Cognitive Behavioral Strategies

Lynne S. Gots, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

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It’s Taxing: Confronting the Inevitable

By Lynne Gots, posted on March 28th, 2012.

I just finished doing my taxes.  By doing, I mean filling out the detailed, 27-page “Tax Organizer” my accountant gives me every year. She makes all the complicated decisions for me. My only task is to record my earnings and expenses in the spaces provided. That’s it.  The calculations are basic—nothing more than simple addition–yet the whole process makes my head spin.

I’m what you’d call “math-challenged.” If I had to go up against a grade school child in an arithmetic competition, I’m pretty sure the fifth-grader would win.

How much computational anxiety do I have? So much that as an undergraduate psychology major, I decided not to take the then optional but strongly recommended Statistics 101. (Nowadays not only is Statistics mandatory for psych majors, but in some universities, so is Calculus, as my even more math-challenged daughter discovered when she was majoring in psychology). My advisor urged me to reconsider because the course was a prerequisite for admission to graduate programs in clinical psychology. But I held fast, insisting that I didn’t need statistics because I wasn’t planning to go on for a Ph.D. Hah.

Of course, I eventually did have to take Statistics—five graduate courses worth. And, being a conscientious student as well as an excellent memorizer, I somehow even managed to get As without understanding (or retaining) a single concept.

My aversion to numbers, coupled with my rather casual approach to keeping records, makes the whole tax preparation process an ordeal for me. My chest tightens, and I feel lightheaded. After ten minutes of sorting through receipts, I have to leave my kitchen table workstation in search of a snack to fortify me. Needless to say, nothing changes. The papers are still staring at me when I get back.

As it’s been famously said, there are only two certainties in life. One of them is taxes. So I have no choice but to confront my math phobia and do it anyway. Which, come to think of it, is a good approach for tackling any anxiety-inducing situation even when the IRS isn’t involved.


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Posted in Phobias |

Scaredy Dog

By Lynne Gots, posted on August 31st, 2011.

Like I’ve said before, dogs can teach us a lot about behavior if we bother to pay attention.

My Australian Shepherd, Freddie, is very high strung. He’s what’s known in training circles as a “reactive” dog. This means he barks at pretty much everything– bad guys on TV, garbage cans, the vacuum cleaner, motor cycles, Dr. Hambright (his vet), German Shepherds. These are just some of the many things that frighten him. We know this because, according to animal behaviorists, dogs barking out of fear sound and look different from dogs barking out of excitement or joy.

Freddie goes into a vocal frenzy whenever new people enter the house. He comes from a long line of sheep dogs, and it’s an occupational plus for his breed to be suspicious of interlopers. But Freddie takes the job of protecting his flock a little too seriously.

I’ve worked hard to get him to associate visitors with good things, like marrow bones and juicy steak tidbits. And, in much the same way I teach my human patients to face their fears gradually, I try not to put him in situations that would be too much for him to handle, keeping his fear level at around a 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. But sometimes I forget to follow my own expert advice.

Last week my son’s college roommate, Bryan, was staying with us for a few days before the guys drove back to school. Whenever Bryan entered or left a room, Freddie barked at him. I usually hold Freddie on a short leash if strangers are in the house so I can control the distance between him and them until he gets more comfortable—“habituates,” in behavior therapy parlance.

For some reason, though, this time I got lax. Maybe I was hoping he’d suddenly act like our late Golden Retriever, Calvin— a dog who gladly would befriend any person who extended a hand for him to lick. I let Freddie get close enough to Bryan for a head pat. Bad idea. Freddie let us know loud and clear, with snarling and baring of teeth, that we’d gone too far. This was maybe an 8 or 9 for him, and it was too much.

Lesson learned. Two lessons, actually: 1) Freddie is his own dog, and I need to accept him as he is, and 2) Slow and steady works best when doing exposure therapy.

By the time the loaded car pulled out of the driveway, Freddie had worked up the courage to nuzzle Bryan and lick his hand. Not like Calvin, exactly, but good enough for me.

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Posted in Behavior Change, Dogs, Phobias, Techniques |

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© 2008-2024 Lynne S. Gots, PhD. Photographs by Steven Marks Photography.