This past summer I attended an IFS conference featuring Richard Schwartz in Cape Cod. The setting was gorgeous (seals, guys), the weather was beautiful, and the information was riveting. In one of the sessions, Schwartz was discussing how traditional therapeutic methods allow for daily functioning, but do not address the deep healing that needs to take place for true thriving to be possible. And then he said, “That’s why CBT doesn’t work.”
You could’ve heard a pin drop in that room. For all my non-therapist readers, please understand: To dismiss CBT is about as controversial as it gets. We’re all trained in it, and it’s “evidence-based” – this was a BOLD statement. I know this comment ruffled many feathers (because I heard people talking about it after the session), but I felt encouraged and excited by the proclamation.
Not because I don’t believe CBT is useful (I think it’s an incredibly effective way to cope day to day, and I implement it in my own work), but because the prospect of true healing, and of moving from surviving to thriving, excites me as a therapist and as a human. Doesn’t it excite you?
When we implement coping skills (like in CBT), we do a great job of getting through stressful situations. But often, we don’t move far beyond that. For instance, we are anxious, and cope with it with deep breathing or Lorazapam or slow exposure to scary things – and that’s fantastic! But is there the possibility for more? Can our Anxious Part take up a new job within our system, channel itself elsewhere, teach us how to take care of it, so that we actually experience it differently? Can we learn to love our Anxious Part, and all of our Parts, to get to a place of true self-love and acceptance?
I believe we can. I think that there is room for true self-acceptance and self-empowerment beyond day-to-day survival. When we come to a place where we are coping well (maybe by using CBT techniques), there is still room to grow, and to thrive. Self-work does not (should not) end just because our insurance company deems us acceptably healthy and able to cope. Beyond coping, there is an opportunity for true engagement in our lives. In therapy or not, with whatever treatment modality works best for us, the opportunity for healing and thriving is truly thrilling. Let’s make it happen.