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The Teen Mind

Updated 2 days ago

Kids & Family
Health & Fitness
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David Washburn is 16 and his life is unraveling. Sheila, his mom, is desperate and thinking: What is happening to my son, and what can I do to help? The Teen Mind hunts for answers to these questions, while following David and his family as they struggle with his anxiety and anger. Not a parent? Don’t worry. This show is for anyone who is curious about how the mind works, and how to get along better with those closest to you.Tags: parenting, parenting teens, teen depression, teen anxiety, teen, teens, teenager, counseling, therapy, mental health, anxiety, depression

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David Washburn is 16 and his life is unraveling. Sheila, his mom, is desperate and thinking: What is happening to my son, and what can I do to help? The Teen Mind hunts for answers to these questions, while following David and his family as they struggle with his anxiety and anger. Not a parent? Don’t worry. This show is for anyone who is curious about how the mind works, and how to get along better with those closest to you.Tags: parenting, parenting teens, teen depression, teen anxiety, teen, teens, teenager, counseling, therapy, mental health, anxiety, depression

iTunes Ratings

9 Ratings
Average Ratings
8
1
0
0
0

Come back Corey!

By NCJillHam - Mar 08 2019
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Listened to all six episodes tonight bc my 15 year old daughter is struggling with anxiety. Would love to hear more from this wise man. Please?

Teen Anxiety Explained!

By Tiffer1971 - Apr 17 2016
Read more
I have really enjoyed listening to this podcast. Wonderfully helpful in relating to our teen.

iTunes Ratings

9 Ratings
Average Ratings
8
1
0
0
0

Come back Corey!

By NCJillHam - Mar 08 2019
Read more
Listened to all six episodes tonight bc my 15 year old daughter is struggling with anxiety. Would love to hear more from this wise man. Please?

Teen Anxiety Explained!

By Tiffer1971 - Apr 17 2016
Read more
I have really enjoyed listening to this podcast. Wonderfully helpful in relating to our teen.

Best weekly hand curated episodes for learning

Cover image of The Teen Mind

The Teen Mind

Latest release on May 23, 2016

Best weekly hand curated episodes for learning

The Best Episodes Ranked Using User Listens

Updated by OwlTail 2 days ago

Warning: This podcast has few episodes.

This means there isn't enough episodes to provide the most popular episodes. Here's the rankings of the current episodes anyway, we recommend you to revisit when there's more episodes!

Rank #1: 6 - Loosen Your Grip

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On today's show, we talk about a force that has the potential to make an impact on the depression and anxiety of millions of people.  What is that force, and how can it help you and your family.  

So, what’s up with David? One thing I haven’t told you about him yet, is that David is Catholic. And every Wednesday night, he goes to confirmation class. His teacher is nice, and tries really hard to get this group of teenagers to care about the class, but the fact is that most of them don’t want to be there.

David spends the time daydreaming, and he mostly thinks about homework and friends, the usual teenage stuff, but on one particular Wednesday night, he’s not in a great mood, and he starts thinking about how much this feels like a waste of time. And a resentment starts to build.

It starts as a resenting this class, but quickly builds to resenting his teacher, his priest, his church, and then pretty soon, he’s feeling a pretty intense anger toward the Catholic church as a whole.

For his whole life, David’s gone through the motions, first confession, first communion, and now confirmation, and he never really questioned anything until this confirmation class.   One way the class has influenced him is that it has forced him to think: Do I believe this stuff? Do I really belong here?

And so on this Wednesday night, his resentment gets him thinking a lot more about these hard questions, “Why doesn’t anyone ever talk about if God is real or not? They talk about God like it’s a given that we just believe in him, but what if I’m not sure. It’s like everyone is just going through the motions, just coming to this stupid class because our parents make us, because that’s what you’re supposed to do. I can’t believe I’m sitting here, pretending like I’m 100% on board, filling out this worksheet like a good little Catholic boy.”

He wants to stand up and just say this to the entire room, to just unleash the doubt and profanity that’s swirling around in his head. But, his anxiety part is not going to let that happen, so instead, he opens up to a blank page in his notebook, and goes to town. He writes this angry rant with so much passion, that he tears the page with his pen. Every third word is an F bomb, and as he goes, he feels the pressure that’s been building in his head start to release.

He’s still writing as the teacher dismisses class, and he takes some deep breaths, and goes home.

Hi I’m Corey Busch, and you’re listening to The Teen Mind. Today, as you guessed, we’re talking about faith…I know, didn’t see that one coming. We normally think about religion and God in this box over here, and then mental health in this other box over there. But really, they are very closely related. Religion can have a negative impact on mental health, and it can have a positive impact. Today, we’re going to talk about how faith in a higher power can be a huge benefit to a person’s mental health, and why the teenage years are so important in the formation of faith.  

But first, back to David.

That night, he can’t stop thinking about it. He wants to drop out of confirmation, he wants to write an angry letter to the priest or the bishop or the pope or all of them.   But most of all, he just wants to talk to someone, he still feels like he needs to get this off his chest, to know that he’s not the only person that thinks these things.

So, he works up the guts to say something to his mom. His anxiety is worked up, but it’s not completely taking over. So he goes to his mom and says,

“Mom, what’s the point of going to confirmation class? It’s super boring and I just really don’t want to do it.”

Sheila closes her book. She just sits there for a few seconds, thinking of what to say. She starts with what she thinks she’s supposed to say:

“Well, umm…y’know ummm, I didn’t love my confirmation class, but I’m really glad I went because, yknow, it…it umm…was kind of a necessary thing to getting to where I am now with my faith.”

She sees him look down and nod, like, “I thought that’s what you’d say.” But She can’t let this rare chance to have a real conversation with her teenage boy slip through her fingers, so she changes her approach:

(big breath)

“Yknow, David, I kindof just said that because I didn’t know what else to say. What’s on your mind…what are you thinking about?”

“I just don’t see the point in any of this…confirmation, going to church, saying the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary.” Like the only reason I do all that is because it’s what I’m supposed to be doing, and it doesn’t even mean anything to me, and it’s making me really angry, I guess. Y’know everyone talks about God like, ‘of course he exists’, and I don’t know…I don’t know if I believe in God…What if God doesn’t exist, like I feel like I can’t even say that.”

He expects his mom to be shocked or angry or upset, but she isn’t. She is surprisingly calm. She just smiles at him.

“Y’know I thought these same things when I was your age. I never had the guts to say them out loud. I’m glad you did.”

He let out a long, slow breath.

“Can I tell you a story?” She asks.

“Okay.”

“For a long time, I didn’t know if I believed in God. As I got older, especially when you were born, I knew that I really wanted to believe, but I still wasn’t sure. I didn’t even know exactly what it meant to believe in God.

And then, we got a new priest, Father Julian was his name, and he was really smart, like just a very intelligent guy. And he talked about Jesus and God with such a passion, that it helped me to get over these thoughts that said, “I’m too smart to believe in God,” because if this, very smart man believes, then heck, I can believe too.

“But the big thing was your dad’s depression. There was a time there when his depression made me really angry and depressed, and I was so angry at him and feeling sorry for myself. And it was right during the worst of it, that Father Julian started talking, it seemed like every week, about how no matter how much pain you’re going through, no matter how alone you feel, that the most powerful being in the universe is on your side, not in an abstract way, but in a personal, very real way. He’s giving you a hug and telling you that he loves you no matter how messed up you are.

And even now, there is a part of me that doesn’t know for sure if God is real, but there’s a much bigger part that knows believing in him is really good for me.

“I don’t know…does that help?”

“Yeah, it does. So, wait…you don’t know if you believe in God?”

So, I’m going to talk for myself, as Corey, and not as one of these characters, and I’m just going to put my cards on the table right now. I am a Christian, and a big reason I’m doing this episode is because my faith in God has helped tremendously with my anxiety, and I think that there is a very important place for spirituality when talking about mental health.

So, one thing I am not trying to do is convince anyone that you should believe in God. I don’t think I’m capable of doing that, and it’s just not my goal. Another thing I’m not trying to do is convince anyone that Christianity is better than other religions. Again, even if I wanted to do this, I wouldn’t be able to.

But I do want to say that faith in a higher power, who I’ll call God, has the potential to help a lot with anxiety, depression, and a whole bunch of other mental health problems. And if you believe in God, or think you might want to believe in God, or are curious about the mental health benefits of believing in God, then stay with me.

I first want to quickly acknowledge though some of the big negative impacts that religion can have on mental health. One of the biggest ones, I think, is when religion makes people think they have to follow certain rules, or have a certain sexual or gender identity, or even that they have to “be a good person” in order to belong, and be loved by God, and go to heaven. This kind of religion I think can be very harmful to people’s mental health. So I just want to be upfront about that. Religion is not some perfect thing that’s always going to be helpful.

So I want us to think about David, and his anxiety, and think back to a few episodes ago, when we talked about how David’s anxiety was born. It was born to protect him from rejection, especially rejection from his parents. And for most of us with anxiety or depression, this same fear plays a big part for us too. We are afraid of being rejected, because, as far our brains are concerned, rejection leads to death.

And so, as parents, one lesson we can learn from this is that it’s important to show our kids unconditional love and acceptance. But, we are human, we mess up, we get mad, we do things, no matter how great of parents we are, that send a message of rejection to our kids’ brains. There are no parents who give their kids perfect, unconditional love. But there is one being who does: God.

And even if you don’t believe that God exists, you still can acknowledge that the belief in a perfect being who loves you perfectly, no matter how much you screw up, no matter if everyone else thinks you’re a complete failure, that belief has the power to calm your panicking amygdala. Because no matter what happens, you can never be rejected by God.

And I think it’s important here to say that this is probably a very different understanding of God and Christianity than some of you are familiar with, especially if you hear people talking about how if you do this or don’t do that, then you’re going to hell and God hates you. Well, there’s a whole bunch of really intelligent Christians, I’ll mention their podcasts at the end of the show, who don’t believe that.

Listen to them, and you’ll hear that God is a perfect parent, that he loves you no matter what you do, and that he will never be disappointed in you or yell at you. He will just say, “yeah, you made a mistake, but I still love you just as much as I did before.” And, I’m just going to say it again, because I think it’s a really big deal: When you’re having anxiety or depression, you can tell your amygdala, “I understand you’re afraid of being rejected, but I can never be rejected by God.” And if you really believe this, then it will help your amygdala calm down, and your anxiety or depression will calm down with it.

And so what does this have to do with David? Well, David is in one of the most important stages of his life for faith development. The teenage years are when a lot of people really make their decision about God. Think about it, until adolescence, your brain is just not equipped to really decide whether or not you believe in God. And so when David is 16, and is forced, really in his confirmation class, to think about God, it’s the first time in his life he’s really ever asked himself that question: Do I believe?

And as adults in our kids’ lives, no matter what belief system you have, it is extremely important to ask our kids questions faith, and then to just listen. In these conversations, the less we adults talk, the better.

Because another thing that’s happening for teenagers, is that they’re trying to figure out their identity. And if you try to tell a teenager what his identity is, he’s probably just going to reject that for no other reason than that you’re trying to force it on him.

And it turns out that identity is really important, not just in terms of which religious group do you belong to or not belong to, but it’s crucially important in the deepest meaning of faith, no matter what the religion.

I was listening to a guy talk about God and faith, and he said, when you think about the question, “who am I?” what comes up first for you? Is it, “I am a parent or I’m a friend, maybe it’s I’m an engineer, or a teacher, or maybe it’s I’m black or I’m gay, or I’m Chinese, or maybe it’s I’m kind or athletic or hard-working. Or is your answer, your first answer: “I am a child of God.”  

What he was really asking was, what’s most important in your life, what is your primary identity? Your family, your career, your race, nationality or is it God? Because if you believe in God, but he’s not the most important thing, even more important than your family, your friends, your career, what he was saying is that you’re not doing it right.  

And for me, and I think for most of us, my initial reaction was, wait a second here. I believe in God, I go to church, I pray sometimes, and now you’re asking me to make God more important than anything else in my life? More important than my family? I don’t know about that man. That sounds extreme.

And I’ll tell you, I’m still wrestling with this now, but I can tell you that I think I get it. Because if the most important thing in my life is my family, then when things aren’t going great with my family, that’s going to really bring me down. But if God is the most important, then, when family life gets tough, it doesn’t hit me as hard, and I’ll be able to be more mentally healthy with my family, and more supportive to them when they need me.

So, essentially, what this argument is saying is that faith has the power to bring about a deep sense of security and calm, even through really tough times. But most of the benefits don’t come if our primary identity is in something other than God.

Let me give you an example: For many of the parents I work with, their primary identity is as parents. This means that when things aren’t going well for their kid, deep down, they are afraid their kid will end up a failure, which then means they’re a failure as a parent. And if their primary identity is their parenthood, then failure as a parent is very scary for their amygdala. So they get very anxious or angry, and try harder to control their kid, to stop them from messing up. And the harder they fight for control, the more they push their kid away, and the worse things get.

And so it sounds like I’m making an argument for an all-or-nothing mindset about faith. If you’re going to believe in God, then you have to be all-in. Well, yes and no. But what I’m really saying is that all-in is the goal, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to always be there.

Most of the time, I’m aiming to make God a bigger part of my life, but there’s also a part of me that crops up sometimes that thinks he probably doesn’t even exist.

So, what I’m really trying to say is that if you want faith to have a bigger impact on your mental health, then you need to decide what’s the goal? Is it to make God the most important thing in your life? Or is something else? And if you choose to make God your primary identity, then you can just talk with him. And it might sound something like a conversation Sheila had with God during Tom’s depression.

She said,

God, I don’t know what to do. I feel so angry and miserable so much of the time. I’m so worried that Tom’s depression is going to be horrible for David. I want to quit work to be home with him, but we need to pay the bills. I want to make Tom go away until he gets over this, but I can’t do that either. Tell me what to do, please.

And using her mind’s voice, God said to her, “Give David to me, and I will protect him.”   And she imagined letting David go from her tightly wrapped arms and releasing him to God. And her anger and worry didn’t go away, but a calm security entered her body that gave her a small sense of peace. And without that, she may have had a breakdown herself, which would have made things even worse for David.

And so the most important thing you can do as a parent, or as a human being, to care for those around you, is to loosen you grip on them. And the only way to do this, is to tighten your grip on God. We humans need something to hold tightly. And for most Americans, we choose our families, our friends, or our jobs. And the thing about choosing to make God the most important part of your life is that it does not diminish your relationship with your family, friends or career, but it enhances it. Because when you don’t worry as much about making people mad at you, or about screwing up a big project, you’re more free to be yourself, and just a happier, more productive person.  

And so at the dining room table, on that Wednesday night, David unleashes his angry rant against the Catholic Church. And where most parents would try to steer their child in a more rational or mature direction, Sheila just hears God say, once again, “give David to me.” And she remembers, she can’t control him, she can’t make him believe in God or be a Catholic. And so she loosens her grip, and she does not argue with him or point out why he’s wrong. She just listens, stays curious about his story, and when he’s done, she says, two of the most important words a parent can say to their child: “I understand.”

If you want to hear more people talk about God in a way that will help you or your teen’s mental health, listen to the podcasts put out by Mercy Vineyard Church in Minneapolis, and by Tim Keller, who’s at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

May 23 2016

32mins

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Rank #2: 5 - No One Will Ever Love Me

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We take a close look at David’s mind using an approach that has probably helped more people with anxiety and depression than any other mental health model.

Tags: parenting, parenting teens, parenting skills, teen depression, teen anxiety, teen, teens, teenager, counseling, therapy, mental health, anxiety, depression, anxiety in teens, anxiety in children, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Internal Family Systems, Mindfulness, CBT

It’s a Friday in late February, and David is in English class. Ms. Washington, the teacher who triggers his anxiety the most, is passing back graded papers. She hands them back face down on each student’s desk as they file into class.   David sees her approach his desk, and his anxiety rises some, but not as much as it used to. He looks up and meets her gaze, and suddenly it’s like his throat is on fire and his heartbeat is smashing against his chest. Her face is sharp, her mouth small and serious, and in that moment, David is certain he knows what she is thinking. He can almost hear her thoughts saying, “This paper is pathetic, and I am very disappointed in you, and your parents are disappointed in you, and everyone is disappointed in you.”

He knows that when he turns that paper over, it’s going to be a bad grade, a D or an F. He’s sweating as he flips it over and—he can’t believe it. It’s an A-, the best grade he’s gotten from her all year.

Hello, I’m Corey Busch and you’re listening to the Teen Mind—the show where we follow one teenager and his family and learn to change the way we understand our minds and the minds of the people closest to us.

So, today, we take a close look at David’s mind using a model that has probably helped more people with anxiety and depression than any other mental health model.

And a few quick notes: David and his family are fictional characters. Any resemblance to real people is strictly coincidental.   Also, if you haven’t already, I recommend starting from episode 1 and working your way through before listening to this one.

So David feels relieved by this A-, but he also feels stupid and embarrassed. He was sure that this paper was a disaster. How could he have been so wrong?

And as he thinks about it, he realizes how ridiculous he was being. Why would he think that he could figure out his grade based on Ms. Washington’s facial expression? She made that face all the time. That’s just how she looks.

By this time, David has practiced talking with his anxiety enough, that he decides to ask it, “why did you get so worried just because she made a mean face?” And a few seconds later, in his mind, he hears it reply, “Because I don’t want you to get rejected, and that face looks like rejection.”

Up until now, David hadn’t been paying much attention to the thoughts brought on by his anxiety. He’d been focused on the feelings of it: the burning in his throat, his pounding chest, the vague sense of dread. But after this episode with Ms. Washington, he decides, again, to just pay attention. So over the next few days, he carries a small notebook, and records a tick mark every time his anxiety makes him think irrationally. And he is surprised by what he finds.

His anxiety makes him think he can read minds.

Not in an ESP kind of way, but in just the way he did with Ms. Washington. For example, almost every time he talks with his friends, he feels a low-level anxiety, which is accompanied by a running narrative of what he imagines his friends are thinking. And sometimes it’s positive, but it’s often not.

“she thinks I’m an idiot; they don’t actually like me, they’re just being nice because they feel sorry for me; they must think that was a stupid thing to say.”

And so he’s keeping track of these mind-reading thoughts, and , after several days, something starts to happen: He notices fewer tick marks each day. His anxious thoughts are decreasing. And after about 3 weeks, the whole feeling of anxiety, burning throat and everything else that comes with it, has actually calmed down.

And so after months of fighting this anxiety, it is finally decreasing thanks to some tick marks in a pocket-size notebook.

How does that work? How is it possible that such a simple strategy can affect a problem as difficult as anxiety?

Well, to understand this, we need to talk about a concept from episode 2, the anxiety cycle. Think back to David’s first anxiety attack, when he got that C-. Let’s take a close look at that again: It started with his amygdala perceiving a dangerous situation and starting up the fight or flight response, which he then felt in his body as a burning in his throat, increased heart rate, and all those other fun feelings that come with anxiety. Then, a few seconds later, his automatic thoughts took over, saying things like, “Everyone is going to think you’re a failure, and you’ll probably never be loved again.”

And remember, these thoughts are so powerful, that his amygdala believes he is in real danger, and it triggers David’s fight or flight response again, starting the whole cycle over.

So, if it weren’t for these automatic thoughts, whispering apocalyptic things into his mind, like “no one is ever going to love you again,” Then there would be no cycle, and the anxiety would just end after an hour or so.

And this idea of breaking the cycle of anxiety by interrupting automatic thoughts: That is the strategy of the model we’re focusing on today: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT.

Now, if you know one thing about modern psychotherapy, it’s probably CBT. It is one of the most widely used models of therapy, and is very effective at treating lots of mental health problems, like anxiety and depression.

To understand CBT, we need to first take a close look at the automatic thoughts themselves. All of us have experienced them. They are negative and extreme, but there’s more to it than that. What makes automatic thoughts different is that they are untrue.

And this is important. Just because a thought is negative doesn’t mean it’s unhelpful. For example, David could have the thought: “My friends hate it when I don’t answer their calls and texts.” Well, that thought is negative, but if he’s gotten that feedback from his friends, then it’s probably accurate and helpful: not an automatic thought. But if his next thought is, “My friends hate me and think I’m a jerk and probably just hang out with me out of pity,” that’s a different story, because it’s not at all true: that is an automatic thought.

And right here, I want to talk about how teenage brains are especially susceptible to these types of automatic thoughts, where they mistakenly imagine someone is having mean, nasty thoughts about them. So for the first time in their lives, teenagers really care about what other people are thinking, so they’re constantly interpreting body language and facial expressions, trying to decipher others’ thoughts. The only problem is that their brains aren’t very good at this yet. Our ability to take another person’s perspective, to imagine how they see the world, isn’t fully developed until the end of adolescence. And as far as our brain is concerned, adolescence doesn’t end until we’re 25. So when David thinks he knows what Ms. Washington is thinking, but is so dead wrong, a big part of it is just that he’s not very good at that skill yet.    

And so one of the characteristic of automatic thoughts is that they are untrue, and we know now that teenagers are especially susceptible to untrue beliefs about other people’s thoughts. But the reason they’re so powerful is because we believe them. When his thoughts tell him that everyone thinks he’s a failure, in that moment he believes that is the truth. And think about that. If it really were the truth, if everyone did actually believe he was a failure, then that really would be terrible, and an anxiety attack would be a perfectly reasonable response.

So, we’re learning that automatic thoughts are negative, extreme, and untrue. And there’s one more feature, that’s maybe the most important, that at their core, automatic thoughts tell us that we are worthless and that no one loves us and no one ever will.

Again, let’s look at an example: another common automatic thought for David is: “I can’t be late to class.” Now, at first, we might think this isn’t an automatic thought at all, that it’s accurate and helpful. After all, it is good for him to be on time. But the important word is, “can’t.” This is extreme, and untrue, because he can be late. It might be unpleasant, but it is an option. Now, the other question is, is this thought somehow saying that David is worthless or unlovable. And we’ll answer that using one of the magic questions of CBT: “why would that be so bad?”

Let’s give it a try:

“I can’t be late to class”

“why would it be so bad if you were late?”

“Because the teacher would be mad at me.”

“And why would it be so bad if the teacher got mad at you?”

“Because she would probably think I was lazy and a bad person?.”

“And why would it be so bad if she thinks that?”

“Because she would probably hate me never want to help me.”

“And why would that be so bad.”

“Because then everyone would probably hate me and never want to be with me.”

There we go. We just showed how a seemingly innocent thought like, “I can’t be late,” can really be saying, “you’re going to end up miserable and alone.”

Now, you may be thinking, “I also worry about being late, but I don’t think it goes that far.” And you’re probably right. Not all worry is the same. But for David, we can safely say that his automatic thoughts do go that far because the threat of being late triggers intense anxiety, meaning fight or flight mode is kicking in. And biologically, there is no reason for his amygdala to kick in the fight or flight response for something as minor as tardiness. But, if his amygdala believes that being late will then cause everyone to hate him and reject him, well, then that’s a pretty good time to sound the alarm.

And the thing about the “why would that be so bad?” method is that the automatic thoughts that come in response to this question are usually unconscious, and we’re going to see in a moment how helpful it can be to bring unconscious automatic thoughts into the light of consciousness.

So, to sum it up, automatic thoughts are very powerful. They can mentally cripple someone who is otherwise a very capable, confident person. And they get their power by taking an unpleasant event and distorting it so badly in your mind, that it seems like a reputation-destroying, self-worth sucking disaster.

Okay, good to know, but how do you get automatic thoughts to calm down? What do we actually do about it? Well, let’s start with David’s tick marks in his little notebook.

All he did was keep track of his thoughts over the course of a few weeks, and they began to calm down. David used a little notebook, but that’s certainly not the only way. There are actually apps that help you keep track of and fight against automatic thoughts. There’s one called Pacifica, that I haven’t used myself, but that I’ve heard lots of good things about. You might start there with your own thoughts or your kid’s.

Okay, but how does something as simple as tracking your thoughts actually improve anxiety? Well, we don’t know exactly how it works, but one theory uses the idea that automatic thoughts live in a different part of our brain than deliberate thoughts. Automatic thoughts are in a category we’ll call, “fast thoughts”, which is the same category as the thoughts required to tie your shoes, or to find the answer to 2+2. These types of thoughts happen in the background. And they’re very different from the other category, “slow thoughts”, which are deliberate and conscious. Slow thinking is required to write a difficult email, or to follow directions to a place you’ve never been, or to find the answer to 159 + 243. Yeah, you gotta think about it for a while, right? It’s 402 by the way.

So, according to this theory, one of the reasons automatic thoughts wreak so much havoc on our minds is that they are fast thoughts, and that they are, well, automatic. If I tell you, don’t think of the answer to 2+2…, the number 4 probably popped into your head anyway. And so one of the things that might be happening when David keeps track of his automatic thoughts, is that he is forcing these thoughts into the slow-thinking part of his brain. Because the process of tracking requires slow, deliberate thinking. And when you take a thought like, “everyone is going to reject me” and put it under the rational scrutiny of slow thinking, it falls apart. Because when you really think it through, that automatic thought completely asinine. No, everyone in your life is not going to reject you because of a bad grade on an English paper.

And this is really at the heart of CBT. Taking an automatic thought, like, “I’m a loser” or “nobody likes me” or “I’ll never succeed so what’s the point in trying,” and subjecting to the scrutiny of slow, deliberate reason.

Now, it’s really important to know that you if you do this once or twice, it’s not going to magically cure you or your child’s anxiety.   Instead, its more like training your brain. Think about potty training a puppy. You don’t expect the puppy to learn when and where to pee after two or three tries. It takes a lot of repetition to train that puppy. Well, same thing for your automatic thoughts. It doesn’t work to do it once or twice, which is why it took David 3 weeks to see results. Changing patterns of thoughts and behavior takes time. There are no shortcuts. Believe me. I wish there were.

So, David is feeling better, but his anxiety is still pretty strong, and he’d like it to calm down even more. And tracking his automatic thoughts can only do so much. So, his counselor walks him through the process of arguing against his automatic thoughts. Remember, anxiety is a cycle, and automatic thoughts play a crucial role in maintaining that cycle. And if you disrupt the automatic thoughts, if you discredit them, then the cycle breaks down and the anxiety fades. (this works for depression, and a bunch of other things too).

So, this is what it looks like for David to argue against his automatic thoughts. His counselor gives him a worksheet that has three columns. In the first column, he writes down his automatic thought: “Mrs. Washington thinks I’m a lazy failure.” In the second column he writes down the type of automatic thought, (now, we didn’t get to talk about it here, but just know, there are different categories of automatic thoughts, or “cognitive distortions” as they’re also called). And the category that David’s thought falls into is “jumping to conclusions” and finally, in the last column goes the rational, slow-thinking response to the automatic thought, which is, “There is no reason for her to think you’re a lazy failure. Sure, you’ve made some mistakes, but you turn in your work, you try hard. That’s just not true.” And as he continues to notice automatic thoughts, he writes them down, using this three-column method.

Again, doing this once doesn’t make much of a difference, but after a few weeks of regularly noticing and arguing against his automatic thoughts, they will gradually be pushed into the slow-thinking part of his brain, causing them to be less extreme, and more rational, and productive.

Now The other cool thing about this method is that it’s easy for David’s parents to be involved. Asking your son to talk about a worksheet is much easier than asking him to talk about his anxiety.

Also, this episode is meant to give you an understanding of CBT and it’s generally philosophy. It’s not a how-to guide on how to do CBT with yourself or you child. For links to resources that can help with this, go to theteenmind.com.

So, that’s it for today. Next time on the teen mind, there is an untapped force that has the potential to make a huge impact on the anxiety of millions of Americans. We’ll learn what that force is and how it can help you and your family. See you in two weeks.

The Teen Mind is a production of Elements Counseling Inc. Find more, including full text of each episode and how to get a hold of me at theteenmind.com. Thanks to paragraphs for the theme music, find them at paragraphs.bandcamp.com

I do counseling with teens, parents, adults and couples in Minneapolis, and I do workshops for parents and teachers throughout the Twin Cities Metro.

If you have questions or comments, about the show or about how to work with me, email corey@elementscounselingmn.com that’s C-O-R-E-Y at elements (plural) counseling mn.com

Finally, if you like the show, talk about it on facebook or twitter. Post a link to my theteenmind.com or my youtube channel, elements counseling.

Thank you for listening.

Note: For those keeping score at home, fast thoughts and slow thoughts are from Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking Fast and Slow, and he actually labels them as system 1 and system 2.

May 08 2016

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David learns a way of thinking about and listening to his anxiety that finally helps it calm down.

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We find out that David has anxiety.  Okay...but what exactly does that mean?  A little brain science, a little physiology, and a tiny little TSA agent.  

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