Cognitive dissonance

Know of Dorothy Martin?

The ‘Seekers’, was the name of a cult who believed outer space aliens in flying saucers (from the planet Clarion by the way) would come to save them from the horrible flood which would end life on earth.  Dorothy Martin (an ex-scientologist) claimed to be receiving secret messages detailing the impending doom.

Precisely at midnight on December 21st, 1954 was the time that everything as we know it was to come to a horrendous end.  The Seekers gave up their homes, their money, everything, in advance of this event.  They had absolutely invested in their belief.

One of seekers was a fraud.  He was Leon Festinger.  He was very interested in how the members of this cult would react when, as he believed, there would be no flood to speak of, no devastation, and no end of civilisation.

So, the time came, and past, and nothing! Zilch! Zero!

Here was a bunch of people standing around. No aliens and not a flying saucer in sight! Nada!

What happened next amazed Festinger.  The Seekers, who had been secretive up until now, avoiding publicity, actually wanted it.  They wanted to share with everyone what a near miss there had been.  They wanted to share how their faith had saved the world from disaster.

Festinger coined the (now common) term; ‘cognitive dissonance’.  This he defined as:

                “…a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions that are psychologically inconsistent.

The interesting power underlying the Seekers’ curious response to the non-event was their need not to face the truth and change their minds but relieve their tension, to make themselves feel comfortable.  They ‘explained away’ the reality, they rationalised it.

When reality conflicts with our beliefs, we accept the new reality, explain it away (as the Seekers did), or deny it in order to reduce the dissonance between our ideas about how things should be and how they are.

Sensory acuity, self-objectivity, self-knowledge defeats any need for denial.  I have seen addicts, abusive people, deny any problem when the contrary evidence is mounting daily.  They come for “help” because they were sent, there is no problem except with other people in their lives.

People sometimes talk themselves out of going to social events by offering ‘reasons’ such as; “it’ll be too hard to get a cab at that time of night.”  This ‘reason’ is favoured over the more uncomfortable reality that, as soon as the invitation was received, I felt extremely anxious and worried about other people’s opinion of me.  Excuses are the lies we tell ourselves!  Excuses shield us from painful truths.

An alternative approach is to notice my discomfort, my anxiety process in operation, and feel the fear and go anyway!  Some even advocate celebrating the fear response!  “Great, awesome! This means I’m facing inconvenient truths rather than soothing myself with excuses.”  In a similar vein, I encourage people working on weight loss to reframe their hunger experience to be a cause for celebration!

Denial is a form of protection, a defence mechanism, a protective behaviour and cognitive dissonance is not just something relevant to a curious cult in 1950s America.




Pain Management: blessing and curse

The Problem of Pain

Pain is a problem and also a resource!  It is a signal from the brain through the central nervous system that something needs attention.  Without pain we would blissfully decline, not knowing that our wellbeing was impaired in some way.  The pain experience is worthy of gratitude as it points us toward the need for remedial action.   The toothache, the headache, the sprain that prevents us from adding more pressure to injury are all kind messengers bearing important news.

[continue reading…]

The Anxiety Trap: Time to Break Free!

To regard anxiety as a trap is to suggest that somehow we are tricked, lured into an anxiety experience somehow.  This view is not uncommon.  People in clinic regularly refer to their anxiety experiences as ‘creeping up’ or, ‘taking over’ them.  Unpacking these perspectives can be a first step in dismantling not just unhelpful ideas about anxiety but the experience itself. [continue reading…]

7 Simple tips to beat anxiety

Ever find yourself worrying and fretting? can’t sleep? over-thinking and analysing? In everyday life, we can be happy, optimistic, and connected to a life of meaning and purpose.  Then something happens,  we experience a disconnect from our personal power.  A sense of purpose replaced by a sense of loss somehow?  Optimistic outlook replaced by fear-laden imagined futures?  How did that happen? That key presentation you were to make for work becomes an opportunity for fear and apprehension.  Many people don’t realise anxiety is a problem you can beat.  [continue reading…]

Defeat Holiday Anxiety

Jingle bells, jingle bells, oh no!

A time of connection with loved-ones, presents, good cheer all round…except when it’s not!

Holiday anxiety around the last minute dash for presents, spending blow-outs, fuel price hikes, family politics, office party regrets, or the festive meal looking like Gordon Ramsey’s trash!   Yes indeed!  A most wonderful time of the year! For many, the Christmas and New Year holidays can prove to be stressful, anxiety-riddled experiences.  Want more cheers than tears? [continue reading…]

New Resources

We have published some resources which are available on both Amazon (Kindle) and ‘Smashwords Premium’ publishers.  Given that anxiety is a recurring theme presenting in clinic, we’ve put together an e-book: “No Worries: Defeat Anxiety in 7 short Days”.  This is augmented with a companion “Defeat Anxiety 7 Day Journal Template”. 

The links to Amazon Kindle are:

The e-book:

The 7 day journal template:

For those interested in Smashwords Premium:

The e-book:

The journal template:

Fundamentally, anxiety is regarded as having a structure, elements. and these elements are amenable to adjustment, to change, and once we change the fabric of our personal experience, we change its consequences. The book looks at aspects of the structure of personal experience.  It also explores some very successful therapeutic approaches, and even our own role in changing the way we might filter incoming bad news in the wider community from, say, mass media.  You might take a look over the contents of the book below and see if there  is anything that might interest you.

Part of the contents of the book look like this:

Chapter 1:  Welcome to anxiety

Chapter summary in about 40 words!  Introduction.  Nouns and verbs.  Abstract nouns.  “I strongly believe”.  What is anxiety really?  Doing stuff.  Do different stuff, get different results.  Doing it without pictures.  Anxiety as process.  Imagined experience is not real.  Anxiety as hallucination.  Familiar choking examples.  Fear of heights.  Threats.  Phobias.  No worries!  Life without anxiety?  When anxiety processes stop.  What is anxiety not?  Positive changes.  Some useful questions.

Chapter 2:  How we do what we do

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  Doing stuff.  Communication as result.  Absence of control.  Strategies.  The role of perception.  Our perception is our reality.  Right strategy, wrong strategy, perfect results.  Problem gambling case example.  Coping or not coping.  Changing strategies.  Stimulus response.  The music plays.  Finer distinctions.  Simple questions.  Primary feelings.  Changing the structure of experience.

Chapter 3:  Anxiety and sleep

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  Introduction.  Insomnia strategy.  Anxiety and sleep.  Better sleep patterns.  Reclaim your sleep.  Sleep hygiene.  Self-hypnosis for sleep sample script.  Self-talk.

Chapter 4:  Thinking styles

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  Catastrophizing.  Mind-reading.  Globalising.  All or nothing thinking.  Justice-based thinking.  All about me thinking.  Negative filtering.  Stable attribution style.  Considering alternative thinking styles.  Fixing cognitive distortions.  A moment’s pause.  Perfection is not perfect!

Chapter 5:  The magic of structure

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  The structure of panic attacks.  Thoughts.  Feelings.  Actions.  Protective behaviours.  Panic attacks and anxiety.  Panic attack symptoms.  ‘Benefits’ of panic.  When danger strikes. Simple tools.  Panic does not hurt.  Notice your breathing.  Move differently.  Insert some absurdity.  Cope with coping mechanisms.

Chapter 6:  Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  An example.  Sample process.  Cause and effect.  Thought-challenging and CBT.  Spotting unhelpful thoughts.  Elements of unhelpful thoughts.  Identifying evidence for alternative thoughts.  Examining unhelpful thoughts.  An example.  Simple does not always mean easy. Another example.  Responding to disappointment.  Powerful tools.  Dealing with unhelpful thoughts.  Self-care and maintenance.  The ‘script’.  Internal voice.  Self-criticism.  It sometimes happens.  Fear of missing out (FOMO) and CBT.

Chapter 7:  Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  How DBT differs from CBT.  What is the dialectic?  Who can be helped?  DBT and thinking.  Self-image. Behaviour. Relationships.  Structure of DBT.  Skills training.  Individual therapy. Phone support.  Consultation for providers.  Emotion regulation.  Distress tolerance.  Interpersonal effectiveness.  Mindfulness.  Outcomes of DBT.

Chapter 8:  Acceptance and commitment therapy

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  Mindfulness.  ACT structure.  Focus.  Defusion.  Acceptance.  Values-based action.

Chapter 9:  Online therapy and brief therapy

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  How do we do online therapy?  Hypnotherapy online?  System crashes.  Client benefits  Text,  email follow-ups.  Not every client.  Brief solution-oriented therapy.  Why brief?

Chapter 10:  The art of relaxation

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  Effects of the relaxation response.  Relaxation strategies.  Deep breathing for stress relief.  Progressive muscle relaxation.  Rhythmic movement.  Meditation for stress relief.  Body scan meditation.  Mindfulness meditation.  Yoga.  Hobbies.  Taking classes.  Aromatherapy.  Healthy eating and exercise.  Hypnotherapy as relaxation.  Variability of results.  Therapist competence.  Client orientation.  Therapeutic partnership.  Doing anxiety.  Doing something else!  Present time reality.  Some useful perspectives.

Chapter 11:  Performance anxiety

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  Addressing public speaking anxiety.  Common fears.  Public speaking anxiety triggers.  Steps that just might help.  Step one: identify triggers.  Step two: exposure and preparation.  Ecology of state management.  Ecology checks are important whenever change-work is being considered.  Step 1: Identify triggers.  Step 2: Anchoring resourceful states.  Step 3:  Managing internal dialogue.  Step 4: Consider the audience.  Step 5: Learning from experience.  Step 6: Acknowledge your efforts.  Sexual performance anxiety.  Sex strategy.  Hope; a poor second to expectation.  Unsuccessful intimacy strategy.  Positive sex strategy.  The structure of sexual joy.  Medications. Useful complimentary behaviours.

Chapter 12:  Diet, exercise and anxiety

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  Food and mood. Habitual diet.  Gut bacteria and mental health.  Foods to avoid.  Foods that cause hyperacidity.  Foods to have more of.  Don’t starve, eat something.  Alcohol. Drinking too much is great, until it isn’t.  Defying anxiety with exercise.  Some evidence.  Better than drugs?  Suffering is optional.  Start small.  Importance of reward.

Chapter 13:  Anxiety and identity

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  Introduction.  Identity.  How connected are you to your identity?  Identity and mental wellbeing.  The many parts of you.  Expansion of focus.

Chapter 14:  Wider perspectives on anxiety

Chapter summary in about 40 words.  Anxiety requires skill.  Such creativity, such focus, such power.  Alternative hallucinations. Widespread anxiety in our community.  Bad news 24/7.  The meaning of meanings.  Our perception is our reality.  Anxiety as contagion.  Locus of control.  Awareness is power. Protecting balance.  Example of Eric.  Simple does not always mean easy.

Chapter 15:  Your defeat anxiety 7 day journal

Day 1:  Elements of an anxiety experience.  Questions about thoughts.  Things to do today.  My notes for day 1.  Day 2: Model of meaning and action.  The texture of experience.  Targeting attention.  Decisions are powerful.  Things to do today.  My notes for day 2.  Day 3:  Levitation for fun.  Types of attention.  Imagine.  My notes for day 3.  My health as I want it.  People in my life as I want it.  Places in my life as I want it.  Things in my life as I want it. Day 4:  Not so great expectations.  Decisions have power.  Coping with coping mechanisms.  Things to do today.  Life purpose.  My notes for day 4.  Day 5:  What do you see?  Movies or pictures.  You are in control.  The structure of happiness.  My notes for day 5.  Day 6:  Feelings not always reliable guides to action!  Emotions and feelings.  Anxiety structure.  “But I still have to give the presentation”.  “But I’m still broke”.  My notes for day 6.  Day 7: Above and below the line thinking.  Cause and effect.  My notes for day 7.  Congratulations!


Hypnotherapy, does it work?

Hypnotherapy doesn’t work…except when it does.

Some people experience deep relaxation when hypnotherapy is used. Some people experience no meaningful change. So why do people experience widely different outcomes in a therapeutic context that appears to offer so much? How can we ensure that, when seeking hypnotherapy, often called; clinical hypnosis, we are more likely to get the right outcomes? [continue reading…]

The Addiction Process

Addiction is often described in terms of enslavement to some substance or even behaviour or process. People are sometimes identified as having addictive personalities, meaning they have some sort of predisposition to reliance, dependence, on something such as heroin or even internet usage. Destructive gambling is another example of a behavioural or process addiction and there is an increasing amount of discourse about phone use ‘addiction’, or ‘device addiction’. This raises interesting questions for the therapist. In this brief piece we view addiction itself as a process, a series of steps. Addiction has steps that have a certain predictability as well as potential for alteration.

In his book, ‘Healing the Whole Person’, Rob McNeilly, points to a solution-focused approach to therapy. Here, the person is regarded as not broken but equipped with resources to overcome currently unhelpful behaviours and habits. [continue reading…]

Identity: Who are you really?

Identity: Who do you think you are?

Our identity, our sense of self, our accepted notions as to who and what we are, can be a blessing, but often a mixed one. When asked, “Who am I?” most people refer to what they do, their job. People say things like, “I’m a retired builder”, or, “I’m an exotic dancer”. This pairing down all that a person is, to a job title, even a retired job title, hides a lot of the rich complexity that is being human today. Even the things we identify with can be open to question. In therapy, a client may say, “I’m a failure”, “I’m a loser”. This makes the client’s experience very small indeed. We can fail many times. But, this does not make us a failure. We can experience loss many times, but this does not make us a loser. Identity really is complex. Who we think we are, can serve to limit our possibilities and even prospects for happiness. [continue reading…]

Healthy Ageing and Mental Health

 Healthy Ageing and mental health, not just the super and a funeral…

Healthy ageing, a result of good fortune? A win in the genetic lottery? The result of sensible healthy living? Whatever the cause of surviving, ageing is generally seen as superior to its alternative.  Daytime TV commercials often refer to ageing in a context of either having enough money to pay for the, not too far off, funeral, or enough superannuation returns to retire and live out the last lap in material comfort. But, ageing is not simply about the super and not just about the funeral.  Sound mental health can make a big difference to healthy ageing.

Financial security is of course very important, but as ageing progresses people experience changes in their health including mental health. People can sometimes carry mental health challenges from early years as they progress through the many processes of even healthy ageing. The mix of one’s own physical, spiritual, social, and emotional wellness, are clearly key elements of good health.  On the other hand, the experience of mental health issues and ageing are not inevitably connected. [continue reading…]