Saturday, February 12, 2011

Rainbow Fish and Cognitive Therapy

I was reading a book about Rainbow Fish to the kids the other day.  Rainbow Fish and his friends needed to go to a "Sea Monster's Cave" to get something for a sick friend, and all of them were scared.  They got each other all worked up about the scary things in the cave, but finally summoned the courage and went anyway.  Lo and behold, it was all in their imagination!  What they thought were dangerous creatures were really just sharp rocks, seaweed, and friendly fish.  And they all lived happily ever after.

And so it struck me: I can think of a handful of other children's books with the same theme. Scary sounds at night? Just a tree tapping on the window. Monsters under the bed? Just Sully, the big friendly furry blue nice guy who needs your screams. And then there's Scooby Doo....even though each and every day the monster turned out to be a guy in a costume, each and every day Shaggy and Scooby got scared. When would they learn?

So this is what we teach our children about fear? That there really isn't anything to be afraid of?

Not just children, I found out. This week I've been reading up on Cognitive Therapy for an essay I'm writing for an on-line class. Listen to this:

“List any negative expectations…that may frighten her or negatively influence her behavior….Rank the chances that such an event will happen on a scale from 0 to 100% and then list one to three options that may be appropriate to that expectation.”

The gist: Convince the patient that the odds are against them, and help them come up with options so that they will feel more in control if something bad does happen.

And this one:

“Most life situations are time-limited and specific to that situation. We recommend that you help your patient pull from other areas of his life to learn to view his own situations in different ways." (Overcoming Depression: A Cognitive Therapy Approach Therapist Guide by Gilson, Mark Freeman, Arthur Yates, M. Jane)

The gist: Convince the patient that life really isn't all that bad after all. She is just over-reacting.

Just like Rainbow Fish. Scary things aren't really scary. Bad things aren't really bad. Everything is going to be okay.

Really? Does anyone really believe that? Who are we kidding?

If that was true, then why do kids still get scared of what's under their bed? Why do we have such a hard time convincing them?

Because they know we are wrong! They know that scary things do exist. Maybe they can't describe them; maybe they've never seen them, but they know they are there. They know they are not safe. They know that even Mom and Dad can't protect them completely; they know they are not in control.

And they are right.

The truth is, denial only works part of the time. We can try to convince ourselves that the odds are in our favor, that planes don't usually crash, that kids don't usually choke, that boogie men only attack once in a while, but we all know that it could still happen.

Instead, the answer lies in Person. Veggie Tales got it right: God is bigger than the Boogie-Man. Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. My Dad is looking out for me. And He's got all the power in the universe. He's good; He loves me, and He is in control.

And the answer lies in a Promise: I know that when something bad does happen, it's because He ordained it. And will use it for good.

And that's why I can venture into Sea Monster's Cave.
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