McMinn and Campbell start out chapter six (a deeper review of the 1st domain of interventions, that of addressing symptoms) with this helpful insight: “Many of our graduate students select psychology as a profession after deciding against one of two alternative career paths.” Some are tempted to pastoral ministry and so see psychology as a way to care for human souls. Others are tempted to medical practice and so see psychology as a way to, “help people find relief from their troubles” (p. 177). This distinction is helpful in explaining why some of us hang out in one type of intervention over another.
But whatever one’s interests, everyone must address presenting problems and not bypass symptoms as these are what bring people in to therapy in the first place. So, the authors use this chapter to outline, in general, symptom-focused interventions, The next chapter will apply these interventions specifically to anxiety.
Right off the bat, the authors bring up emotions. They want to dispel the myth that cognitive therapist care little for feelings. They want to define negative emotions as either a sign of cognitive distortions and/or a warning sign that something is off in one’s life. [Hopefully, they do not fully believe that negative emotions means that something is wrong in one’s life. It may be something is wrong in the world…]. To achieve successful interventions in this domain, one must have good relational skills to listen well to both explicit and implicit feelings.
It comes as no surprise that domain 1 interventions include behavioral skills. The authors summarize classical and operant conditioning in a few short paragraphs and suggest that these techniques may help clients have dominion (through reinforcement strategies?) over their own behaviors and responses to life. Their lack of attention to behavioral mod. sends a message.
The bulk of the chapter then focuses on the basic of cognitive restructuring. They divide this task into two parts: sorting an experience into its component parts AND challenging distorted thinking. The authors describe the technique of the thought record and walk through several vignettes to show how it might be used. The record separates situations, thoughts, and feelings (and rates intensity of feelings/experiences on 1 to 10 scale). As the client gains insight, then the work is to counter the automatic thoughts with a rational response. The authors want to remind the counselor to avoid a disputing mindset when countering a client’s distorted thought patterns. Instead, they suggest a more collaborative approach or “Socratic method” using questions and reflections to lead the client to insight rather than drag them to it.
Beyond the thought record, they describe other methods of changing one’s thinking: scaling (moving away from all/nothing thinking to put stressors in proper perspective), probability estimates (used when someone is worried about an unlikely event), decatastrophizing (helping to move away from “extremist thinking”), humorous counters (identifying silly thinking without making fun of), role-playing (reversing roles and having the client become the counselor), paradox (overstating the client’s fears to see the logical outcome), and cognitive rehearsal (repeated challenge to automatic thoughts).
Finally, they attempt to provide a Christian appraisal of these interventions. First, they tackle the problem of relativism that may underly CT by the biblical concept of testing and trying every “truth.” Instead of rejecting all client automatic thoughts by some sort of Stuart Smalley self-talk mantra, test their thoughts with Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason—aka Wesleyan quadrilateral. Then they give some examples of how a Christian collaborative response to a client with a difficult marriage might look different from a relativistic (be happy) response. The client and the counselor work together to explore what Scripture, tradition, experience and reason might bring to the table (these are not considered equally weighted of course) in discerning the truth about our selves and our thoughts about ourselves.
My thoughts? This chapter is solidly within the CT frame with the recognition that truth has a capital T. Our job as counselors isn’t to tell the clients the truth but to walk with them in a collaborative manner. It is good to see lots of humility in the chapter. We can abuse Scripture, overplay tradition or reason, become disputational, etc. What is missing from this chapter (maybe in comes later) is that while it is helpful to recognize logical errors, it is also true that logic does not always (often?) lead to better thinking. We have some pretty embedded views of ourselves that continue even in the face of our logic. How will they deal with this issue?