The Rational Basis® of Happiness Podcast

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The First Session

What a first session of cognitive therapy is like - a short interview with Dr. Jeff Riggenbach.











































(this is raw unedited text transcribed directly from the audio)

Dr. Kenner: The goal in life is not obviously to stand alone and rebel. The goal is to own your own life, to really speak your own mind, without attacking other people's character in the process. But really, loving your life. And if you tend to go along with other people or let's say your anxious or you have anger problems, how do you deal with those? With me today is Dr. Jeff Riggenbach. He's a cognitive therapist in the state of Oklahoma, practicing at Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital. He has completed training with the Beck Institute of Cognitive Therapy and he's certified with the Academy of Cognitive Therapy, which in my book is totally the gold standard of therapy. So if you're looking for therapy, you can go to the - that's for cognitive therapy - and look up a therapist in your neck of the woods. I am delighted to have you onboard today Jeff. Welcome.

Jeff: Hi Ellen. It's good to talk to you.

Dr. Kenner: Very good to talk to you. Let's say I was a client coming in and I'm very anxious. What's the type of thing that you would do in the first session?

Jeff: Well, in the first session, if you were presenting and you were anxious, I would want to figure out what it is that your fears really were about. Try to figure out what your thoughts were about those fears. Anytime somebody is anxious, there's really sort of three questions to ask. Number one, what am I afraid of and what is the risk? Patients who are anxious, often times have an over-valued sense of what the risk is. Number two, what are my resources to deal with this risk? And a lot of times, people really do have the resources that they need to deal with the risk, but they just aren't able to see it, because of the way they've kind of been trained to think over the years. And thirdly, then, if I don't have the resources, where can I get them? Where can I go to develop the resources? Depending on what you were anxious about, that would look a lot differently.

Dr. Kenner: Let's just say I'm somebody who is very anxious to be around other people. I'm afraid they're always judging me and obviously not positively and I am afraid to go out. I just feel like I can't handle it and I used to go to the store, I used to even take some classes and now I find I stay home and my husband does everything for me.

Jeff: One of the things I'd want to do is see where you are spending your time and who you are spending your time with. Some people really do spend enough time with people who are negative and who do judge them and are critical enough that their complaints really aren't irrational or off base. They really are being treated that way.

Dr. Kenner: So they really need a change in friends!

Jeff: Sometimes you really do need a change in friends or who they spend their time with.

Dr. Kenner: If I were that anxious person, what would cause me to choose my friends? Why would I be picking people who are picking on me?

Jeff: Well, that's an interesting question. A lot of times, in terms of our friendships or our dating relationships or even who we choose to marry, we seek people who treat us the way we see ourselves.

Dr. Kenner: Very interesting.

Jeff: That is a hard thing for a lot of people to hear. When I give a lot of my self help lectures, I'll usually make this statement and it'll usually ruffle quite a few feathers of people in the group, but I always say we generally marry somebody about as emotionally healthy as we are. You usually get several responses of, "I'm way healthier than my spouse."

Dr. Kenner: Right, I can hear the screams and cries already.

Jeff: But then you've got to ask yourself, if this person is really that sick, then what is it in me that was attracted to them to begin with?

Dr. Kenner: I didn't know it when I first married my husband, I didn't know he would be mean like my dad. He's angry. He's angry all the time and I just am afraid of him and I'm afraid to speak my mind and he makes the choices in the family. That's it and there's no way I could speak up. My friends are the same way. It's pretty hard. What do you do in a situation like that?

Jeff: In a situation where somebody is already into the marriage or into the relationship, and especially if there are children involved, it's not as easy to get out of as if it's somebody you've been dating for two or three months and are able to see the situation a little bit sooner. But I would just help them look at small steps they can take. Again, depending on how mean the person is being - if there is violence involved, we're going to handle it differently if it's just a derogatory comment here or there. But we'd want to look for small ways for that person to be able to stand up for themselves or get their needs met, and unfortunately for some people, that means getting friendship needs or conversational needs or some of those sorts of needs met outside the marriage.

Dr. Kenner: So sometimes they can do that and eventually gain the courage to even get a divorce or to bring the partner into therapy, which is very hard if you've got a controlling partner.

Jeff: Yeah, it is hard, and it's especially hard, again, depending on how far into it you are. That's why I always like to encourage people, try to come in and do a little counseling before marriage. Get a little pre-marital counseling and try to get to know about yourself, how you see yourself and how you see others. I mean, if I'm a person who generally thinks that I'm not worthy to be loved and don't deserve good things in life, I'm probably going to find a person who also sees me in that way. Once I get in, that's going to be hard for me to stand up and express my opinions because I'm afraid I'll be left and if I see myself as kind of damaged goods - nobody would ever want me anyway - and so at that point it becomes a lot harder. Whereas on the other hand, if I see myself as somebody that's pretty healthy and pretty deserving of having somebody that loves me and will be there for me, I'm more likely to attract somebody who also sees me in that way, because I'm not going to put up with somebody who doesn't respect me in the same way I respect them.

Dr. Kenner: And you want to be able to respect that person too, so you're looking for different character traits when you're shopping, even though most of us will never name them explicitly. We just go by feeling. But cognitive therapy, one of the beauties of cognitive therapy is you train yourself, especially in important areas in your life, in important choice-making areas such as marriage of course, or career, to not just go by, "Oh, I really think I would love to be in the movies." Not just go by feelings, but to figure out what is it that attracts me to the movies? Why would I want to be an actress or an actor? You need to figure out your reasons underneath the feelings, is that correct?

Jeff: That's right. The reasons are important behind the feelings and not only in terms of understanding the feelings, but also to put yourself in context to be successful, to find the right friends, to marry the right people, to choose the right career. I mean, all of those sorts of issues are things that can be explored through cognitive therapy.

Dr. Kenner: You would look at my childhood a little bit, but you wouldn't get stuck there like they used to in other therapies? You would be using it just to figure out what?

Jeff: That's right. I mean, I will always ask if there are serious crisis like abuse or loss or those sorts of things. But actually, researchers are suggesting that what's maybe more powerful in determining those core beliefs that we talked about are just those everyday events, just those everyday messages that get sent. Maybe the critical parent, the child can never do good enough in school and the grade is not quite good enough and the house isn't quite clean enough and the coloring is outside of the lines or those kinds of things, that kind of gradually send that message that one isn't good enough.

Dr. Kenner: And it's hard for a child to think through that. There are children that do think through that and think, "Oh, this is my mother. Not everybody is like that." Those kids are much more protected than a child that just buys into it and feels inadequate on a very profound level. But cognitive therapy can help you turn that around. And if you're looking for a good cognitive therapist, I'm speaking with one right now. He's Dr. Jeff Riggenbach, a cognitive therapist in Oklahoma at Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital. You can also go to the - that's cognitive therapy - and look for a therapist in your neck of the woods. I'm Dr. Ellen Kenner. Thank you so much for joining me today Jeff.

Jeff: Thank you for having me.