“Today is a new day!” — Chicken Little
Ms. Little released the following transcript with permission.
Therapist: Let me make sure I understand this. So you initially believed the sky was falling?
Chicken Little: I know it seems ridiculous now, but I was convinced it was happening.
T: What made you think so?
CL: I was hit on the head.
T: By the sky?
CL: Well, yes, I thought it was.
T: What made you think it was the sky?
CL: Well, it came from above my head, and I thought it was the end of the world.
T: But you started to think there might be other explanations.
CL: Yes, but I always think the worst. If I sneeze, I have swine flu. If I call my boyfriend and he doesn’t answer, I think he is with some other chick.
CL: Yes, there are a lot of good-looking chicks in my area of the woods.
T: I see. Okay, so then what?
CL: So naturally I wanted to tell my friends that the sky was falling.
T: Of course.
CL: So I was on my way to see Lion, and Henny Penny saw me running.
CL: She asked me what was so urgent and I told her about the sky collapsing. She is even more histrionic than I am. She always takes things to an extreme, and suspected something was up with the sky.
T: So the two of you…
CL: Yeah, we started running and Ducky Lucky came along. She is very sweet, but has a terrible sense of direction. But then Foxy Loxy said he would help us find the lion.
T: That’s when you started to second-guess your pessimistic thoughts?
CL: Yeah. It occurred to me that Foxy Loxy might not have my best interest in mind. So before we followed him into his den we decided to challenge our thinking.
T: What gave you pause for thought?
CL: Our work here was very helpful at that moment. I realized that I was catastrophizing, that I wasn’t looking more closely at the counterevidence and generating alternate explanations.
T: It sounds like you have been doing some cornerstone work from our resilience therapy. Tell me what you did.
CL: First, I realized that other things were not falling from the sky, and that no one else had reported having a similar experience.
T: So you challenged your core automatic pessimistic thoughts. Good.
CL: Then I started to think that the sky is vast, and one piece of it falling just didn’t make sense.
CL: Then I realized I had seen leaves fall from the trees, rain and hail fall from the clouds, and then it hit me.
T: What hit you?
CL: My insight.
T: Right, sorry. I thought you meant something actually hit you.
CL: Well, yes, actually that’s right. My insight was that something other than the whole freaking sky might have hit me on the head. Perhaps an acorn.
T: Great insight.
CL: Thank you.
T: So you first became aware of the fact you had some automatic negative thoughts.
T: Then you challenged these thoughts by providing counterevidence and generating alternate explanations.
T: How did your thinking actually shift?
CL: Well, I put the whole thing into perspective. I thought about the worst-case scenario, the best-case scenario, and the most likely thing that probably happened.
T: What was the worst case?
CL: The sky was actually falling, which, if it were true, would mean the loss of all life on the planet.
T: Rather catastrophic consequences.
CL: Hence the term “catastrophizing.”
T: Good point. What was the best-case scenario?
CL: A wayward worm had lost his footing and had fallen from a treetop. If I had put my mouth up it would have gone right down into my belly and I wouldn’t have to go digging around in the dirt for breakfast. Maybe tomorrow a worm will drop out of the sky.
T: …and the most likely?
CL: An acorn hit me on the head.
CL: Too bad they don’t teach this stuff in schools.
T: Actually, they do.
T: The Penn Resilience Training is used in school systems around the world to help children cope with depression. It really seems to work. Not just on depression, but there is some good evidence that if classrooms promote well being, the students are not only not depressed, they do better academically.
CL: Is this part of the positive psychology stuff coming out of the University of Pennsylvania and Martin Seligman’s work?
T: It seems like they keep finding that resilient kids actually learn better. Seligman and others have been doing some fine evidence-based stuff that is having global impact. They have a very interesting curriculum.
CL: I used to walk around so depressed, but since we have been doing our work on resiliency I feel better, and life seems a little easier. Too bad they can’t find a way to help soldiers become more resilient during and after combat. They could use it more than anyone.
T: It’s already happened, my little chick-a-dee.
CL: Don’t call me that.
T: Sorry, that was insensitive of me.
CL: And don’t go with “fine-feathered friend” either.
CL: Did you say it is already being used in the military?
T: They just started. In the U.S., by the time they are done 1.1 million military personnel and their families will have had the training.
CL: OMG, really?
T: It is an enormous undertaking.
CL: How is it going so far?
T: The soldiers have ranked the training at a 4.8 out of 5. They like it.
CL: Are you telling me they can treat trauma before it happens?
T: They can prepare people to cope, just like you were prepared for the sky falling.
CL: Yeah, but I’m dealing with acorns. They could be dealing with a lot worse.
T: Think of it this way: Do you know what a bell-shaped curve is?
CL: Of course I do. I’m a chicken, not a slug.
T: Sorry. So imagine a bell-shaped curve in three sections. This is how people respond to traumatic events.
T: The lower third are PTSD, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, reactions to trauma.
T: The middle section is normal resilience to coping with trauma.
CL: Go on.
T: And the upper end is post-traumatic growth.
CL: Post-Traumatic Growth?
T: Some people use their trauma experience in a way that changes their life view, and in doing so they actually make gains from having the experience.
T: As an example, after 9/11 several people took up new careers and flourished in them because they were able to realign their lives after the trauma.
T: Yes, and the Penn Resilience Program would help the military and their families evolve coping skills. Those with PTSD symptoms could develop coping skills that match those in the middle group. And those with normal coping skills may be able to experience some post-traumatic growth.
CL: Treating trauma before it happens.
T: Astonishing, isn’t it?
T: I think you’ve done some great work here.
CL: Thanks. I don’t feel like I’m running around like a you-know-what with her head cut off.
T: I’m glad you’re feeling better. We are at the end of our time. How are you going to pay for today’s session?
CL: Put it on my bill.