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Page 1

“The Work” of Byron Katie: A New


Ricardo Hidalgo, LMHC

Mental Health Practitioner


Anil Coumar, MBBS, MA

Director, Mental Health Clinic

Hall Health Center

University of Washington

Box 354410

Seattle, WA 98195

Tel: 206-543-5030

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“The Work of Byron Katie: A New Psychotherapy?

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This paper introduces “The Work” of Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is. It

contends that “Inquiry”, as it is also called, can be thought of as a new psychotherapy,

which may be as effective as or more effective than existing approaches, even though

Byron Katie never introduced it as such. This simple, straightforward process,

summarized by “Judge your neighbor, write it down, ask four questions and turn it

around”, makes is broadly accessible and researchable. While Byron Katie has

introduced this therapeutic process to hundreds of thousands around the world in the

past 20 years, it has made few inroads into the field of psychotherapy even though

many mental health practitioners have experienced the value of this process and have

incorporated it into their practices. It is our hope that this paper will more broadly

introduce “The Work”, and stimulate interest in researching this simple, effective


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“The Work of Byron Katie: A New Psychotherapy?

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threat of punishment” (Katie, Byron with Stephen Mitchell; Loving What Is, Harmony

Books, 2002) page 11-12.)

Like psychoanalytic thinkers, Byron Katie observes that we suppress, repress, attempt

to ward off and otherwise defend against our painful, feared, thoughts and judgments.

She commonly refers to these unwanted thoughts as “our rejected children” and she

invites us to welcome our unwanted, rejected “children” back so we can meet them

with understanding, instead of with our usual hostility, rejection and fear. Like some

psychoanalytic writers, Byron Katie concludes that everything we experience is a


One difference from psychoanalytic approaches is that “The Work” invites the free

associations to be written down, where they can then be easily looked at and

investigated. Katie calls this “stopping mind”, and she points out that the pole of mind

that just needs to be right is so quick and fleeting, that unless we do this on paper, we

are largely unable to analyze our thoughts and get to the other pole of mind, that

simply wants to know what is true.

Another difference is that instead of the analyst making interpretations, the therapist

asks the four questions, which invite the patient to reflect and introspect; that is, to

self-analyze. The turnaround also replaces the analyst’s interpretation. It is the

turnaround itself that yields the deep emotional insight, not the brilliant, well timed

interpretation of the analyst, which can and is often rejected by the patient. Whereas

psychoanalytic approaches are treating the pain of the client by creating new, plausible

stories through interpretations, “Inquiry” is “undoing” existing painful stories.

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The Work as a mindfulness-based psychotherapy:

Mindfulness-based psychotherapy is an emerging model of psychotherapy based on the

age-old tradition of Buddhist psychology and meditation practice. Psychotherapeutic

mindfulness may be defined as awareness of present experience with total acceptance.

It is a unique way of relating to our experience that reduces emotional suffering and

increases a general sense of well-being. Mindfulness is a skill that can be cultivated by

the therapist to enhance the clinical effectiveness of the therapeutic relationship. It

can also be applied in strategic exercises for the client, either formally in meditation or

informally in skills for everyday living. Mindfulness teaches clients to recognize and

accept their thoughts and emotions without necessarily reacting to them.

Research shows how sustained recovery from depression depends upon learning to

keep mild states of sadness, and the thinking patterns they trigger, from spiraling out

of control. In mindfulness based therapy, the clinician assists clients in developing a

capacity to allow distressing feelings, thoughts and sensations to occupy awareness,

without trying to change them. “The Work” goes beyond mindfulness practice and

teaches a method of questioning the stressful beliefs. By investigating the stressful

thoughts, they tend to lose their power and persistence. Byron Katie calls this “the

great undoing”.

The Work can compliment mindfulness-based therapies. While the mindfulness-based

therapies help to build awareness and equanimity, the work provides an additional tool

to deal with the recurrent thinking and feeling loops that increase the chance of

depression returning. In the experience of one of the authors (AC), “The Work”

strengthened the meditation practice. It gave him a new, powerful way to deal with the

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In our personal and clinical experience, “The Work” of Byron Katie can be used as

an incisive, effective psychotherapy. It has helped our clients of all ages with a wide

variety of presenting symptoms – from the simplest to the most complex and

chronic. Many had not derived much benefit from other methods we had used.

The field of clinical psychology and the millions being treated by it stand much to

gain by this simple, effective process. It’s simple, straightforward structure makes it

easy to learn and to research. We hope that this article will stimulate the interest of

many clinicians and researchers in the field.

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Ellis, Albert; Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy: It Works for Me--It Can Work for

You; Prometheus Books, 2004

Germer, Christopher K.; Mindfulness and Psychotherapy, Guilford

Publications, 2005

Glasser, William; Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom; Harper

Collins Publishers, 1998

Katie, Byron; Loving What is; Harmony Books, 2002.

Schore, Alan; Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self, Hillsdale, L. Erlbaum

Associates, 1994

Segal, Zindel V,; Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Depression: A New

Approach to Preventing Relapse, The Guilford Press, 2001.

Winnicott, Donald; Child, the Family, and the Outside World, Addison-Wesley

Longman, Inc., 2000

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