CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is a form of therapy that focuses “on the thoughts, images, beliefs, and attitudes that are held (a person’s cognitive processes) and how these processes relate to the way a person behaves, as a way of dealing with emotional problems.”
Understanding CBT means understanding that it’s essentially the perfect combination of psychotherapy and behavioral therapy. It pulls from many different treatment modules to prove that our automatic thinking guides our behaviors; in turn, these behaviors guide our life.
Why CBT is so successful in treating mental illness?
CBT is effective in treating mental illnesses including, but not limited to, anxiety, depression, and addiction. The reason it’s so successful is multi-faceted. For starters, it is a very goal-centered approach. In therapy, we begin by addressing which behaviors you are engaging in and setting goals to counter those behaviors in order to change your life. From there we can fill in the missing blanks. These blanks include the negative thought patterns that led to your behaviors, what those behaviors do for you, and how they are impacting your life.
Before jumping into cognitive behavioral therapy, understanding CBT and what you’re about to engage in is important.
So, what does the CBT approach entail?
CBT has four major steps:
Identifying the situation
What is bringing you to therapy? What is bringing you to read this article? As we already know, the first step in CBT is acknowledging the problem and setting both short-term and long-term goals in order to find a solution to the problem.
Becoming aware of your thoughts and beliefs about the situation
CBT is a form of talk therapy. This means that much of our time together will be spent in discussion. As we talk, we’ll discuss not only your situation but also your beliefs about the situation. For example, if you’re struggling with anxiety, why do YOU think that is? What about your past has led you to this moment today? How do you feel about the fact that you’re struggling? What are your beliefs about yourself in relation to your disorder? What are your beliefs about others in relation to your disorder?
Identifying negative or false thinking
While we’re engaged in discussion, I will become aware of red flags and bring them to your attention. For example, an automatic thought that many who struggle with social anxiety have is that nobody likes them or wants to be their friend. Questioning these negative thoughts is critical in CBT. Once you share that thought, we can then dive into why you think that and where that thought stems from.
Further discussion may reveal that the reason you feel like nobody likes you is that your friend said she was sick and she canceled your plans to get together. Instead of actually believing that she was sick, your thought may have been, “She doesn’t like me and doesn’t want to hang out with me anymore, I must be a terrible friend.” This is a negative thought that will dictate your anxious reaction.
Reframing the negative/false thinking
Once you’re aware of the falsity of your thoughts, we can begin to reframe them. This way, the next time you’re in a similar situation, you won’t instinctively believe it has to do with you being a bad friend. This is perhaps the trickiest part of CBT because those beliefs may be so ingrained in your mind it’s difficult to change them.
While CBT is effective in changing your thoughts, behaviors, and life, there is no fail-proof method to make a mental illness disappear. Getting the most out of CBT requires regular practice. The overall goal of your therapist is to equip you with the skills you need to practice CBT on your own.