than talk therapy" :

getting you hear your responses and experiences and being heard means a lot to me. I also thank you for the reading recommendations. The biggest issue is really all the issues I had prior to the therapy that the therapy wasn't helping. So for anyone who has had the kind of troubles I've had, I love to hear what worked for you!
posted by xarnop at 8:55 AM on June 16, 2011


The questions you raise have a long history of being dealt with in philosophy and theology. Saying that all the types of bad things you mentioned are really good is something that many great religious teachers and philosophers have said in different ways. And there are several ancient and living schools of thought that say we can avoid suffering by changing our responses to external events. Byron Katie just created some simple 'exercises' to practice, to try to refresh one's thinking when it gets trapped. If it helped you, I don't think you need to worry anything sinister occurred.
posted by Paquda at 8:56 AM on June 16, 2011


My point was that it didn't help me. I needed to gried the loss of my daughter and I was told that grieving was wrong and feeling sorrow, or grief or loss is the result of "wrong thinking".

I don't think that was helpful or that it should be used on people needing to mourn or feel sorrow.
posted by xarnop at 9:00 AM on June 16, 2011


It makes me really angry that you were so abused by a therapist.

That said, I am working with a therapist who uses Byron Katie's techniques. This is not an apologia by any means, but another perspective. In my case, I see Katie's techniques as essentially a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, a method of re-examining reflexive thoughts that are harmful to me. It's a lot like vipassana meditation, or any activity that forces you to open up to take a very good look at what stories and beliefs underlie our emotions. We do come to realize that the stories we tell ourselves are just that, stories. Some are useful, some not. Once examined, I have the opportunity to reject harmful thoughts ("I'm no good; I have no right to exist, etc" - pretty deep bullshit) and practice more useful ways of thinking.

It's an opportunity to reflect. Doing this work, I do not accept anything as true to any degree unless I, on examination, find it to be so. In other words, I do not accept my therapist's point of view, but rather my own. I am using him, using these techniques, to get clearer about the source of my anxiety and depression. No one could convince me that my father wasn't a narcissistic asshole, or that my mother wasn't abusive. But the rest of the story, what beliefs emerged from that, what limitations I've accepted, is entirely up for grabs. That is a blessing.

As far as Byron Katie goes, or any other guru/teacher, I follow the AA injunction, which is to take what you like and leave the rest. Take what is useful to you and use it, work with it. If something rings false, reject it and move on. I don't watch her videos, I've barely been able to stomach her books. Maybe I just found the right therapist, the right person for me to talk to you. His use of Katie's techniques is compassionate and kind. It's quite painful, but in the end I feel much better, able to release myself from the lies I've been told and the lies I tell myself. There is no blame; there is just looking at the story and beyond the story I've been telling myself.

So, I urge you to find someone like that. Obviously they won't be using Byron Katie as a basis. But that's my point - the technique itself is less of a problem than the person wielding it. It may take time; it may take luck. But find someone who can teach you how to love and accept yourself, someone who can leave you with practices to do on your own, so you can be free ultimately of the burdens you are carrying. So you can feel better whether there is a therapist around or not.

I am truly sorry you had a negative experience with a therapist of any kind. My reason for writing is to cast it in a broader light. There are a lot of charlatans out there, and an infinite number of poor fits. Byron Katie's techniques are not necessarily the problem.

You've been through a few kinds of hell. I am sending you hugs and good wishes. May you find the help you need to heal and move on.
posted by pocket_of_droplets at 9:06 AM on June 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hi, I know that you liked and bonded with your therapist, but I believe it is in the best interest of all future clients of his that you report him to the professional board from which he was licensed. This is dangerous, unethical practice. Keep in mind psychologists, psychiatrists, masters level therapists, social workers, etc., all have different licensing committees, so you will have to know your therapist's license type. Message me if you want to talk about this further - this is the sort of thing people may feel guilty about, but it's overwhelmingly the correct thing to do.
posted by namesarehard at 9:35 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you had an awful therapist. I’m sorry that happened, and I wish you the best in getting over it. I’d caution you, however, to be careful not to condemn all therapy because you had some bad therapy. The latter should make you more cautious, and more attuned to what you need, but it doesn’t invalidate the settled evidence that therapy is highly efficacious and highly effective anymore than a single instance of medical malpractice should be used to condemn all doctors.

The research on psychotherapy outcomes indicates that talk therapy has an effect size of 0.80 (this is a very large effect size), and helps ~79% of people who enter it wanting change. The same research suggests that all modalities of therapy work about equally well. Of course there is variation for individuals in how they respond to treatment, which is to be expected when the concern at issue is personality and mind.

If you want to seek more therapy, and are wondering how to assess what you need, and your new therapist, you might look at my advice about this in this comment.

This thread seems a bit like you are seeking justification for your feelings that therapy is bad. I say this because you made another comment on the site about this today, and your long, chatty interstitials among the answers here seem to latch onto those unsupported assertions here that accord with this view. In your desire for reparative techniques, I’d urge you to seek evidence over assertion. I’d be very interested to see, for instance, the evidence that "writing [is] more helpful than talk therapy", or indeed that peer discussion is as effective. There may be isolated studies, although I have not read them, but I’m curious about how robust the findings are. What we know about how therapy works, and what makes for successful therapy, would suggest that both of those things would not be as effective as therapy from a trained therapist, which is not to say that they wouldn’t work for some people.

The best general introduction to the research based evidence for the effectiveness of therapy is Bruce Wampold’s The Great Psychotherapy Debate. That’s the general citation for my comment here.

Best of luck.
posted by OmieWise at 9:48 AM on June 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh I think therapy can be beneficial for people. If there is a teen living in a dysfunctional family, then assuming the negative emotions are a mental disorder and talk thrm through ceasing to see their environment in a negative could be a bad thing. That was my point with the comment I made: IF there are negative circumstances, diet, toxins, peer and family relations, job stress, grief, loss--- then simply being told to stop having negative thoughts might work backwards since the point should be to change the negative circumstance. further more on a systemic level, we should try to create healthy environments for families to have access to activities and supports that promote health and well being.

Quality therapy would ideally address that very thing by working through what can be changed rather than assuming all negative thoughts are a sign of a mental disorder.

My comment only applied to someone who IS in fact sitting in a cage, and instead of being helped out of the cage they are being talked at.

I sure as heck don't think all therapy is like the stuff I experienced. Jeeze I hope not.
posted by xarnop at 9:57 AM on June 16, 2011


FWIW I had cognitive behavioral therapy for depression. It was really helpful to me. Based on some of your statements, I have to say that what you are calling cognitive therapy is absolutely nothing like what I experienced.

I was never, ever blamed for having negative thoughts or told not to have them. I was taught to see how I had a pattern of responding to events in a certain way, which included negative thoughts. I learned how I could interrupt the negative thoughts and test them to see if they were valid. For example, if I made a mistake and I thought, "I'm a loser!" I could stop there and say, wait, is that true? Am I really a loser because I made a small mistake? Would I make that same assessment of another person? Usually I found my self-assessment was harsh and that I could view the event in another way.

As I see it, this is not the same thing as being told not to have negative thoughts, or being told that you are responsible for violence and abuse committed by another person. IMHO, byron katie != CBT as practice by a responsible therapist.
posted by tuesdayschild at 10:13 AM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I also agree that you should report the therapist. At the very least, you should write some kind of a review that tells potential patients what they are getting into and put it on Yelp.

I mean, if someone is already into The Work, then that's the therapist for them! And if someone has no idea what this Byron Katie technique is all about, then they should be given a head's up before going down that road with your former therapist. You should find the correct forum (yelp or similar?) and post a review of your experience there.

I'm curious - did your therapist teach you this modality and then later on reveal the source of the techniques, or were you notified straight away that you would be taught Byron Katie's methods as a major part of therapy?
posted by jbenben at 10:33 AM on June 16, 2011


Oh boy. A few thoughts:

1. I am not familiar with Byron Katie, but her methods sound very counter to current emotion science. I guess you could extremely loosely think of it as a form of cognitive flexibility, but actually it sounds like avoidance/suppression of emotions. Look into the work of James Gross at Stanford (and others) but suppression is a very poor emotion regulation strategy.

2. Not all "talk therapy" is "about the same" in terms of effects, especially for particular disorders, especially<> for PTSD. Please look at Patty Resick's work, it's particularly effective for emotions of shame, guilt, and anger following trauma.

3. Please know that Wampold is a VERY controversial figure, esp. in CBT/evidence-based circles. I'm on my phone so won't type out the arguments, but yeah. Grain (shaker? box?) of salt. Read about "the dodo bird effect" for more info.

Best of luck to you.
posted by Bebo at 11:48 AM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


To answer your question more directly: its never too late to write a letter expressing to your former therapist what youv expressed here---what you liked and what you didn't like. It may not rise to the threshold of being reportable--or maybe it does. But a letter that expresses your point of view on the therapy you received could feel good and might have an impact on the therapist.

Im not familiar with this technique -- but the kindest reading I can make of it is that its meant to loosen some thougt patterns and not meant to convey any truth about the content of their suggested replacement thoughts. That's a big fucking stretch.

I'm angry on your behalf. And,as is my habit, I'd recommend seeking a narrative therapist in the future---if you decide to see a therapist again...but that's just my preference.
posted by vitabellosi at 11:59 AM on June 16, 2011


3. Please know that Wampold is a VERY controversial figure, esp. in CBT/evidence-based circles.

I think what you mean is that his work, along with that of Michael Lambert, Scott Miller, and others, suggests that the robustness of research findings about CBT and EBT's in general are directly related to researcher allegiance. Those researchers do not much like Wampold et al. as a result.
posted by OmieWise at 12:31 PM on June 16, 2011


Omiewise -- actually I would say that several researchers question Wampold's methodology in his meta-analyses and therefore consider him to be a controversial figure (which is different than simply disliking him because he doesn't think any particular school of therapy, theirs included, is special).

Anyway, I think it's hard to argue against the point that CBT is the treatment of choice for PTSD (and of course I do mean the true clinical diagnosis; I'm not familiar with any literature that rigorously evaluates any treatment for people who have suffered a trauma but don't meet criteria for PTSD).

I do really recommend exploring Resick's Cognitive Processing Therapy. There is quite a bit of literature describing it's effects and principals. Read for yourself. But please, not all talk therapy is the same, either in approach or in outcomes.
posted by Bebo at 1:53 PM on June 16, 2011


Am I right to be concerned about "The Work", created by Byron Katie, being used it real therapy?

A letter to the licensing board would be appropriate here. It's likely they've had to deal with "The Work" before.

Of much more concern is a therapist continuing an approach (any approach) that was inappropriate for the patient for an extended period. They could be practicing therapy straight from the Jungian handbook, and if it wasn't the right fit it would still be an important issue that they continued with it.

How do I diminish the toll of three years of therapy that definitely wasn't right for me?

You seem to have a good start on it. I hate to suggest more therapy, but finding a good therapist when you are not in crisis is a different beast altogether. You deserve someone who will listen to you and respect your feelings, not tell you that they're illusory. Now that you know what to look for I suspect you'll have a better time with it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:00 PM on June 16, 2011


Has anyone faced years of a therapy method like this that was harmful for them, and what kind of therapy (or other suggestions) helped you undo what you feel was harmful about it?

My family was in behavioral (?) therapy when I was a girl, mostly to help my two younger sisters who were having severe behavior problems after our father's death. It sucked. (Nowhere near as bad as this, but it definitely brought back some bad childhood memories.) I actually got my first job partially because I didn't want to have anything more to do with the damn chore chart to have spending money. Plus, it didn't do anything about the fighting, school problems, kleptomania, and eating disorders in our household.

So...I'm still bitter about that experience, but I've gotten a lot of good the last few years from talk therapy that has been primarily CBT. As others have mentioned, a good therapist has a varied toolkit to draw from. The best therapy I've experienced has validated my feelings, but helped me to recognize when they weren't helpful or grounded in reality.

I've also had talk therapy that wasn't especially helpful, and for me it's a question of whether I'm doing something useful to improve or just venting. I've spun my wheels before just complaining about how bad I feel, how horrible everything is, etc. Whereas a good therapist for me will help me come up with a plan.
posted by epersonae at 3:14 PM on June 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


You diminish the wasted time by being fierce and rigorous about finding a new therapist. Have a list of questions to ask. the questions are part of having a dialog in which you can test how you feel about the practitioner. Find someone with a PhD, who has good references from professionals, and at least 5 years experience. I've had some bad experiences with therapists, 1 who I thought was just plain unethical, in addition to poorly skilled. So, this time around, I made it clear that I was in tough shape and needed very active help.

One of the questions I ask is "Are you a feminist?" I'm not looking for a Therapist who specifically uses feminist technique, but a therapist who can relate to the idea that gender, esp. in the workplace, may make a difference in daily life. It has tended to be a "hot button" question. If someone can't talk about it with me, they aren't going to be a good fit. Also, if they actually listen to why I ask the question, and a understand it, it's a good sign. Your hot button question may be quite different.
posted by theora55 at 3:53 PM on June 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


something called "The Work" in which you take any negative thought, as questions about it, and then turn it on yourself.

My only knowledge at all of Byron Katie is from a therapist I saw a few years ago. (I liked this therapist quite a bit and found him to be very helpful.) He told me about The Work as a sort of cognitive behavioral thing, and we played with it in a few of our sessions as a way to challenge some of the "problem thoughts" I was having. (I'd gone into therapy after a long string of crappy relationships left me feeling unloveable.) He also gave me a little card with the four basic steps of The Work printed out on it. I have it pinned to the bulletin board next to my desk, and I'm looking at it right now, and what it says is so different from what's quoted above that I'm kind of concerned that I might be missing some huge glaring wrongness.

Here is what my card on The Work says:
1. Is it true? (If the answer is "no", move to #3.).
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react when you think that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?

Turn the thought around. Is that as true or truer? Can you find another turnaround?


A turnaround, as I experienced it, was simply taking a thought like "Nobody loves me", examining the shit out of it with the four steps above, and then flipping it around and finding all the different variations on it, like "I love nobody" or "Nobody loves nobody" or "I love everybody", and looking at them to see how true they were to my life. By examining the flipped versions of the statement "Nobody loves me" and seeing how ridiculous they are, it becomes much easier to take the statement itself, the thought that troubled me, and realizing that it wasn't true after all and that I was kind of hurting myself by thinking it all the time.

I think it's a pretty useful tool for some cognitive behavioral issues, but probably not so much for grief counseling or abuse survivor counseling. Although while searching for some more info about the verbatim quotes you cited in your OP, especially the one about a child abusing its parent by needing love, I found this blog post that talks specifically about the book that quote came from. From that blog post: "However, the point – and this is easily missed when first read – is not that this is what happened. It’s not the purpose of The Work to convince us of anything. Instead, it’s more a case of showing us alternative story-lines and seeing which ones are less painful for us to live under. So, there’s a sense in which this woman is given the option of not considering herself a victim, but seeing if she might find more peace by viewing things differently."

I definitely agree that this is not an approach that is going to work for every single victim of abuse. But I can see the idea at the heart of it, that there can be an "alternative story line" that's less painful, and I don't think that's necessarily a bad idea.

That said, I'm very sorry that you've had such a negative experience with therapy. It sounds like you just had a particularly bad therapist, or at least bad for you and your needs, and that sucks.
posted by palomar at 10:55 PM on June 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks for your responses. It's frustrating because I think that people who like The Work might not have actually seen how it's used by Byron Katie. Byron Katie believes that there literally is no suffering unless we believe it. I just find it all disturbing. Much of what she says can be useful--- but when it comes to the purpose of life itself, the nature of the universe, the existance of suffering, what death means, how we should feel about death or loss---- I genuinely disagree with her and she does NOT respect people disagreeing with her-- she pretty much bullies everyone into agreeing with her until they give the answer she wants them to say. And laughs at them for believing in their own suffering. I find her a bit sinister. At it's root, she does in fact believe in God and that the universe has a purpose that is good and so all things that happen are good and should happen exactly as they do.

I disagree. She also believes that if someone holds a gun to your head and tells you to take out the trash or they'll shoot than you make yourself a victim if you do it. Or if you don't do it, apparently. I think it's a right mind fuck where she always wins and everyone has to agree with her way or she gets the crowd to laugh at them.

Requesting a man to list reasons why wants his cancer to keep growing.

My father should have died in the wAR-- when you argue with reality it makes you blind. (Interestingly Byron Katie has vision problems.)

You can't love anyone unless you love the cancer in your body.

Anyways, I think she's missing that piece of reality which is that some people suffer--- and not because their thoughts are wrong but because their thoughts are in fact quite in line with reality. And I think the more recent videos I see of her, she really seems detached from reality in a way that doesnot seem like something that should be emulated.

If it became a trend to use these techniques on people in therapy, that would concern me so sincerely. Really? We want people dying of cancer to say "Yay! I am so happy I have cancer! I love cancer!" Is that ideal? I mean if a particular person wants to do that that is TOTALLY fine by me, but is it ACTUALLY a positive therapeutic outcome? Ugh ugh ugh ugh.

Anyways whatever lol. Thanks for your thoughts folks. Much appreciated.
posted by xarnop at 4:08 PM on June 20, 2011


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