What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and What’s so Good about it?
There’s a lot of talk these days about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, both within therapy circles and among the general population. I’d like to share with you what CBT is, and why there’s so much positive press about it.
CBT is one of the few “evidence-based therapies,” that is to say it has been extensively studied and compared with other forms of psychotherapy. There is evidence that now concludes that CBT is more effective for treating depression, anxiety, eating and other disorders than other therapy modalities.
So what is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)?
“C” for Cognitive, refers to our thoughts.
CBT first teaches you to recognize a thought as simply a thought, instead of taking it to be truth. This is important because a thought always precedes a feeling. So if you’re feeling down, CBT teaches you to trace the thought that gave rise to your bad feeling.
For example, the other day I was sitting in a coffee shop drinking a coffee. I noticed an extremely attractive woman walk in and immediately was aware of a sinking feeling in my stomach. What’s that about, I wondered to myself. I asked myself what I had been thinking and after a minute realized the thought was, “I’m dowdy.”
When I was able to see this as simply a thought, one of millions that run through our minds everyday, I had a little bit of distance from it. The next step was to ask myself, “What is true about this?”
The truth is that “dowdy”, “beautiful,” and all other descriptive terms are relative and fluctuating. There is no ultimate truth about them. A person who loves me might describe me as beautiful, while another might thing I’m average looking. And even those 2 people are likely to change their descriptions of me according to an infinite number of variables.
What’s important here is that I felt bad about myself because of the thought, “I’m dowdy.” When I was able to replace the thought with the truth, which is the ever-changing nature of descriptive terms, my mood lifted immediately and I felt much better about myself.
“B” for Behavioral, refers to the actions we take.
Using this same example, if I’m feeling ‘dowdy’ and bad about myself, I might sink into my chair, bury my head in my phone or book, and not want to look at anyone. This would almost certainly insure that nobody would look at me, which would in turn reinforce the initial thought. You get the point.
On the other hand, if I’m feeling good about myself, I might look around, make eye contact (a behavior) with someone, get a smile, and go about my day with a good feeling about this little personal encounter. And I would take action from this place, which would further contribute to my good feelings.
“T” for Therapy, refers to the process of healing, in order to feel better.
1. The first step in the process is to recognize a negative feeling when it arises. Most of us have clues about when we feel bad, like a sinking feeling, ‘butterflies,” or shutting down.
2. The second step is to trace the thought that gave rise to the feeling. Simply ask yourself, ‘what was I just thinking?’ Was it that? No. Or that? No. Oh it was that! You’ll get to it with practice.
3. The third step is to ask, ‘what is really true about this?’ It will become readily apparent, I promise. You’re likely to immediately feel a little surge of relief upon recognizing the truth.
4. The fourth step is to take action based on what is actually true rather than your thought. At first, you’ll have to make a very conscious decision to take a small (baby) action step based on this truth. Even if the truth is that you don’t know, as opposed to assuming something negative.
In the example I gave above, I made a conscious decision to look around me and make eye contact with someone. That might be too big a step to take initially, so you might decide to just look around and keep your head up!
Therapists around the world are having success using this model with their clients and patients, and insurance companies are paying for CBT because it yields results.
So go ahead and giveCognitive Behavior Therapy a try the next time you’re feeling bad. What do you have to lose?
For a free 30-minute consult with Dhyan Summers, MA, LMFT visit www.expatcounselingandcoaching.com.