Solve Problems: Beck Day 34
Saturday, March 05, 2011
I'm wondering how many Beck devotees skip or blip over this lesson? Because: as a cognitive psychology technique, this "solve problems" lesson is rigorous, daunting and intellectually demanding -- if a person were to carry it out conscientiously each and every time the issue arises.
In telling us how to solve problems, Beck actually synthesizes three of her earlier approaches. She shows us how to tackle the issue of emotional eating head on. And here the text is far more detailed than the workbook in explaining how it's done.
You've got problems? So do we all. All the time. Big ones and little ones. So don't soothe emotion with eating, she told us yesterday (Day 33). Today, Day 34, she expands upon that instruction by telling us how to deal with emotions that erupt because of problems.
First strategy: identify the problem that's triggering the emotion. Don't just stuff it down with food. Don't smother it. Pull it out and look at it.
What's really bothering me? I should specify the negative thought. And then I should respond to the negative thought.
Responding to the negative thought is, of course, Day 27 revisited -- using the Seven Question Technique.
And the first of the seven questions (what kind of error in thinking am I making?) is Day 26 revisited.
Here's a condensed refresher of the Day 26 "errors in thinking": All or nothing thinking? Jumping to conclusions? Negative fortune telling? Positive fortune telling? Discounting the positive? Emotional reasoning? Labeling? Mind reading? Self-deluding thinking? Dysfunctional rules? Irrelevance? Exaggeration?
OK, pretty vague in the abstract. Let's apply this to a typical problem I have over and over again. Suppose I come home from work stressed and exhausted, and jerk open the cupboard door to stuff my face with four generous tablespoonfuls of peanut butter, standing up. (Not an unfamiliar pattern, pre-Beck!! And logged too -- except logged as 1 tablespoon. Or maybe two, if I were feeling particularly "honest" that day!!).
But that was pre-Beck. And this is post-Beck. So I've gotta stop!! No peanut butter. (It's hidden behind the bag of large flake oatmeal so I no longer see it right away.)
I am now to ask myself. What's really bothering me?
Typical answer: x case involving vulnerable young children and a custody battle.
I generally have quite a number of these situations percolating at any given time, each one of which is highly fact-specific, emotionally gruelling, and matters intensely to my client (one of the parents). But presumably matters even more to the children, who are generally non-represented in the court proceeding, and therefore are persons whom I never meet. On purpose, of course: it would be entirely inappropriate to involve the children with one "side" through mum's or dad's counsel. So I know the children only through my client's description of the children, which is inevitably coloured by bias and bitterness. But kids do matter so much to me.
What's the thinking error? Let's say it was a bad day in court, an apparently hostile response from the judge at a preliminary proceeding. And I find myself thinking that I'm never going to resolve this case satisfactorily. It's hopeless.
Thinking error? Take your pick. Exaggeration. Jumping to conclusions. Negative fortune telling too . . . and dysfunctional rules (gotta win, no matter what).
Next step in problem solving is the second of the seven questions : what evidence is there that this thought is true or untrue? There's substantial evidence based upon past experience that it is untrue: most cases feel desperate at some point but do achieve some measure of resolution. And nobody "wins" a custody battle: the only sure result is that the children will lose if it's not managed carefully.
Is there another way to view this situation? Yes: confidence in the justice system and the residual good will of the parties (both of whom presumably care about their children) and opposing counsel.
What is the most realistic outcome of this situation? Generally speaking the justice system works, parents become less adversarial over time, and the best interests of children do prevail.
What is the effect of my believing this is a hopeless situation? I'll give up. And stress eat probably as well. Which will not help anyone (especially the children) and which will make myself feel much much worse.
What is the effect of my changing my thinking? I'll increase my own sense of self-confidence and self-discipline. Which will help me focus on all of the alternative strategies I've learned through training and experience. Including helping my client learn how to side step the conflict right now and for the next 15 years or so of inevitable co-parenting going forward. Which is likely to achieve a better result for everyone (although maybe not a perfect result).
What advice would I give a friend in this situation? Call in the appropriate resources. We can attempt to invoke the expertise of a mental health expert to assist in resolving the dispute . . . mediator, social worker . . . maybe try collaborative approaches. . . the key is helping both parties and counsel "save face" so no one is labelled "the bad guy".
What should I do now? Close the cupboard, put down the spoon, start heating a bowl of my soup (as per my planned meal tracked yesterday in the Nutrition Tracker), leave the kitchen while that's happening, remind myself that hunger is not an emergency, email myself at work a short memo of what steps I plan to initiate tomorrow, and forget about the problem for now.
I can distract myself by running up the stairs (a little spontaneous exercise . . . back down and up again a couple more times??), patting Charlie and playing with him, getting out of my business suit into my jeans (maybe try that size 6 pair on, see how they're feeling today???) and check my Spark page for comments!! Yeah!!! And then return to the kitchen, eat my soup sitting down slowly and mindfully enjoying every bite. And make myself a bowlful of fresh raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries and Greek fat free yogourt, also in my Nutrition Tracker . . . filling, satisfying, delicious, all for way fewer calories than those four tablespoonfuls of peanut butter.
OK, Beck is absolutely right. She helps me understand just why weight loss and weight maintenance is about way way more than food. Like SP also tells us. And like my life tells me too. When I pay attention.
It may be true that Beck's problem solving approach is quite idealistic.
It's a lot of work. More work than just stuffing myself with peanut butter. But the peanut butter approach doesn't actually help. In fact, it makes me feel worse right away. Even before I've got the peanut butter taste out of my mouth.
And it's not more work than worrying myself silly, non-productively.
Are all problems capable of resolution using Beck's strategy? No, they are not. Some parents can never learn to put their children's interests first. Some opposing counsel can never resist the desire to "win" at any cost.
Some things (lots of things!! and not just work problems) are beyond my control. There are no guarantees. Beck acknowledges that.
But even if I can't resolve the problem, maybe I can make it a little better. I should try it. And if it doesn't work, at least I can believe that I did my best. That I didn't contribute to making it worse.
Oh, well. Oh, well. Oh, well. Oh, well.
One thing for sure, I can solve one problem. And that would be the peanut butter problem.
So long as I come back to Day 34 and problem solve over and over again, as needed -- and it will be needed -- for the indefinite future.