Dissatisfied with your life? Are you always repeating the same mistakes? Are you tired of always making a mess?
Cognitive behavioral therapy might be what you need to solve your problems. We unpack knowledge on CBT and how it works.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is defined as a psycho-social intervention whose key aim is to help improve a person’s mental health.
Its original purpose was to help treat depression, but it has been incorporated in treatment of various other mental health conditions such as anxiety.
CBT by itself is highly effective in the treatment of the less severe forms of depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, substance abuse, tics, eating disorders, and borderline personality disorder.
People struggling with fentanyl addiction and even heroin can be treated/rehabilitated using cognitive behavioral therapy.
How Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Works
The intended outcome of CBT is to make the patient change the thinking and behavior patterns those have been barring him from achieving positive outcomes in his life.
It is also useful in helping people grappling with a variety of social, work, medical, or emotional problems.
The CBT model develops from combining the basic principles of behavioral and cognitive psychology.
Unlike historical approaches to psychotherapy which focused on the unconscious mind and its manifestations through behavior, CBT is problem-focused and action-oriented. Instead of delving into your past to provide insight into your feelings, CBT prioritizes the here and now. It focuses on your present thoughts and beliefs.
It uncovers your unhelpful cognitive distortions (thoughts, beliefs, attitudes) and behaviors, and challenges you to change them for a better, healthier way of thinking. In doing so, CBT helps you improve your emotional regulation and you develop personal coping strategies to help you face your current problems.
CBT helps you develop specific skills to recognize your distorted thinking, modify your beliefs, and teach you how to relate with others differently. Practicing these skills in your daily life, you can eventually learn to behave in the way you desire.
We all see the world through a lens distorted by our wishes, needs, and experience. In fact, all our experiences are subjective. It is why five people will have five different accounts of the same event.
Cognitive misperception is when our view of the world is colored by wrong thinking. In other words: faulty thinking.
Think of computer programming code. If the coder accidentally uses a (+) sign where he should have used a (-) sign, the program will add instead of subtracting. Our brains are similar to computer programs. Wrong code (faulty thinking) will have a direct, negative effect on our behavior.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is the psychology version of debugging: fix the errors in the code that defines your personality/character.
Most of our thought processes are automatic. It’s why you seem to have no control over your reactions to events. You may overreact, cower, feel anxious, or be sickened, all without any conscious thought on your part.
Feedback Loops of Doom
Faulty thinking becomes a feedback loop. Feedback loops are like the iconic image of the snake devouring its tail.
An example: your faulty thinking is that thin bodies are the only beautiful bodies. Unfortunately, you do not have a thin body.
Every time you see a slim model or actress, you feel terrible: negative, emotional feedback that reinforces your faulty thinking that only thin bodies are beautiful.
The worse you feel, the more you wish you were thinner. The more you wish you were thinner, the more you believe your own faulty thinking.
Unless you interrupt this thought process and examine it, testing it against reality, it will become a feedback loop that drives you into deeper pits of negative emotions like guilt, shame, resentment, fear, and self-hatred.
That is exactly what the cognitive behavioral therapist will help you do. With CBT, you can recognize the distorted sections of your thinking patterns and how they directly affect your moods and emotions. You will also learn how to change this rigid thinking patterns.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Action
Cognitive behavioral therapy takes place one-on-one with the therapist and generally lasts anywhere between one and twenty sessions – short-term therapy.
It focuses on a specific goal or problem. For instance, in the example above, the CBT sessions would have been focused on getting the patient to:
- Understand that her idea of slim bodies being the only beautiful bodies is a false belief.
- See the direct link between this wrong belief and her shame, guilt, and low self-esteem.
- Replace the wrong belief with something positive and realistic.
- Practice refraining from automatic responses based on the faulty thinking – for instance, don’t binge on chocolate when she feels ashamed of her body after hearing somebody something disparaging about her. If she’s bulimic, ignore the urge to induce vomiting after a meal by reminding herself what she has learned in therapy.
- Practice living and acting in line with her updated self concept and new line of thought: like eating a healthy, balanced diet (no dieting) and exercising regularly not because she wants to lose weight but because a healthy lifestyle is an objectively good thing.
A List of the Common Interventions Practiced in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Identify the problem.
- Become aware of your automatic thoughts.
- See the difference between rational and irrational conclusions.
- Overcome negative thinking.
- Question your underlying assumptions.
- Become aware of the multiple perspectives of a situation.
- Testing the veracity of your perceptions against reality.
- Rectify your thinking to more closely resemble reality.
- Assess the usefulness of a certain belief or thought.
- Recognize and alter distorted beliefs.
- Improve awareness of mood.
- Keep a diary to track your thought and behavior patterns.
- Gradually start exposing yourself to things your fear.
- Drop the habit of generalizing and the all-or-nothing type of thinking.
- Quit personalizing issues and taking blame for everything.
- Learn to focus on the reality of things than on what you think they should be.
- Do not judge – instead describe, accept, and understand.
Consider computer-operated machines. If the wrong instructions are given in the computer code, the machine will act inappropriately. We humans are like that. The difference is that we are in control of our own coding.
We are simultaneously, the coder, the computer, the machine, and the machine operator. The code is our thoughts and perceptions. It’s up to us to teach ourselves how to think and act. Cognitive behavioral helps you learn exactly that.