Things That Go Bang in the Night: (Part 2) Standing up to Anxiety
Updated: Nov 28, 2019
Reno returns to Bob-the-counsellor to finish working on his anxiety about the ghosts in his closet.
Robert Davies © 2018
“So, Reno, good to see you again. Thanks for completing the Mood Quiz. Your anxiety is much lower. That’s good. So what did we talk about last time?”
“Well, about there being millions and millions of chances the ghosts had to kill me, but it never happened.”
“Good. Now, let’s finish your mood log.”
Mr. Jenkins handed Reno his copy and Mr. Jenkins had his own.
“So Reno, read that first negative thought we wrote down. Number 1 thought.”
“The ghosts are going to kill me.”
“Thank you. Now, it is this thought that is scaring you and driving your anxiety up, at least it did. Let’s check to see how true it really is. You checked off 100% True. Right?”
“Let’s look at the first Mind Trap or Cognitive Distortion – all or nothing thinking. You are thinking - kill you or - not kill you. Why not something in between such as wounded or almost killed?”
“I don’t know.”
“Because you are thinking in extremes. That is a mind trap or cognitive distortion. The reality is that when someone is attacked there are all sorts of results from bruising and scratches to cuts and stabs to serious wounds all the way to a mortal wound, meaning you die.”
“I’m not thinking like that. It is escape from the ghosts or die from the ghosts.”
“That is a mind trap, Reno. It is not realistic; it is too extreme.”
“Next, there is Jumping to conclusions: You jump to conclusions not warranted by the facts. We would call that Fortune Telling: You predict the future. We can’t do that. No one can. We can guess what might happen, but usually we are wrong. No one can tell the future. When you are thinking - the ghosts are going to kill you me - is that fortune telling?”
“Yes, it is.”
"Then there is Mind Reading, another part of Jumping to Conclusions: you assume that people are reacting negatively to you. For example, those ghosts. Maybe they are nice ghosts, nice but ugly ghosts. Are you assuming that those 149 ghosts are reacting negatively to you? Maybe they are just lonely and like you around sleeping? I don't know but you don't either! Were you 'mind reading'?"
"I guess so."
“That is two mind traps or cognitive distortions. So what would be more true than - the ghosts are going to kill me, Reno?”
“They aren’t going to kill me?”
“Well, we can’t tell the future. That is Jumping to Conclusions: fortune telling. That is a mind trap or a cognitive distortion. How about “If the ghosts haven’t killed me in over 300 million chances they probably won’t now.”
“Yes, that would work?”
“Are you sure that would be true for you?”
“Yes, Mr. Jenkins. It only makes sense!”
“Okay, I will help you write that down. You copy mine. Reno copied Mr. Jenkin’s sentence.
IF THE GHOSTS HAVEN’T KILLED ME IN OVER 300 MILLION CHANCES THEY PROBABLY WON'T NOW.
“Okay, Reno, between one and ten, how scared to you feel now?”
“Maybe a 3?”
“That is good news because you were around a 9/10 before.”
“Are we ready to sleep in your bed tonight?”
“Okay, I will tell you what. We can create a FEAR LADDER together.”
“A Fear Ladder? What’s that?”
“Well, look at this sheet of paper. It is about facing your fear a little at a time. I am going to draw a ladder to cover the whole page. Each rung of the ladder will be a step in our plan. For example, we can plan to move from your brother’s bed to your bed a little at a time. Could you sleep on the floor by your brother’s bed tonight?”
“You mean like in a sleeping bag?”
"Got one?” “Yes, Mr. Jenkins.”
“We write that in the top of the ladder number one. Where can you be the next night? It would have to be closer to your bed.”
“I could sleep closer to the door.”
“Good! I will send this home with you. I will phone your phone to remind her to look at the plan with her. Okay?”
Together Mr. Jenkins and Reno designed a plan that went like this.
TOP RUNG Sleep in sleeping bag by brother’s bed.
SECOND FROM THE TOP RUNG Move to near door next night.
THIRD RUNG Sleep right in the doorway the following night.
FOURTH RUNG Sleep outside brother’s room in the hallway.
FIFTH RUNG Sleep outside my room in the hallway.
SIXTH RUNG Put sleeping bag in the doorway with pillow in the hallway.
SEVENTH RUNG Sleep with head in the bedroom and feet in the hallway.’
EIGHTH RUNG Move sleeping bag inside the room near the door.
NINTH RUNG Sleep right beside the bed.
LAST RUNG Sleep in my own bed all night long.
Three days later Mom dropped by and said she’d made sure the sleeping bag had no camping mattress under it, just the hardwood floor. By the third night, Reno had, on his own, slept in his own bed. Success!
Mr. Jenkins had also practiced one other technique: Feared Fantasy. He had prepared Jonah with everything to say and then Mr. Jenkins played NEGATIVE RENO and Reno played POSITIVE RENO. Then they would change roles and then back again to the original role.
NEGATIVE RENO: Reno you are a ‘scaredy cat’. You have to sleep with your brother.
POSITIVE RENO: Lot’s of kids are scared of ghosts. Even my Mom and Dad had been scared of ghosts. It is no big deal!”
NEGATIVE RENO: When everyone finds out that you are scared of ghosts, they will all laugh at you!”
POSITIVE RENO: No, they won’t because Mr. Jenkins says he sees lots of kids who are scared of different things: scared to take the bus to school. Scared to sleep in their own beds. Scared of school fires or lockdowns. It is really common. It is not the end of the world.
NEGATIVE RENO: Yes, but you know that the ghosts can still get you.
POSITIVE RENO: They have had millions of chances, MILLIONS, and they haven’t hurt a hair on my head. I would say it sure looks like nothing is going to happen. Any way, I have never heard of a ghost killing any of the kids at school or my brother’ s school or anything like that.
NEGATIVE RENO: You are never going to learn to handle your anxiety. It will bother you all your life.
POSITIVE RENO: Are you kidding. I worked with Mr. Jenkins and my anxiety went from really high to really low. So there! I am in charge of my thoughts, not you!”
“End of role play, Reno. Great job!”
“Since you gave me permission to share with your Mom. I am going to phone right now to tell her how proud I am of you. First, let’s walk to the music room. It is almost time.”
“Thanks, Mr. Jenkins.” “Don’t thank me! You did all the hard work! I have to thank you for being so courageous and for sticking to the sessions with me.”
“Let's head off to music class now.”
Exposure is how we face our anxiety. It is the only way – do the thing we fear and the fear will disappear. We can change our negative thoughts. We can add FEARED FANTASY and we can use the FEAR LADDER. Now Reno has turned a liability into an asset – he knows how to deal with his anxiety now. He has had to face it. That is a valuable lesson to take through life with him. END
Most people like stories, and therapy is all about stories. Telling stories about powerful techniques used in TEAM CBT therapy demystify this therapy one story at a time.
Yet, confidentiality is a cornerstone of all counselling. Without confidentiality, clients wouldn’t feel safe going to therapy to divulge the most painful areas of their lives. To safeguard clients while illustrating TEAM CBT techniques, confidentiality is kept by either having the client’s consent or by distorting the facts, making the client unrecognizable .