Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: What it Is & How it Can Help You

Therapists employ a range of methods and techniques when helping people overcome mental health problems. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is among the more effective. If you’re a New Yorker struggling with anxiety, depression, or similar problems, it may be the right treatment for you.

This is easier to determine when you genuinely know what CBT is. Although you should always heed the recommendations of mental health professionals when they suggest particular treatment methods, this guide will help you better understand CBT, and how you may benefit from it.

What You Need to Know About CBT

CBT involves working directly with a counselor. Although they may provide you with exercises to complete on your own at home, anyone undergoing CBT will regularly meet with a professional to talk about their feelings, thoughts, and general condition. It’s also worth noting that some counselors combine CBT with other therapies when it makes sense to do so.

The specifics of a treatment program will vary from one patient to another. In general, however, CBT involves the following essential steps:

Exploring Problems

Your therapist needs to know what is bothering you before you can make progress. You’ll talk about your problems and identify the key issues you’re struggling with in life. Once you and your therapist know what the main problem is, you’re better-equipped to address it.

Exploring Thought Patterns

CBT is effective because it allows people to break free of thought patterns that may be negatively impacting their mental and emotional health.

For instance, maybe a patient suffers from anxiety and depression related to low self-esteem and confidence. They constantly feel as though they aren’t good enough to succeed in their career, relationships, or any other aspect of life. 

They may find from working with a therapist that this is the result of an experience (or pattern of experiences) in their life that profoundly shaped their view of the world. Maybe this patient felt rejected by a parent at a young age. This can cause them to develop unreasonable thinking patterns which harm both their confidence and mental health.

Perhaps this patient’s supervisor offers minor criticism of their work on a recent project. This isn’t pleasant for anyone. That said, most people wouldn’t allow a little bit of negative feedback to significantly affect their emotions. They might even be somewhat happy to receive constructive feedback that helps them make improvements.

That may not be the case for our imaginary patient. Because they are prone to unreasonable thoughts, this relatively minor incident might cause them to think they are worthless, and destined to fail. That’s obviously not a healthy mindset.

This is the second major step in a CBT-based treatment program. You aren’t merely identifying the major problems in your life; you’re also exploring how the way in which you think about those problems may contribute to and/or exacerbate them.

It’s important to remember that reaching this stage may take time. Learning to become aware of your negative thought patterns isn’t always easy. When you’ve spent years thinking about certain topics a certain way, it might feel so natural that you barely notice the impact your thoughts are having on your well-being.

A therapist can teach you to notice these unhelpful thoughts when they do intrude. You need to do so in order to address them. Additionally, a therapist will help you appreciate the basic fact that they are unreasonable. Sometimes patients don’t immediately understand how negative thoughts may not be an accurate reflection of reality.

This is why it’s so important to work with a professional. You can only break free from your own thought patterns with help from someone who isn’t as caught up in them as you.

Correcting Thinking Patterns

Your main goal in CBT is to replace unhealthy thoughts with positive and reasonable ones. This is another step in the process that may take time. For lack of a better word, you’re “rewiring” your brain. You need to be diligent to get results.

To understand how this works, let’s return to the example discussed earlier. A patient who immediately begins thinking they are a failure the moment a supervisor has a few unkind words might assume they are going to be fired, or at the very least, that they aren’t a strong enough employee to ever be promoted. They might engage in catastrophic thinking that tells them this brief incident is the end of the world.

That’s obviously not reasonable. Supervisors offer negative feedback and criticism all the time. One instance when they had a few criticisms to share is by no means an indication that an employee is going to be fired. It also doesn’t suggest that an employee isn’t talented enough to earn a promotion. On top of that, even if such assumptions were true, they shouldn’t have such a dramatic impact on a person’s self-esteem. Losing a job doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to find another. Lacking the skills to thrive in a current role doesn’t mean you can’t develop those skills.

These thoughts don’t occur to our imaginary patient. Their thinking in response to criticism from a supervisor is dominated by negativity and rumination.

A counselor employing CBT helps them replace such thoughts. If a patient described this experience, a therapist might point out how the way in which the patient thought about it is unreasonable, suggesting other thoughts they can focus on instead. Rather than thinking “My supervisor criticized me and now I’m going to be fired,” they might think “My supervisor criticized me, but they often behave that way towards other employees, and anyway, it’s highly unlikely they would ever fire me over this kind of small error.”

Consistently Replacing Negative Thoughts

Again, most patients aren’t cured the moment a therapist suggests a new way of thinking about a specific problem. These new ways of thinking about such issues often don’t ring true to patients when they first hear them. If you’re prone to negative thinking, accepting positive thoughts as reasonable and true won’t always come naturally right away.

Nor will having such thoughts. A patient’s eventual goal should be to naturally and easily think about problems and upsetting incidents in positive ways when they occur, instead of relying on a therapist to help them identify better ways of thinking about those issues days later. They need to consistently replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts until doing so becomes a habit.

It’s also necessary to understand that patients must reach a point where they can apply the lessons of CBT to a range of experiences. Once again, let’s return to the example of our imaginary patient.

Maybe their session discussing how they reacted to a supervisor’s criticism was generally productive. They learned to replace their catastrophic thinking with reasonable thinking, and are feeling better about the situation as a result.

That’s certainly a positive outcome. However, because this patient’s overall struggles are rooted in childhood experiences, it’s unlikely that criticism at work is the only situation that might cause them to fall into a pattern of negative thinking.

Maybe they were rejected by a potential romantic partner. This is another experience no one likes to have. That said, it’s also another experience that many people learn to react to in healthy ways. They move on, and don’t make the mistake of assuming this rejection is a sign of their limited worth.

That might not be the case with our patient. Such an experience could send them spiralling into another cycle of self-critical thinking. They wouldn’t merely think “Oh well, this person isn’t interested in dating me.” They would think something along the lines of “No one could ever be interested in dating me.”

This is another experience they can discuss in therapy. Once again, a counselor will help them realize why such thoughts aren’t accurate, and how they can replace them with positive thoughts. 

That’s part of the process. However, our patient should eventually be able to substitute their own positive thoughts without anyone’s help. Whether they experience criticism from a supervisor, rejection from a potential romantic partner, an unfriendly response from a coworker, a frustrated message from a friend, or anything else that might trigger negative thinking, they must be able to avoid that negative thinking before it dominates their perspective.

That requires working on these problems consistently. You can’t simply listen to a therapist’s recommendations. You must put them into practice regularly to experience results.

Understanding the Benefits of CBT

Now you have a general sense of what CBT involves. Next, it’s important to cover some of the benefits it offers. Patients should know why therapists often recommend CBT.

Their reasons include the following:

Proven Results

The benefits of CBT aren’t merely theoretical. Studies indicate it’s often very effective at helping patients manage and treat their conditions. Counselors often use it simply because the research shows it tends to work.

Flexibility

CBT is also a popular approach to treatment because it’s well-suited for a variety of conditions and issues. Along with helping patients struggling with anxiety and depression, CBT has also been shown to help those struggling with obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorders, phobias, substance abuse, and related problems. No matter what your specific needs are, there’s a good chance CBT can help.

CBT also benefits a range of different types of people. It’s effective for both adults and adolescents. It helps people struggling with mental health issues overcome them, while also helping people avoid relapses. In fact, patients who often relapse despite trying other therapies and treatments often find CBT is the only method of prevention that genuinely works.

Practicality

Many people who are averse to the idea of therapy feel this way due to misconceptions they picked up from pop culture. They have been made to believe therapy involves lying down on a couch and vaguely discussing their feelings without taking any actual productive steps to change their situations.

That’s not what therapy involves. CBT is a particularly strong example of this. Patients undergoing CBT-based treatment are given practical advice they can use to make real improvements. This is ideal for the types of people who need to know they can directly and practically apply the lessons learned in therapy.

Ease

Once more, patients do need to remember that therapy is work. You can’t expect to be cured after just one session. You need to consistently apply CBT’s lessons to reap the benefits.

That doesn’t mean doing so has to be difficult. In this day and age, there are many apps, books, journals, and other resources devoted specifically to helping people replace negative thought patterns with positive thoughts.

For instance, after therapy ends, you may worry that you’ll fall into old patterns. Avoiding this is easier than ever if you have an app on your phone that helps you identify and replace negative thoughts.

(That’s not to say you should never return to therapy if you believe doing so is necessary. There are instances when patients need additional treatment. Make sure you’re seeking it out if you feel yourself falling back into bad old habits.)

Unlocking Potential

When reading about our imaginary patient, you might have noticed that some of the negative thoughts described in this article are the kind that would prevent someone from realizing their full potential in life.

Think back to the way our patient reacted to negative feedback at work. It caused them to assume they are worthless and unable to achieve their career goals. Thus, they might not be inclined to pursue opportunities for growth or advancement. They simply assume there is no point.

CBT helps such a patient learn to not think this way. As a result, they’ll feel better about their overall potential in life, and will be more willing to work towards ambitious goals.

These are all reasons you may benefit from CBT. For more information, however, it’s best to meet with a professional and discuss the topic in-depth. Get started by scheduling a consultation with Therapy24x7 today.




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