If you’re looking into counseling for you or a family member, you may be hearing a lot about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). What is CBT? How does it work? Is it effective and safe? It is ok to ask these questions. Knowing the answers will make finding help less scary.
What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT is one of the most popular and widely practicedmethods for treating mental illness and is often used to prevent the need for medicine, or to help medicine be more effective. It is one of two methods that every person training to be a psychologist is required to learn.
It is based on the theory that a person’s thoughts, behaviors, and feelings all influence each other. Because they can’t be completely separated, we should work on improving all of them. However, even making little changes in one area can improve the other areas.
Thoughts: If you’re depressed or angry, you’re more likely to think negative thoughts, which in turn makes you feel more of the same. Likewise, if you’re behaving in a way know is wrong, you might use your thoughts to justify your actions. Learning to change your thoughts allows us one tool to break the cycle.
Behaviors: If you’re thinking or feeling things that make you uncomfortable, scared, angry, or sad, you may lash out at others, push them away, or isolate yourself. These behaviors only make your condition worse. If you are given the tools, you can learn that thoughts and feelings don’t have to control your behaviors.
Feelings: Feelings are one of our most basic human instincts. Often, they cause behaviors and actions that are hurtful before we even think about them. Learning to track, identify, and respond healthily to your feelings can improve both your thoughts and behaviors.
It also teaches that all beliefs can be summed up as thoughts about our self, thoughts about others, and thoughts about the future.
How Does it Work?
Cognitive behavioral theory is a lot of conversation between you and your therapist. Through developing a professional relationship with them, they will help equip you with the mental and emotional tools you need to deal with many problems.
The entire process can take many sessions. Depending on how often you are seeing your psychologist, it can take between 6 months and 2 years. The reason it can take so long is it’s not just covering up a problem, it is giving you the tools you need to conquer all past and future issues.
The process may include any or allthe following:
Assessment: In this phase, your therapist will help you discoverharmful thoughts and behaviors that need to decrease, and positive behaviors and thoughts that need to increase.
Reconceptualization: In this step, you’ll learn to think about your negative thoughts in ahealthier way. If a friend forgetting to call you would normally spiral you into self-hate, you might instead learn to think of all the other reasons they may have forgotten.
Skills acquisition: This is when you learn behaviors that help you deal with negative thoughts and feelings and reduce the psychological effects you’re dealing with. This could be anything from breathing exercises, to meditation, to establishing a habit of beneficial personal hygiene.
Skills application: After learning the skills you need, you’ll learn how to apply them. This may focus on specific situations that arise a lot or may take the form of “if this happens, then try this skill.” You will become much more capable of applying your skills outside the therapist’s office.
Maintenance:Make sure you’re practicing your skills as much as possible. Habits can take a while to develop but practicing your skills even after most of your therapy is over can really help make your recovery permanent.
Follow-up:Your therapist may want to check in with you even after you have completed your sessions. This will likely be once or twice a year.
As you can see, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy focuses on:
changing unhelpful cognitive habits (distortions/behaviors).
improving emotional regulation.
developing problem solving strategies.
Is it Effective?
You may be wondering how effective Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is. For many less severe forms of problems with anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, substance abuse, and other illnesses, CBT is found to be extremely effective without the use of medication.
It is quite possible that if you are seeking treatment for one of these, you may not have to take medication. While medication can be useful, if you can solve a problem without it, you won’t risk any side effects or complications.
For more severe issues like obsessive compulsive disorder, or major depression, you doctor may suggest medication in addition to CBT. It is important to seek out therapy even if you have medication because it helps establish the habits you need for healing and prevention.
While it’s possible that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is less then effective for some people, it’s a great option to try before more aggressive forms of treatment.
Tips for CBT
If you are planning to do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy here are some tips to get the most out of your treatment:
Go to every session: If you really want to overcome your mental illness, you need to make sure you go to every session your therapist schedules with you. Sure, you may need to miss one or two in an emergency, but the more often you attend sessions, the faster you can gain the tools you need.
Be Honest: It is important that you don’t lie to your mental health professional. They will not judge you, no matter what you say. If you lie to them, you may not get the help you need. Also, if you are not honest, it may break or hurt the mutual trust you need to fully receive the tools you need to conquer your illnesses.
Trust your therapist: It is important that you and your therapist trust each other. If they can’t trust you, they might not know how best to help. If you cannot trust them, you likely won’t take their advice. If you don’t have that mutual trust, you should find a different therapist.
Practice: Practice your skills as much as possible. Look for many opportunities to apply them. The more situations you can apply them to, the faster you can adapt to the changing world around you, and the more likely you will be to overcome your future challenges.
Continue On: Continue your skills and practice them even after your therapy is over. It’s not like medicine where you can stop taking it once you’re better. These are lifelong skills, and tools you can use to be happy for the rest of your life.
Anxiety, depression, phobias, PTSD, and many more are all mental illnesses that can be overcome, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an excellent option for treatment. If your life is made more difficult by a mental illness, you do not have to be scared. You do not have to live with it any more. Take your future into your own hands and seek out a CBT Professional.
Call Dr. Clare Albright, Psy.D., CA Psychologist License PSY11660 at (949) 454-0996 at http://DrCAlbright.com