Sunday, March 12, 2017

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Series #1) What is CBT?

CBT is an evidence-based talking therapy therapy that can help with a wide range of mental health problems including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, procrastination, stress and anger management 

In many ways going to see a CBT therapist is as much like going to a yoga teacher or language teacher as it is going to see a traditional counsellor. The emphasis is on understanding your issues in a new way and then teaching you skills to help you manage it, given this new understanding.

Does that make sense?  This short video produced by the charity MIND explains CBT particularly well.

CBT is usually short-term. Some anxiety disorders can be treated very quickly -for example panic attacks and phobias can very often be treated in 3 or 4 sessions. Other problems take longer . It's part of the CBT process to regularly review how treatment is going and to reflect on how to make it more effective or suggest alternatives if necessary.

CBT focuses mainly on the here and now. If there was a fire you wouldn't want to spend a long time searching for the match that started it. If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or stress you need to work on  alleviating it. So the focus is usually on what's keeping it going now and on changing that. Sometimes it is important to talk about the past, and in these cases CBT will delve into the past. but only as much as is necessary.

CBT is very practical.  Your therapist will help you find practical ways to alleviate your distress,rather than just providing a listening ear.

CBT also involves exercises to be done between sessions - just like yoga and learning a language would.  This is often called "homework". I prefer to avoid this term as whenever anyone asked me to do homework, I left it to the last minute possible. The point of CBT home practice is to check in and learn something new or try something new every day.

CBT is structured.  Sessions usually follow a set structure - quick check-in, setting agenda for today, review of home practice, 1 or 2 main items for today, then setting home practice for next time and summary of main points from session. Don't worry, it's not your job as client to set this structure. Like a good talk show host, like Jonathan Ross or Graham Norton (or Michael Parkinson, if I dare show my age), your CBT therapist will be in charge of the process, so you can focus on your issues.

CBT involves teamwork. You know about yourself, your goals and your problems. Your CBT therapist knows about your condition and about proven ways to help.

Does all that make sense? Here is David Clark, a leading CBT researcher, with his explanation of what CBT is all about.

This is the first in a series of articles about CBT.

Other articles are planned to cover questions such as
- does how you think affect how you feel?
- does what you do affect how you feel?
- is CBT all about techniques? (the answer is no, it's about understanding your problem then learning and applying techniques)
-  what problems can CBT help with?
- what can't CBT help so much with, and what other treatments are likely to help?
- can CBT help me or someone I care about?

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

6 Big Ideas from the WGS. #6) The need for wise leadership: Can Dubai be the Florence of the 21st Century?

"Until philosophers rule as kings in their cities or those who are nowadays called kings and leading men become genuine and adequate philosophers ... cities will have no rest from evils." Plato The Republic

In the USA, instead of a philosopher king,  we have a president who as Josef Stiglitz  pointed out,  is questioning science  and has  chosen to appoint no economists whatsoever into his cabinet.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who brought all these thought leaders to Dubai for the WGS and in 2016 appointed the World’s first Minister of Happiness, provides a contrasting positive role model of leadership.  

Yet he  makes no claim to be a philosopher king. In his book,  Flashes of Thought, he says

“I would like to point out that I am no scientist. Nor do I claim to be a wise philosopher. This is simply a collection of concise messages, experiences, ideas and thoughts, whose sole aim is to serve our nation and to bring some happiness to our fellow citizens.”

Nevertheless in a 2015 article journalist Faisal J. Abbas in 2015 compares Dubai to Renaissance Florence. “Both cities”, wrote Abbas,  “managed to overcome their limitations, exceed their natural boundaries and achieve a ‘global status;’ mostly owing to the visionary ruling families, namely the Medicis of Florence and the al-Maktoums of Dubai”

The World Government Summit, Global Dialogues on Happiness,  Museum of the Future and the Emirates  Mars Mission are all examples of Dubai’s role in trying to build a better world future.  

 I do not know exactly what form future World Government Summits or Global Dialogues on Happiness will take, but I hope that what we saw in Dubai this month is just the beginning. 

The world may be at an inflexion point. We face either unprecedented wealth, happiness and technological advance – or a return to the dark times of the 1930s or worse -  technological Eden or Destruction. 

In these most interesting of times, the world urgently needs wise leadership.

Monday, March 06, 2017

6 Big Ideas from the WGS - #5) The need for scientific knowledge - and wisdom

“Knowledge without action is wastefulness. Action without knowledge is foolishness”
(Al Ghazali , quoted by Sheikh Mohammed at the WGS)

Imagine that your town is likely to be hit by a hurricane next week. 
You have four options
1 Business as usual, hope for the best
2 Take a vote on what to do. Let democracy rule
3 Hope that  the free market will sort it out
4 Gather together those with the most knowledge and understanding about hurricanes and act on their recommendations

Which option should you choose?

The challenges we as a world face are potentially even more serious than even a hurricane.  
The expertise on show at WGS was truly dazzling. 

Engineers like Musk and  Kalanick informed us of advances in technology. 

Psychologists like Seligman, Diener and Csiksentmihalyi told us about important developments in the psychology of human flourishing, Positive Psychology.

Economists  Stiglitz and Schwab shared their understanding of  the  economic impact of globalisation and technological change. 

Psychologist Arie Kruglanski   even shed light on such important matters as how to be smart at  fighting terrorism

There is an enormous and growing amount of scientific understanding and  knowledge available to the world now – we need use it, wisely,

6 Big Ideas from the WGS #4) The Fourth Industrial Revolution will have losers – we need to take care of them

                     Would Hillary have won if she’d engaged as much as Trump with people who felt so disempowered and disenchanted? 

                    Quite  possibly.

                     If there is one clear lesson from Trump and Brexit, it’s that governments need to show more wisdom and compassion to those threatened by changes.

                     A Universal Basic Income has been proposed whereby everyone is paid by the state a sufficient amount to cover basic needs. In an age where robots take over jobs, this might sound sensible, but as Elon Musk recognised, it  is not  sufficient.

                “I think universal basic income will be necessary” said Musk  “but the much harder challenge is: How will people then have meaning? A lot of people derive meaning from their employment. If you’re not needed, what is the meaning? Do you feel useless? That is a much harder problem to deal with. How do we ensure the future is a future that we want, that we still like?”

              Suppose that  there are no more truck drivers, for example, in 5 years time.  
              How will truck drivers gain any meaning from their life? 
              Bread and circuses?

              We need better routes to meaning and we need to be thinking about this now. 
              An important development is increased psychological research on meaning in life.

              Books like  Emily Esfahani Smith’s The Power of Meaning  will help this cause, as will the First International Meaning Conference to be held at Roehampton, UK in June 2017.  

                     If the first wave of  Positive Psychology focussed on happiness, the second wave needs  to focus on meaning, virtue  and flourishing– how to live a good life. 

                    Psychologists need to help us understand  conditions that are correlated with meaning, virtue and flourishing as well as happiness, and then politicians – at least the ones who choose to listen to experts- can then propose appropriate compassionate  policies.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

6 big ideas from the WGS = #3) Improve Mental Health - Create programmes like IAPT which give free access to evidence based psychological therapies

Improving mental health should be at least as high a priority as improving physical health.  

Mental illness is extremely common and can have a vert serious impact on  individuals, families and society as a whole. 

Significant progress has been made in the last 50 years in our ability to effectively treat common mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. 

Yet not enough is being done to make these treatments widely and cheaply available.

In the UK Lord Layard, who spoke at the WGS, led a team that wrote  the Depression Report  which was instrumental in persuading the government to create IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies). 

The Depression Report

The  IAPT programme pays for itself, since the economic cost of mental illness is more than the cost of training therapists and providing therapy. In  England and Wales, at least, there is much better access than ever before to evidence-based and effective therapies such as CBT to treat those suffering from common mental illnesses. 

Whilst  countries without a National Health Service may not be able to adopt identical schemes  to IAPT more can still be done throughout the world. For example, they could subsidise the training and provision of therapists of evidence-based therapies.  Educational programmes about mental health should also be encouraged, including taking steps to reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems.

But don't take my word for it. 

I asked Lord Layard two key questions.

1) "Have other countries adopted an IAPT-like approach?"

 2) "Should they? "

Lord Layard's answer?

Saturday, March 04, 2017

6 Big Ideas from the WGS #2) Appoint a Minister for Happiness and Well-Being

Social scientists now know a lot about what goes with happiness. Positive Psychology has identified a number of simple interventions which lead to lasting improvements in happiness. However, even among educated people these are little known. Do you know these 10 strategies to enhance happiness designed by Action for Happiness?

 Governments can – and should – promote knowledge about happiness and incentivise activities that promote happiness – such as exercise, clubs and games– just as they have begun to do with the environment and physical health.

Happiness has  many positive consequences – longer life, better health, better social relations, more altruism, more creativity amongst them. As the doyen of happiness experts, Ed Diener argued at the WGS  

           “Happiness is  a necessity not a luxury.”

It was no coincidence that the  UAE gave the WGS a happiness focus, organised  a Global Happiness Dialogue and a happiness festival   in the same week and is  also the first country in the world to appoint a Happiness Minister.   Which country is going to be the second?

Vannesa King, a board member at Action for Happiness and author of the Ten Keys to Happier Living, who was also present at the WSG, argues that it should be the UK.

“The UK Government should be brave and state that Happiness is the goal of government and start a national conversation to help people, communities and our institutions explore and unpack what that really means  and what it takes from all of us. Appointing a Happiness Minister would be a good idea.  Someone needs to have oversight of our national wellbeing 'dashboard', and develop a framework for policy and economic decision-making that incorporates an holistic view of wellbeing impact.  And hold other departments to account.”

Reflections of the WGS  

Diagnosis and Prognosis

6 Big Ideas from the World Global Summit

#1 Governments need to take the Happiness of their People more seriously

#2 Appoint a Happiness Minister

#3 Improve Mental Health

#5 The Need for Scientific Knowledge - and Wisdom

 #6 The need for wise leadership: Can Dubai be the Florence of the 21st Century?

Video Highlights from the WGS and Global Happiness Dialogue

Here is a pdf of Tim LeBon's "6 Big Ideas" Series from the WGS 2017

6 Big Ideas from the WGS #1) Governments need to take the happiness of their people more seriously

Yesterday I wrote about the diagnosis and prognosis from the World Government Summit held last month in Dubai, UAE.

In short :-
Diagnosis - The patient is sick and business as usual will not be the cure.”

Prognosis - Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring us intelligent robots, self-driving cars and 3D printing - massive opportunities but also huge challenges and threats.

Despite this the mood at the  WGS did not feel pessimistic. Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, captured the mood well when he quoted Jean Monnet, one of the fathers of the European Union   “I’m not optimistic, I am not pessimistic, I am just determined.”

So what is the remedy? Here are the 6 big ideas I took from the WGS

1)    Governments need to take the happiness of their people more seriously

“Happiness is important so why don’t  governments  take it seriously. Why not  make happiness  a public goo1)    Governments need to take the happiness of their people more seriously

As Prime Minister of  Bhutan,  the first country to measure the  prosperity by its citizens using Gross National Happiness rather than Gross National Product,   Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay came across a wise leader and one  well worth listening to.

Gross National Happiness has nine domains, shown below, these being psychological well-being and  education as well as living standards, community vitality, ecological vitality, good governance, time use and cultural  diversity.

In Bhutan the government ensures that all policies are happiness friendly by running them through a happiness screening tool. If a policy is likely to be detrimental to a country’s happiness, it is rejected.

Why don’t other countries adopt Gross National Happiness and make its improvement a key policy objective?

Friday, March 03, 2017

Reflections on the WGS - Diagnosis and Prognosis

“There is a Chinese curse which says "May he live in interesting times." Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind. And everyone here will ultimately be judged - will ultimately judge himself - on the effort he has contributed to building a  new world society and the extent to which his ideals and goals have shaped that effort.”    
Robert F. Kennedy’s Ripple of Hope Speech 1966

In this era of Trump, Brexit and rapid technological change, Robert  F. Kennedy’s words are more apt now than when he spoke them 50 years ago. We too are cursed to live in “interesting times”.   The World Global Summit  (WGS) held in Dubai UAE 12-14 February could not have come at a more apposite time. Could ninety thought leaders in government, technology and the social sciences help our understanding of what needs to be done in 2017 to build a better world society?

1)  Diagnosis

“2016 was a difficult year”, admitted even that most positive of Prime Ministers, Tshering Tobgay  of Bhutan. Globalisation and new technologies have caused new wealth but also many losers. War, terrorism and migration have led to widespread fear and insecurity. Many ordinary people have lost trust in their leaders and institutions to the extent  that  the USA  elected Donald Trump as President and the UK decided to leave the EU. Add irreversible climate change  in to the mix and it is hardly surprising that a consensus emerged amongst the WGS thought leaders
             “The patient is sick and business as usual will not be the cure.”

2)    Prognosis

“We are at the start of the Fourth Industrial Revolution” proclaimed Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder of the World Economic Forum. Whilst the Third Industrial Revolution gave us the PC, the internet and the mobile phone, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will bring us intelligent robots, self-driving cars and 3D printing.

Travis Kalanick, CEO of Uber depicted an extremely  positive future of self-driving cars,  car sharing and consequent massive reductions in congestion and pollution. 

Yet to Nobel Prize winning economist Josef Stiglitz  the same scenario  appeared very worrisome.

“Within five years there is a belief all trucks in the U.S. will be self-driven … truck driving is one of the main occupations of relatively unskilled workers … and the worry is what kinds of jobs will these people, they have lost their manufacturing jobs … and they will now lose their truck driving jobs, what will the jobs be that society will be able to bring to them?"  White collar jobs will be equally threatened.  As Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk commented “There will be fewer and fewer jobs that a robot can’t do better.”    According to a recent Oxford study 47% of jobs will disappear within 25 years.

But that isn’t all we have to worry about, according to Musk.
“I think we need to be very careful in how we adopt artificial intelligence and that we make sure that researchers don’t get carried away. Sometimes what will happen is a scientist will get so engrossed in their work that they don’t really realize the ramifications of what they’re doing.”

As he spoke I recalled the old Star Trek story where  a space probe programmed to sterilize imperfection  interpreted this as an instruction to destroy all living things. 

Elon Musk reminds us that it’s a lot easier to make AI really smart than it is to give it common sense and common humanity. 

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Are you happier?

This post concludes the "A week of Happiness" series.

  If you missed it, don't worry, you can complete a week of happiness at anytime. Here is how.

 First, take the Happiness Questionnaire

Next, do the happiness exercises.

Although I posted one each day, you will get more benefit if you spread them out more.
I'd suggest spending a week on each of the happiness exercises

#1 Best Possible Self
#2 Random Acts of Kindness
#3 Activity Scheduling
#4 Use your Strengths
#5 Three Good Things

Finally, take the Happiness Questionnaire  again to see whether you are happier.

Are you? Use the comments section to let us know, also which exercises you liked most.

Today I'm going to add a couple of extra tips.
No, not extra happiness exercises, although you can find plenty more in Achieve Your Potential with Positive Psychology

First, I strongly recommend you use the happiness tips in the service of things that matter to you.. Happiness matters, but so do other things, like friendships, family and accomplishment.
Here are some ideas about how to create a "win-win" between happiness and other values

  • Use your strengths in helping you achieve your goals
  • Do the three good things exercise as a shared activity for example with your family
  • Make your acts of kindness not so random - be kind to those you care about
  • Use the Best Possible Self exercise to visualise how you can lead a meaningful life and then take the first step towards it today
  • Schedule activities that satisfy your core values - and preferably bring you pleasure and achievement as well!

Secondly, make these exercises a habit.
It was Aristotle who said "one swallow does not make a summer" and he wasn't wrong.
You brush your teeth every day. Why not pick one of these to do every day? Better still, make it a habit to do at least one happiness exercise a day.

Now that would be what I would call a good habit.