A Remedy for Dealing with Anxiety and Depression

Psychiatrist David D. Burns talks about the importance of walking to the gates of hell with his patients when dealing with anxiety and depression.


| January/February 2014



Helping Hands with Depression

When Burns asks a therapist who would have backed off when Terri said she was going to die, almost all raise their hands—despite knowing that the best treatment for most people with anxiety is exposure to very thing they fear most.

Illustration By Wayne Brezinka

The patient looks around frantically. She is sobbing, panicking, overwhelmed by anxiety. She says she can’t breathe; her lungs are about to collapse; her heart is about to stop. She feels like she is going to die.

Listening to this, Stanford psychiatrist David D. Burns calmly asks, “Do you think you could exercise strenuously right now?” Terri doesn’t know; she just feels so bad. “Why don’t we find out?” Burns suggests. “What’s the most strenuous exercise you could do? Jumping jacks? Running in place?”

Uncomfortable, nervous laughter breaks out among the 100 psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and family and marriage counselors watching the scene unfold on a large video screen. It’s part of Scared Stiff!—a two-day seminar on fast, drug-free treatment for anxiety and depression that Burns is giving in a nondescript hotel ballroom outside Chicago.

Some of the therapists have come because they want to hear what Burns has to say. The author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, one of the most successful psychotherapy books ever written, he’s had 35,000 therapy sessions with depressed and anxious patients and as many as 50,000 therapists have attended his training programs over the past 35 years. Others need continuing education credits to maintain their licenses. To Burns, their reasons don’t matter; he’s determined to help them become better therapists. Why? Because he knows their deepest insecurity as professionals: that week in, week out, many are failing to help their patients in a profound and lasting way.

On the video, Terri says “I feel dumb” as she runs in place. “That’s okay,” Burns says. “If you have to feel dumb to get well, it would be worth it.” Terri says she feels dizzy. “OK, well just keep going,” Burns says, and then asks her to try some jumping jacks.

At this, the therapists laugh out loud, not because the scene is funny but because of Burns’ quiet audacity.

highrpm
1/28/2015 2:17:08 PM

cbt works fine for daily control of common neuroses. for the deeper issues of personality and characterological disorders, one needs heavier duty stuff like object relations therapy. combating the symptoms of negative thought with cognitive and dialectical behavior therapy is not going to repair the disabling damage done by arrested development that is evidenced by paranoid-schizoid behavior and the schizoid barrier. the british school of object relations is not all for naught.