Religion & Beliefs

The Secret: Shrinking the Secret

This morning I had a video iChat with my mom. First she gave me a diet idea. Then she asked me when I was sending out my book. Touchy subjects, to say the least. I snarled at her like an … Read More

By / April 16, 2007

This morning I had a video iChat with my mom. First she gave me a diet idea. Then she asked me when I was sending out my book. Touchy subjects, to say the least. I snarled at her like an adolescent and she retreated. Poor Mom. Then she asked, “Hey, how’s The Secret going? Are you still doing it?” And I said, “Well, there’s nothing to do, really—there’s just something to be, and I haven’t been feeling much like Secret Rebecca lately so, no I guess haven’t been. Doing The Secret. I mean, I made that vision board…” I glanced at the yearbook-page style collage I had hung on the back of my front door, a piece of cardboard covered in seascapes and babies and bookshelves and Oscars and trillion-dollar houses in Malibu. “Yes, but that was like a week ago!” “And I stuck that ‘125’ Post-It on the scale, but the cleaning lady moved it. Maybe it’s a sign?” My mom laughed. “The honeymoon is over, huh?” Maybe it is. I’ve stopped experiencing that silly buzz I used to get from pretending my life was perfect. Now it just feels like a lie. I feel like a big lying liar. My shrink isn’t surprised. “The Secret sounds, to me, like a simplified form of cognitive-behavioral therapy,” she said to me in her office on Friday, “And if CBT worked, I’d be out of a job.” What is cognitive-behavioral therapy? According to the British Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Psychotherapies:

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is an approach to help people experiencing a wide range of mental health difficulties. The basis of CBT is that what people think affects how they feel emotionally and also alters what they do. During times of mental distress the way the person sees and judges themselves and the things that happens to them alters. Things tend to become more extreme and unhelpful. This can worsen how the person feels and causes them to act in ways that keep their distress going. CBT practitioners, who come from many training backgrounds, aim to work jointly with the person to help them begin to identify and then change their extreme thinking and unhelpful behaviour. By doing this, the result is a significant improvement in how the person feels and lives their day to day life.

So our own negative thinking—not events or circumstances or biology—creates depression and other psychological maladies. Change your thoughts and feelings, change your life. Sounds a lot like The Secret, huh? The problem with this method, according to my therapist (a fan of psychoanalysis), is that it addresses symptoms but not their causes. “Things may be different for a while, but actively creating thoughts all the time is exhausting. And there’s no guarantee these positive thoughts will ever feel authentic.” But my shrink, as a critic of CBT, is in the minority. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the second-favorite form of talk therapy in the U.S. according to a segment on NPR, and its controversial founder, Albert Ellis, is cited by the American Psychological Association as the second-most-influential therapist of the century. Insurance companies love CBT because it is a short-term solution to concrete problems, rather than an opportunity to endlessly free-associate formative childhood experiences with a therapist at a rate of $200 per hour. I can see the appeal of CBT—simply extinguish the negative behavior instead of obsessing about it. But say I am depressed—if a therapist succeeds in convincing me that my depression is irrational, does that mean I won’t be depressed anymore? Conversely, does rationally acknowledging that there are no barriers to my success except the ones I create myself mean that I will be able to achieve success? It just seems too simple. Like the Secret. While CBT differs from The Secret’s think-positive-be-positive model in that it involves extensive homework (patients often carry a stack of flashcards to remind them how to think), it still blames us for things we can’t always control. Which empowers some people, but leaves others feeling even more powerless than they did in the first place.