I have read many books, attended many classes, and watched many videos explaining the theories and techniques of cognitive behavior therapy. My favorite video, though, was not produced by a mental health professional, but by the television network, Nickleodeon.
In Chuckie and the slide, the ever-fretful Chuckie Finster longs to go down the slide and have fun like all the other kids at the park. But when he looks up, the slide appears menacing. His perpetual nemesis, Angelica, makes fun of him and calls him a "scaredy cat." Fortunately, Chuckie has a good friend in Tommy Pickles. Tommy takes Chuckie to the smartest kid on the block, Suzie, who agrees to help.
Under Suzie's guidance, the neighborhood kids help Chuckie face his fears by gradually exposing him to heights, to going back and forth in a tire swing, having a fan blowing hard in his face, and traveling fast in a wagon. As he get used to the physical sensations connected to heights and moving at a high rate of speed, Suzie instructs him to tell himself repeatedly, "I'm a big brave dog!"
These are some of the basic strategies of cognitive behavior therapy--exposure to the feared situations and learning more adaptive ways of thinking.
The simple charm of Rugrats is that it teaches its lessons with humor, yet never minimizes or ridicules Chuckie's fears. The fears are portrayed as common.
Of course, the episode ends with Chuckie triumphantly climbing up the slide and enjoying the trip back down. When the other kids ask how he overcame his fears, he answers: "I just did. That's all."
Chuckie had help, but the success was all his own.
Believe it or not, I once worked with an 8-year-old girl who had the same fear as Chuckie. She felt ostracized by other kids at recess because she was too fearful to join them going down the slide on the playground. I helped her by using Chuckie's basic principles of CBT:
Copyright 2011 Greg Markway, Ph.D.
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