Depression Often Misdiagnosed, and Untreated

The New York Times had an interesting article about how depression is often misdiagnosed in the US, and how most people who actually have depression don’t get treatment.  They reference a research study just published in the JAMA Internal Medicine.

This research study performed by Mark Olfson, Carlos Blanco, and Steven C. Marcus, looked at responses from 46,417 people on the Patient Health Questionnaire-2 (PHQ-2) which is a brief screening tool for depression. A score of over 3 indicates depression on this scale.

What did they find? They found that approximately 8.4% of all adults studied had depression, but only 28.7% had received any depression treatment in the previous year! That means 71.3% of the people who suffer depression got no treatment for this depression.

Of those who were being treated for depression, about 30% actually had depression based on the screening, and another 22% had serious psychological distress. That means that of the people in the study who were being treated for depression roughly 48% neither suffered depression nor did they suffer serious psychological distress, indicating inaccurate diagnoses by the treating professionals.

There were some interesting correlates of depression. About eighteen percent of those in the lowest income group suffered depression, while only 3.7% of those in the highest income group suffered depression. It pays to be rich!

Depression was more common in those who were separated, divorced, widowed, or who had less than a high school education. None of this is terribly surprising.

How did depression break down by age?

In the 18 to 34-year-old group 6.6% suffered depression. In the 35 to 49-year-old group 8.8% suffered depression. Ten percent of the 50 to 64-year-old group suffered depression. Of those over 65, only 8.3% suffered depression. So at least in this sample the 50 to 64-year-old group was slightly more likely to suffer depression, and contrary to what many people think, the youngest adults were somewhat less likely to suffer depression.

Of those who were married only 6.3% suffered depression. Of those who were separated, divorced, or widowed, 13.3% suffered depression. Divorce is bad for mental health, with almost a doubling of rates of depression.

Most of the patients who were treated for depression were treated by general practitioners (73%), with roughly 24% receiving treatment by psychiatrists and 13% receiving treatment by other mental health specialists. (There was some overlap, that’s why the numbers add up to more than 100%.)  This may explain the rather poor diagnosis and treatment of depression because general practitioners although competent and intelligent, are very busy and typically only have a few minutes to spend with each patient, not enough to do a good job diagnosing and treating depression.

CONCLUSIONS

What can we conclude from this research?

  1. Almost 10% of the adult population suffers from depression. Of those people who have depression less than 30% of them will get any treatment for depression.
  1. You are more likely to suffer depression if you are in the lowest income group, divorced, separated or widowed, or have no high school education. If you are married you have half the probability of being depressed.
  1. Many adults receive depression treatment even though they don’t really meet the criteria for depression. In this study, almost half of the people receiving treatment for depression were neither depressed nor were they even particularly distressed.
  1. Rates of depression by age groups were relatively equal, with the youngest age group having the least depression and the middle-aged group (50 to 64) suffering somewhat more depression. Married people are suffer half as much depression as divorced, separated, or widowed people.
  1. Most people received depression treatment from their general practitioner or internal medicine doctor, with a smaller number receiving treatment from a psychiatrist, and even a smaller number receiving treatment from psychologists. This also meant that most people who receive depression treatment were treated using medication, and very few people received psychotherapy, even though most studies comparing medication to cognitive behavioral therapy for depression have shown that therapy performs at least as well as medication and probably better over the long term, with less relapse.

Reading between the lines of this study, it suggests that many people who feel depressed would benefit from receiving an accurate diagnosis from a clinical psychologist, and might very well also benefit from receiving cognitive behavioral therapy for depression rather than medication. Even if medication is indicated, a psychologist could recommend it to the patient’s general practitioner, and then monitor more closely the results.

The study also suggests that many people receive antidepressant medication who actually are not depressed, which needlessly exposes them to side effects and also fails to provide the correct treatment for what troubles them.

And finally, since only about 30% of those who suffer depression received any treatment for it, if you feel depressed, be sure to pursue treatment for depression.. Get an accurate diagnosis and then get treatment, ideally with a psychologist or therapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy.

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Good News! You May Be Getting More Sleep Than You Think, Especially If You Suffer Insomnia!

The Wall Street Journal today had a very interesting article about how people with insomnia tend to greatly underestimate how much sleep they get and overestimate how long it takes them to fall asleep. They also overestimate how often they wake up at night.

Roughly 30% of adults have some insomnia each year. About 10% of people have chronic insomnia which means that you have trouble sleeping three times a week or more. According to the Journal article, 42% of insomniacs who actually slept the normal amount (6 hours or more) underestimated how much they slept by more than an hour. I looked up the research article which was published in Psychosomatic Medicine. According to this research, insomniacs who slept six hours or more typically showed a profile of high depression and anxiety and low coping skills according to psychological testing.

What’s also interesting is that even though insomniacs may be sleeping six or more hours a night, there does appear to be some real differences in their brainwave activity compared to good sleepers. Even though they are asleep, their brains are more active, which may account for why they perceive their sleep to be less than it really is.

Another interesting factoid was that normal people tend to overestimate how much sleep they get. Most people when asked how much sleep they get will answer between seven and eight hours, but they are actually getting six hours. That’s why people tend to be so sleep deprived. For most people six hours is not enough sleep to feel really good.

So what’s the answer to this sleep estimating dilemma? It turns out there is a very simple answer. The two gold standards for measuring sleep are brainwave measurements and activity measurements. While brainwave measurements are difficult to come by in the home, activity measurements are very easy and inexpensive to obtain. Many of the current fitness tracker’s have a sleep tracking function. For instance, according to my Xiaomi Mi Band, which cost me the grand sum of $15, last night I was in bed for seven hours and 58 minutes, and got three hours 20 minutes of deep sleep and four hours and 38 minutes of light sleep. I was awake for one minute. (Yes, I know, please don’t hate me all you insomniacs!)

For insomniacs who worry about how much sleep they are getting, I recommend buying a fitness tracker and wearing it every night. The best ones automatically track sleep without having the requirement that you push a button to activate sleep mode. This is pretty important as most people forget to press the button. I have been pretty happy with my Xiaomi Mi Band, which you can buy directly from the company  but I’m sure there are other brands of fitness trackers which offer similar features.

Also, as I’ve written about previously here and here, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) may also improve the quality of sleep as well as the quantity. Some studies show that CBT-I improves people’s ability to accurately estimate their sleep time, and it also may calm  the over-activity of the brain that occurs when insomniacs sleep.

So here’s the executive summary for all of you sleep-deprived folks:

1. If you are an insomniac who is anxious and depressed, then you are probably getting more sleep than you think. Buy a fitness tracker with a good sleep tracking function, and you will see how much sleep you are actually getting.

2. If you want to improve the quality of your sleep, either practice meditation or see a CBT psychologist for CBT-I, as both of these interventions seem to lower the activity of the brain during sleep, which will improve your perception of your own sleep.

3. If you consistently feel anxious or depressed, consider getting some cognitive behavioral therapy for these problems, as they may contribute to sleep difficulties.

I’m off to bed now and hope I don’t have insomnia now that I’ve written about it!

 

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) Outperforms Drugs for Insomnia

The New York Times today had an excellent article The Evidence Points to a Better Way, which summarized what I have written about before. Cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic insomnia (CBT-I) kicks the butt of drug therapy!

One study compared CBT with a common sleeping pill called Restoril and found that the CBT treatment led to larger and longer lasting improvements in sleep. Another study found that CBT treatment outperformed the drug Ambien, and that CBT alone was even better than CBT plus Ambien combined.

Even more impressive are the results of a large meta-study which was published today. This meta-study, which combined data from 20 clinical trials and involved over 1000 patients with chronic insomnia showed that CBT I resulted in these patients falling asleep 19 minutes faster and having 26 minutes less wakefulness during each night on average. The actual study is protected by a pay wall, but the summary results are here.

One might question the clinical relevance of these outcomes. Does falling asleep 19 minutes faster really make that much of a difference? Does sleeping an extra 26 minutes a night make patients feel better the next day? As a good sleeper, I don’t really know the answer to these questions.

But I suspect that the biggest impact of CBT-I is in affecting the person’s perception of control over sleep. One of the horrible things about chronic insomnia is that patients feel out of control in terms of their sleep. They worry tremendously about the impact of loss of sleep on their ability to function the next day. It is this worry cycle that actually can create insomnia.

So I suspect that even though the effects were durable but modest, that the overall treatment made a large difference in how people felt. There is a big difference between taking 45 minutes to fall sleep and 20 minutes to fall sleep. And I suspect that sleeping an extra 26 minutes a night actually does make a difference. I know that I feel much better on eight hours of sleep as opposed to 7.5 hours of sleep.

When I work with patients on CBT-I one of the things I work on is helping the patient lower their anxiety about the impact of sleep restriction. As crazy as it sounds, one of the interventions I typically use is to have the patient stay up all night and go to work the next day. Although they are typically very tired, they discover that they can focus and function, maybe not at 100% but at an adequate level, maybe 75% or so. This lowers a lot of the anxiety about insomnia, since even a bad night of insomnia typically leads to quite a bit more sleep than staying up all night.

Other than the time and energy that a patient must invest in learning CBT-I skills, there are no side effects of cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. All sleeping medications have significant side effects the most troubling of which involve impaired cognition and coordination during the night and the following day. This impaired coordination and cognition leads to increased falling in the elderly, and probably also leads to an increase in automobile and other accidents. Because drug companies don’t want studies done on this issue, there are relatively few studies, but one study in Norway found that there was a doubling of traffic accidents among patients who took a variety of sleeping pills. Another study that compared 10,000 sleeping pill users to 23,000 nonusers found that the sleeping pill users were five times more likely to die young than nonusers.

So what does this mean to the person suffering insomnia? It means that you should avoid taking sleeping medications, and get cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. This kind of therapy typically does not take very many sessions. I teach the basic skills of CBT-I in about 4 to 6 sessions, and typically the entire course of CBT-I takes less than 10 sessions. There are also options for CBT- I online and even apps that run on your phone. One such app that runs on both android and iPhone is called CBT-I Coach. This app was developed with your tax dollars as part of a large Veterans Administration insomnia treatment program, and is excellent.

It’s getting late, so rather than have to experiment with any of these treatments, I’m off to bed…

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

The Treatment of Tinnitus using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Tinnitus is condition where the person hears a ringing in their ears or other sounds when none of these sounds are present. It is a very common problem, especially as people age. According to studies, up to 20% of people over the age of 55 report symptoms.

What causes tinnitus? There can be many causes. The most common cause is noise-induced hearing loss. Other causes include medication side effects, as well as withdrawal from benzodiazepines. In many cases no apparent cause can be found.

For many, tinnitus is a relatively minor problem that they tend to ignore. Almost everyone has momentary tinnitus symptoms. But for other people tinnitus creates a tremendous amount of psychological distress. This includes anxiety and depression. The person fears the loss of their hearing, and tends to focus intensely on their symptoms. They begin to avoid situations where their symptoms are more noticeable. This typically means avoiding quiet locations where there is no sound to mask the tinnitus sounds. Or it may involve avoiding situations where there are loud noises such as movie theaters due to the fear of further hearing loss.

Similar to some forms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), the person may begin to engage in frequent checking behavior. This means that they consciously check the presence and volume of the ringing in their ears. They may also frequently check their hearing.

The person also suffers from constant thinking about causes of the tinnitus. They often blame themselves for exposure to loud noises in earlier life. They think about the music concerts they attended where they didn’t wear earplugs, or even recreational listening to music. They have strong feelings of regret that can blend into depressive symptoms.

Unfortunately there are no terribly effective physical treatments for tinnitus. This leaves psychological treatment as the primary modality for successful reduction of distress.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) conceptualizes tinnitus much like it conceptualizes the experience of chronic pain. Chronic pain consists of two components. The first component is the physical sensations. The second component is the bother or suffering caused by these physical sensations.

Tinnitus can be conceptualized in the same way. The subjective experience of sounds in the ears is the physical sensation. The interpretations of these sensations lead to the emotional reactions; suffering and bother.

Although CBT cannot directly change the physical sensations of tinnitus, it can change the reactions to these sensations. And changing the reactions can actually lead to a subjective experience of diminishing symptoms.

What are the components of the CBT treatment for tinnitus?

1. Psychoeducation. The first step is to educate the client about how tinnitus works. The model used is that the loss of certain frequencies in the hearing range leads the brain to fill in those frequencies with sounds. It is very much like phantom limb pain, where an amputee may experience pain in the removed extremity.

The nature of hearing loss is explained, and psychoeducation regarding tinnitus and the risk of further hearing loss is discussed. If needed, results of hearing tests can be discussed relative to the actual severity of hearing loss. Although in some cases of tinnitus hearing loss is quite significant and may actually impair functioning, in many cases the hearing loss is relatively minor and does not impair functioning in any way.

2. Cognitive therapy. Here the therapist helps the patient to identify the negative thoughts that are leading to anxiety and/or depression. Typical thoughts for anxiety are: “I can’t live my life anymore with this condition. I will lose my hearing entirely. The sounds will drive me crazy. I’m out of control. If I go into _____ situation I will be troubled by these sounds so I must avoid it. I need to constantly check my hearing to make sure it’s not diminishing. I need to constantly check the tinnitus sounds to make sure they are not getting worse. They are getting worse! They will get worse and worse until they drive me crazy.”

Typical thoughts for depression are: “Life has no meaning if I have these sounds in my ears. I can’t enjoy my life anymore. It’s hopeless. There’s nothing I can do about it. Doctors can’t help me. It will get worse and worse and slowly drive me crazy. I won’t be able to function.”

Once these thoughts are identified then the skills of challenging them and changing them are taught to the client. The client learns how to alter these thoughts to more healthy thoughts. This produces a large reduction in anxiety and depression.

3. Attentional strategies. Because much of the subjective perceived loudness of tinnitus is based on attention, with higher levels of attention leading to higher levels of perceived loudness, developing different attentional strategies will help very much. In this part of the treatment mindfulness training and attentional training is used to help the client learn how to shift their attention away from the tinnitus sounds onto other sounds or other sensations. Often a paradoxical strategy is first used, where the patient is asked to intensely focus only on their tinnitus sensations. This teaches them that attention to tinnitus symptoms increases the perceived severity, and helps motivate them to learn attentional strategies.

Another aspect of attentional retraining is to stop the constant checking of symptoms and hearing. Helpful techniques include thought stopping where the client may snap a rubber band against their wrist each time they notice themselves checking.

4. Behavioral strategies. Tinnitus sufferers typically develop an elaborate pattern of avoidance in their lives. They avoid situations where they perceive tinnitus sounds more loudly. This can include avoiding many quiet situations, including being in quiet natural places such as the woods, or even avoiding going to quiet classical music concerts. They also tend to avoid situations where they might be exposed to any loud noise. This includes movie theaters, concerts, and even noisy office situations.

The behavioral component of CBT encourages an exposure-based treatment whereby the client begins to deliberately go back into all of the avoided situations. In situations where there is actual loud noise exposure at a level potentially damaging to hearing, they are encouraged to use protective earplugs.

The purpose of the behavioral component is to help the person return to their normal life.

5. Emotional strategies. Sometimes it is necessary to help the client go through a short period of grieving for their normal hearing. This allows them to move forward and to accept the fact that they have hearing loss and tinnitus. Acceptance is a key factor in recovering psychologically. This often also includes forgiving themselves for any prior excessive loudness exposures.

Changing the thoughts about the tinnitus symptoms also produces emotional change and a reduction in anxiety and depression.

In summary, cognitive behavioral therapy of tinnitus seeks to reduce the psychological suffering caused by the sensations of tinnitus. Cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and attentional strategies are taught to the client to empower them to no longer suffer psychologically from their tinnitus symptoms. Successful treatment not only reduces the psychological suffering, but because it also changes the attentional focus and lowers the checking of symptoms, people who complete CBT for tinnitus often report that their perceived symptoms have reduced significantly.

Tips:

1. Traditional psychotherapy is typically NOT helpful for tinnitus.

2. Find a practitioner, typically a psychologist, with extensive training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. If they have experience treating tinnitus that is even better.

3. Give treatment a little time. You will have to work hard to learn new ways of thinking and reacting, and this won’t happen overnight. You should be doing therapy homework between sessions.

4. Medication treatment such as anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication is typically not very helpful, and in the case of anti-anxiety medications can actually worsen tinnitus especially during withdrawal. First line treatment should be CBT.

5. Get help. Although the actual symptoms of tinnitus have no easy fix, the suffering can be treated and alleviated. Especially if you are experiencing depression symptoms, is is important to seek therapy with a CBT expert.

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Want to Sleep Better? Get Brief CBT-I Therapy for Sleep Instead of Sleeping Pills

“To sleep–perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub”

The New York Times reported on a terrific study at the University of Pittsburgh, looking at ultra short treatment of insomnia in the elderly. According to the article roughly 1/4 of older adults suffer from insomnia. The researchers streamlined an approach called CBT-I, which stands for cognitive behavioral therapy of insomnia.

There were only two sessions of treatment, totaling about 90 minutes. There were also two brief follow-up phone calls, over the first month. They tested this brief treatment and 79 seniors with chronic insomnia.

So what were the results of this study? They couldn’t have been very powerful, right?

Wrong. Two thirds of the CBT-I group reported a clear improvement in sleep, compared with only 25% of the people in the control group. Even better, 55% were cured of their insomnia. And six months later the results were even better.

So what was this magic treatment and the magic rules for curing insomnia? There were only four rules.

  • Spend only seven or eight hours in bed.
  • Set your alarm and get up at the same time everyday.
  • Never go to bed until you actually feel sleepy.
  • If you are tossing and turning and can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you get sleepy again. Then go back to bed.

These are standard cognitive behavioral sleep hygiene rules. And they are very powerful. Although not mentioned in the study, a few other rules are also helpful.

  • Regular exercise performed no later than midday is also helpful.
  • Reducing caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol all are helpful.
  • Avoid all naps.
  • Only use your bedroom for sleep and sex. Don’t watch TV or read in bed.

So why isn’t this treatment widely available? Could it be because there isn’t a powerful drug lobby for sleeping pills pushing this very effective therapy?

What is really tragic is that most seniors end up being prescribed sleeping pills for insomnia. And this is in spite of very clear data from research that shows that modern sleeping pills such as Ambien, Lunesta, or Sonata, have very minimal effects. On average they reduced the average time to fall asleep by 12.8 minutes compared to placebo, and increased the total sleeping time by only 11.4 minutes.

Patients who took older sleeping medications like Halcion and Restoril fell asleep 10 minutes faster, and slept 32 minutes longer.

How can this be? Why is it that patients believe that sleeping pills are much more effective? The answer is very simple. All of these drugs produce a condition called anterograde amnesia. This means that you cannot form memories under the influence of these drugs. So you don’t remember tossing and turning.  If you can’t remember tossing and turning even though you may have, then you perceive your sleep has been better. The drugs also tend to reduce anxiety, so people worry less about having insomnia, and thus feel better.

The hazards of sleeping pills in older adults include cognitive impairment, poor balance, and an increased risk of falling. One study in the Journal of the American geriatrics Society found that even after being awake for two hours in the morning, elder adults who took Ambien the night before failed a simple balance test at the rate of 57% compared to 0% in the group who took placebo. This is pretty serious impairment. Interestingly enough, in the same study, even young adults who took Ambien showed impaired balance in the morning.

So what are the key messages here?

1. Even though sleeping pills give people a sense of perceived improvement in sleep, the actual improvement tends to be almost insignificant, especially with the newer and very expensive sleeping medications. The older medications increased sleep time a little better, but have more issues with addiction and tolerance. Side effects of these medications are potentially very worrisome, since they can cause cognitive impairment and increased falling which leads to injuries, especially in the elderly. Why risk these side effects for such small improvements in sleep quality?

2. Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia works better than sleeping pills, has no side effects, is cheaper in the long run, and has a lasting impact on sleep improvement.

3. Most people who suffer insomnia will see their physician, who will prescribe sleeping pills. This is partly because of the lack of availability of cognitive behavioral treatment for insomnia. There are relatively few cognitive behavioral practitioners, and even fewer who regularly do CBT-I. We need to improve the availability of these treatments, and should follow in the footsteps of the University of Pittsburgh researchers in learning how to streamline these treatments. Most people don’t have the patience to spend 6 to 8 weeks in cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. Instead we need treatments that can be administered in a single week or two with some brief follow-up.

4. CBT-I availability will always suffer from the fact that there is no powerful corporate interest backing it. There are no CBT-I sales reps going to doctors offices offering free samples of CBT-I for doctors to pass out to their patients. I don’t have a solution for this problem, but would be interested in hearing from my readers as to how we might more effectively promote effective and safe treatments such as CBT-I.

Okay, now that I’ve written this, it’s time to trundle off to bed. As Hamlet said, “To sleep — perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub!”

Copyright © 2010, 2011 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

How to Handle Mistakes–CBT Techniques for Gracefully Coping With Mistakes and Setbacks

Sometimes clients really integrate the learning about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and share it with family members. I was very moved when a client recently shared with me an email she wrote to her two teenage children. She gave me permission to publish it here, with a few identifying details deleted. Here it is:

To my dear children, please read this email because it will help you live life more peacefully.

I have lived my whole life worrying and I’m sick of it so I’ve spent the past months studying how to combat it. Here are some tips I’ve learned that should help you too.

As Dr. Gottlieb shared with me, here are key questions to ask yourself after making a mistake or facing something you think is devastating, in order to put the mistake into perspective

  • Did anyone die or get hurt? Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
  • Will I remember it in 1 or 5 years?
  • Did I lose a lot of money? (Defined as an amount that would truly change your way of life. ($100, $1000, or $10,000)
  • Is the mistake easily fixable with time or money or words?
  • What can I learn?
  • Does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?

OK, so the last point is the hardest.  Of course it always seems to totally matter and be catastrophic.  However, this brings me to the next step of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).

Sit with your thoughts. Then ask yourself what are your negative thoughts causing you to feel this way.  For instance, “I’m going to get into a horrible college, have a lousy job, be poor, get fired, be miserable, etc.”

THEN recognize these thoughts.  Are they all-or-nothing thinking?  Am I mind reading, assuming that others feel this way?  Am I being catastrophic, blowing this out of proportion?

Once you determine that this is really a distorted thought, then examine the thought in a healthier way.  You can step back and ask yourself on a scale of 0-100, how bad is this current event really?  Think of something tragic that would be a 100 (ie: parent dying, you getting cancer, etc.). Ugh.  Then compare the current event with the true 100 catastrophic event.

To help you determine the true number, ask yourself a series of “what if” statements for healthier thinking.  For instance:  “What if I don’t get an A…. I won’t get into a good college… if this is true then what if you don’t get into a good college…. I won’t get a good job…. if this is true what if you don’t get a good job…. I’ll be unemployed forever, be poor and miserable”…. Is this really true?  No.  You can think of people who didn’t attend college and are successful. You can even think of the opposite of people who DID attend a prestigious school and never worked outside of the home. You can think that there are ALL types of jobs that require all types of skills.

Then re-number your worry.  It’s probably much lower.  If not, review Dr. Gottlieb’s key points above and go through this exercise again. Most of the time the worry/event isn’t as bad as we think.

Finally, turn unproductive worry into product worry.  Unproductive worry is just thinking OMG, OMG, OMG!  That doesn’t help.  However, productive worry is problem solving.  You switch the energy into something productive and try to solve the problem.

And one last thing, remember that if you’re mind reading (believing that others will think negatively of you), no one really cares.  True, your parents and close ones do care about the important stuff, but truly no one looks at you.  Everyone is a self-centered, too busy focused on them to be concerned about you.  And if you assume that people are thinking something negatively about you, do the above steps, asking yourself to replace this with a more realistic/healthier thought and the what if exercise.  Remember, just because you may have judgmental thoughts, doesn’t mean everyone else is.  The first step is to stop judging others and be more compassionate.  Once you stop being so judgmental of others, you’ll start treating yourself nicer and have better self esteem.

I hope that you read and implement these tips so you can lead happier, more peaceful lives.  And just think, I’ve saved you hours and hours of reading, studying and discussing this stuff…  You get the Spark Notes version.  🙂

I love you both dearly.

Mom

Thanks Mom for sharing this with me, and with all of my readers….

Copyright © 2010, 2011 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Radical Non-Defensiveness: The Most Important Communication Skill

“Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water.
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after.
Jack blamed Jill,
Jill blamed Jack,
And each vowed they would
Never come back.”

What is the secret of good couples communication? What one simple skill tremendously improves the ability of couples to discuss difficult subjects?

It is the skill of non-defensive responding. What do I mean by this?

Let me give you an example. Imagine a hypothetical couple Jack and Jill. Jack comes home from work and is tired and hungry. Jill got home from her job one hour before. She’s sitting on the couch reading the paper.

Jack says, “I can’t believe you haven’t started dinner. I’m really hungry! You’re just sitting there relaxing, while I’m starving!”

(If you were Jill, how would you react?)

A typical response that Jill might make would be something like, “You’ve got hands, why don’t you make dinner! Why do you expect me to be your slave!?”

At which point it is likely a good fight would ensue.

The non-defensive response would be something like, “It sounds like you’re really hungry and kind of annoyed that I haven’t started dinner yet. You’re absolutely right, I was really stressed out when I got home from work and I decided to relax for a while rather than start dinner. I can see how you would feel frustrated getting home from work tired and hungry and seeing me just sitting here. Why don’t you sit down and relax and I’ll get us some quick snacks, and then get dinner started.”

Notice the difference. In the first example Jill counterattacks. Jack will counterattack in return and quickly things will escalate into a full fight.

In the non-defensive example Jill acknowledges Jack’s feelings. Then she finds some truth in his statement. Next she validates his feelings. And finally, she proposes a solution.

This is an incredibly powerful skill for reducing conflict and improving communication between people. In this article I will give you some basic theoretical rationale for why non-defensive responding works so well, and then teach you — step-by-step — how respond non-defensively.

First the theory. Human ego is a delicate thing. We spend a lot of our energy defending our sense of self against attacks or criticisms. The problem with this model is that it’s impossible to defend completely against all attacks or criticisms. This is because most of us are very far from perfect — we are quite flawed — and we know it.

The problem is that we don’t accept it. We have this all or nothing model of ourselves which says either we are perfect or we are awful. So when any criticism comes along, it challenges our model of being perfect and we slip into the painful feelings of complete inadequacy.

We don’t like feeling inadequate, so we try to deny or counterattack any criticism. There are so many types of defensive responding that it’s difficult to catalog all of them. But some of the major types of defensive responding are described below. (These are based on John Gottman’s work on communication.)

Major Kinds of Defensiveness

1. Denying responsibility. This involves denying that you’re at fault no matter what your partner accuses you of. If your wife says you hurt her feelings by saying something insensitive, you reply that you didn’t do anything wrong.

2. Making excuses. This is when you acknowledge the mistake, but create a reason for why circumstances outside your control forced you to make the mistake. Classic examples of this are, “traffic made me late,” or “I just forgot to pick up the milk.”

3. Disagreeing with negative mind reading. This is when you disagree with your partner’s interpretation of your internal state or emotion.

Jack: You seemed very frustrated with me tonight.
Jill: That’s not true, I was just tense being at a work party.

4. Cross complaining. This defensive response involves meeting your partner’s complaint or criticism with an immediate complaint of your own. An example would be:

Jill: you never take me out anymore.
Jack: and you never cook me dinner anymore!

5. Rubber man/rubber woman. This is based on the old saying, “I’m rubber, you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” In this form of defensiveness, you immediately counterattack with a similar criticism.

Jack: You were very mean to me at the party tonight.
Jill: Well you were mean to me yesterday when we visited your mother’s house.

6. Yes-Butting.  This is where you start off agreeing, but then end up negating the agreement.

Jack: You said you would put away your work papers off the dining room      table.
Jill: Yes I did, but I was waiting for you to clear off your books first.

7. Repeating yourself. This involves repeating the criticism again and again without listening to your partner.

8. Whining. This involves the sound of your voice and the stressing of one syllable at the end of this sentence. For instance, “You always ignore me at parties.”

9. Body language. Typical body language signs of defensiveness are crossing your arms across her chest, shifting side to side, and a false smile.

Ultimately the goal of all defensiveness is to preserve the self. This is a commendable but hopeless goal, since defensiveness triggers elevated levels of criticism from the other person. As Gottman has so elegantly described, the more you defend yourself, the harsher the criticism you receive. That’s because when someone criticizes you they want you to acknowledge the validity of their feelings and thoughts. When you respond defensively you are invalidating them, so they escalate the criticism. If you can’t hear them the first time, they say it louder.

This of course leads you to become even more defensive because the criticism is now much harsher. And the two of you are off to the races! The fight escalates, gets personal, and both of you end up feeling damaged.

So what is the solution? How do we get out of this vicious cycle of defensiveness and criticism?

The answer is a radical shift in the way we think about ourselves. Radical non-defensiveness is the answer.

What is radical non-defensiveness? First it requires a shift in our core beliefs about ourselves. Remember that most of us have an all-or-nothing model of our self. We believe, “I must be perfect otherwise I am crap. If anyone points out my imperfections, they are basically saying that I am crap, and I won’t listen and I will counterattack.”

Radical non-defensiveness means that we shift our core belief about ourself to, “I am a flawed human being. I make many mistakes. I can improve on almost anything I do. But even with my flaws I am a worthwhile and valuable person.”

With this radically changed belief about the self, criticism changes as well. Instead of criticism meaning that we are worthless human being, it simply acknowledges the reality of being flawed, and helps us to improve.

If you think about it for a moment, you might realize that radical non-defensiveness is the antidote to perfectionism. Perfectionism beliefs cause much human suffering. When we feel that we need to be perfect in order to be worthwhile we are living in a glass house. The smallest pebble can crack our armor. And that pebble can be any criticism.

The radical non-defensive model is completely the opposite of perfectionism. I don’t need to be perfect to be good and worthwhile. I can shoot for an 85 rather than 100. If I make a mistake, I can acknowledge it and realize that everybody makes mistakes.

Let’s go over — step-by-step — how to respond non-defensively. (Some of this is based on some of David Burns’s work on communication.)

First let’s create another example of criticism. Back to Jack and Jill. They have finished dinner, and Jack retires to his laptop computer, where he spends the next several hours deep in Internet surfing. Jill tries to talk to him about something that happened at work, but he ignores her. Finally, she explodes, “You never listen to me!  You are always surfing on your stupid computer! You don’t care about me, and you’d rather watch YouTube videos than listen to my problems. You are an uncaring husband!”

Whew! That’s pretty intense criticism isn’t it? How can Jack respond non-defensively to this?

Let me take you through it step by step.

Step One: Paraphrase back to the person the thoughts and feelings they are expressing to you.

Jack says, “It sounds like you’re really frustrated and angry with me right now, because I was on the computer rather than focusing on you.”

Step Two: Find SOME truth in what they are saying. In this step what you try to do is select whatever reality-based truth there is, and ignore hostile names or labels. You focus on the behavior that you’ve committed rather than the nasty labels.

Jack says, “You are absolutely right. I have been spending way too much time on my computer and not enough time connecting with you.”

Step Three: Validate the emotion paraphrased in Step One, and connect it to the behavior in Step Two. This lets the person know that many people, including you, might feel the same emotion in the same situation.

Jack says, “I can see why you might feel frustrated. If I wanted to talk more with you and you were reading all the time I’d probably feel the same way. It makes perfect sense.”

Step Four: Offer possible solutions. Here there are several options. One option is a genuine apology. This is very powerful. Another option is to suggest discussing the problem in order to find solutions. This option is best when the criticism encompasses a complex problem that can’t easily be resolved. Another option is to simply fix the problem right then and there.

Jack closes his computer and says, “I’m really sorry. I do want to hear what happened at work, why don’t we sit together on the couch and talk about it.”

Step Five: Thank the other person for bringing the problem to your attention. This is probably the most alien step of all for most people. How can you thank someone for criticizing you? If you recall in the radical non-defensiveness model, you acknowledge that you can always improve, and that criticism is often what helps you to improve. So thanking the person for criticizing you is really saying thank you for caring enough about me to help me improve.

Jack says, “Thanks Jill for telling me how you feel. That allows me to be more conscious of being a better husband. Thanks again.”

One typical objection to non-defensive responding is “Won’t the the other person criticize me more if I don’t defend myself?” The truth is actually the opposite. The more you defend yourself the more criticism you receive, and the harsher the criticism becomes. Most criticism is designed to create change or to be listened to, and defensive responding achieves neither.

Another objection is, “What if the criticism is completely unfounded or unjust? How can I respond non-defensively in that case?”

Criticism is rarely completely unfounded. There is almost always SOME truth in most criticism. Even if it just factual truth, you can agree with it. Example:
Jill: You were flirting with that woman Nancy at the party. You’d like to sleep with her.
Jack: You are absolutely right, I was flirting a little. I can see how that would upset you. I don’t want to sleep with her though. What can we do at the next party so I don’t upset you?

Try using this skill at home, at work, with friends, and with family. You will be surprised at how effective it is. I’ve summarized the steps below.

Now I’ve got to go apologize to my sweetie for spending so much time writing this….

Non-Defensive Responding Step by Step
1. Empathy: respond with empathic reflection, “It sounds like you are feeling quite angry at me for forgetting your birthday.”  (Use tone matching and empathic body language). Reflect both content and feeling.

2. Find some truth in the statement, and strongly agree. “You are absolutely right. I totally forgot your birthday! What a dope I am!”

3. Validate the emotions reflected in step 1. “I can see why you are angry. I’d be angry in your situation too!”

4. Offer possible solutions, compromise, problem solving, or an apology.
“I blew it, I’m very sorry, and I’d like to make it up to you by taking you away next weekend. How does that sound?”

5. Show appreciation for the person giving you the feedback. “Thanks for letting me know how you feel. Now I can make a point of not forgetting your birthday.”

Copyright © 2010, 2011 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

How Ivan Pavlov Handled a Piece of Steak

Most psychology students recognize the name of Ivan Pavlov, one of the great minds of psychology, who developed the theory of classical conditioning (dogs salivating when he rang a bell). From the Yale Alumni magazine comes this wonderful tidbit of a story:

“In mid-August 1929, the Harvard Medical School hosted the Thirteenth International Physiological Congress, one of the largest gatherings of scientists ever convened in the United States. Pavlov, the doyen of experimental physiology at almost 80 and honored by a Nobel Prize a quarter-century earlier, was the lion of the gathering. His pioneering work on conditioned reflexes had been crucial to understanding brain function, and he was keen to see the Harvard neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing ’91 operate. The preeminent brain surgeon and father of modern neurosurgery as a field, Cushing, two decades younger than Pavlov, was at the top of his game. Performing for Pavlov in a theater at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Cushing removed a large tumor of the left hemisphere from a cancer patient’s brain. The patient later recalled that Cushing introduced him to Pavlov, saying, “You are now shaking hands with the world’s greatest living physiologist.”

Pavlov was captivated by the new electrosurgical knife Cushing used in the operation, and at the end of the procedure, Cushing got a piece of beef so that the elder scientist could try his hand. After making a few incisions, Pavlov inscribed his name into the meat. “I asked him whether he wanted me to eat the meat in the hope of improving my conditional reflexes,” Cushing wrote in his journal, “or whether we could keep it in the museum, the latter we will proceed to do—’Pavlov’s beef-steak.'” A collector of old medical books and of brain tumors, when he died in 1939 Cushing bequeathed both to Yale, where his rare books would become the cornerstone for creating the Medical Historical Library.”

Anyway, I love this story, especially the concept of him eating the steak, to “improve his conditional reflexes!”

Next time I throw a barbecue party I’ll serve the Pavlov-Steak sandwich…

Copyright © 2010 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Changing Thoughts May Be Better Than Changing Behavior in the Early Stage of Psychotherapy for Severe Depression

A recent study took a close look at what predicts improvement in depression in the first five sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy. They looked at the degree to which the therapists used either cognitive therapy methods, practiced structuring the sessions clearly, and how much they used behavioral methods/homework. They also examined whether the patients cooperated with these parts of cognitive behavioral therapy. They also measured the strength of the therapeutic alliance.

Sixty patients with major depression participated in the study. Their sessions were videotaped and trained raters rated how much the therapists used cognitive versus behavioral methods.

What they found was only two aspects of therapist behavior predicted improvement between sessions. Depression was measured after every session, and these measurements showed that patients felt better when therapists used cognitive techniques, but didn’t improve when the therapists focused on behavioral techniques.

Patients also showed greater improvement when they adhered to suggestions made by the therapist, which is not surprising.

The behavioral methods used were techniques such as having patients schedule their activities to become more active, and tracking how they actually spent their time. This is called behavioral activation, and previous studies have suggested it is an effective approach to treating depression. The behavioral activation model is that depressed patients tend to do very little, and this leads to further depression. Patients are encouraged to schedule activities that are fun, or activities that provide a sense of mastery or success. This leads to a lessening of depressive feelings.

The cognitive methods were techniques such as writing down what your thoughts are, and using cognitive therapy to challenge or modify distorted thinking.

So how to interpret the results of this study?

It’s only one small study and I would be cautious about taking too much from it. It does suggest that at least in the early sessions of therapy, cognitive methods may be superior to behavioral methods. This makes sense to me because early in therapy depressed patients feel a lot of pain and lethargy, and getting them to suddenly increase their activity can be very challenging and perhaps too difficult. This may lead to a sense of failure which increases depression rather than reducing it. On the other hand, using cognitive methods may lead to more immediate sense of control and relief, which would tend to reduce depression levels.

My sense is that later in therapy behavioral activation techniques are very useful. But typically in order to get patients to cooperate with these techniques there needs to be a strong alliance with the therapist. This takes some time to build.

It would have been interesting if they had continued the study beyond the first five sessions, and looked at whether over time the relative importance of the cognitive versus behavioral techniques would have shifted.

The study shows that therapist behavior in sessions does matter. This is one of my pet peeves. Many psychotherapists claim to use cognitive behavioral therapy, yet fail to actually use any cognitive behavioral techniques on a regular basis in sessions. This study shows that therapist adherence to structuring sessions and using cognitive techniques matters.

So from a consumer point of view there are a few take-home lessons.

1. If you are seeking cognitive behavioral therapy, make sure your therapist actually does cognitive behavioral therapy during sessions. This means they should structure the sessions clearly, as opposed to simply letting you talk about whatever is on your mind. It also means they should be asking you to track your self talk in written form, during sessions go over those thoughts, helping you learn to identify and correct distortions in the thoughts. If they don’t do these behaviors, and therapy feels free-form, then you’re probably not getting cognitive behavioral therapy, and you might want to look elsewhere. If you don’t regularly get homework to do between tasks, you aren’t receiving cognitive behavioral therapy.

2. At least in the early part of therapy pure cognitive therapy techniques may be more effective than behavioral techniques. You may want to focus your own homework more on identifying and changing your inner thoughts, rather than trying to increase positive behaviors. This probably will yield more relief of depression.

3. The study also confirmed that when clients cooperate and are more involved using cognitive therapy techniques, they improve faster. So even if you’re feeling skeptical, try to fully participate during sessions and in between sessions, as that provides you the best chance of more rapid relief.

Your off to analyze his thoughts psychologist,

Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2010 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

New Study Shows Antidepressant Medication Fails to Help Most Depressed Patients

A very interesting study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) demonstrated very clearly that when it comes to antidepressant medication, the Emperor is wearing few if any clothes! The researchers did what is called a meta-study or meta-analysis. They searched the research literature for all studies that were placebo-controlled studies of antidepressants when used for depression. That means the studies had to include random assignment to either a medication group or a placebo (sugar pill) group. They eliminated some studies which use a placebo washout condition. (This means the studies first gave patients a placebo, and then eliminated all patients who had a 20% or greater improvement while taking placebo.) When they eliminated all studies that didn’t meet their criteria, they were left with 6 studies of 738 people.

Based on scores on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), the researchers divided the patients into mild to moderately depressed, severely depressed, and very severely depressed. This is a 17 item scale that is filled out by a psychologist or psychiatrist, and measures various aspects of depression. It is used in most studies of depression. They then analyzed the response to antidepressant medication based on how severe the initial depression was.

The two antidepressants studied were imipramine and paroxetine (Paxil). Imipramine is an older, tricyclic antidepressant, and Paxil is a more modern SSRI antidepressant.

What did they find? They were looking at the size of the difference between the medication groups and the placebo groups. Rather than do the typical thing of just looking at statistical significance, which is simply a measure of whether the difference could be explained by chance, they looked at clinical significance. They used the definition used by NICE (National Institute of Clinical Excellence in England), which was an effect size of 0.50 or a difference of 3 points on the HDRS. This is defined as a medium effect size.

What they found was very disheartening to those who use antidepressant medications in their practices. They divided the patients into three groups based on their initial HDRS scores: mild to moderate depression (HDRS 18 or less), severe depression (HDRS 19 to 22), and very severe depression (HDRS 23 or greater).

For the mild to moderately depressed patients, the effect size was d=0.11, and for severely depressed patients the effect size was d = 0.17. Both of these effect sizes are below the standard description of a small effect which is 0.20. For the patients in the very severe group, the effect size was 0.47 which is just below the accepted value of 0.50 for a medium effect size.

When they did further statistical analysis, they found that in order to meet the NICE criteria of effect size of a 3 points difference, patients had to have an initial HDRS score of 25 or above.  To meet the criteria of an effect size of .50, or medium effect size, they had to have a score of 25 or above, and to have a large effect size, 27 or above.

What does this all mean for patient care? It means that for the vast majority of clinically depressed patients who fall below the very severely depressed range, antidepressant medications most likely won’t help. The sadder news is that even for the very severely depressed, medications have a very modest effect. Looking at the scoring of the HDRS, the normal, undepressed range is 0 to 7. The very severely depressed patients had scores of 25 or above, and a medium effect size was a drop in scores of 3 or more points compared to placebo patients. Looking at the one graph in the paper that show the actual drops in HDRS scores, the medication group had a mean drop of 12 points when their initial score was 25. That means they went from 25 to 13, which is still in the depressed range, although only mildly depressed. Patients who initially were at 38 dropped by roughly 20 points, ending at 18, which is still pretty depressed. And the placebo group had only slightly worse results.

One interesting thing is how strong the placebo effects are in these studies. It seems that for depressions less serious than very severe, placebo pills work as well as antidepressant medication.  Is this because antidepressants don’t work very well, or because placebos work too well? It’s hard to know. Maybe doctors should give their patients sugar pills, and call the new drug Eliftimood!

So in summary, here are the main observations I make from this study.

  • If you are very severely depressed, antidepressants may help, and are worth trying.
  • If you are mildly, moderately, or even severely depressed, there is little evidence that antidepressants will help better than a placebo. You would be better off with CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), which has a proven track record with less severe depressions, and which has no side effects.
  • Interestingly, CBT is less effective for the most severe depressions, so for these kinds of depressions medication treatment makes a lot of sense.
  • If you are taking antidepressants and having good results, don’t change what you are doing. You may be wired in such a way that you are a good responder to antidepressants.
  • If you have been taking antidepressants for mild to severe (but not very severe) depression, and not getting very good results, this is consistent with the research, and you might want to discuss alternative treatments such as CBT with your doctor. Don’t just stop the medications, as this can produce withdrawal symptoms, work with your doctor to taper off them.
  • Even in very severely depressed patients, for whom antidepressants have some effects, they may only get the patient to a state of moderate depression, but not to “cure”. To get to an undepressed, normal state, behavioral therapy may be necessary in addition to medications.
  • How do you find out how depressed you are? Unfortunately there is no online version of the HDRS for direct comparison. You may want to see a professional psychologist or psychiatrist if you think you might be depressed, and ask them to administer the HDRS to you.  There are also online depression tests, such as here and here. If you score in the highest ranges you might want to consider trying antidepressant medications, if you score lower you might want to first try CBT.
  • The most important thing is not to ignore depression, as it tends to get worse over time. Get some help, talk to a professional.

I’m off to take my Obecalp pills now, as it’s been raining here in Northern California for more than a week, and I need a boost in my mood. (Hint: what does Obecalp spell backwards?)

Copyright © 2010 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

New Study Finds the Best Pharmacological Stop Smoking Solution: (Hint, it’s not what you’d think)

A new study at the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin, Madison, compared all except one of the current drug treatments that help with quitting smoking. They looked at the following treatments and combined treatments:

  • “bupropion SR (sustained release; Zyban, GlaxoSmithKline), 150 mg twice daily for 1 week before a target quit date and 8 weeks after the quit date;
  • nicotine lozenge (2 or 4 mg) for 12 weeks after the quit date;
  • nicotine patch (24-hour, 21, 14, and 7 mg titrated down during 8 weeks after quitting;
  • nicotine patch plus nicotine lozenge;
  • bupropion SR plus nicotine lozenge; or
  • placebo (1 matched to each of the 5 treatments).”

Everyone received six 10- to 20-minute individual counseling sessions, with the first 2 sessions scheduled before quitting.

What were the results?

Three treatments worked better than placebo during the immediate quit period: the patch, bupropion plus lozenge, and patch plus lozenge.

At six months, only one treatment was effective; the nicotine patch plus nicotine lozenge. The exact numbers , as confirmed by carbon monoxide tests, were: “40.1% for the patch plus lozenge, 34.4% for the patch alone, 33.5% for the lozenge alone, 33.2% for bupropion plus lozenge, 31.8% for bupropion alone, and 22.2% for placebo.”

So we see that the combined nicotine substitution therapy worked best, followed closely by either nicotine substitute alone. Zyban or Welbutrin (bupropion) was a bust, no more effective than the simple nicotine lozenge. The only advantage to Zyban would be if one prefers not to use nicotine substitutes.

Now I mentioned that they omitted one drug treatment, which is the drug Chantix (varenicline). This is probably because the drug is a nicotine receptor blocker, so wouldn’t have made sense to combine with nicotine substitutes. Also, there have been some disturbing case reports of people having severe depressive reactions to Chantrix.

Of course, there was one glaring omission that any card-carrying psychologist would spot in a moment–the lack of a behavior therapy component. Giving 6 ten minute sessions is hardly therapy. I would have liked to see true smoking cessation behavior therapy combined with the drug treatments.

So, if you’re trying to quit smoking, combine nicotine patches with nicotine lozenges, sold in any pharmacy. If you do, you have a 40 percent chance of succeeding at 6 months.

Now I am off to have a cigarette….just kidding.

Study: http://cme.medscape.com/viewarticle/712074_print

Copyright © 2009/2010 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Why do Most Psychologists Ignore Science Based Therapy? Evidence Based Psychotherapy and the Failure of Practicioners

A new article in Newsweek magazine titled Ignoring the Evidence documents how most psychologists ignore scientific evidence about treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy which have been proven to be effective.

A two-year study which is going to be published in November in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, found that most psychologists “give more weight to their personal experiences then to science.”

The Newsweek article has a wonderful quote,

“Thanks to clinical trials as rigorous as those for, say, cardiology, we now know that cognitive and cognitive-behavior therapy (teaching patients to think about their thoughts in new, healthier ways and to act on those new ways of thinking) are effective against depression, panic disorder, bulimia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and -posttraumatic-stress disorder, with multiple trials showing that these treatments-the tools of psychology-bring more durable benefits with lower relapse rates than drugs, which non-M.D. psychologists cannot prescribe. Studies have also shown that behavioral couples therapy helps alcoholics stay on the wagon, and that family therapy can help schizophrenics function. “


The article documents how most psychologists fail to provide empirically proven treatment approaches and instead use methods which are often ineffective. The truth is there is very little evidence for most of the types of therapy commonly performed in private practices by psychologists and by Masters level therapists. If you are shopping for the most effective types of therapy you need to find a practitioner who is skilled at cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which is one of the few psychotherapy approaches that has been proven to work on a variety of problems.

Another interesting article in Newsweek about evidence-based treatment discussed bulimia. Here’s the summary:

“On bulimia (which affects about 1 percent of women) and binge eating disorders (2 to 5 percent), the verdict is more optimistic: psychological treatment can help a lot, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective talk therapy. That’s based on 48 studies with 3,054 participants. CBT (typically, 15 to 20 sessions over five months) helps patients understand their patterns of binge eating and purging, recognize and anticipate the triggers for it, and summon the strength to resist them; it stops bingeing in just over one third of patients. Interpersonal therapy produced comparable results, but took months longer; other therapies helped no more than 22 percent of patients. If you or someone you love seeks treatment for bulimia, and is offered something other than CBT first, it’s not unreasonable to ask why. Cynthia Bulik, director of the University of North Carolina Eating Disorders Program, summarized it this way: “Bulimia nervosa is treatable; some treatment is better than no treatment; CBT is associated with the best outcome.”

So the bottom line is this:

1. Most psychologists who don’t practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are just winging it, using treatments that haven’t been shown to work by scientific studies. It’s as if you went to a regular physician and got treatment with leaches!

2. Many psychologists claim to use CBT but haven’t really trained in the use of CBT, or have taken a weekend workshop. Unless they prescribe weekly homework that involves writing down thoughts, and learning skills to analyze and change your thoughts, then they aren’t really doing CBT, and I recommend you find someone else.

3. If you have an anxiety disorder, depression, bulimia, or obsessive compulsive disorder, and haven’t been offered CBT, then you are not receiving state of the art treatment.

Copyright © 2009 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

Overcoming Social Anxiety and Shyness

I’m often asked about social anxiety and shyness, and how to overcome them. I was lucky enough to be quoted in a Forbes Magazine article about that very topic. And here’s a link to a pdf of the article, which is easier to navigate. Enjoy!

Copyright © 2009 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

——————————————————————————————————————

Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

How to Deal with Teenage Depression: A New Study of Adolescent Depression and its Treatment

A new study reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found some interesting results of a study of teenage depression and its treatment.

This study of 439 teenage children with major depression, done at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas tested anti-depressant medication (fluoxetine or Prozac), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and a combination of both (COMB). They found that only 23% of the patients had their depression cured by 12 weeks of therapy. But 9 months of therapy was much more effective, with 60 percent going into remission.

The bad news though is that this means that almost half of the teenagers (40%) were still depressed after 9 months of therapy.

The good news is in terms of relapse. Of those who responded quickly to treatment, two-thirds retained the benefits of treatment over 9 months. The same was true of those who took longer to respond.

Which treatment was better? That is an interesting picture.

It depends at which time point you are looking at. At 12 weeks, the results for percentage fully remitted (cured) of depression were: combined drug and CBT therapy (37%), drug therapy only (23%), and CBT therapy only (16%). The combined therapy was significantly better than the other therapies. But note that overall, only 23% of the teenagers had recovered at 12 weeks, which means that 77% were still suffering!

But at nine months the outcomes look quite different. The combination therapy is still the best, but by less of a margin. The results for remission at at 9 months were: combination, 60%; drug, 55%; cognitive-behavioral therapy, 64%; and overall, 60%. By 24 weeks all the treatments were working well. But a full 40% of the teenagers were still depressed.

So the right answer to the question of which treatment works better is neither. Both drugs and cognitive behavioral therapy were equally effective, over the long term. But the combination of both was worked more quickly. As the researchers said, “choosing just one therapy might delay many teenagers’ recovery by 2 or 3 months.” As the saying goes, candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker, and we might conclude that drugs or CBT are dandy, but combined therapy is quicker.

So what does this mean to parents of depressed teenagers? Here are my takeaway messages:

  1. Don’t expect treatment for depression to work quickly. It may take more than 9 months of weekly treatment before your teenager responds to therapy. This means at least 40 sessions of therapy.
  2. Be patient, and set reasonable expectations for both yourself and for your child. Tell them that therapy will help, but it may take a while. Let support networks such as school counselors or trusted teachers know to be patient.
  3. Although medications and cognitive behavioral therapy were equally effective in the long run, the combination of both tended to work much more quickly. So if you can afford it, and have access to good practitioners who do cognitive behavioral therapy, use both.
  4. Be aware that in other studies, the relapse rate for medication treatment of depression was significantly higher than for cognitive behavioral therapy, once the medications are discontinued. So choosing medications only may increase the risk that your teenager will relapse into depression.
  5. Be aware that much teenage depression can be a reaction to social environments. This includes the family, the school, and peers. Be sure that your teen’s therapist is attuned to family, school, and peer issues. They should meet with the whole family at least several times.
  6. Take teenage depression seriously. It’s not just a phase. Teenage depression, when serious, can greatly increase the risk of suicide. All suspected depression should be evaluated by a professional and treated if present.

Copyright © 2009 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D. /The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

SOURCE: Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, February 2009 . And December 2006 issue too .

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.

The Magic of Behavior Therapy: True Stories


Although I’ve been practicing behaviorally oriented therapy for more than 20 years, I’m still amazed and delighted by its power and effectiveness. Here are four tales of behavior therapy, from both inside and outside my office, with children, adults, and even animals!

Playing with Spiders

I recently had a very satisfying experience in the clinical practice. A client of mine asked me if she could bring her grandchildren to a session, in order to work on their spider phobia.  I told her that if they were willing, I’d be happy to work with them. We would be able to make some progress by having the children look at pictures of spiders on my computer. The kids were 10 and 13, let’s call them David and Janet.

She surprised them (and me) by announcing at the beginning of the session that she had actually brought two live spiders in jars.  This changed my plans for the session. I told the kids that we would only work with the live spiders if they were comfortable doing so. (It’s not a good idea to spring surprises during desensitization sessions.)

So we started doing what is called desensitization.  This is a process where step-by-step, in a gradated way, the client is exposed to the fearful object.  We started off by looking at pictures of spiders on the web (pun not intended).  I picked less scary pictures at first, and I asked the children to rate their anxiety.  Then I asked them to see if they could lower their anxiety numbers.  We used a hundred point scale, and when they were able to lower their anxiety from 70 or 80 to 30 or below, we moved on to the next picture.

Eventually they were looking at pictures which were quite scary looking, even for me, and I like spiders!

Next we went on to work with the actual spiders.  There were two spiders.  One of them was a small daddy long-legs spider, and the other was a relatively small but scary looking spider.  I decided to work with the daddy long-legs spider, as it was slower moving, and less scary looking.

First I had them look at the spider in the jar.  Next I had them hold the jar.  They were able to do this fairly rapidly.  The next step was to open the jar, and look into the jar with the spider walking around inside the jar. David and Janet were able to do this without very much anxiety at all.

The next step was harder. It was to allow the spider to walk around on my office floor, and to have them touch the spider.  I made this a little bit easier by having them put on surgical gloves.  First I modeled the behavior for them.  I touched the spider, and then I allowed the spider to walk over my hand.

Now it was their turn.  First one, then the other, tentatively touched the spider.  At first their anxiety rating was quite high, 70 or 80.  Then I had them do this repeatedly, until they were able to do it with relatively low anxiety ratings of about 40.

One of the advantages of working with both of them simultaneously was that they were a bit competitive.  Janet was initially a little braver, but David quickly responded to this challenge, and matched her touch for touch.

Once they were comfortable touching the spider with gloves on, it was time to take the gloves off.  Once again I modeled for them touching the spider comfortably.  In a few minutes, they were able to allow the spider to walk over the back of their hand.  After a few minutes more, they were able to have the spider walk up their arm.

By the end of the session they were very comfortable playing with this small spider.  They were actually having fun playing with Mr. Daddy Long-Legs. And this was only a 60 minute session!

Once again, I was amazed at the power of simple behavioral tools.  Modeling — where the therapist demonstrates a behavior.  Gradated exposure — gradually exposing the person to increasingly fearful stimuli.  Reinforcement — where the therapist complements and praises the client for successful exposures.  Shaping — where the client is reinforced for behaviors that gradually approximate the target behavior.

In less than 60 minutes I was able to take these two brave children from being terrified of spiders to relative comfort with spiders.  Given that most people are not comfortable having a spider crawl up their arm, by the end of the session they had actually exceeded the comfort level of the average person.

(I recently got a follow-up report on the kids. According to grandma, David now can pick up dead spiders with his fingers, without using paper, which he could not do before. While his family was recently eating dinner, they noticed a large fly buzzing around. During their meal, the fly got caught in a spider web in the corner of nearby window. After the family had eaten dinner, they inspected the web and found the spider wrapping the fly. They left the web in place, deciding that it was beneficial, and David was comfortable with the arrangement. Janet reported that was able to put her hand on a picture of a big, multi-colored ugly black tarantula in her science textbook, with her mom watching. )

Bridging the Gap

Another opportunity for using the science of behavior therapy arose on a vacation. My partner and I were visiting Vancouver Canada, and one of the attractions there is the Capilano Suspension bridge (www.capbridge.com ). The bridge is a 6 foot wide suspension bridge which is 439 feet long, and 230 feet above a river gorge. It’s like the bridge in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, swaying as you walk across it.

There was only one catch, my partner is very afraid of heights. She hates any situation involving them, and doesn’t even like walking across the Golden Gate Bridge.

But I thought that this might be an opportunity for her to overcome this fear, and offered to do in vivo desensitization with her if she was willing.

So we did. First I had her approach the edge of the bridge, and once again, I had her rate her anxiety using a 100 point scale. Ninety, she said. I then asked her to use breathing and relaxation to lower the anxiety. Before long she was able to stand at the very end of the bridge.

Next I had her advance out a few feet onto the bridge, stay there as long as she needed, and then retreat to solid land. She repeated this several times, until it was more comfortable.

Then I modeled walking partly across the bridge. I went slowly and hesitantly, modeling caution and slowness rather than speed and bravado. A coping model that shows the person overcoming fear is more effective than a perfectly confident model, I have found.

She then walked 10 or so feet across the bridge, and stood on the swaying bridge. Fear spiked and then subsided.

All along, I was giving her a lot of praise and encouragement. Next she managed 15 feet, and then retreated. Then she advanced 20 feet, then 30, then 40, and so on, until she was able to walk all the way across the bridge. Once she had accomplished that success, I had her repeat the process until her comfort level increased. I even invited her to jump up and down on the bridge, to demonstrate her lowered fear levels.

By the end of our visit there, not only was she able to traverse the bridge (which I admit was scary, even for me), but she was also able to traverse another attraction, a catwalk that was built between a number of Douglas Fir trees, which at points is 100 feet off the forest floor. This required more desensitization, but was successful in the end.

By the end of the day my brave partner had successfully overcome a lifelong fear of heights, and experienced some tourist attractions that she never would have enjoyed previously. When I showed her the video of her walking across the bridge, she was amazed at what she had been able to do.

Which is what I truly love about behavioral therapy; the ability to quickly and without lengthy therapy to overcome lifelong fears and expand one’s personal horizons!

Shaping Sandy to Swim

Another technique of behavior therapy is called shaping. What is shaping? Shaping is a technique where you reinforce gradual approximations of that behavior until you achieve the full behavior.

I had an opportunity to utilize shaping last summer when we spent some time at Lake Tahoe. We were renting a house on the beach, and our next-door neighbors had an adorable golden retriever named Sandy. Sandy loved to play on the beach, and her favorite game was fetch. But she wouldn’t go in the water past her ankles, and was afraid to swim. The owner said that she had never been willing to swim, even though they came up to Lake Tahoe regularly. The dog was about three years old.

I was challenged. Could I use behavior therapy to help Sandy overcome her fear of water and start swimming? I knew one thing; that dogs instinctively know how to swim, so it wasn’t a question of skill.

I decided to utilize the technique of shaping. First I made friends with Sandy by playing fetch on the beach. Pretty soon whenever I came out to the beach Sandy would run over with a stick to play.

Next I trained Sandy to follow me with the stick. She would follow me anywhere on the beach. Then I went into the water and encouraged her to follow me a few feet in order to grab the stick. She was willing to come into the water a little bit. I would praise her, and I would play some more with her on the beach.

Next I made it a little bit more difficult. In order to grab the stick she had to follow me into the water a few feet more.

I kept repeating this, each time requiring her to follow me further out into the water. Pretty soon she was following me five or 10 feet out into the water, but she still wasn’t swimming. Her feet were still on the bottom.

Next I used a slightly different technique. This time I had her come out into the water and grab the stick with her mouth. Instead of releasing it, I held on and moved out deeper into the water. Pretty soon her feet were off the bottom and she was swimming. I would then let go and she would swim back to shore, shake off, and play with me some more. The first time I did this she seemed a little perturbed, but quickly got into the game.

Over a couple of training sessions during the same day I continued this process. She got more and more confident, and was willing to swim out to grab the stick.

Finally I had her owner call to her while swimming in the deeper part of the beach. I threw a tennis ball out to the owner, and Sandy much to everyone’s surprise, swam out to the owner, grabbed the tennis ball, and swam back to the beach!

After that, Sandy seemed comfortable swimming in order to fetch a stick or a ball, even when it required her to swim in deeper water. Shaping had allowed her to learn gradually to overcome her fear and be able to swim with comfort.

The owners were amazed, as many times they had tried to coax her into the water. All I did was apply systematic methods of behavior therapy in order to allow Sandy to succeed. I shaped Sandy to swim, and she followed her destiny as a waterdog retriever.

Finding the Right Reinforcer

I want to tell one more story about behavior therapy, this time with dogs.

Although I’m a human therapist, I am very fond of dogs, and if I had an alternate career it would be as a dog trainer.

My friends Marli and Stu have two adorable dogs.  They are Papillons, which are small cute toy dogs, who look a little bit like the gremlin "Gizmo" in the movie Gremlins .  They have the same floppy ears and big eyes. (But they don’t turn into monsters if you feed them after midnight!)
In an effort to make their lives a bit more convenient, my friends had installed a dog door into their bedroom so that the dogs could go outside without needing help.

The problem was that neither Vinnie, the older dog, nor Bowie, the younger dog, was willing to use the dog door.  They were both afraid of it.  After weeks and weeks of hoping the dogs would figure out how to use the door, they still had not. Stu and Marli kept putting the dogs through the door, but the dogs never figured out how to use the door on their own.

Enter the confident behavior therapist, who offered to solve this problem.  I was very confident that I could use food treats to entice the dogs through the door.  Once having learned how to go through the dog door, I felt that they would continue to use it without treats.

I asked my friends not to feed the dogs the day I came over so that the dogs would be hungry and more motivated by food.

To make a long story short, I failed miserably.  I was able to coax the dogs through the dog door by physically picking them up and pushing them through the door, but no amount of food treats would entice them to go through the door.  They seemed uninterested in food treats. After several hours of trying everything I could think of, I gave up.

This bothered me greatly.  Had I lost my behavior therapist powers?  Had the technology failed?  That night, as I tried to fall asleep, I found myself obsessing a lot about the problem.  Just as I was about to fall asleep I realized the solution.

Can you guess what the solution was?  I will give you a hint that it had to do with what type of reinforcements I had selected.  Let me give you one more hint.  Both of these dogs are very attached to my friend Marli.  They like Stu, but they are crazy about Marli! They follow her everywhere. When she comes home from work they go nuts wanting to play with her.

The solution was to change the reinforcement.  Instead of putting food on the other side of the dog door, I needed to put Love!  What I did was to have a Marli call her husband Stu right before she came home.  Then he would put the dogs outside.  She would come inside the house, and call to the dogs through the dog door.  The first time she did this both dogs dove through the dog door as if it wasn’t even there!

The next time she came home she came through the yard, and called to the dogs from the outside.  Once again, motivated by love, they were very willing to use the dog door to get outside.

After a few days, they no longer had to use this procedure, as the dogs were happily using the dog door on their own.  Behavior therapy had triumphed once again, but it required a more careful behavioral analysis of what these particular dogs found reinforcing.  They were more motivated by love than by food.

And that’s a key secret…sometimes the best motivators are subtle, and never forget the power of love to motivate! If reinforcement isn’t working, it’s probably because you are not using the right reinforcement.


Copyright 2008 Andrew Gottlieb, Ph.D./The Psychology Lounge/TPL Productions

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Dr. Andrew Gottlieb is a clinical psychologist in Palo Alto, California. His practice serves the greater Silicon Valley area, including the towns of San Jose, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Redwood City, Belmont, and San Mateo. Dr. Gottlieb specializes in treating anxiety, depression, relationship problems, OCD, and other difficulties using evidence-based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is a modern no-drug therapy approach that is targeted, skill-based, and proven effective by many research studies. Visit his website at CambridgeTherapy.com or watch Dr. Gottlieb on YouTube. He can be reached by phone at (650) 324-2666 and email at: Dr. Gottlieb Email.