Challenging Negative Thinking - My Take
"Challenging Negative Thinking," reads psychologist Jerry Kennard's sharepost.
"Pretty well everyone is vulnerable to negative thinking," he writes, "but if these thoughts become locked into a cycle of rumination, the result is almost inevitably depression."
Dr Kennard is a proponent of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which has helped me enormously. Dr Kennard strongly recommends Monica Basco's, "The Bipolar Workbook." The lead back cover blurb reads:
"The era of 'take your meds and shut up' is over. Yes, we need our meds, but we also require the personal skills to be smart and vigilant about our illness. Until now, bipolar came with no instruction manual. Dr Basco has delivered the hitchhiker’s guide. Thank heaven we don’t have to be helpless bystanders anymore." - John McManamy, editor and publisher, McMan's Depression and Bipolar Weekly
Wait, that's me. I heard Dr Basco speak at a DBSA conference in Boston in 2000, and at the time I had a lot of reservations that reflect in a good many of the 42 comments to Dr Kennard's post. For instance, Eric writes:
"So the honest answer is that no matter how much effort you put forth while clinically depressed, the negative thoughts will prevail and these books are of little use unless you are wiping your ass with the pages. ..."
I can assure you, in the middle of one of my Force 9 depressions, I would absolutely agree with Eric, and I challenged Dr Basco on this. Her response was: "I do not believe you should be a passive recipient of care."
Forget about CBT for a second. Instead, focus on the notion that WE are in charge and that we don't necessarily have to sit around waiting for something to happen. As I put it in an article on my website:
"In the unending battle for control of our own brains there is still an 'I' that can put up a fight. And where there is 'I' there is hope."
Many of the comments to Dr Kennard's post seemed to confuse CBT with "positive thinking." For instance, Butterfly commented:
"As much as you want to help with people thinking positive, it's never easy."
Yes, the object of CBT is along the lines of turning "It's the end of the world" into "Let's see if we can figure out a solution," but we accomplish this through mindfulness. It's simply not going to happen by imitating Pollyanna. Not with a depression - or the makings of one - standing in the way.
Through the practice of "the mind watching the mind," we literally catch our negative thoughts as they occur, while they are small and still manageable. In her book, Dr Basco gives the example of Amanda, whose nursing license came up for yearly review. "I will be out of work," she started thinking. "We are not going to be able to pay our bills."
Left unattended, Amanda's thoughts would have brought on a depression. Instead, she formed an action plan and developed a sense of control. And how does it FEEL to be in control? A lot better than being in a panic, thank you very much.
CBT is not going to work for everyone all the time, and it may not be right for you. Often, events and emotions get the better of us, and our neurons simply can't cope. But we all need to be doing something. Giving up and doing nothing simply doesn't cut it.