Karen Kerschmann, LCSW

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Clinical Supervision


Kerschmann & Associates

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and  Clinical Supervision

Kerschmann & Associates

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and  Clinical Supervision

The Remarkable Connection Between Happiness and Behavior

A cognitive behavioral approach to achieve more happiness

Positive psychologists and cognitive behavioral therapists promote certain behaviors that prime the brain for happiness.

Shawn Achor is one of my personal heroes- you may have heard of him as the author of ‘The Happiness Advantage’ or through his infamous TED Talk which you can find here. After almost a half a century in the making, positive psychology is sweeping the mental health landscape and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Cognitive behavioral therapists, educators and behavioral scientists are adopting techniques, such as the ‘happiness advantage’ to help people shift their mindset towards the good.

A Cognitive Therapist’s Answer to “Why Can’t I Find Happiness?”

Happiness’ makes many think of smiles, the sunshine, material acquisitions, and absolute bliss. People often perceive ‘happy’ as being beyond our control, that it has to do with external factors or some level of intangible success. However, when you depend on external factors to reach this mysterious state, you set yourself up for fleeting joy but also long-term disappointment, which can lead to depression and anxiety.

Contentment does not have to be controlled by external factors, what you have achieved, or what you or someone else consider the ultimate success. Rather than telling yourself that happiness is something to wait for, or believing that a partner, weight loss, or more money will lead you there, you can train your brain to be positive in the here and now. According to Shawn, if your brain is focused on positivity, it performs 31% more productively than when it is negative, neutral, or stressed. With the happiness advantage, your intelligence, creativity, and energy levels rise. That said, it makes much more sense to focus on how happiness leads to success, instead of the other way around.

It makes sense that managing depression and anxiety can be approached in a different and more effective way- by creating a new internal reality. As you learn how to become more positive in the present, the solution may not seem as hard to achieve. Training your brain to be more positive is something you’ve already taught it to do other tasks until it becomes automatic. Have you ever catch your fingers hitting the ‘F’ for Facebook without even noticing? Reaching for the snooze button? These are both common examples of automatic thoughts.

Let’s Get Happy!

Over time, reversing your formula for happiness in the now and leading your brain to focus on the present and the positive aspects is a mighty force. The trick is to act differently right now, and your brain will begin to become primed for success, which means that you will be able to work harder, faster, and more intelligently in the moment as well as long-term. One of the ways that your brain can be trained is to encourage the release of dopamine, which is a vital ‘feel good’ hormone. Dopamine has two functions: first, to make you happier and second, to trigger all of your learning centers in your brain- of course, you’ve already watched Shawn Achor’s TED Talk and know this, right?

When I work with clients who are looking for solutions to anxiety or depression, I make sure I focus on behaviors instead of feelings. There are several actions that can train your brain to produce more of that precious dopamine.  Shawn asserts that if you practice a positive habit daily for 21 days in a row, you can build a habit and train your brain to be more positive. Three ways to achieve this are to:

  • Journaling- Write down one positive experience in the past 24-hours, so that your brain can relive that experience and start focusing on it. This habit teaches your brain that what you do and what actions you take each day matter.
  • Meditation- Take the time to slow down and meditate, giving your brain a chance to stop multitasking and to focus more on one task, such as the matter at hand. Opportunites to meditate are everywhere and are easier that you may think, as this article by Temma Ehrenfeld discusses.
  • Random act of kindness- Completing a conscious act of kindness can increase the dopamine levels in your brain, such as writing a positive email to a friend, praising a friend for something they accomplished, thanking someone for their support, or simply complimenting someone on their clothes or hair. Personally, this is one of my favorites. A few years ago I published an article on how volunteering can battle a sour mood. Do you live in my town of San Diego? Volunteer Match is a super way to get on it!

As the exercises above reflect, CBT helps you learn skills needed to be happier and more content. Behavioral interventions can be simple and if practiced every day, these types of activities help improve depressed moods and how to be happier in the present!

Happiness is within your control and is attainable with daily practice. Building some simple habits into your daily life will help you create that positivity and happiness that you desire. If you’ve already been influenced by Shawn Achor’s work, please comment below- I’d love to hear from you! 

Parenting a Teen? Let’s Talk About Bridges….

Parenting a Teen? Let's Talk About BridgesAs children approach those dreaded teenage years, their parents are forced to confront new challenges. Some parents liken themselves to the hand that guides a toy car across a bridge or even a bystander watching the car go by, but in reality, the ideal place for the parent is the railing of the bridge. Parents can provide guidance for children without smothering them. Can you imagine driving a car across a bridge with no railings? One simple movement could send you soaring through the air, ready to crash into the unknown. A simple guiding force can change all of this.

Adolescents need some semblance of independence. Identity is important, especially in these vulnerable years. Adolescents who do not understand their own identities struggle more than those who do.  If your child needs some support, sometimes talking to a therapist can help them figure out his or her place in life while still maintaining a good relationship with their parents.

  • Pick your battles. If your teenager has a messy bedroom but is otherwise a great student, nit-picking can do more harm than good.
  • Get involved when it matters, offering yourself as a source of support.
  • Getting caught stealing, failing courses and refusing to communicate are matters that require more intervention.
  • Be flexible. Sometimes you have to adjust rules and consequences. Curfew, bedtime and allowances are reasonably changed throughout the years.

In addition, parents must understand which punishments may actually hold water. For instance, sending a teen to her room when she has access to a computer, phone and television is no longer a punishment. Limiting driving privileges and taking away the cell phone are more effective.

Just as punishments can make an impact, positive reinforcement can too. Use praise to show how proud you are of your child for excellent grades and impressive moral fiber. When the only words a child hears are negative, it strains the relationship.

Parenting is no cake walk, but that does not mean you cannot have a healthy relationship with your teen. Remember your role as the railing of the bridge. This helps you focus on providing guidance for your teen.

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Why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Our thoughts and feelings are powerful, how you perceive your world has a strong impact on our body chemistry. Established studies have shown cognitive behavioral therapy works at least as well as anti-depressants in helping people with mild to moderate depression!

The goal of cognitive therapy is learning to recognize then correct negative automatic thoughts and core beliefs.

Over time, the client will be able to discover and correct deeply held bSan Diego Therapist discusses how CBT can emphasize behaviors over feelings when you are struggling with low self-esteemut unhelpful cognitions that contribute to the issues that are holding them back. The underlying premise of CBT is that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are deeply influenced by one another. Shifts in just one aspect of this triad can effectively reduce the negative patterns and build a powerful, more effective way of functioning.

There are lots of fun and fast ways to see how our behavior, thoughts and feelings intermingle- one of my favorites is the ‘Power Pose’. Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, discovered that posing like Wonder Woman or Superman for two minutes will rapidly increase your confidence….give it a whirl!