Cognitive behavioral therapy has the potential to change the way you think, and if you can change the way you think, you can change your entire outlook on life. It is an effective therapy that can be used during inpatient and outpatient mental health programs. It can help you overcome negative thoughts and feelings to live a more enjoyable and rewarding life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of talk therapy that can be used to treat a wide range of mental health disorders that includes:
Many therapists prefer using CBT because it is a short-term, goal-oriented therapy, and it can quickly identify and address the challenges that are present in everyday life. Many patients also prefer this type of therapy, since fewer sessions are needed compared to other forms of therapy. CBT can help change your cognitive distortions—or negative thoughts—and their resulting behaviors that can have a huge impact on your quality of life.
Automatic thoughts can be negative or positive. Yet, those who need CBT focus more on negative automatic thoughts, which often stem from low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders. The aim of this form of therapy is to change negative thoughts into positive thoughts, ultimately changing the way your brain experiences and copes with everyday life.
CBT can address emotional distress and transform it into a more positive experience. During each session, a therapist may help you by:
CBT focuses on the meanings we give to certain events and situations, rather than the events themselves. For example, if you sought out therapy after a car accident, the sessions wouldn’t focus on the accident itself, but on how you felt about it. Your therapist may want you to explore your automatic thoughts towards the accident. A few thoughts that would be addressed during therapy include, “I deserve this,” or “If I was smarter, it wouldn’t have happened.”
Continuous negative automatic thoughts can keep you stuck in old thought patterns. Instead of opening yourself up to new ideas, you turn away from them. For example, if you think, “I’m not smart enough to do well on this test,” you could easily talk yourself into doing poorly, despite having the potential to do very well. Thoughts like these can become fixed after years of not being addressed, and they can infiltrate nearly every area of your life.
CBT sessions also seek to change cognitive distortions, which are negative thought processes and biased ways of thinking about yourself or the world. Cognitive distortions often lead to increased anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and unhealthy relationships.
CBT helps you become aware of your cognitive distortions so you can work towards shifting to a more rational and realistic way of thinking. When your thoughts become more logical, they can lead to a more positive outlook on life, and they can lead to healthier emotional and behavioral responses to life’s challenges.
Although the details of cognitive distortions are unique to each person experiencing them, there are common categories of cognitive distortions that are often addressed during therapy.
Mental filters cause you to focus on certain thoughts while excluding others. They usually involve filtering out good thoughts in favor of a singular negative thought. For example, you may be focused on the fear that you may be fired after being called into a meeting with your supervisor, even though it could be just as likely that you’re receiving a raise.
Those who disqualify positive thoughts dismiss them by saying that they don’t matter. By spending less time thinking about positive thoughts, you end up giving more weight to negative thoughts. For example, you might do well on an important test but think it doesn’t matter because you still think you’re bad at math.
Overgeneralization involves giving an unreasonable amount of weight to a bad experience and thinking it’s part of a larger pattern of bad things that always happen to you. For example, because you’re running late to work on Monday morning, you genuinely believe it means your entire week will be bad.
Labeling and mislabeling often occurs when overgeneralization is allowed to get out of hand. Not only do those who generalize engage in this kind of thinking with their own behavior, they often do it to others a well. For example, instead of thinking a coworker is acting like a jerk, you automatically assume he must be a jerk.
You may react one of two ways during an important event. You may exaggerate its importance, or you may diminish its importance, both to the detriment of your mental health. For example, you could over-exaggerate the negative impact of getting a B on a math test, while minimizing the importance of having a high reading level.
You’re engaging in negative emotional reasoning if you experience a negative emotion as a reflection of the way things really are. It can be debilitating because it follows a logical train of thought. For example, if you feel incompetent after misspeaking at a meeting, you may think that means you are dumb.
In today’s busy world, there are many things we need to do, but using should statements can quickly become debilitating. It can start with thinking you should have put in an extra hour of work, but it can transform into more insidious thoughts like, “I shouldn’t make mistakes,” which leads to guilty feelings when you don’t do what you think you should or shouldn’t do.
Personalization involves assuming a negative situation or event is your fault, even when it is not. A serious example might be believing that it’s your fault you were sexually assaulted, while grown adults may still believe it was their fault their parents split up when they were kids.
Humans are capable of problem solving, but when events aren’t properly thought through, it can cause you to jump to conclusions. This might include mind reading, where you believe someone thinks badly of you, even though that person has never said or behaved in a negative way towards you. It can also include fortune telling, which includes believing a poor outcome is guaranteed instead of realizing it’s just one of many possibilities.
This is the classic black and white thought process. Everything is one of two extremes, with no gray area in the middle. For example, you might believe getting a B on a test is just as bad as failing because you didn’t get the A you studied for.
Cognitive behavioral therapy begins by identifying problems you would like to focus on and setting goals. Common problems addressed during therapy sessions can include:
Although other types of therapy often consist of freestyle conversations, cognitive behavioral therapy sessions are very structured. It also differs from other therapeutic approaches in how it uses your specific problems to formulate personalized goals.
After your goals are formulated, you will work with your therapist to create a treatment plan which includes structured sessions and homework assignments. Each session builds on the other. At the beginning of each meeting, you will have designated time to discuss the previous session and past homework. You will also discuss which topics you would like to focus on for that session. It is very important to include your opinions, thoughts, and personal desires in CBT. Toward the end of the session, you will discuss the homework for next time.
Homework assignments, or weekly action plans, are mandatory in CBT. These homework assignments include:
Taking these assignments seriously can help you:
Homework assignments are given out at the therapist’s discretion, usually on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. They are individualized for your specific problems and goals, because there is no “one size fits all” approach to CBT. As sessions continue, your therapist will stop assigning you homework as you implement strategies and make breakthroughs and discoveries on your own.
In clinical trials, cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to reduce the symptoms of several emotional disorders. Many clinicians prefer CBT over medication, because in the short-term, it can be just as or more effective for depression and anxiety disorders. Many of these benefits also last for a significant period of time, reducing the potential for relapse.
CBT is not a “cure-all” treatment. It requires expertise on your clinician’s part, as well as consistency, open-mindedness, and courage on your part. When done correctly with a therapist, CBT is very effective. It can change negative beliefs and behaviors and replace them with more positive thought processes.
CBT may not cure you or make certain recurring thoughts go away completely. But it can provide you with the appropriate tools and skills to effectively cope with those reoccurring thoughts in your everyday life.
Port St. Lucie Hospital specializes in mental health services and is located on 20 acres near the beautiful Savannas Preserve. If you or one of your loved ones is struggling with a mental health disorder, we can help. Our comprehensive mental health services are provided by licensed professionals in various disciplines, including cognitive behavioral therapy.
We tailor our programs to our patients’ needs, and will help you every step of the way.