Note: The information provided below is not medical advice, and should not be treated as such. Please seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
I believe a new form of psychotherapy has been found that is significantly more effective than more conventional therapies such as CBT. Despite this, it is unlikely to replace these in the near term. One of the many reasons for this is that the most complete source is found in a relatively obscure podcast, and it takes listening through hundreds of hour-long episodes in order to fully grasp how radically different it is from more conventional schools of therapy. However, the time investment is worth it: my own moods have improved drastically, and my life has been transformed after discovering this podcast. I frequently find that I can not only resolve most of my own mood problems at an early stage, I am also able to better empathise with others without jumping straight to “problem-solving” in a way that would be counterproductive and annoying to the other person.
The podcast is called Feeling Good, and is run by David Burns who is the author of the bestselling self-help book Feeling Good and one of the earliest practitioners of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). In the podcast, he introduces his new form of therapy: TEAM (also known as TEAM-CBT). TEAM is heavily influenced by CBT but actually draws from a wide range of different schools of thought (TEAM stands for Testing, Empathy, Assessment of resistance, Methods, where methods can include anything from exposure, acceptance, Gestalt therapy, et.c.).
CBT and TEAM
Building on the work of Karen Horney and Albert Ellis among others, Aaron Beck and David Burns found that depressed patients often had thoughts that were not only negative and self-critical, but also illogical; they categorised these into several “cognitive distortions”: all or nothing-thinking, overgeneralization, fortune telling, mental filter, et.c. By making patients see how factually and logically wrong their negative thoughts were, they often saw rapid recovery even in severely depressed patients. This is the foundation of CBT, which due to its effectiveness has become the most widely practiced form of psychotherapy.
Despite the success of CBT, David Burns still found that a significant minority of his patients were remarkably resistant to treatment. This led him to develop TEAM, which places a much heavier emphasis on motivation than CBT. In TEAM, the therapist takes on a different role: instead of trying to convince the patient to change his or her thoughts, the therapist tries to find reasons that the patient should not change. This is based on the insight that people may be reluctant to change if they think that their way of thinking benefits them in some way.
A not completely fictitious example
Recently, one of my papers was rejected from a journal. This made me feel discouraged, incompetent, and hopeless. My thoughts were “I am a failure as a scientist” and “I am just too lazy and incompetent to be good at anything”.
The above thoughts certainly contain several cognitive distortions, so how could we find positive aspects of them, in order to motivate me not to change? At first, it was hard to see anything positive about these thoughts, but having done lots of TEAM homework I can now easily spot several advantages. I will list a few of them below.
Benefits of telling myself that “I am a failure as a scientist”:
- It shows that I have high standards. I value producing high quality work, and am well aware when I fall below my standards.
- It motivates me to work harder. By being aware of my flaws and shortcomings, I have managed to navigate through a complex university system and have been awarded degrees from some of the most prestigious institutions in the world.
- I am realistic and humble. I don’t have an inflated sense of self, and don’t see myself as better than others. I am probably not the best scientist in the world, and most people fail at some point.
- I am better at connecting with others. People find it very hard to relate to someone who is 100% perfect (or pretends to be), and being realistic about my own shortcomings is the first step towards being more open.
By getting rid of the thought “I am a failure as a scientist”, I lose all of these benefits. My paper would still be rejected, but I would be happy about it. That doesn’t make much sense. Instead of completely changing this thought, it makes more sense to reduce the intensity of it, so that I get rid of the suffering but can keep all of the benefits. Similarly, it is also possible to "positively reframe" negative feelings such as hopelessness and feeling incompetent. Paradoxically, by consciously accepting the benefits of my negative thoughts and feelings, I am much more likely to want to change since I am no longer subconsciously resisting it. At this point, I am ready to change my negative thoughts by using methods such as the "double standard technique", where I write down what I would say to a dear friend if they were in a similar position.
This is just one of the aspects of TEAM, and I might write future posts to expand on other aspects. However, the best way to learn about it is to simply dive into the many podcast episodes, and pick ones that seem relevant to you. I have listed some of my favourites below, categorised by theme. If you would prefer to read about it, you could order the Feeling Great book which also provides a very good overview of TEAM. However, I would strongly recommend starting with the podcasts since they are completely free and contain many recordings of live therapy sessions, which really helps to show how TEAM works in practice.
Note: the episodes can also be found in most podcasts apps.
An incomplete guide to the Feeling Good podcast episodes