Thursday, 18 January 2018 20:35

Using Byron Katie's The work in psychotherapy

Written by 



Byron Kathleen Mitchell


Years ago, I, Ozodi Thomas Osuji, read Byron Katie's books: (1) Loving what is, (2) I need your love, is that True (3) A Thousand names for Joy (written with her husband, Stephen Mitchell).  Her books have what she calls the work.

This evening (January 17, 2018), for some reasons, Byron Katie entered my mind and I decided to revisit "the work". I went to her website:


The work begins by asking you to judge your neighbor. Most spiritual teachings ask us not to judge other people. As we all know, we spend much of our time judging people. So, Byron Katie asks us to judge our neighbors. Select a neighbor and judge him or her.

You begin the work exercise by stating who the neighbor you are going to judge is; you write your judgment down on paper; you write what you judge to be good or bad in him or her.

I am going to judge my daughter.

I hate her because she disappointed me; she is opposition-defiant and does not do anything that her mother and I ask her to do; she has grandiose self-concept and believes that she knows it all; she tells us that she knows more than us and knows more than teachers and all people.

Because she believes that she knows it all she does not listen to any one and dropped out of school.

She does not have respect for her parents and for other people. This is my perception of her.

I value education so her dropping out of school was like sticking a knife into my heart. I cannot forgive her for dropping out of school!

I had expected her, given her smarts (she attended a school for gifted kids), to become, say, a medical doctor or mathematician (she is very good at mathematics) in her early twenties. Instead, she did not graduate from college, even though universities recruited her at age fourteen.

Byron Katie would say that this is the story my mind tells me about my daughter; I tell me the story of who she shouldn't have been, which implies who I want her to be.

In other words, I do not accept the reality of who she is but want to change her present reality; I want to change who she is and have her become who I want her to be; in effect, I am playing the creator of reality; I am playing God.

According to Byron Katie, I ought to merely accept her reality as it is, not as I want it to become.

The work says that I must ask four questions called:


Is it true?

Can I absolutely know that it is true?

How do I react when I believe the thoughts?

What would I be without the thoughts?

I should apply the four questions to the person I am judging:

Is it true that I hate her for being defiant, oppositional and disrespectful?  My answer is yes.

Can I absolutely know that it is true?  My answer is yes, she is oppositional.

How do I react when I believe the thoughts I have about her? I feel disappointed and angry at her.

Who would I be without the thoughts? I would accept her in an unconditionally positive manner and in doing so feel peaceful and happy.


Here, I am required to address the questions to myself.

Is it true that I hate me for being oppositional, defiant and disrespectful and grandiose? Yes.

Can I absolutely know that it is true that I hate me for being disrespectful, oppositional and grandiose? Yes.

How do I react when I believe the thoughts that I am oppositional, defiant, disrespectful and grandiose?  I feel disappointed and angry at myself.

What would I be without the thoughts? I would accept myself in an unconditionally positive manner and as a result feel happy and peaceful; I should not blame myself for being oppositional and grandiose.

As is self-evident, Byron Katie is saying that what I say (what you say) about other people is really what I say about me (what you say about other people is what you say about you).

What I say about my daughter is what I say about me, perhaps, deny it, and project it to her. I am employing the well-known ego defense mechanisms called denial and projection.

We think thoughts and project our thoughts outwards to those around us. Having projected what we see in us, that we do not like, to other people we see them doing those things and blame them and want to change them.

In doing so, we do not look inside us and see our thoughts and change them. We want to change other people and the world but not ourselves! As it were, we say: other people and the world must change for us to be happy (even if other people changed unless we change we cannot be happy!).

The reality is that no human being can change other people and change the world. The only person that one can change, if at all, is one's self.

Instead of trying to change other persons and the world one should try to change one's self. Instead of being disappointed and angry at other persons and the world for not being as we want them to be, we accept that we are angry and disappointed with ourselves for not being as perfect as we would like to be.

Having accepted that what one really wants to change is one's self, that is, ones thoughts about one's self, the next question is: is what one wants to change in one, other people and the world changeable?

In other words, can the reality we see in our lives be changed?  We probably cannot change all of our reality but only minor aspects of it.


I used to be very angry at Africans for not being able to do the right things; everywhere I look in Africa I see misgovernance; I see thievish leaders carting their people's wealth away and not developing their countries. I blamed the leaders of Africa for the shithole, as the US President, Donald Trump said, Africa is.

If I turn it around what I am doing is blaming me for not changing Africa and making it perfect; instead of self-blame I project blame to Africans and other people in general (those I see as miss-ruling Africa).

Regardless of whether I blame others or me, what is, is that Africa is not well governed. That is the reality in front of me.

If I accept what is, Africa's poor governance, without blaming me or anyone else for it, I ask: why is Africa the shithole it is (shithole is a negative judgement; Byron Katie asks me to judge as harshly as is possible; no political correctness that sugar coats a bad situation)?

Africans, until about a hundred and fifty years ago, were running around naked; they did not know how to read or write. They were primitive folks. This is ugly, stark reality; it makes Africans feel negative self-esteem so they mask it by blaming other people for their apparent backwardness.

Africans were recently exposed to Western civilization; they are trying to catchup to the West.

It took the West twenty five hundred years (from ancient Greece to the present) to get to where it is at today.  I expect Africans to do it in a century? That is unrealistic expectation! Culture and people do not change that easily.

All things considered, it would take several centuries before Africa catches up with Europe; Africans will eventually catch up with the rest of the world but not as quickly as I want it to be.

Given this realism, instead of blaming Africans or me for our apparent backward state I can do my bit to move the ball a bit forward.

Reality is what it is; I got to live with it and make the small, incremental changes that can be made in it.

Even when we improve aspects of reality it is still not going to be perfect, as our minds want it to be.


Byron Katie's books are predicated on Chinese philosophy, although she did not consciously say so. Her husband to be, he met her while she was already teaching her philosophy, recognized Taoism in her teaching.  Stephen Mitchell, the husband, had studied Taoism and Zen and written books on them.

All she knows, she said, is that she was a depressed housewife who one day in February, 1986 woke up one morning and her life changed. She said that her way of looking at reality totally changed and she became a peaceful and happy woman.  She said that she used to be a fearful and depressed woman but fear and depression completely dropped away from her life.

She examined what changed inside her and recognized that it had to do with how she looked at herself, people and the world. Her mind stopped doing what it was doing in the past, not accepting reality as it is; her mind used to give her stories of how things ought to be and because she was not the oughts and shoulds she depressed herself.

She, in effect, did what psychotherapists call cognitive behavior therapy and changed her pattern of thinking and behaving: she decided to accept reality as it is, not as she would want it to become.

Reality, as it is, in Taoism's perspective is composed of good and bad, white and black, man and woman, light and darkness, pleasure and pain, Yin and Yang.

See Lao Tzu's book, Tao Te Ching. This book was written 2500 years ago, the same time that both Buddha and Confucius lived.

Taoism, pronounced Daoism, is the primary philosophy of China (plus the Buddhism brought from India to China and, of course, China's native Confucius).

Lao Tzu's book teaches "the way things are"; we are supposed to adjust to the way things are, not as we want them to be. (The West calls this oriental approach to phenomena fatalism.)

The mature Chinese person, who is a Taoist, accepts reality as it is.

No one on planet earth understands the nature of reality, "for the Tao that can be understood is not the Tao".

We do not understand absolute reality but on earth Taoism teaches that that reality manifests in dualities of good and bad, pleasure and pain; where you see one the other is; if you are feeling pleasure you will also will feel pain. Our world is the place of opposites and multiplicity.

This is our world's reality; to expect one (yin) and not the other (yang), say, pleasure and not pain is to be unrealistic.


It is true that ultimate reality is unknown to us and that we cannot change it; it is also true that we should not go about trying to change people; the individual cannot change reality and other people no matter how hard he tries.

But that being said, there are aspects of reality that we can study, understand and change what we can change in it and live with what we cannot change in it.

Regarding my daughter, who is like me (she exaggerates all the traits in me), we really cannot completely change her nature; she is defiant, oppositional and grandiose; she wants to do her own thing, live her life as she sees fit and not live to please other persons. She seeks absolute individualism in an interconnected and interdependent world. I get it.

We can understand the psychological processes involved in her drive for excessive independence; while we cannot completely change her behavior trajectory we can change aspects of it so that she is not self-defeating.

It is self-defeating to drop out of school just because she believes that schools teach mostly rubbish. Schools do manage to teach some useful subjects.

Physics, chemistry, biology (neuroscience), astronomy, astrophysics and geology are, by and large, objective sciences; we can study them and benefit from them. We can benefit from their applied forms in medicine, engineering and technology.

The social sciences are, as she observed, mostly used to perpetuate oppressive extant political systems.

American political economy needs to change to a social democratic and mixed economic system.  We do not have to accept what Karl Marx called primitive capitalism; we do not have to accept oppressive white rule over non-whites just because it is what is.

We can make some changes to our society realizing that society is not ever going to become perfect. There will always be rulers and the ruled, the powerful and the weak and the rich and the poor but we can have a Scandinavian type society where the public gives all people publicly paid education at all levels, publicly paid health insurance, day care centers for children while their parents work and so on.

We do not have to blindly accept present social reality as it is, as Byron Katie seems to suggest we do if we want to live in peace and harmony.

We do not need the peace of graveyards, the peace of the defeated, aka Carthaginian peace.

Some tension is good for us. We must work to change whatever we see as our reality. Some idealism is necessary for society to improve itself, although excessive idealism shows inability to deal with one's reality; too much idealism is rejection of reality and pursuit of impossible perfection. Determining what is possible and what is not takes wisdom.


I find Byron Katie's books and "the work" useful. She is clearly conservative and acquiesces to what is. Well, what is can be oppressive.

We do not have to, for example, accept Islamic societies that oppress their women; we must work to give women social and political equality. We do not have to accept racism, as President Trump is currently practicing in the USA.

Trump is about to generate a civil war in the USA, a war that would destroy the country unless he cuts out that nonsense.

No healthy human being will ever tolerate being treated as second class, as the white racists who support Trump would like to treat black and brown people. They say that they want to take their country back from President Barack Obama and the rule of nonwhite folks.

Who gave them the country? We are all immigrants in the USA, even Indians and Eskimos came from elsewhere! We must figure out a way to live together and get along with each other respectfully.

All human beings are the same and coequal; if you cannot deal with that reality you are free to go jump into the ocean and drown your problematic self. The world could use your riddance.

In struggling for ideal society we are fighting extant social reality. Who said that we must accept reality?

What is reality, anyway? We do not know what reality is; reality is always a social construct; if our present ideas of reality are not working out well for us we must deconstruct them and reconstruct them and make them work for us.

That been said, Byron Katie's books and "the work" based on them is useful in thinking about ones pattern of thinking and behaving; one can use her system to understand and make some changes in one's personality and thus find some inner peace and happiness.

However, the book is not likely going to give one perfect peace and joy for that is not probably available in our imperfect world.

Would Byron Katie's philosophy heal my daughter's tendency to oppositional behavior? No. She inherited some biological issues that, in Alfred Adler's categories, made her feel inferior and inadequate and she compensated with desire for superiority and power. She does not tolerate any one seeming better than she. That is neurosis (with some delusion, grandiosity).

She must give up her desire for a big ego self. When the grandiose ego is given up one feels peaceful.

As Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Zen correctly observed and Byron Katie affirmed, the mind is a means of thinking but is not its thoughts.

You can wish to be important and powerful (thoughts) but that is not who you are. If you identify with your desired importance you feel anxiety and depression from not attaining them.

If you give up the desire for importance and power and have no grandiose ego self you feel like a void and in that void state feel unified with all life and have real power, a power that sees itself as one with all people but not one that feels superior to other people.

Where there is neurosis (desire for superiority) one has low self-esteem and low self-confidence. One may grandstand about ones supposed superiority all one wants to but that is not the same thing as positive self-esteem.

My daughter needs to learn self-assertiveness and give up her tendency to passive aggression and aggression; she needs to moderate her oppositional behavior and learn to see herself as the same and coequal with all people.

A combination of western psychotherapy and Oriental religions, as in Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Zen is useful for this extraordinarily bright woman to improve her life.

At the moment she has made her life a royal mess; she blames her parents for her unenviable situation, a situation where a mentally gifted woman does not have marketable skills, hence is poor.

Regardless of who caused her problems, she can change her thinking and change her behavior. Byron Katie's book might help her help herself.

Ozodi Thomas Osuji, PhD (University of California)

January 18, 2018

Read 43 times
Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: (907) 310-8176