What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of short-term psychotherapy that has been shown to be effective for depression and anxiety, as well as a number of other mental health-related conditions.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy deals with the relationship between our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions.  Simply put, the way we think about things matters. What we tell ourselves about a situation can have very powerful effect on our mood and our behavior. 

How does CBT Work?

CBT works by at looking how our style of thinking and our behavior may be affecting our emotions. First we will focus on the relationship between our thoughts and our emotions.  While we cannot always choose what happens to us, we can choose how we respond, and a large part of that response is the thoughts that we have about it. The steps of basic CBT are as follows:   

1.     First you will learn to recognize what you are thinking at the moments when you are most upset. 

2.     Next you will learn to analyze your own thoughts to make sure that they are not one of the Unhelpful Thinking Styles that have been shown to cause (or exaggerate) depression and anxiety. 

3.     Once you can identify unhelpful thoughts, you will work towards being able to construct more beneficial thoughts. These thoughts will not merely be “wishful thinking.” They will be realistic thoughts that are based on sound reason and logic. 

4.     By practicing these skills, the negative thoughts will come to have much less of a hold on you, and your mood will improve. 

5.     Even after your therapy ends, you will have learned how to apply these skills for yourself. In effect you will know how to be your own CBT therapist. 

Looking at your own thoughts

The first step to using CBT is to learn to be a better observer of your own thoughts.  Here we keep a lookout for the thoughts that occurred just before or during emotional distress. Sometimes this is itself a challenge because the thought may have passed so quickly that it escaped our awareness—all we may know is that we suddenly feel terrible. The negative emotion could be feeling anxious, tearful, sad, or unmotivated.  This change in emotion is like a signal that an unhelpful thought has occurred.  At these times ask yourself, “What did I just think?”

The following thoughts are NOT the kind of thoughts we are looking for.

  • “My car is on empty.”
  • “I have a test tomorrow.”
  • “It’s been a month since my boyfriend broke up with me.”
  • “The dentist says I have a cavity.”
  • “I have $15 in my checking account.”

These thoughts represent an awareness of reality. Being aware of reality may not always be joyful, but it is not the problem.  The problem is what we tell ourselves about these facts—how we evaluate them. Let’s add an evaluation thought for each of these that IS the kind of negative thought we want to identify.

  • “My car is on empty. I can’t handle even the most basic tasks of life.”
  • “I have a test tomorrow. I am totally going to fail.”
  • “It’s been a month since my boyfriend broke up with me. I am never going to be able to find someone.”
  • “The dentist says I have a cavity. At this rate all of my teeth are going to fall out.”
  • “I have $15 in my checking account. I am such a loser.” 

Notice that the second part of the statement is not factual or helpful. There is something wrong with each of these thoughts. They are also the kinds of thoughts that affect our mood. In your sessions your CBT therapist will help you improve upon these types of thoughts. More information about CBT is available in the free Introduction to CBT Workbook.

To discuss with me whether CBT is the right treatment of for you call my office staff to set up an initial consultation.  Click here to set up an appointment.