Cognitive Therapy: My Story - Part One

  • This is the first entry in a series of SharePosts that talk about my experience using cognitive therapy. My intent was to chronicle my round of ten sessions sooner however I started them this fall instead of in the summer. I can tell you only that my worry escalated to the point where I needed to take action. I will keep private the details.

    To sum up what the new therapist told me: "You can have faith that you will be able to act on your values despite having thoughts that run contrary to your values, because you can't control your thoughts but you can choose your behavior."

    He elaborated: "Those thoughts tend to persist if you either don't want those thoughts or you are afraid of those thoughts. However, if you show your brain that those thoughts are irrelevant, they tend to back off."

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    Giving them less weight has been the hard part for me. It all comes back to a slogan I'm sure I've given you in a SharePost or two: "What we resist, persists." Letting go and letting things be is my new mantra. I recommend cognitive therapy not because it can stop symptoms totally (it can only halt them or make them less troubling). I do so because it is a way to manage better what goes on in your head.

    My round of therapy involved homework assignments. First I had to go down below to the food court at Grand Central Station and sit at a table where another person was directly in my view. Next I had to listen to an "imaginal" for a half hour every day for a week. This is where I recorded an imaginary event onto an audio file on my computer and played it back. Luckily I have a software program that records phone conversations and voices in the room where the computer is located.

    So I recorded myself setting the scene and speaking dialogue as a form of exposure. After that, I had to go out of my way to ride the trains (subway) for an extended period of time twice a week. Lastly I had to watch short YouTube clips of other people riding the subway.

    It has gotten easier because I realize my worry was simply a faulty perception, not a world view. When I was in grad school I was attacked in a hateful way and I have only now begun to recover from it. I've decided to see the good in people and not worry that everyone else is like that guy. I choose to believe that most people are kind and open-hearted.

    For the longest time, even with evidence to the contrary (that I was a good person), I couldn't shake the worry that other people thought I hated them, as the attacker did. It has gotten better in great measure because I have a best friend, D.J. (who I interviewed here for the first 100 Individuals campaign SharePost) who keeps telling me, "You're the best."

    The cognitive therapy will not end when the sessions in the therapist's room end. I will seek out therapy moments in real life and continue to work on shifting my perceptions. The therapist also wrote down another thing I'd like to share with you: "Try to notice if you're having an obsession (any thought you don't want which won't go away). Trying to reason with an obsession (such as using other thoughts to try to counter it) is fighting with an obsession. Fighting with an obsession is trying to suppress an obsession. Suppressing an obsession maintains the obsession."

  • Again I told it to you here years ago: "What we resist, persists." Part of what fed into my worry is that I'm sensitive to what goes on in the world. I'm happy to report I'm a lot stronger now than when I was 32. I can pull out the punches when I've been emotionally violated. I'm not the same person I was then and I would not allow myself to cower under someone else's hate.

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    Perhaps in two months I'll write a follow-up SharePost to let you know how the cognitive therapy has continued to play out. One note I want to end on: I have a zero tolerance for hate or any other kind of abuse or violence-be it verbal, physical or otherwise. You will see this reflected in any response I post to a community member's question or SharePost where he or she reveals their partner is violent or has anger issues.

    My ethic is one of compassion and it will now and always be about being kind to other people. Ultimately I forgive my attacker.

    Lastly: one thing I did: I discovered my magnetic poetry book in the green bin in my hall closet. I took out the word and letter magnets and tried to arrange them into "Listen to the Song of Life" but some of the letters were missing. I was able to cobble together this poem:

    "Listen You
    We Are the One
    Just Do It

    This will remind me what my ethic is all about and it will be on view for anyone else opening the refrigerator door or passing by. I would like to go on eBay to see if I can find more new letter magnets to change up the poems. For now, I take each day as it comes.


    The cognitive therapist was honest: my worry might not go away. It is like an alarm bell going off only it sends me a false alarm because I'm not in danger.

    I'm willing to find real-life scenarios in which to practice the new therapy techniques. It will be an ongoing process, just like recovery which is a process and not an endpoint.

    I hope you have a clearer idea of the benefits of cognitive therapy. I wish for you to have peace of mind even though you live with this devastating illness. Schizophrenia doesn't take a holiday. It doesn't discriminate in who it chooses to strike.

    We're all in this together. It's truly "One World, One People."

    I'd love to hear your comments on this SharePost.

Published On: December 13, 2009