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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Things you need to know about The Work but didn’t know to ask

Reader Submission

Did you just hear from a trusted source about this amazing new method for relieving stress by simply questioning your troubling thoughts? Did you stumble across a parenting article that claims you can get rid of all of those “old tapes” from childhood by taking a moment for Self-Inquiry before responding to a child in a tantrum? Were you searching the internet for a respite from depression or anxiety and you clicked into an oasis of self-help hope promising to end all suffering?

If you don’t know it yet, we’re talking about The Work of Byron Katie, and before you try to heal your depression, resolve past trauma, or annihilate anxiety with those four little questions and a turn-around, there’s a lot more you need to know about The Work than you’ll find at the official site http://www.thework.com. This Q & A highlights a few spots in the background of The Work that fall into the shadows when the star, Byron Katie, takes the stage to tell her story.

What is The Work?
Byron Katie International states that The Work is, “a way to understand what’s hurting you, and to address the cause of your problems with clarity.” (http://thework.com/thework.php)

Even though The Work isn’t therapy, isn’t it better than therapy for reducing suffering?
In the context of measuring therapeutic outcomes, research-based evidence has become a growing standard used in western psychology (http://psychology.wikia.com/wiki/Eviden ... d_practice). There are no evidence-based, peer-reviewed studies of the effectiveness of The Work cited by Byron Katie or Byron Katie International in support of claims that utilizing The Work can, “alleviate depression, decrease stress, improve relationships, reduce anger, and/or increase mental clarity, energy, and peace.” (http://thework.com/thework.php)

But lots of people say The Work helps them, shouldn’t we just take their word for it?
All reports of the effectiveness of The Work, including Byron Katie’s own story, can be defined as testimonial or anecdotal, in the absence of rigorous evidence-based research. The Federal Trade Commission bars the use of testimonials for which an “advertiser itself cannot substantiate,” but third party testimonials such as book reviews and online comments do not have the same limits. (http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus28 ... rules-road)

But psychologists recommend The Work. Shouldn’t we trust them?
Among the United States psychologists who have documented endorsements for The Work, one of the most visible, self-proclaimed parenting expert Naomi Aldort, has recently disclaimed her Ph.D. and psychologist credential as “not credible” (http://www.naomialdort.com). Another supporter, Anil Coumar, director of Student Mental Health at the University Washington has self-published one article in support of using a form of The Work in psychotherapy, but neglects to mention in the paper or his profile at the UW that he is also a Certified Facilitator of The Work (http://www.padoin.com/thework/anil.pdf). And David Wise, the psychologist who has published the strongest endorsement of The Work, claiming that “The best form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in our opinion, is offered in The Work of Byron Katie,” earned his Ph.D. in sociology in 1967, not psychology (http://sociology.berkeley.edu/alumni2/), a fact that was only revealed after questions about his credentials were raised in patient forums. (http://www.pelvicpain.org.uk/forum/view ... e1dfbf4190)

But isn’t The Work just four questions and a turn-around?
Even the foot-in-the-door mantra about The Work is misleading. As advertised on http://www.thework.com, to do The Work, you first fill out a 6 question directed response form about your negative judgements of others on the Judge Your Neighbor worksheet, then you ask 4 questions about each statement on that form, and you are finally directed to turn each of the 6 statements around in 3 different ways and supply 3 concrete examples from your own life in which each of the 3 turn-arounds are true. If you just go through the process once, you have asked yourself 10 questions about your presumed negative belief and been led to construct at least 9 examples of how turning around your belief is at least as true or truer than you original thought. Plus, question 3 of the “four little questions” includes 7 subquestions for those who feel a bit confused by the query, “Who would you be without that thought?” (http://thework.com/downloads/worksheets/facilitationguide_Eng.pdf)

Next time: But The Work doesn’t ask you to do anything. Can questioning your thoughts hurt?


  1. Katie is just another New Age opportunist. People want relief from their anxieties & they are happy to believe all of the self-proclaimed gurus.

  2. @Kathleen - perhaps, but this work is favorable to mind-numbing medications that are often a forced alternative for some