The debate about Positive Core beliefs

My colleague and I presented the information from the Padesy workshop I recently described to one of our therapy teams.

The debate was electric.  People were intrigued by the integration of different ideas in CBT.  It came to a raucous debate surrounding Padesky’s emphasis on clients to develop positive core beliefs; the “new system”.

We are so used to asking clients to think of realistic alternative thoughts that we almost frown on positive thoughts.  One colleague that introducing the possibility of building new positive beliefs was dangerous as it would definitely disappoint clients the world is not “safe” all the time- why would we encourage someone to think that?  He felt this was just as dangerous or more than negative beliefs; in fact I got the sense that the negative beliefs seemed safer to him. 

It got me thinking on my bike ride home regarding the role of “positive schemas”.  When we are working with those in distress we do not ask them to think of a “so so” place for a “safe place”- the place they invoke is usually one full of positive feeling.  This is an internal positive image that they begin to build inside them; in some sense it is a new internal model they can draw on- it is not the real world. 

When we are motivating people to change our goal must be something worthwhile- something worth striving for.  What the positive core belief is an alternative to the negative belief on an internal level that can stand in competition with the old belief that judges every situation, regardless of whether or not it applies (an overdeveloped strategy).  It is not a representation of the world as it is- if that makes sense. The core belief is an ideal that can find a home in someone’s mind.  Her theory is that strong experiential affect (negative and positive) make a considerable mark ; they are hotter than a hot thought.  Realistic thoughts don’t necessarily have that edge to carry someone into something new.  To give someone the courage to try an underdeveloped strategy in a new situation the hope is that positive affect and memory associated with the new system will do that.

Padesky’s behavioural experiments and new strategies allow someone to carry this into the world with them to access to begin to explore the possibility of something new and promising even if it is just a few moments of the world.  I’m not sure this makes total sense. I’m still grappling with that.  It’s a fascinating topic to contemplate.

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One thought on “The debate about Positive Core beliefs

  1. Wow. As a non-psychologist, I’d have to describe this post as “heavy,” and so my comment may be unrelated. But I don’t think so.

    I have written in my own blog (briefly!) about the psychological implications of following Christ, that living life like Jesus lived provides the most psychologically sound approach to life. Jesus taught not just morality, but survival!

    Jesus said that he came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. Having that life is not magic (that would be non-rational). It is not the result of living within the confines of a religious system (that would be pharisaical). Life is best lived with God, as Jesus showed. God, however, is invisible. This means, obviously, that I cannot see Him. It also means that metaphors are extremely useful and I can use my imagination to allow those metaphors to take up residence deep down in my soul, where they have a positive influence and can reshape my life. In using the term “imagination,” I do not mean that I make up stuff that has no connection to reality. I mean that I use my imagination to convert the invisible to something that I can get my head wrapped around and which affects the way I live my life on the ground. The Psalmist, and most of the prophets, used such metaphors and profited from them. For example:

    And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. (Ps 36:7)
    He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. (Ps 91:1)

    “Wings” and “shelter” and “shadow” are metaphors for the presence of God. And, here is how this relates to your post. I can envision (fantasize) being wrapped in the wings of God; or I can entertain positive thoughts of being safe inside a shelter whose walls comprise God Himself. My point here is that this use of the imagination, immersing myself in an unseen reality, is a (long lost) Christian approach to life. To the extent that I do this, I am safe, loved, not alone.

    You wrote, “This is an internal positive image that they begin to build inside them; in some sense it is a new internal model they can draw on- it is not the real world.” That sounds very familiar to me, since it is what I do during prayer most nights, as described in a recent post. True, it is not the “real world,” but only in a certain sense. That is, I am imagining something; it is not something concrete on which I can stub my toe. But, in every other sense, it is real, a topic I discussed in a post from last May. What I am imagining involves metaphors for something that is more real than what I see with my eyes.

    There is more to this practice of using my imagination in prayer than the “power of positive thinking” because I believe that God is present (in reality) in my imagination. (He is the only one who can do this!) Through those interactions, He is slowly remaking my life as I reimagine my life figuratively and literally. As Jesus said, “Rethink your life in light of the fact that the kingdom of the heavens is open to all.” (Dallas Willard paraphrase of Matt 4:17)

    So, are we talking about the same thing? Or did I miss the point of your post (which would not surprise me!)?

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