by David Bakker
This Father's Day, I want to give thanks to one of the big inspirations for MoodMission - my Dad. I would be lying if I said Dad wasn’t a huge part of why I got into psychology. Not so I could analyse him (although, it has been useful…), but rather because Dad is a clinical psychologist himself and his approach to understanding and helping others has always been hugely inspiring.
His contribution to MoodMission goes beyond just getting me into psychology. His way of explaining psychological problems as “problem-maintaining-circles”, or PMCs, was instrumental in conceiving of MoodMission. Dad is a rock-solid believer in evidence. He won’t do something with a client unless there’s good scientific research showing that it will help. This is why he is focussed on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which has the most evidence out of all psychotherapies for helping people with most prevalent mental health issues. CBT pays special attention to the things perpetuating psychological problems, because these are the things that if you change, you can stop the psychological problem from feeding itself. Dad’s PMC theory is a really useful way of explaining and exploring the maintaining factors of psychological problems.
Note: Notice how I’m using the term “psychological problems” rather than “disorders” or “diagnoses”. This is another strength of PMC theory, it doesn’t rely on problematic, stigmatising, fuzzy diagnoses, and instead rightly treats everyone like unique individuals.
So what is a PMC? Let’s say you’ve had a bad day so you come home and eat a whole block of chocolate. I think almost everyone has done this or something like it at some point. But this time half way through the block you notice how hopeless and saddening this is and you get hit with a huge wave of guilt. Thoughts run through your head like, “I’m disgusting,” “I have no self-control,” “I feel fat and it’s all my fault,” or “I don’t deserve to be happy”. Again, these reactions and thoughts are had quite frequently by a lot of people. But this time your way of coping with these distressing thoughts is by eating even more. This works temporarily, but soon enough, you notice how you’ve just eaten even more and this amplifies the guilt and the hopelessness and those self-hating thoughts. Just like this:
After a while your mood might influence your thinking in a broader way, and then you get stuck in this:
The great thing about breaking problems down into PMCs is it gives you options on where to break the cycle and stop the problem from spiralling. For example, you could challenge the negative thinking with a cognitive restructuring intervention. Or you might increase activity level by scheduling pleasant activities.
It also works for anxiety:
...and actually any psychological problem:
There is literally an infinite number of PMCs, because everyone is different and everyone’s psychological problems are different.
MoodMission works using PMC theory by offering alternate coping strategies that will break the cycles. For example, you might feel down and MoodMission suggests that you do some exercise. By the end of your short exercise Mission, you’re probably thinking about something else, you’re feeling physically different, and hopefully MoodMission helped you have a little fun.
PMC theory is so good that I would be using it even if it wasn’t Dad’s creation. I just get the extra bonus of knowing its creator rather well. And having roughly the same beard.
So thanks Dad. Thanks for everything you’ve ever done for me, and thanks for a way of helping people.
If you want to learn more about CBT and PMC theory, check out Practical CBT: Using Functional Analysis, Problem-Maintaining-Circles, and Standardised Homework in Everyday Therapy
Guess who the author is…