How to have good feelings, become happy and develop self-esteem ? – David D. Burns
David Laroche: Hello, everyone! We are in a new city today, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and I am with a new, awesome guest. He is David Burns. He is the best-selling author of the best-selling book “Felling Good.” So, today we will learn how to have good feelings, how to become happy, and also how to develop self-esteem. He is with me. Hello, David!
David Burns: Hi!
David Laroche: I love your name!
David Burns: Yes, we have a good name—David and David.
David Laroche: You are also an expert on Cognitive Behavior… Sorry….
David Burns: Cognitive Behavior Therapy.
David Laroche: Yes. Maybe I’ll let you introduce yourself to people who are following us.
David Burns: Well, I’m a psychiatrist and I started out in research on brain chemistry and treating depression and anxiety with pills. I was at University of Pennsylvania, Medical School, and then I switched over my career to working on some of the new forms of Psychotherapy, which were, in the mid-1970s, just coming into existence—one called “Cognitive Behavior Therapy.” I became very excited about it and saw that some of the new psychotherapies had far more power to change the way people think, feel and behave than simply prescribing pills and medications. So, I gave up my academic career in brain research to develop a private practice helping…
David Laroche: People.
David Burns: … to create fast-acting, powerful Psychotherapy techniques.
David Laroche: I love that. How do you define “Cognitive Therapy”?
David Burns: Well, that’s a big word, but it has a simple meaning. A “cognition” is just a thought; it’s what’s going through your mind at every moment; your interpretation of what’s happening. It goes back to the Greek philosopher, Epictetus, 2000 years ago. He said, “People are not disturbed by things or events, but rather by the views we take of them.” It’s your thoughts, rather than what’s happening to you, that creates your emotions. The idea has been around for 2,000 years or even more. Probably, the Buddha was into this 2,500 years ago. Now, psychiatrists and psychologists have turned this into a powerful form of Psychotherapy. Another interesting thing about it — But the idea is so simple; people don’t even grasp what it means. Even at this moment our thoughts are creating how we feel. Like, if I’m thinking, “Oh, my gosh, I’m going to screw up! I won’t smile well enough. I have to come up with something interesting to say, but I don’t have anything interesting to say”, then I’ll feel a great deal of anxiety. But it’s not the cameras that would be creating those emotions, but rather the messages that I’m giving myself. So, that’s one of the powerful theories underneath Cognitive Therapy—it’s just a simple idea. But the second idea behind it is even more mind-blowing, and that’s when we’re upset — meaning when you’re depressed — when you feel anxious; when you feel insecure; when you’re, kind of, beating up on yourself…
David Laroche: Bad mood.
David Burns: Yes, you’re in a bad mood, depressed mood. The thoughts — Again, it’s not what’s happening to you, but your thoughts, and those thoughts will almost never be valid thoughts; that you’re fooling yourself. Depression and anxiety are the world’s oldest cons; there is a kind of fraud involved. That’s the really amazing thing about it. And in “Feeling Good” I talk about ten cognitive distortions or forms of twisted thinking.
David Laroche: I would love to know the …
David Burns: For example, one is called “all-or-nothing thinking”, “black or white” thinking. If you’re not a complete success, you think you’re a total failure.
David Laroche: It’s an extreme vision… perception.
David Burns: Yes. For example, I mentioned now I’m out at Stanford and I have this weekly training group where I help local therapists and students learn Psychotherapy, but also develop their own self-esteem, break out of their own depression, and a lot of what we do is live work. We help the people who attend this weekly seminar deal with their own mood slumps, their own times they fall into a black hole. So, this Tuesday I have a dear colleague, a wonderful woman. She’s in her 60s; she’s a local therapist and a woman of tremendous skill and compassion, but a single woman. She’s very generous—she spent her life treating people who don’t have any money, and working with people who are poor, and things like that. She went to her retirement advisor to see “what will happen when I retire”, and she discovered that she hasn’t been planning very well for her retirement and that her income from social security and from her investments is going to be very modest, and it shocked her; it frightened her. Then she had the thought “I’m a failure. I’m a loser.”, and she believed those thoughts a hundred percent, and it plunged her into a very severe depression. She was angry at herself. I gave her a depression test—she was moderately depressed.
David Laroche: So, you are saying that if we change our thoughts, we will change our feelings?
David Burns: When you change the way you think, you can change the way you feel; that’s the whole basis of it. But you’ve got to take your thoughts and write them down. I had her write these negative thoughts down on a piece of paper. Then I have this little checklist of 10 distortions on the back.
David Laroche: For example, I’m in a bad mood, I take a paper and I write down everything I have in my mind on the paper, right?
David Burns: Yes, all the negative thoughts.
David Laroche: Yes, “I’m a loser. I will fail. I’m not good enough. I don’t have any education. I’m too small.”
David Burns: Yes, that’s right, exactly. We all do this to ourselves, and you think those thoughts are real and you think those thoughts are valid. So, with her I just went through the list of 10 distortions one at a time. I said, “Are there any distortions in that thought?” She said, “Well, ‘all-or-nothing thinking’ and also another one called ‘discounting the positives’.” I said, “That’s right. What do you mean ‘all-or-nothing’?” She says, “I’m looking at myself in ‘black and white’.” [See, I knew my little cat Happy would come back. Come on up here, Happy!]
And she said, “Well, I guess I could point out to myself that I have four Master’s degrees and a PhD. And also, my colleagues have told me that my skills in treating the most difficult patients of all are superb.” The she went on looking at all these things about herself that she had been overlooking when she was saying “I’m a loser. I’m a failure.” That’s what we do to ourselves—we get into these black holes where we’re thinking about things in an incredibly distorted way. It happens to me; I’m sure it has happened to you, David.
David Laroche: Yes, a lot.
David Burns: I remember when I was a psychiatric resident, just learning Psychotherapy, I had this very famous mentor. He was actually one of the creators of cognitive therapy—Aaron Beck, and he’s in Philadelphia. I was presenting a case to him—it was a patient that hadn’t been paying his bills at the clinic. He was coming, but he wasn’t paying for his session; he was way behind in his billing. I made a comment to him about the billing and the patient got upset. So, then I presented this to Dr. Beck and he said, “Oh, you didn’t handle this correctly with this patient.” And I began to panic, and feel worthless and extraordinarily ashamed. So, I went home and I said, “Well, I’ll have to jog and get my brain chemistry straightened out.” So, I went for a six-mile jog and the further I ran, the more those thoughts seemed true, and I said…
David Laroche: Wow!
David Burns: “I’m the worst therapist in the world. They’re going to kick me out of the state of Pennsylvania. They’ll take my license away. I have no skill. I’m a horrible human being.” And I thought, “My Gosh, those thoughts aren’t distorted; that’s real! And why did it take me so many years to see what a horrible human being I am?” And I can tell you I believed it 100%, and that’s the kind of thing that’s happens. Then when I got home I said, “Why don’t you write your thoughts down on a piece of paper like you tell your patients to do and see if there are any distortions in them?” And I said, “Oh, no, no! That wouldn’t do any good. My thoughts are real; there are no distortions.” Then I said, “Yes, but that’s what your patients say; they whine like that, too. Why don’t you try it out? Just try it out.” So, I wrote down, “I’m one of the worst therapists in the world. I have no talent. I have no skill. They’re going to kick me out of the state of Pennsylvania.” I wrote them down—one, two, three… Then I said, “Are there any distortions here?” Then I thought, “Wait a minute—all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, discounting the positives, emotional reasoning, hidden ‘should statements’ — I’m saying, “I should be perfect. I should never make mistakes” — self-blame…” I found about six or eight of the distortions and it was a surprise to me. Then I said, “Now, can you write a positive thought down? Can you challenge these thoughts?”
David Laroche: It’s the second step.
David Burns: Yes.
David Laroche: First, you write down. The second step—you…
David Burns: Identify the distortions.
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: And then third step—you come up with a positive thought. It’s kind of a simple approach. It’s pretty sophisticated in reality, but the basic ideas are simple. Then I said, “Well, I could tell myself ‘I’m human and as a student or even an advanced therapist I have the right to make mistakes’.”
David Laroche: Do you write that?
David Burns: Yes, I write it down. That doesn’t mean I’m a terrible therapist because I’ve had a lot of patients I’ve been able to help. But maybe instead of being all ashamed I can go back and tell this patient that I made a mistake and talk it over with him, and use that as an opportunity to develop a deeper, better relationship.
David Laroche: Wow.
David Burns: And I said, “How much do you believe that?” I put a hundred percent. And “how much do you believe ‘I’m a failure. I’m a loser. I’m a horrible human being’? Zero percent.” It was like magic and I just felt elated; my negative mood just flew away.
David Laroche: And you get your power back to improve yourself and learn from your failures.
David Burns: Yes. Then the next day I saw that patient. I said, “Boy, I screwed it up so bad last session and I was so ashamed of that, and I’ll bet you were so angry and hurt. I didn’t handle the thing about the billing well, at all. Let’s talk it over.” And he just opened up and we had the best session ever. It was like an amazing thing.
David Laroche: Wow!
David Burns: But inside me, you see, I had these rules that “I have to be perfect. I’m not allowed to make mistakes. I have to get everyone’s approval all the time.” And it was those core beliefs, my attitude, my way of thinking about it that was the source of my misery.
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: It wasn’t what actually happened, but the way I was thinking about it.
David Laroche: How do you help someone who has this deep belief that he has to do perfect?
David Burns: This is my cat in case you can’t see, and he’s called Happy. We adopt stray cats and we just love our cats. I’ve learned a lot from my cats, too. I’ve learned a lot about Psychotherapy.
David Laroche: Oh, it’s amazing.
David Burns: I’ve learned the power of patience and kindness, and love. We take stray cats. Some of our cats that we’ve adopted, like Obie — you haven’t seen him yet — he was a wild, violent cat when he came to our house. He’d never had a contact with humans and he only came to our house because his paw was all infected. It was as big as his head, and he knew he was on the verge of death. So, we captured him and brought him to the vet, and he had surgery to save his life. Then we adopted him. Initially, when we brought him in the house he would try to break through the windows. When my wife tried to get close to him, he bit her really hard, really badly on the cheek, and he would pee and poo all over the carpets. Now, he’s turned into the most loving, sweet… just like Happy here, just my best friend. He’s really taught me the tremendous power — Because we were told that a feral cat, a wild cat, can’t learn to trust people. Now, he gets on my chest at night and he kneads me with his paws, he drools, he purrs… When we have guests over, like for my Sunday hikes — my students come and we hike, I mentioned, 17:36 for hours, and do personal work and practice techniques — and he’s very trusting; he’s just very warm and loving. I’m just really a believer in the tremendous power of human being. I’ve had over 35 or 40,000 therapy sessions with patients with severe depression and severe anxiety, and it’s such a joy to see someone before your very eyes; that depression disappears and goes to joy. That’s why I wrote my first book “Feeling Good”, because I wanted to share these techniques with people, to let the world know that magic is possible.
David Laroche: That is possible.
David Burns: And now at Stanford we’re developing a new version of Cognitive Therapy. We’re trying to complete a course of therapy in just one or two sessions to take people who were suffering terribly, and see their mood change from sobbing to joy and laughter, usually, in just a single therapy session.
David Laroche: Yes, and my question about that. Do you have some — I’m certain you have that. My question is how to become happy in this life?
David Burns: Well, you’re a motivational speaker. I’ve seen what you do on Youtube and it’s really cool. You’re, kind of, into taking people with normal mood and happiness, and elevate them to greatness. My thing is a little different from that. The people who come to me are struggling with suicidal thoughts and feeling that they’re worthless and extreme forms of anxiety. My thing is to get a person up to where all those negative feelings disappear. But that itself is one of the greatest feelings in the world, because patients — When their depression disappear, it’s like being born again. It’s the greatest feeling a human being can experience. So, I’m not so much trying to say how you can increase your potential or increase your joy, but say, “Give me a moment that you were upset with a colleague, with your spouse, with your boyfriend, your girlfriend or when you were feeling an anxiety, or worry, or having a panic attack or feeling depressed.” And then I help the person change the way they were thinking and feeling at that moment using many powerful techniques, and then to watch them go from that state of despair to a state of joy.
David Laroche: For example, if I come to you and say, “I hate my life. I’m 80% angry and bad mood every time. I don’t know why I’m on this earth.” What do you do with me in an individual session?
David Burns: Well, the new way we would work with you is—we call it T.E.A.M. therapy — T-E-A-M — and TEAM stands for Testing. So, the first thing… The first thing I do, I give you what I call a “brief mood survey”—a little test of your mood, so you can complete in 30 seconds.
David Laroche: On a paper?
David Burns: Yes, and it would show me exactly how depressed you are right now, how suicidal you are, how anxious you are, how angry you are — these are all negative feelings — plus a test of positive feelings, so I’d see how happy you are, but in this case you wouldn’t be happy at all. That’s the first thing.
David Laroche: It takes only 30 seconds?
David Burns: Yes, after the filming I can show you the test that we use.
David Laroche: Is it possible to do one and to measure…
David Burns: Yes, the tests are very accurate. They took decades to develop, but they’re roughly 95% accurate. The “depression” test you can take in 15 seconds, and score and interpret that, and it has a 95% accuracy. It’s very sensitive and it’s how you are feeling right now, because I want to know how the patient is feeling at the start of the session. Then we’re going to measure it again at the end of the session and see if we’ve got this massive shift that we’re trying to get to get you out of that horrible mood and then to joy and self-esteem, and optimism. So, that’s the first thing. And a lot of therapists don’t do that; they just bullshit with people behind closed doors, and they’re not measuring anything. What we’re trying to do is have a data-driven form of Psychotherapy and empirical Psychotherapy where we’re measuring things and proving that we’re getting results rapidly or not getting results, in which case we have to change the strategy.
David Laroche: Great.
David Burns: The second thing I would do is to empathize and I use what’s called “Five Secrets of Effective Communication.” I wouldn’t try to help you with your bad mood; I would just listen, repeat your words, find truth in what you’re saying, try to see the world through your eyes, so that I would be your ally, not somebody who’s trying to fix you in some way. That’s the “E” of Empathy.
David Laroche: Do you use synchronization of your body, of your voice?
David Burns: No, no! I think that’s bullshit, but a lot of people talk about that kind of stuff. I’m opinionated, and half of what comes out of my mouth is good and half is not so good, so take what I say with a grain of salt. But no, I think the “Secrets” is more finding the truth in what the person is saying and acknowledging their emotions.
David Laroche: So, what kind of questions do you ask in this kind of moment?
David Burns: Well, you mentioned that you’re very angry and there’s a lot to be angry about in the world, and also you’re feeling down, you mentioned to me. Tell me about that, and what are the things that have been going on that are causing you to feel a lot of anger and a lot of discouragement?
David Laroche: Okay.
David Burns: And then whatever the person says I, would find truth in what they’re saying; I would agree with them and ask them about their emotions and show them that I’m their ally, not somebody trying to fix them or trying to give them advice or anything like that. This takes a lot of training of therapists to teach them how to do this. Also, when people have troubled relationships, we teach them how to do this in a relationship with the person they’re having trouble with; show them how to relate more skillfully, but that’s a little different topic. Then the third thing I would do as a therapist is called “Paradoxical Agenda Setting”. That’s another big word, but what it means is—I would bring out all the reasons for you not to change. I would try to make you proud of your anger, proud of your depression, to show what it shows about you that’s really very elegant and very awesome.
David Laroche: What kind of questions do you ask to help people to see… be proud of what they are feeling?
David Burns: Well, do you remember I gave you an example earlier in the interview of the colleague who said “I’m a failure”?
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: Because she hadn’t plan well for her retirement. And before I helped her change her thinking I said to her, “What do these thoughts show about you that’s really beautiful and awesome?”
David Laroche: Wow.
David Burns: She said, “Well, I can’t think of anything.” I said, “Well, I can think of five or ten things. For example, for one thing it shows that you’re a woman of great integrity, because you’re looking at your faults and your flaws with ruthless honesty.”
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: And she said, “Well, that’s true!” So, she wrote down “integrity.”
David Laroche: It’s great.
David Burns: “What else does it show about you? She said, “Well, it shows that I’m very humble and spiritual.” I said, “That’s absolutely true. You’re one of the most humble….”
David Laroche: So, you help them consider what they are feeling in a different perception.
David Burns: Yes, in other words, therapists are always trying to change patients, right? … to help them, and that forces people to remain the same, because anytime you’re trying push something on someone, they naturally resist.
David Laroche: Yes, it’s the rule.
David Burns: Yes. So, instead I show… get the patient to see that “You’re suffering and this is something awesome about you.” We came up with a list of ten tremendous things it showed about her. It showed, too, that she had devoted her life to helping people, the poor, rather than making a lot of money. So, it showed that she was a very loving person and also showed that when she beats up on herself, it shows she has high standards, right?
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: And on and on, and on.
David Laroche: Wow, awesome!
David Burns: So, by the time we got to the end of this list, she said, “Well, you know…” — I won’t say her name to protect her identity — “But maybe this is something that we would need to change; maybe all the suffering that you’re having is a good thing.”
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: And then she says, “Yes, but I’m felling so horrible; but I really do want to change.” I said, “Maybe we could dial it down a little bit” — she was 100% depressed, 100% angry, 100% ashamed, 100% anxious — “What would be a healthy amount of negative feelings?” She said, “Oh, well 20% depression would be enough and 10% anxiety, and 5% shame—I don’t need all that.” And now, we’re on board. Just say, “Now, let’s just lower it. We won’t make these feelings go away completely. We’ll just lower them.” So, what I’ve really done now is I’ve made a deal with her subconscious mind. Do you see, now she won’t resist the treatment…
David Laroche: Yes, you allow the fact that she hasher to have this kind of feeling, right?
David Burns: Say that again.
David Laroche: You help her to allow these…
David Burns: Oh, allow some of the negative feelings, yes, rather then trying to go from horribly depressed to euphoric. But we don’t need to be 100% depressed, when you find you have to make new retirement plans; you don’t need all these negative feelings. You don’t need to beat up on yourself that much. Then I used “M” of Methods. See T.E.A.M.—Testing, Empathy, Agenda Setting and Methods. I’ve developed 50 or 100 methods to change negative thinking patterns and I just used one called “Externalization of Voices” and she hit the ball out of the park. She was able to crush all of her negative thoughts in about one or two minutes, and all of her negative feelings disappeared. It was like magic.
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: It was like a miracle. The feelings went much lower; they went down to zero, most of them. See, once she decided she’ll keep some of them, then she didn’t need them anymore, and they all disappeared. Once she was motivated to attack those negative thoughts and feelings, I would say, it took maybe less than five minutes to complete the treatment at that point. We see this over and over again now. I didn’t used to see this in the early days of my practice. We feel it’s an amazing new breakthrough in Psychotherapy and my team at Stanford has developed what we call a “T.E.A.M. Therapy.” Now, I’ve been doing workshops on it around the United States and Canada. They’ve opened a little “Feeling Good Institute” here.
David Laroche: Great.
David Burns: So, we’re excited about it.
David Laroche: It’s great. I love that. Just before the interview we were talking about the fact that we were shy.
David Burns: Yes.
David Laroche: And I love the fact that people can listen to that—“He was shy! It’s impossible!” Do you have some keys to develop… to increase self-esteem?
David Burns: Well, one thing that I want to mention—you’ve talked about self-esteem and self-confidence, and I think those are very different.
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: I don’t know what your definition is, but I call—self-confidence is the idea you’re going to be successful because you’ve been successful at that type of thing in the past. So, when I give a workshop, I have self-confidence because I’ve given so many workshops I pretty much know they’ll be pretty successful. They might hit a home run or they might be so much successful. That depends on how warm and kind I am to the audience, and how enthusiastic I am, but I know they’ll be okay; they’ll be pretty darn good. Self-esteem, I think, is the ability to love yourself and accept yourself…
David Laroche: As you are.
David Burns: … when you fail as much as when you succeed. I think that’s the difference between them. But you asked a question; I don’t even remember what it was.
David Laroche: Yes, I’ll repeat it again.
David Burns: Okay.
David Laroche: Do you have some tips to develop self-esteem for the people who are following us? What can they do to develop, to increase their self-esteem?
David Laroche: Do you have some tips?
David Burns: Well, I can answer that in two different ways—what people can do to increase their self-esteem. The first place of someone who’s watching this and has low self-esteem, the probability is overwhelming that they’re experiencing some depression, because a loss of self-esteem is the key to depression; that’s the most important symptom. The other most important symptom is hopelessness—the idea that things will never change; they’ll be like this forever. Now, one thing and this might be overly promotional, but there’s been a lot of research on my book “Feeling Good” and I know there is a French translation; you can obtain it in France in French.
David Laroche: Do you know the title?
David Burns: That book, right.
David Laroche: Do you know the title in French?
David Burns: No, I can’t find it on my bookshelf, the French versions, but I know there’s a French version in France and then Quebec also has a French version. They’re slightly different from each other. But there’s been a lot of research on the book “Feeling Good” and this wasn’t my research, but a colleague at University of Alabama—Forrest Scogin. And what they have discovered—they were looking for the cheapest way to treat depression, so they said, “What would happen if we just give people with severe depression some copies of Dr. Burns’ book ‘Feeling Good’ and see what happens to them over a four-week period of time with no treatment?”
David Laroche: Cool.
David Burns: These are people coming to the Medical Center asking for drugs or psychotherapy for moderate to severe depression. And what they discovered was that two-thirds of them, roughly 65% of them, at the end of the four weeks they have recovered from the depression.
David Laroche: Cool.
David Burns: And they didn’t need medications; they didn’t need psychotherapy. Then they’ve also done long-term follow-up studies on those patients to see—do then they relapse? They’ve done up to three years, long-term follow-up studies, and they were even feeling better at the end of the three years than at the end of the initial four weeks. So, that’s called “bibliotherapy” or “self-help therapy” with no psychiatrists, no psychologists and no drugs. That doesn’t mean everyone would be cured because for a third of the people the book wasn’t enough, but for many people, if they could get a copy of “Feeling Good” in French or whatever…
David Laroche: Yes, I will put a link below the video to get the book.
David Burns: Yes. That would be one thing that you could do to help yourself. Now, for myself, personally, I’ve developed 50-100 techniques, but the technique that has helped me the most is called the “Acceptance Paradox” and it’s the opposite of perfectionism. The “Acceptance Paradox” means to accept the fact that you are flawed, that you’re not as good as you should be and you never will be, rather than trying to better yourself, to accept yourself as a human being. Now, you can talk about acceptance, but it’s hard for people to grasp.
David Laroche: To understand.
David Burns: But I’ve developed exercises to help people learn the “Acceptance Paradox.”
David Laroche: Do you have one or two exercises people can do now, for example?
David Burns: One is called “Externalization of Voices.” It’s like that written exercise where we’re talking about writing down negative thoughts and combating them with positive thoughts. But instead of writing them down, you do it in a role play. I could help you with this, if you have any negative thoughts of your own. Do you get negative thoughts sometimes?
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: And what do you tell yourself?
David Laroche: For example, this week my thought was “I’m not good enough.” Yes, maybe it was that.
David Burns: “I’m not good enough”?
David Laroche: Yes, “I’m not good enough.”
David Burns: Okay. I love that thought. That’s one everyone watching this video can identify with. We can have “put your hands up, if you feel you’re not good enough.” Many hands would just go up. That’s a good one; any others?
David Laroche: I have another one, but I don’t know if it fits… the fear of failure, but it’s not about me. “I will not be capable to do it.” Yes, it’s another one I have sometimes.
David Burns: And what is it that “I won’t be capable to do? “I won’t be successful enough or…”?
David Laroche: Yes, “I won’t be successful enough in my company”, for example.
David Burns: Okay. Let’s just work on those two thoughts.
David Laroche: Yes, I’d love.
David Burns: Now, one of us will be the negative David and one will be the positive David. We’re both going to be your mind. I’ll let you start out as the positive one and I’ll be the negative one. This will allow us to illustrate the “Acceptance Paradox” and another strategy called the “Self-Defense Paradigm.” There are two opposite ways of defeating your own negative thoughts. Now, people watching this video—the first thing they need to know is to write down their negative thoughts when they are upset; that’s the key to it. If you try to do this in your head, it won’t work. But we know two of your negative thoughts. Now, could I talk to you for a minute, David?
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: Do you know who I am?
David Laroche: You’re the negative one.
David Burns: I’m the negative “you.” I didn’t want to upset you, but I wanted to mention a couple of things to you.
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: The first thing I want to mention to you is you’re actually not good enough.
David Laroche: Okay, thank you.
David Burns: How are you going to defeat that thought?
David Laroche: How will I defeat?
David Burns: You have to defeat me.
David Laroche: Oh!
David Burns: You’re the positive David; I’m the negative David.
David Laroche: Okay, okay. So, why do you think that?
David Burns: Use the first person “I”.
David Laroche: “I”, okay. I have to explain… to argue? Okay. I think…
David Burns: So, you’re not good enough; you can’t even respond to my criticism. Tony Robbins would have been able to answer this right away.
David Laroche: Yes, I can because I did so many things I’m proud of, yes?
David Burns: Okay. Now, who won that exchange?
David Laroche: Sorry?
David Burns: Who won? Did you defeat me or did I defeat you?
David Laroche: Oh, yes. You defeated me.
David Burns: Okay, try a role reversal. I thought you did pretty well as the positive David, but now you be the negative David and I’ll be the positive David, and say exactly the same thing to me “You’re not good enough.”
David Laroche: I think I understand what you are doing.
David Burns: I’ll explain it again if you like, because even in English this is sophisticated.
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: But it’s fun, so it’s worth explaining so you and the people watching this can understand. Ask a question if you don’t understand what we’re doing and I’ll spell it out.
David Laroche: Yes. So, “You are not good enough.”
David Burns: Okay. Well, you know I’ve accomplished a lot of things and I’m proud of those things, but there are, probably, nothing about me that couldn’t be improved and there are, probably, a lot of people who are way better than I am and, virtually, everything that I do, and I accept that. In fact, I have many friends in low places.
David Laroche: Yes… It’s amazing!
David Burns: Who won that exchange?
David Laroche: You.
David Burns: Yes. And how did I win?
David Laroche: Because you accept that you’re not perfect.
David Burns: Yes, exactly… exactly. And for me, personally, that has changed my life, that concept. Now, I’m going to be the negative David again, and you’ll be the positive.
David Burns: This is my type of interview. It’s probably not helpful for you because it’s long and rambling, but I love what we’re doing.
David Laroche: Yes, I love how we do that.
Julie: It’s really great.
David Burns: Because we can demonstrate how the method works, not just intellectualize about it. We can not just talk about it. What do you do when it’s full? There’s a chip in there that’s full.
Julie: It says that it’s full.
David Burns: What is full? The memory stick?
David Burns: And then can you put it in another memory stick?
Julie: I don’t know.
David Laroche: We were finishing our exercise.
David Burns: Yes, and we were working… we had to take a camera break here because of the memory on one of the cameras. You had two negative thoughts. One is “I’m not as good as I should be.”
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: And the other is “I won’t be successful as I should be or as I want to be”, right?
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: So, again lets’ just do what you did. Let’s do a role reversal—I’m the negative David, the negative voice in your mind and you’re the positive voice. I’m going to try to make you feel upset and you’ll see if you can defeat me.
David Laroche: Okay.
David Burns: Once again, David I just wanted to remind you that you’re not as good as you should be.
David Laroche: Okay. I think I achieved a lot of things and I’m proud of that. The other thing is I’m improving myself every day, so it’s okay for me to be “not good enough” now because I know that I’m improving every day.
David Burns: Now, that’s called the “Self-Defense Paradigm”—you’re defending against the negative thought and you did well; that’s very impressive. But I’ll show you a different way to defeat that thought using what I call the “Acceptance Paradox.” Hit me with that same negative thought.
David Laroche: I can try. I accept the fact that, maybe, I’m not good enough.
David Burns: So, you accept the fact that you’re not good enough? Is that right?
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: What do you think—that’s rather shameful?
David Laroche: What is “shameful”?
David Burns: Bad.
David Laroche: No, it’s good. It’s okay for me.
David Burns: Well, why is it okay to be “not as good as you should be”? How can that be okay?
David Laroche: Because I’m happy like that.
David Burns: Right, and that’s the “Acceptance Paradox”, and that’s hard for people to grasp. But once you’ve grasped it, it’s liberating. It’s really what the Buddha was trying to get — That’s called “enlightenment.” It’s the same thing. Now, I’ll show you my version of the “Acceptance Paradox”; it will be David Burns. I’ll be David Burns and you be the negative Burns.
David Laroche: Can I say “It’s okay for me not to be good sometimes, but I think I am good enough”? Can I say that?
David Burns: Well, I’ll show you a different way to respond to it.
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: You’ll be the negative David; I’ll be the positive David.
David Laroche: So, David, I have to tell you something.
David Burns: Oh, go for it. Yes.
David Laroche: You are not good enough.
David Burns: Oh, absolutely! There’s nothing about me that couldn’t be improved a great deal.
David Laroche: Yes, it’s great.
David Burns: You see that? That’s pure “Acceptance Paradox” without any self-defense, and that’s what is the most helpful for me personally.
David Laroche: So, you don’t need to defense yourself because it’s okay. Is that right?
David Burns: Exactly, but it’s a spiritual insight and it can’t be taught intellectually; you have to, suddenly, see it. It’s like seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time—it takes your breath away. What you were saying is “I’m getting better and better all the time” and the problem with that is it puts you on a treadmill. I have a student — and you’re never good enough, do you see? You’re working, working, working to try to get to something — and I had a student named Matthew May, the psychiatrist Matthew May, M.D., and he has become phenomenally effective. I think he might be the most effective psychiatrist in the world, and we teach together now at Stanford, and he has his private practice. But when he was a student I used to supervise him for three hours once a week.
David Laroche: Wow!
David Burns: We would get a pizza, talk about these difficult cases, and then we’d go driving around the hills and talk about his personal issues a little bit—his dating and his insecurities… Once, we were driving around the hills and we came to a STOP sign and he looked at me and he said, “Doctor Burns, I want you to know that every day I’m working so hard to become a better person.” And I looked at him and I said, “Matt, I hope you get over that pretty soon.” He just burst into laughter because he saw then; he got his enlightenment at that moment. You see, trying to become a better person can be a kind of trap, a kind of narcissistic trap. But let’s come back to the “externalization of voices.” I’ll be the negative David and you’ll be the positive David.
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: There’s another thing I want to tell you, David, is you may not become as successful as you should be; you may not become as successful as you want with this project that you’re working on. As a matter of fact, you may not be successful at all.
David Laroche: Okay. What else?
David Burns: I see, so who won that exchange?
David Laroche: I don’t know. This time I don’t know.
David Burns: Do a role reversal—you’ll be the negative and I’ll be the positive.
David Laroche: Okay. So, David, you will not succeed in your project.
David Burns: Well, you know, succeed and fail is “all-or-nothing thinking.” I’ve already had some success in my project because I’m having fun with that; I’m meeting people all over the world; I’m learning about video; I’m learning about web development. It’s an exciting journey. So, I’ll have some success and that success might be tremendous or it might be only very modest; I accept it either way. If it’s a modest success, I’ll move on to the next project, and if it’s a great success, thank God and thank my lucky stars that it’s helpful to so many people.
David Laroche: Can I say “I will have success and failures, and it’s okay”?
David Burns: Yes, yes. That’s the whole point.
David Laroche: Yes?
David Burns: Yes. I’ve had a lot of successes in my life; I’ve had a lot of failures in my life and I’ll have a lot of failures in the future. I don’t need to be afraid of failures; I can learn from failures just as much as I can learn from successes.
David Laroche: But if I say, “It’s okay for me to fail because I will succeed in learning from that”, it is a difference.
David Burns: Right, but it’s also okay to fail even if I don’t learn from it.
David Laroche: Yes. I love what you are saying because it’s, maybe, a higher step to…
David Burns: Yes, that’s right. It’s achieving true freedom. See, when I started out my career I thought I had to be the greatest psychiatrist there was. That was my perfectionism, and it drove me very hard. So, when I was stuck with a patient — a patient said, “you’re not helping me” — I would create more techniques and more techniques, and I couldn’t stand it if I was failing with a patient.
David Laroche: I have that, too.
David Burns: Yes. So, there was some value in it. But it was also a bad thing because my patients had power over me, because all they had to do is say “You’re not helping me” and then they could, kind of, control me because it made me so anxious and uncomfortable, and I would do anything to try to get them to change. After I’ve been in practice for seven years, I had a sudden change. A patient said to me, “Doctor Burns, you’re not helping me enough.” And these were, by the way, very difficult, suicidal, angry, very difficult individuals, very challenging. And this patient said that to me and I said, “You know, you’re right about that and I feel sad about it, and I can imagine that you’re angry with me. I feel that I haven’t helped you nearly as much as I want. In fact, I haven’t helped you at all; you’re just as depressed and angry today as the first day when you came in. Let’s talk about it. Tell me about all the ways I’ve failed you and all the negatives feelings you have. This is incredibly important.” And then, suddenly, the patient opened up and we had the best session ever.
David Laroche: It’s great.
David Burns: And I suddenly realized—the willingness to fail gave me a new source of power that I hadn’t had the first seven years of my practice. So, the desire to succeed can be a good thing, but it can also be a curse.
David Laroche: Yes, I think so. It’s amazing because with this project here I spend a lot of money to do that. It’s huge for me, it’s incredible to me to meet so many different people, but at the same time I feel more fear…
David Burns: Yes, right.
David Laroche: And I feel more bad emotions than, maybe, during the year.
David Burns: Yes, yes.
David Laroche: It’s amazing because…
David Burns: And it’s that need to succeed, that fear of failure.
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: Now, before you came over I went for my morning jog and I was feeling anxious, because I’ve always had a phobia of cameras. When I wrote my book on anxiety I’ve realized I had 13 or 14 different anxiety disorders myself. I’ve had shyness; I’ve had fear of cameras and fear of bees, and fear of horses. I’ve had all kinds of fears and public speaking anxiety… just on and on, and on. So, whenever anyone is anxious, is consumed with anxiety, I say, “Boy, I love and love treating it because I know how you feel. I’ve had that, too, and I can show you how to defeat that thing. I can show the cure.” That’s why I love treating anxiety because I’ve had just about every kind of anxiety there is.
But when I was jogging — Before you came over I was getting anxious. I was thinking, “Wow, I won’t be good enough. I won’t be able to think of anything worthwhile to say. He’s going to feel like he’s wasting his time. He’s going to go and talk to Tony Robbins next, and Tony Robbins has more talent in his fingernail than I have in my whole body. I’m kind of a loser. I’m no good. I’m not good enough.” Then I said to myself, “Well, that’s okay if you don’t give him what he wants; if you don’t do well. You can accept that. You’ll still have a nice lunch; you’ll meet a wonderful person, his girlfriend. Life goes on.” And then when I accept that, it takes the pressure away, because I do my best work when I’m not trying to be successful; when I’m just connecting with the patient or going with the flow or hanging out with the cats, or being relaxed. That’s when the good stuff comes out.
David Laroche: And what you are doing now… you can’t imagine how I love what you are saying. What you are doing now it’s… You are inspiring me…
David Burns: Oh, is it?
David Laroche: Yes, I don’t know if you see that.
David Burns: That’s great! I’m so happy about that because it’s a message that has changed my life, and it has changed the life of so many people that I’ve worked with.
David Laroche: I see a lot of power in your ability to — For me, it’s easy to talk about the fact that I was shy because it’s finished. But it’s not so easy for me to do what I’ve done earlier when I was speaking about what are my fears now. Because when I do that on camera, I show my imperfections, and you’re just doing so well.
David Burns: Right.
David Laroche: I love what you are doing. Thank you.
David Burns: Right, and can you see that your imperfection is actually the best part about you?
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: You see that?
David Laroche: Yes, I see that in you…
David Burns: And that allows us to connect.
David Laroche: Yes, right.
David Burns: Isn’t that cool?
David Laroche: Yes, it is. It’s new for me. I started one week ago to do that and I started to do something… maybe I will love that. When I do videos, I do videos about tips, keys or my past stories and it’s easy for me. I’m confident about doing videos — I did a lot — but since last week I’ve started to do live videos. What I mean—for example, two days ago I was angry and I decided to record that—to turn on the camcorder and explain live what I do to have good feelings. aAnd it was hard for me to accept, to show me myself with bad negative emotions. But I do that because I think it will be more powerful for people to see that I CAN feel my emotions.
David Burns: Yes. I call that “emotion-phobia” which means the fear of negative emotions. The idea—I’m not supposed to have negative emotions. It’s another belief and that happens to me, too. For example, at Stanford when I have this weekly group, we have about 25 people who come or 30 people, students and therapists in the community, and we work for two and a half hours. I teach them and my colleague, Jill Levitt — a psychologist who teaches with me — she’s the co-leader of the group. We teach new techniques and they practice them, and we treat them and things like that. And then at the end of the evening they rate the teachers; they rate me on a very personal scale. So, every little error that I made comes out on this scale, and they write “What did you like the least? What did you like most?” They write it at the bottom. Last Tuesday I was a little critical of one of the students. I was too critical of her empathy skills, and she gave me horrible ratings. It was a shock to me. I think it’s the lowest ratings I’ve ever had in a seminar at Stanford, and I thought I was doing great. Then I got to feeling ashamed and I thought, “Oh, I better not let her see this because I’m supposed to be a Guru; I’m supposed to be a professor; I’m supposed to have it all together.” But what I’ve discovered is that the next week I’d go back and say, “You know, I did such a poor job with you and the teaching, and I felt really embarrassed and ashamed afterwards because your criticism were valid, and it was really kind of hard for me to acknowledge this. But I really appreciated your feedback because what you said was absolutely correct.” Suddenly then the person feels close to me and the teaching becomes magical. But like you, there’s a part of me that thinks we shouldn’t have certain kinds of negative emotions; we try to cover them up or hide them.
David Laroche: Yes, I love that.
David Burns: Isn’t that neat?
David Laroche: Yes, it’s true. I will let Julie ask you two things.
David Burns: Sure.
David Laroche: And I will come back with a last question. I don’t know how much time you have, so I don’t want to take more time.
David Burns: It’s been fun talking to you because of your personal involvement. It’s not just an intellectual exercise, and I think that’s what you have to bring to it – it’s your heart, as well as your mind — to really have something with credibility, because people can see the difference when you’re just trying to impress people or when you’re being real.
David Laroche: Yes, I think so.
Julie: So, my first question is a question I ask to everybody.
David Burns: Okay.
Julie: And it’s about education. So, how do you think we could improve education in the world?
David Burns: Well, I don’t know so much about education in general. The kind of education I do is educating psychiatrists and psychologists, and students on how to do Psychotherapy. But one of the things that I’ve found absolutely important in my own teaching, that’s helped me become a better teacher, is what I mentioned just a few minutes ago, that I have a supervision rating scale or a teacher’s rating scale. Every time I sit down with a Stanford student or I teach a seminar at Stanford, or I teach a workshop say in Chicago or New York, or wherever, at the end of each session, everyone takes a minute to fill out the rating scale and they hand it to me. So, if I have an hour of supervision with a student, at the end of the hour they rate me on the supervision scale. Then I process that with them the next time I see them—“Here’s what you liked; here’s what you didn’t like; here are the mistakes I made; here’s what worked.” And I do it in seminars, and I do it in workshops. I don’t think most teachers in the world do that, and most therapists don’t do that. I don’t think you can become a good teacher or a great teacher without that kind of information. When I do a workshop — Let’s say I’m in Chicago and I do a workshop for 200 mental health professionals, a two-day workshop. At the end of day one they all rate me, and I don’t want to look at the ratings because it’s embarrassing to me. But I calculate the overall number — the rating from 0 to 5; how did the number come out — and I read all the most worst criticisms and all of the greatest praises. Then I tell them, “On the morning of day two I’ll tell you how you rated — what the number was — and I’ll read out loud the ten worst things you said about me and the ten things you liked the best.” It’s hard for me to do that because I feel ashamed and their criticism — People are very honest in the way they feel these out and they’re often, brutally, critical. But what I’ve discovered is if I read those criticisms out loud and acknowledge the truth in them, and say, “It was kind of embarrassing to me to say I saw this mistake or I was too arrogant, or I wasn’t warm enough, or I went out on a limb… I went too far on this point or something”, they just love it… the audiences.
David Burns And then day two they just become euphoric and hit the ball out of the park. But I found that that, for me, is the key to good therapy, because I do it at the end of every therapy session.
Julie: It’s great.
David Burns And the key to teaching—to have a rating scale. Then, of course, you also have to treat the ratings with warmth and respect, and not get defensive so the person feels good about criticizing you. That way you become a partner with your students, and your students will teach you as much as you’re teaching them, if you give them the chance. Now, one other plan on that — maybe I’m going on too long — we mentioned public speaking anxiety. I had horrible public speaking anxiety; I’ve had horribly humiliating experiences and now I make my living through public speaking. But can you imagine if I hired coaches to come to one of my workshops and give me a criticism [Oh, there’s the cat. Would you mind letting the cat in? Happy wants in.] And if I were to hire some coaches; they would probably charge me $1,000 a day. And if I had 200 coaches in the audience, it would cost me $200,000 to get the feedback. But because I ask my audiences to fill out the rating scale, I get that information for free.
David Burns: And every time I do a workshop I get $200,000 worth of feedback from professionals from the very audience I’m trying to teach.
Julie: That’s great.
David Burns: But yet I find that most therapists are afraid to do this; most teachers are afraid to do this, because I think they can’t take the heat. They want to think they’re experts; they want to be above their students or something like that.
Julie: Yes, because I think it’s hard to acknowledge one’s weakness.
David Burns: Yes, I hate it. I hate doing it, and yet I call it “workshop tax”, “teaching tax”… the tax. If I pay this tax of experiencing that emotion and acknowledging it to the students, then I have the chance to learn and develop more effective teaching techniques and greater warmth, and trust with the audience.
Julie: Yes, I think it’s good. It’s good for the relationship.
David Burns: Yes, absolutely.
Julie: Okay, thank you very much.
David Burns: You had a second question.
Julie: Yes. My second question is…
David Burns: What is the meaning of life?
Julie: Almost. What could be the three actions human beings could do to make this world a better place to live?
David Burns: I’m sorry, I don’t think I have a good answer for you on that one. Another thing that has been – [Here’s little Obie. I knew he’d come in. Obie helps me to make life a better place. This is our little feral cat who didn’t trust anybody. Isn’t he cute? I’m so proud of him. I just love little Obie. Yes, yes! He is warming up to you.]
In the relationship — One of the problems in the world is conflict between married people, between nations. My wife is a psychologist and I sometimes wonder if the prognosis for the human race might be somewhat negative. That there’s so much aggression, so many weapons being developed, that I think there’s a significant possibility that our human race will not survive. And one of the most powerful techniques — but it’s a hard technique to learn — is called the “disarming technique” and it’s, kind of, the interpersonal version of — On the previous video I was illustrating something called the “Acceptance Paradox” where you accept your own shortcomings in terms of yourself criticism. The “disarming technique” means—when someone else is criticizing you, 99% of the people in the world get defensive, and then they attack back. That’s the source of almost all the suffering in the world today.
To take America for example, why are these terrorists coming to attack us and bombing us in New York, and that type of thing? What’s wrong with these people? We’re always putting the blame elsewhere rather than looking at our own behavior. But if you look at what America is doing, we’re forcing people to attack us. How do we do that? By sending troops to other countries, bombing them, setting drone planes around. If they had troops here in America, and were droning American citizens, we would be outraged against Islamic world, as well. But people don’t want to look at their own role in the problem; we always want to blame somebody else and I think another — what I call “interpersonal enlightenment” — is when you’re ready and willing to look at your own role in the problem. So, when someone criticizes you, rather than getting defensive, to try to see the truth in that criticism. I have a rule I call the “law of opposites” and that is—if somebody gives you a criticism and it feels unfair, and you defend yourself, you’ll prove that the criticism is valid, and the person criticizing you will become all the more certain that their criticism is valid, and it will be. The other side is—if you sincerely agree with the criticism that appears to have no validity, and you insist the person is right, they’ll stop believing the criticism. That’s called the “law of opposites.” The one thing — Which I don’t think it’s going to happen because the Buddha couldn’t enlighten people. Very few people achieved enlightenment, even if what he was trying to teach was very simple.
David Burns: And I think that the aggression within human beings, the need to blame others is so powerful, that this is difficult for people to do because it involves the death of the ego. I could give you an example of that “disarming technique” and “the law of opposites.” I’d have to give a little story to bring it to life, and we may be too short on time…
Julie: No, it’s okay.
David Burns: Well, when my book “Feeling Good” first came out a man called from the Southern United States — my office was in Philadelphia at the time — and he said that he’d been all over the United States looking for treatment for his depression; that top people in the country treated them and no one could help him. But when he read my book “Feeling Good” he said, “You’re the man I’ve been looking for.” And he said he was very wealthy and he was going to fly to Philadelphia on a private plane for two-hour sessions every week, and I was going to treat him. He was going to pay full fee and I got all excited. I was a young psychiatrist and I thought, “Oh, I’m making the big time now. This important person is going to come.” When I introduced myself to him — he flew up and came to the airport, drove over in taxi and then was in the office — and when I introduced myself to him, he looked profoundly disappointed and really hurt, and he sat down. I said, “Jim, is there a problem here?” He said, “Well, when I read your book I thought you’re an old man with gray hair.” It would be true now, but this was like 30 years ago.
Julie: Ah, okay.
David Burns: And he said, “Now, I see you’re too young to be my doctor.” And right away I felt hurt and disappointed. This was my big chance and I was going to be so important. So, this is an example of a criticism that felt wrong to me; it felt incorrect. And I said, “Well, I may be young, but I’ve had tremendous experience.” He had something called “bipolar manic-depressive illness.” I said, “I used to run the Bipolar Clinic at the VA Hospital. I was one of the world’s top experts in Lithium and Psychopharmacology, and now I know the new Cognitive Therapy. Even though I look young, I want to assure you I have the skills to treat you.” Now, notice what I did—I defended myself.
David Burns: And that’s what most human beings do on most occasions, and it’s virtually always a mistake.
David Burns: Then he looked at me and he said, “Dr. Burns, I’ll tell you this. I was treated by the chief of the National Institute of Mental Health and he couldn’t help me. Then I went to UCLA and was treated by the Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and he couldn’t help me. But at least they had a good bedside manner! You don’t even have that!”
David Burns: I really got uncomfortable and I said, “Gosh, I’m losing this guy”, and I tried to defend myself again. I said, “Well, bedside manner… If you had to go to a surgeon, would you want to go to a surgeon with poor surgical skills who has a good bedside manner or a brilliant surgeon who doesn’t have a good bedside manner?” See, I was trying to show him he was wrong.
David Burns: I defended myself and then he stood up out of the chair, and he walked over to the door of the office. He said, “Dr. Burns, I’m very wealthy; I paid for a two-hour session ahead of time. We’re ten minutes into the session and I’m going to walk out of here and you’re never going to see me again, and you can keep the money.” At that point I realized for sure I was making a terrible mistake of defending myself. Then I remembered I had a chapter in my book “Feeling Good” on the “disarming technique” — it was called “How to talk back when you’re under the fire of criticism” — and I realized my mistake. I said, “Would you wait just one more minute before you leave? Would you just take it from the top one more time?” So, he was standing at the door of the office. He said, “I was trying to tell you you’re too young to be my doctor, but you wouldn’t listen.” And I said, “Let me try responding one more time. First of all, I can imagine how horribly disappointing it must be for you to fly all the way from South Carolina to Philadelphia with hopes of a new form of treatment, and then to see a young guy, like myself. What a horrible disappointment that must be, and you’re right, I am young; I’m just out of my Residency Training and my Fellowship Training. But to make matters worse, when you tried to tell me then I got defensive, and that’s what a young amateur would do. That’s not what a skillful, compassionate psychiatrist would do. So, before you go I just want you to keep one thing in mind.” He said, “What’s that?” I said, “Just remember that you were right and I was wrong.” And when I said that his jaw dropped, and he went back and sat down on the chair. He said, “Dr. Burns, no shrink ever talked to me like that before. You’re my man! You’re the one I’m going to work with!” And then we went ahead and we had a wonderful therapeutic relationship.
That’s the “law of opposites.” You see, when I finally admitted, acknowledged the truth and what he was saying, admitted that I was too young, suddenly I wasn’t too young, and that’s the principle that can change the world. But the problem is you’ve got to give up the desire for aggression, the desire for conflict. It involves the death of the ego. That’s a Buddhist concept—they call it “the great death.” I had to let my ego die and when I let my ego die, then he came to life and we both came to life. It was death and rebirth. I see that in every therapy session; I see that in my interactions with students. I make mistakes all the time and I invite criticism. I find that if I can say, “You know, that criticism is absolutely right”, then the heavens open up. Again, it’s a very simple concept, but it’s very difficult for people to implement it. I also have that book I gave you “Feeling Good Together.” I don’t want to promote my books, but that’s what that book is about. It’s about the whole problem with intimacy and getting close to people, and the decision of keeping someone your enemy versus using techniques to create an intimate, trusting relationship.
Julie: Yes, it will help a lot of people who want to have better relationships in the family or for the couples. It’s a great story.
David Burns: Great. Thanks.
Julie: Thank you. Can I ask one question?
David Burns: Yes.
Julie: In France there a lot of people who are depressed and we are one of the countries with high-consumption of medications to stop depression. Could you please share an advice, because you are an authority on how to feel better and I think it will help a lot of people to hear what you could say to them?
David Burns: Well, I started out as a full-time psychopharmacologist, which means a psychiatrist who prescribes medications. I was doing research on this “chemical imbalance” theory and I came to see that that theory is probably not a true theory. I believe that it is not true that depression is due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. I’ve won some of the top awards in the world for my research on brain chemistry, and I never saw any evidence for that theory and my own research certainly didn’t confirm it. I don’t think we know the cause of depression. But the good news is we have powerful drug-free techniques now to help people overcome depression.
The second shocking thing is there has been a good bit of research in the recent years. One of the many people is Irving Kirsch, Dr. Irving Kirsch, a clinical psychologist who wrote a book, and I wrote the foreword for it, the preface or something for him. It’s called “The Emperor’s New Drugs: the Myth of Antidepressants.” What Irving Kirsch did was he went into the Food and Drug Administration database and gained access to all of the data the drug companies have submitted when they were trying to get drugs like Prozac and different antidepressants approved because they make a lot of money, if they can get a chemical approved as an antidepressant. And he said, “How much improvement do people get, if they’re given placebo?” Do you know what that means, “placebo”?
Julie: Yes, yes.
David Burns: … versus getting an antidepressant. And he came to a conclusion — which was the conclusion I came to early in my carrier — that there’s little or no difference between the chemicals called antidepressants and placebos. His research and the research of others are beginning to gain some recognition now. He was interviewed a couple of months ago on a TV show “60 Minutes.” Do you know that show?
Julie: Yes, we have the same in France.
David Burns: So, this is beginning to get out, but people want pills and a third of people who get a pill will recover. That’s called the “placebo effect.” The problem is they probably would have recovered if they had gotten a placebo rather than the antidepressant. So, I’ve gotten quite far away from prescribing the chemicals called antidepressants and that’s why I prefer these drug-free techniques that we’ve been developing. The drug-free techniques work massively faster in my hands than those of my colleagues. They’re faster, and it’s far more powerful. Someday, I think, antidepressants will exist, will be created, but I don’t think that day has come.
Julie: Okay. So, do you have just one tip for someone who is depressed to change his mood?
David Burns: Well, I would pick up the book “Feeling Good” and you’ve got a two-thirds chance of recovery in four weeks, according to research that’s been done over and over again in the United States. I would think this is true in France, as well. If you don’t respond to the techniques in the book, then you could meet with a therapist and try to find a compassionate therapist who you like, who can help you to identify the problems in your life and to start finding solutions to those. One thing that I’ve shown in research in this country is that the “self-help” is the key to recovery, the willingness to do something to help yourself. In “Feeling Good” there are written exercises and various techniques you can do. What my research is showing is practically every person who did the written exercise; who does things to try to help themselves, has recovered and, virtually, every patient who’s refused to do those exercises had failed to recover. The research seems to show that the willingness within the individuals — even though you feel hopeless to try various things to help yourself — that’s seems to be the key to recovery. I’ve published that in top Psychology Journals … many times in the last 15 years. The answer is within the individual; it’s not in taking a pill.
Julie: Okay, great. So, be willing and it should be okay.
David Burns: And it’s kind of what David is into—telling people “Do it. Take some action with your life.” That is the same phenomenon that leads to recovery from a serious depression.
Julie: Great. Thank you very much.
David Laroche: My last question is a short question. It is a funny question. The goal is to — I ask this question to each interviewee. The goal is to touch people in a way that they were not touched before maybe. My question will be—how to become unhappy in this life? Do you understand what I mean?
David Burns: How to become unhappy?
David Laroche: Yes. I love to touch people, to describe them what they do and not to tell them “You don’t have to do that.” Do you understand what I would like to do? It’s powerful for people to listen to what they are doing. Because they don’t want to become unhappy, they will not do that. Do you understand?
David Burns: I have to think about that.
David Laroche: You just have to say the inverse of what you believe to become happy. According to you — Another question… because you have a lot of expertise. What people…
David Burns: Yes, I have an answer to that anyway.
David Laroche: What should the depressed people do to stay depressed? It could be a good question.
David Burns: That’s a separate question. I can answer that, too.
David Laroche: So, David, I have a serious question to ask you. Do you have any advice on how to become unhappy in this life?
David Burns: It’s fairly trivial, but it has some value in it. It’s also something I saw on Television, so I can’t necessarily take credit for it. It goes back, I think, to Epictetus, one of the early Greek philosophers. He said, “The way to become unhappy is to tell yourself you’re going to have a wonderful day when you wake up and to expect that good things are going to happen, because then we get into traffic jam or you meet some irritating person, you’ll say, “Oh, this shouldn’t be happening”, and you’ll work yourself up into a state of frustration and irritation.
David Laroche: Wow.
David Burns: And a good example of that is computers, because you’re a computer person. I haven’t done a workshop for six weeks, so my laptop has been turned off. This morning I turned it on to see if I could update my Norton Security and the Windows updates, which should be easy, right?
David Laroche: Yes.
David Burns: But I told myself, “This is, probably, going to be a pain in the ass. I’ll, probably, have to call the help lines, and the computers will, probably, not going to work properly.” I’m sure enough that’s exactly what happened. The laptop couldn’t even connect to the Internet. The Norton said, “Your security is expired” and I’ve just paid to renew it for two years. It had the wrong BIOS in it and I had to call Norton Security for about two hours, and I had to call the Hewlett Packard laptop help, some guy in the Philippines, for about an hour, and now it’s finally up to speed. But I predicted that it would be a pain in the ass, and it was a pain in the ass. It wasn’t so much of a surprise, so I didn’t get that upset about it. I just said, “Well, this is what I expected.” That’s, kind of, a humble idea. But like on a workshop, if I say, “Boy, I’m going to hit the ball out of the park!” I get kind of arrogant and people get annoyed with me, and it’s not as good. But if I tell myself that I’ll probably have some bumps in the road, then when they come they’re not a surprise and I can handle that. But that’s just, kind of, a trivial thought.
David Laroche: Yes, it’s an amazing key. So, if I want to become unhappy in this life, I’ll have to pay attention to my bad thoughts.
David Burns: The other thing you can do to continue to be unhappy—when you have bad thoughts like “I’m not good enough. I should be better. People should treat me better…”
David Laroche: Yes, …
David Burns: “What’s wrong with me? I shouldn’t have made that mistake…” and all of these things, don’t write them down on a piece of paper.
David Laroche: Okay, don’t write.
David Burns: Just let them go around and around in your head, and then you’ll be able to put yourself into a very severe state of depression.
David Laroche: Thank you, David. I will try that.
David Burns: Okay.
David Laroche: I have just one last question. It is a short question. You have maximum two minutes, okay? The goal is to build a short video. It will be a different video, not this interview. My question is about — You look at the camcorder. According to you, what could be the key factors of success?
David Burns: For me — I don’t know what the key factors of success are — For me, it’s always been working very hard on a very narrow area; finding something I’m pretty good at and then really pouring my heart into that thing night and day. It seems that by doing you can become a bit of an expert. But another thing — and you’ve talked about this — I think is to have determination and not to give up when you run into bumps in the road. Like with my book “Feeling Good”—after I got the contract for it, and I got the advance for it and it was published, my editor — who was Maria Guarnaschelli at “William Morrow” — called and said that the publishers weren’t going to support the book because they hadn’t paid enough for it and so they wouldn’t do any publicity for it. That was a huge disappointment to me. She said, “You’re going to have to do it all yourself, and if you can get something going then, eventually, they’ll help you with your effort for the first few years. You’re going to have to get the publicity yourself.”
Initially, I was calling out magazines and saying, “Would you like to… I have this new book out” — like Reader’s Digest and Cosmopolitan — and saying “Would you be willing to look at it and publish an excerpt or something?” Then they would say, “We’ve already rejected your book. Please, don’t bother us. You’re hassling us.” And I would call TV shows and try to get on. Everybody rejected me. So, I made it my goal to get rejected, because I said, “If I can get rejected, at least that’s better than being ignored. After a while, maybe the second time around, they’ll accept me and I’ll get a break.” So, eventually it began to work and it began to get some successes, and then one thing led to the next. Another thing that was helpful for me—the woman who did my typing — her name’s … Now, I do my own on a computer — but she was typing for a lot of authors and some of them got a lot of publicity. I said, “How do they do it? How do you get publicity?” She said, “Well, David, what you should do is even if you can get a low radio show, that only has 100 people listening to it, give the best darn interview you can. Then afterwards, write a thank-you note to the person who interviewed you and tell them that you thought it was a great interview, and how much you appreciated it. Then someday they’ll get on a bigger show and they’ll remember you, and they’ll invite you back.” So, I did that. Every time I got a media interview — Like you came to the house today and I’m giving you my best, for example. I finally, went to Cleveland. I got to do a little local TV show in Cleveland, because that’s an easy market; they don’t get all the big starts going into Cleveland. So, I got on the Cleveland “Morning Exchange” and I did an interview on my book “Feeling Good”, and it was a pretty good interview. Then afterwards, the producer said, “Could I talk to you for a few minutes?” And I said, “Sure, I’d love to.” She said, “You know, I’ve adopted a teenage girl who’s having horrible problems with school and with the law. She keeps running away from home, and I’ve been beating up on myself and telling myself ‘I’m not a good enough mother’ and I’ve been depressed. Could you help me?” And I spent an hour with her helping her with her negative thoughts. Then afterwards, I went back to Philadelphia and wrote her a thank-you note and said, “It was such a wonderful interview and it was fun talking to you afterwards.” You know, that type of thing… just showing warmth and respect, and appreciation.
Then I got a call in 1988 — that was around 1980 or ’81 right after the book came out — and she says, “You know, I don’t know if you remember me, but you were on my show “The Morning Exchange” in Cleveland, and you helped me a lot. You wrote me that nice thank-you letter, and today I’m in New York; because after that I told myself, ‘If I ever get on a big show, you’re going to be my first guest.’ Today I just arrived in New York City, and I’m the producer of the ‘Phil Donahue Show’” — that was like “The Oprah Show.” Before Oprah, it was the biggest thing — And she said, “If you can be here the day after tomorrow, you’re going to be my first guest. What do you think?” I said, “I’ll be there. You bet I’ll be there.” I couldn’t believe it. I did the “Phil Donahue Show.” I came with a friend and it was just a colleague at my Clinic. We actually brought two patients with us who had been severely depressed just weeks before, and now they were just elated. It was a phenomenal experience and people in the audience stood up and said things like, “Are you the one who wrote ‘Feeling Good’?” I said, “Yes, that’s me.” And they said, “Oh, my son read your book and he was suicidal, and it saved his life! Everyone in America needs to buy this book.”
It became like an infomercial, and within ten minutes of the end of that show the book had sold more copies than it had in the previous eight years and it went to Nr. 1 on all the bestseller lists. So, I have to thank … for that tip that said—When you’re trying to work your way up, you’ll get a lot of rejections, but you’ve got to believe in yourself and stick with it. Then when you get a little success and someone helps you, show appreciation to that person, and tell them they were important and their role in your life was important. That’s the way it worked; that’s the way it worked for me.
David Laroche: Wow! It was awesome! I love your story. Wow! Thank you very much.
David Burns: Yes, that’s fun. The story tells more than intellectualizing.
David Laroche: I would love to have a testimonial from you. What did you think about what I do? Do you prefer…?
David Burns: I love what you’re doing.
David Laroche: Do you prefer I ask you the question or can I let you… I’ll record what you are saying about me. I’m David Laroche… my name.
David Burns: Well, I should do more now, you mean?
David Laroche: Yes. So, what do you think about David Laroche?
David Burns: Well, I love what you’re doing. I mean, it’s fun for me…
David Laroche: Can you speak in third person?
David Burns: I think David Laroche’s project of interviewing people and finding out about their lives, making his dream come true and showing other people how to make your dream come true, how to deal with your own issues of confidence and self-esteem… I think it’s tremendous!
David Laroche: Yes. Thank you very much.
David Burns: Okay. That one cost five dollars.