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The Work of Byron Katie and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Comparison

Posted Oct 22 2008 6:28pm

by Jane Bunker, Ph.D. with Carol L. Skolnick, M.A.

As a growing number of therapists, counselors and coaches incorporate the self-inquiry process called The Work of Byron Katie into their practices, the question often arises, "How does The Work compare to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?" There are notable similarities in that The Work, like CBT, is a cognitive restructuring technique. However, unlike CBT, The Work does not seek to replace one thought with another, less stressful thought; it is an experiential modality in which stressful thoughts are identified, expressed and questioned, resulting in an awareness of projective identification.

Here are some fundamental differences between the two approaches.

1. CBT: Achieve specific result
The Work: Discover what's true for the client

If there is a goal in The Work, it is to discover what is true for the client. The underlying assumption of The Work is that all suffering comes from arguing with reality. The secondary assumption is that reality is good. With CBT, the goal is to achieve a specific, client and therapist devised end result (i.e., to be happier, to have a better marriage, to like one's job more, etc.). CBT assumes that reality can be manipulated in order to achieve a particular, more desirable outcome....the secondary assumption here being that reality is flawed.

2. CBT: Necessitates a therapist
The Work: Does not need therapist or facilitator

CBT necessitates a therapist; The Work, which is self-directed, does not require a therapist or even a facilitator. Even if facilitated by a therapist or performed in a group setting, the simple structure of The Work's four basic self-inquiry questions and its reversal technique, the "turnaround," entrusts the process to the client. Administered cleanly, there will be no imposition of therapist's opinion or values in the course of a session.

3. CBT: Replace painful thoughts with "better" ones
The Work: Does not attempt to replace thoughts; painful thoughts dissolve

Both CBT and The Work are clear about the powerful role that thoughts play in human suffering. CBT, however, attempts to get the client to drop these thoughts and replace them with new, more productive, positive ones. In The Work, one part of the mind examines the other. There is no room for the normally defensive, proof-seeking part of the mind to hold on to the identity-defining thoughts that have been contributing to the client's suffering. With the resulting clarity that comes of mind meeting mind, the stressful thoughts serve no further purpose and dissolve on their own.

Also, by directing the client's pain outward on paper, The Work provides an initial vehicle for releasing rather than adding stress, the latter being a phenomenon which may occur in CBT when judgments are aimed at the self.

4. Both CBT and The Work address question 1 of The Work: Is it true? -- to expose the lie of the mind. However, The Work goes significantly further with question 2: Can you absolutely know that it's true? -- by attempting to eliminate even a 1% probability for the "I-know mind" to attach to and thus short-circuit the rest of the process. With questions 3 and 4: How do you react when you believe this thought? Who would you be without this thought? -- The Work offers the opportunity to hold thought up to the light, examine it openly, see the damage it has evoked and what life might be like without it. The subsequent turnaround -- a reversal technique in which the client considers ways in which the opposite of the belief might be just as true or truer -- offers a perfectly timed glimpse of one's own innocent, but complete, responsibilty for one's own happiness, while providing an expanded awareness of what "truth" encompasses. As in advaita vedanta, the Indian school of nondual philosophy, there is a gradual recognition that all experience is projected, and when the "projector" is adjusted, the projection changes.

5. Embedded in the turnaround is the concept of nonduality. All that was directed at the other appears to be true of the self as well. All that was apparently not absolutely true of the other might not be absolutely true of the self either. With The Work's loving, incisive probing, thoughts are eventually relieved of their charge. The safety and comfort of truth discovered replaces the client's need for attachment to identity-defining thoughts, and those thoughts are released in their obsolescence.

©2005 by Jane Bunker, Ph.D. and Carol L. Skolnick, M.A.
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Jane Bunker is an artist and a retired psychologist from Santa Fe, New Mexico and Boise, Idaho, whose practice incorporated CBT and other modalities. Carol L. Skolnick is a Santa Cruz, California-based writer, educator, and facilitator of The Work of Byron Katie. Both Jane and Carol are graduates of Byron Katie's School for The Work and have served on the staff of the school.

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