Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Power of Negative Thinking

Time Magazine calls it the newest thing in psychotherapy. No longer should you try to puff up your self-esteem by self-cheerleading. Do not try to replace your negative feelings with positive ones.

No, you must embrace your negative thoughts and feelings. Get comfortable with the fact that you suck. Overcome the impulse toward "Yes, I can." Now your new therapeutically-correct mantra will be: "Yes, I suck."
Link here.

Clearly, this is intended as a corrective to cognitive therapy. According to Time, cognitive treatment tries to change "self-defeating attitudes into constructive ones."

Apparently, the cognitive approach needs correcting because when you tell someone whose self-esteem is on life support that he is wonderful, engaging, brilliant, talented and competent... lo and behold... he does not believe you. In fact, he thinks you are patronizing him and insulting his intelligence. He might even imagine that you do not even know who he is. Thus, he ends up feeling worse.

Dare I say that this represents a caricature of cognitive technique. Cognitive therapy uses many different techniques to invite the patient to re-evaluate his sense of his own self-worth.

Is he correct to think that he is worthless? Does the evidence of his experience support that judgment? Or are those thoughts about self-worthlessness merely a mental tic?

Cognitive therapy emphasizes balanced judgment. It tries to show that while there might be good reasons to think ill of oneself, there are also reasons to think well of oneself. To me this does not seem to be quite the same thing as giving dishonest pep talks that attempt to invalidate negative emotions.

All of these techniques have a problematic side. They tend to imagine that it is all in your mind.

This is the message that the new issue of Psychology Today is touting in its cover article about jealousy.

It is saying that when you feel jealous you must look inside yourself, the better to overcome your insecurities and your feelings of not being sufficiently lovable.

But what if the emotion has something else in mind? What if every negative emotion is not an invitation to do more therapy?

Perhaps your negative emotions are not inviting you to do mental gymnastics to develop one or another mental muscles. Maybe they are directing your attention outside, into the world, into your life.

How many times have you heard of people who were feeling jealous, and who were told that they were delusional? Many of them were instructed to get some therapy to get over their negative emotions and to open their hearts to love.

Now, ask yourself this: how many of these people subsequently discovered that they had good reason to be jealous?

My last post was about whether or not coaching works. In researching this post I fell upon another article from Time Magazine, from a few years ago, that explains some positive results produced by a new therapeutic technique. Strangely enough, this new technique resembles coaching.

According to Time, research performed at the University of Washington concluded, as follows: "Among more severely depressed patients, behavioral techniques like setting up new routines and scheduling activities worked as well as an antidepressant and significantly better than cognitive therapy." Link here.


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