Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

How it changed my life forever

By Dr. Elaine Kindle, PhD, LCSW

There is no good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Shakespeare’s Hamlet

When I was a student at USC School of Social Work our Freudian based psychodynamic orientation was eye opening and informative. It was fun to be able to conceptualize a person’s life and problems within that framework. But I was not quite sure what to do with it when faced with a real live person sitting in front of me pouring out her story. A couple years later, while at work, a flyer was circulated. I don’t remember what it said. Something to the effect that “Aaron T. Beck, M.D., will be speaking about Cognitive Therapy, a new form of therapy with positive results.” And on top of that, that presentation was a few blocks from my work. It was meant to be. The room at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. was packed full of clinicians. I settled into a chair in the back of the room. Aaron Beck stepped on stage and introduced his co-speaker, Christine Padesky, Ph.D., a young woman and protégé he had met while at UCLA. My life was about to change forever. And so would my clients lives change with it.

The premise of CBT is so simple, and yet, back then, so revolutionary. In it’s simplest and easiest form, CBT states that the way we think (about ourselves, others, our future, the world) affects the way we feel and the way we feel affects the way we behave and interact with one another. Problem is, we don’t know the depths of our thoughts but they have an effect on us regardless. We continually feel them and act on them. Problem is, many of our thoughts are just simply wrong. So, if I think I am incapable of learning math, I may feel anxious whenever the teacher presents a math problem. I freeze. My brain shuts down. I cannot learn math. The teacher reacts (usually negatively) and focuses on the smart kids. So now, I really don’t learn math. My thoughts are reinforced. And I truly become dumb at math. That, by the way, is a real live example from my life. Girls, back in the day, were thought to be rather incapable of learning math like the boys, and anyway, it really wasn’t needed, except, as my third grade teacher said, “To be able to make kitchen curtains.” Back then, at age 8, I already knew there was no way on earth I wanted to sew kitchen curtains. Somehow, the idea was insulting. And no, I still don’t sew, and forget math! We develop our lives according to our beliefs about ourselves. Fact is, I probably could have been competent at math. If I had been taught to correct that thinking, my math skills would have improved.

The light bulb in my brain went on that day that Aaron Beck spoke. After that, Christine Padesky offered a year-long training course about CBT, but alas, only to PhDs. At that time, I had my LCSW. The following year, however, she opened it to Masters’ Level clinicians and I signed up to attend. We were so fortunate that Aaron Beck himself was able to teach us when he was in town. See the picture of the group of us smiling away on the last day of that life-changing course.

When that year ended, I also signed up for continuing education in the small study groups Christine offered to clinicians. I remained in her study group for about six years, at which time I returned to school for my Ph.D. Christine encouraged me to continue my education, “You deserve it,” she said and was kind enough to write me a letter of recommendation as part of my application. And so, CBT has been life changing for me and as a result, for many of my clients over all these years. I cannot tell you how grateful I remain that I attended that talk at the Ambassador Hotel way back when.