C is for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

C is for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

NB: the following is an extract from a great new book I'm very happy to support and recommend

The Happiness Quest by Lana Penrose


After going through a divorce and moving countries three times, Lana Penrose returned to Australia and was diagnosed with major depression. She chose to fight for her happiness, star-rating her experiences along the way.

From the short-lived therapy I’d experienced in the past with a counsellor in Greece and a Jungian therapist in London who fancied my boots, I knew that someone in whom I trusted was crucial to my healing process and ensuring my comfort levels, which is why I asked to be referred to a pro at the top of his field. After an excruciating two-month wait – interspersed with my usual episodes – I eventually squeezed myself into the incon¬spicuous offices of a cognitive behaviour giant …

The unassuming therapist to whom I’d been referred was arguably one of the best and highly regarded practitioners in the country. He’d been dealing with people suffering from se-vere depression and various mental disorders for decades and was former Clinical Director of an anxiety disorders unit at a major hospital. But as far as I was concerned, he was a cute little man seated be¬hind what looked like a battered old school desk. I warmed to him instantly.

I explained my predicament and the miraculous workings of my mind. He immediately began untangling my processes.

‘Lana, it sounds to me that when something moderately bad happens, you have a tendency to contort things so that you can dwell upon the past.’

He regarded me sweetly and I knew that he was right. Linking anything whatsoever to a painful memory was a specialty of mine, if not my greatest talent. Take the humble cucumber, for exam¬ple. It was only the previous day that a hapless soul had errone¬ously added the detestable ingredient to my sandwich which led to the instant recall of how much I despised the dreaded vegetable, what with its evil smell, taste and texture. I remembered that cu¬cumbers were wildly celebrated in Greece, in the culinary sense, perhaps even sexually. I’d once lived in Greece and it was there that I’d lost the plot, my husband and accidentally dated a heroin addict and now, here I was, sad, single and screwed up in Sydney. See? Too easy. If I tried hard enough, I could link bad memories to anything.

Anyway, the doctor explained calmly that I was responding inappropriately to neutral present-day situations. This was the result of what he called Negative Automatic Thoughts, or NATs They came in all shapes and sizes and jumped from behind walls, going BAH! to the detriment of my underwear. They were annoying and disruptive and I should have hated their guts. Instead, I accepted whatever they had to say, wide-eyed and with a slow nod.

So there we all were: NATs, the doctor and me. The doctor was suggesting that it was time to really start challenging such thoughts. He said that I should consider kicking around with Evidence-Based Thought – an ambassador for truth …

Therapy therefore rolled on with my therapist repeating this concept to me over and over as I marvelled over my inability to implement it into real life. Bloody hell. It seemed so simple! All I had to do was change my way of thinking. Sure, I could challenge my negative thoughts sometimes, but mostly … I couldn’t…

I shared this with my psychologist during one of our early sessions. He suggested that as soon as I felt the onset of negativity, I should, ‘Just get on with it.’ … I shouldn’t raise an ice pick with a view to surmounting the insurmountable. Because – and here’s the interesting part – it was apparently the obsessive need to understand and macabre overindulgence bit that kept the bad feelings alive. Thinking about them incessantly was what gave them their power, and I was only increasing my self-loathing and pessimism by wondering, ‘Why?’

… Suddenly, I felt guilty. I was in session with one of the best specialists in the country and all I could do was whine … To him, I must have seemed feeble. No, make that pathetic. I so needed to be crazier to deserve an audience with him. I was wasting his time.

‘Sometimes I feel like I’m not mad enough for you,’ I blurted.

He recoiled. ‘Don’t ever say that, Lana! I have many, many patients suffering from all manner of conditions. You have just as much right to be here as anyone else.’

I wasn’t sure whether to be wounded or flattered, and toyed with the idea of telling him that I had a pigeon fetish, just to keep him interested.

An extract from The Happiness Quest: A depression survivor’s journey from misery to joy by Lana Penrose (Finch Publishing). This book is available in paperback and ebook nationwide. Lana Penrose is a four-times published, bestselling author, counsellor, beyondblue speaker and Lifeline crisis support volunteer.  See Lana's website HERE for further details.