Saturday, February 25, 2012

depression is stupid - part 5

I've mentioned my therapist several times in this space. I've had a few therapy experiences. When I was a kid, my family was in group therapy. Even prior to that, I saw the psychological counselor at my grade school a few times, during my first depressive episode, I think. In high school, I was somehow referred to an awful psychologist who had a fixed theory about adolescent development, and insisted I fit the profile he was interested in. He was worse than useless, and may have written a series of fantastically successful and terribly damaging books based on his pet theory. I saw a therapist back at UNC-Charlotte, who was excellent the first few times I saw him, but then suddenly had a revelation about his work and, like that awful jerk I saw in high school, started making everyone fit his pet theory.

I saw a student psychotherapist at Duquesne a couple times. I liked the idea of it, because Duquesne is one of very few psych PhD programs in the US that adopt a phenomenological/existentialist approach. I'm not sure how helpful that experience was to me, primarily because it was only about three sessions. She decided not to continue our sessions, and, to be candid, I think it was because we were both very attracted to one another.

Years later, here in California, miserably depressed, I called the mental health hotline that I have access to through our insurance, and they hooked me up with my therapist in Modesto. They gave me two or three names and phone numbers, and I had to call them. She was the first one I reached.

By that point, I was pretty jaded about psychotherapy. I knew I didn't want someone operating out of what is basically a behaviorist model (like the guy at UNCC, and, really, the jerk in high school). I had doubts about psychoanalysis (still do). So, in our first contact, I asked my would-be therapist about her methodology. She was taken aback. She was also a little amused at my arrogance - a theme that would repeat throughout our relationship.

In retrospect, she was deeply committed to cognitive therapy. I gotta say, cognitive therapy is stupid.

The thing is, depressives have distorted pictures of reality. We think in terms of doom, all-or-nothing options, and we repeat to ourselves messages that damage us. For instance, in a really good bout of depression, I tell myself, about 4 dozen times a day, that I'm a terrible, worthless person.

The gist of cognitive therapy is to counteract those distortions by deliberately introducing a different set of messages. My therapist had me do this by actually writing myself notes of affirmation. Whenever I heard that negative message in my head, I was supposed to pull a piece of paper out of a pocket and read it: "You're a caring person" or "You're a good teacher" or "You're kind" - crap like that.

And it is crap. It's indescribably stupid. Think about this scenario. You're miserable. You're at work, and you're fighting against crying for no reason at all. You have to go be in front of other people in a few moments, and you believe you will fail. You think you're a fraud. So, what you do is, you reach into your pocket, and there's a folded piece of paper in there that says something inane like "You do things that make the world a better place." That's supposed to make you think differently about the situation, turn off the negative messages, and give you the fortitude to go do what needs doing.

This is what's stupid about cognitive therapy, from my experience: it works.

Since cognitive therapy is that stupid, it must be the case that either I'm that stupid, or depression is that stupid. Wait, let me read this folded piece of paper. It says "You're a smart person." Obviously, then, depression is stupid.

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