What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

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Overview of CBT

Psychoanalyst Carl Jung opined that “Thinking is difficult; that’s why most people judge [Ed: instead of thinking].” There’s an unspoken corollary to Jung’s statement: the consequences of being judgemental rather than engaging in serious thought.

Judgemental

Anyone who opts for being prejudiced one way or another rather than and willing to ponder the ramifications of issues and beliefs, is a person who refuses to compare and to contrast different ideas. They do not weigh the merits and demerits of a line of thought. That puts anyone with a legitimate argument in favor of something, or against something, at a serious disadvantage. Their thinking process doesn’t matter to the person whose mind is made up and refuses to consider the facts of a given issue. Enlightening discussions cannot ensue. That leads to hostility and worse. One way to correct the impasse is to engage in psychotherapy, so that thought processes can be analyzed and reconsidered. Ever heard the phrase “You need an attitude adjustment?” It’s pretty much a casual way of announcing the problem that Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) addresses.


Table of Contents:

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
What Does CBT Do?
How Does that Work?
What’s Missing from the Picture?
You Said WHAT?!?
A Changed Mind
Subjective and Objective Thinking
Therapy Makes Me Feel Like I’m Going Crazy!
What a CBT Counselor Wants
A Changed Response
Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?
CBT can be Quick


What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Psych Central offers an overview that explains CBT here. This Cognitive behavioral therapy – Overview – Mayo Clinic is another look at the self-help CBT world. Point 6 of the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists site offers insight into the Socratic method upon which CBT is based, and Point 10 explains the Inductive aspect of the CBT method.

What Does CBT Do?

CBT helps a person to recognize their options for coping productively with their problems instead of worsening them with unrealistic thinking and behavior. CBT therapists and counselors help their clients to assess the merits or drawbacks in their thinking and behavior patterns.

Thinking Patterns

How Does that Work?

A structured conversational interaction between a client and their CBT therapist, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy helps someone to identify, to challenge and to change their point of view about troubling issues. A person in need of solutions to one problem or to several problems can address them with their CBT therapist aka counselor.

In the course of the weeks-long conversation that develops, the CBT therapist first listens to a client’s description of what is bothering them so much that they need help to deal with it. Then the therapist responds to what they heard. That feedback becomes the energy of the CBT relationship.

CBT therapists help clients to understand that their assessment of a situation might be distorted. The client’s thoughts about the original problem and everything associated with it might be

  • mistaken,
  • misunderstood
  • misinterpreted to serve a purpose that undermines personal progress

or

  • simply uninformed

Things might not be a client’s fault or the fault of the person(s) they blame. Someone might have expected a different result from their efforts than the one which was  experienced. And if relevant facts were unknown at the time of a distressing event, then they and everything else needs to be understood in context somehow. Only then can they be accepted as part of the situation and dealt with accordingly.

Context

The CBT therapist’s goal is to help the client to think clearly without assumptions and with purpose. The focus is on behaving appropriately, not inappropriately in response to a sense of distress.

A response is a reasonable behavior based on realistic expectations for the results of that behavior. A reaction, however, is behavior that was not well-considered. The consequences of a person’s reasonable or reactionary behavior need to be considered and evaluated before taking actions that could prove beneficial or destructive.

CBT follows the same format around the world. Check out the United Kingdom’s easy to understand How CBT Works chart from the National Health Institute.

What’s Missing from the Picture?

Sometimes there are “holes” in the explanations that clients tell to their CBT therapists. The counselors will ask about the missing information so that overlooked or intentionally skipped over facts will be filled in.

Clarify

The client will learn about themselves as the CBT counselor shares insights about why the client tends to leave out specific details from time to time. Patterns of thinking and behavior about that recurring word/phrase absence, plus the words/phrases that are used instead, will be identified for the client’s edification. So will the client’s entire thinking/evaluating process. The two-way discussion to follow those revelations will focus on correcting the problematic thinking/non-thinking process so that the client can become receptive to other lines of thought. Problems identified and worked on can lead to a more optimal performance of thinking behaviors. There is more than one way to process an idea. CBT can help people to realize that reality and to pursue it.

You Said WHAT?!?

A client’s exaggerations or understatements will be challenged by the therapist. They hold a person back from identifying the exact problem to be solved. CBT therapists help their clients to be realistic about what’s going on, to speak of facts, not opinions or clichés.

Opinions tend to shut down honest assessments and on-going thought processes. Making up your mind and failing to think facts through prevents a person from adjusting to a simple reality and to an evolving reality. Being opinionated is easier than the practice of goal-oriented thinking, but dangerous to people who do it. The refusal to adjust to reality, is a choice that they and everyone else will probably regret.

Just the Facts

Clichés can’t effectively portray a reality because they they’re only good at creating a vivid image of one specific problem and only of that problem. Clichés lose power when they’re used to describe other issues. If clichés are used again and again, the people saying and hearing them don’t even bother to think clearly, they’ve become so tired of the repetitions. People sometimes use clichés to avoid the hard work of thinking or to avoid strong, upsetting emotions; they become judgmental instead (Jung said it best, above).

Clichés fail to communicate immediacy and accuracy. A CBT therapist will insist that clients use everyday language, or invite them to create a new image, to describe the situation being addressed.

A Changed Mind

A client’s beliefs and attitudes affect their feelings and behavior. As someone’s cognitive behavioral therapy continues, they’ll learn to keep things real. The goal is to break out of a cycle that kept them stuck in a repetitive loop of problems worsened by poor responses to them. Beliefs will lose the harshness which undermines progress. Apathy will yield to genuine interest. Insights will point to potential solutions, and all of that leads to progress. People who succeed with CBT stop framing life in an emotionally charged, self-defeating manner. This frees them to choose thoughts and actions that promote desirable results in social interactions, appreciation for oneself and for all the rest of life.

Changed Mind

Successful CBT clients grow to understand that revenge or passive-aggressive behavior, among other counterproductive responses to problems, are not productive. The clients realize that counterproductive responses will only cause anger, long-term complications and the absence of solutions to the original problem. CBT is focused on improving the quality of the client’s life by letting the client learn how not to undermine it. That improvement comes with a significant change in the client’s subjective and emotionally charged perception of events, ideas, and intentions to an intentionally objective, emotionally neutral assessment of facts. Changed perceptions of events and ideas change a person’s reality. Being conscious of the choices we make matters to the quality of our futures.

Subjective and Objective Thinking

Let’s consider the differences between subjective and objective thinking. A person is free to engineer their personal, subjective thoughts (based upon emotion and personal preferences rather than on rational logic) to perceive objective realities independent of human prejudice i.e., prior decisions, in positive ways. Objective thought is rational, goal-oriented and logical.

Subjective vs Objective

Think of turning on a radio and thus being able to perceive soothing music or upsetting news reports, then choosing to continue listening to the broadcast or seeking a different one. It’s all a matter of the choice a person makes. What we say and what we do contribute to our thinking processes. Moving the dial to something more desirable, and changing a formerly negative mindset to an upbeat attitude is a choice that can be nurtured and made habitual.

Therapy Makes Me Feel like I’m Going Crazy!

There’s a bit of irony involved in any therapeutic process, but it heralds a positive development. A client might start to feel even worse as they work past their unproductive or counterproductive thinking patterns. They might feel embarrassed, ashamed, or inadequate for instance. They might even wonder if they’re going crazy, considering the jumble of old and new thinking processes occupying their minds.

Therapists know how to get past that problem, which is part of the inner growth process; it signifies the changes happening to the person’s assessment of simple facts.

Change can be uncomfortable at first. Creative insights will follow all the complications that come up during and in between CBT therapy sessions. As the CBT client changes the way they respond to life, how they think and how they respond to perceived problems  he or she will gradually begin to experience the successful solutions they’d wanted to achieve. We’ll look at changed response a bit more in a few paragraphs.

Those creative insights and satisfying solutions will be coaxed along by CBT counselors asking “Can you…” What if…” “And then what…” plus other clarifying, open-ended questions that lead to enlightening discussions and realizations.

It’s not uncommon for successful CBT clients to eventually express surprise that they used to find it difficult to think clearly about various issues and that they feel relief with their new mastery of clear-headed thinking processes. Clear-headed thinking will feel “easy” and desirable with enough practice.

What a CBT Counselor Wants

The goal of CBT therapists is to promote clear thinking and to share ideas about effective coping strategies so that clients can take specific steps to achieve the results they need for making progress in life.

A Therapists Desire

A Changed Response

CBT clients learn new thinking patterns and develop new coping skills that they can use for dealing with problems lifelong. A client’s adjusted perspective and improved behavior become their enduring characteristics, their auto-pilot in a sense.

A non-medicated method for treating depression and anxiety, CBT is also used in addiction therapy. Though medical supervision is sometimes necessary in addiction therapy, addictions begin with unfocused, unrealistic thinking in need of repair.

CBT can also be used for better managing a variety of physical and mental health problems.

CBT Treatment

Here is a partial list of cognitive behavioral therapy techniques for problems that CBT can address and improve on:

Addiction

Back Pain (the Treatments portion of the article mentions the use of CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Depression

Exposure therapy

Proven Strategies for Controlling Anger

Why it’s done · ‎Self-esteem check

Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?

START HERE Read the “Client” and “Therapist satisfaction ratings in this Effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy report and the ___ for an idea of CBT’s effectiveness. Other forms of therapy might be more suitable to people with different diagnoses and preferences, but the evidence that CBT works is clear.

CBT Can Be Quick

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy usually lasts a few weeks, with five or more half-hour to one-hour sessions each week. Specific types of CBT take longer, though, in order to adequately address a person’s needs. If your therapist is using CBT via online therapy, it can be even quicker. However, it’s not something you or your therapist would like to rush.

CBT Speed

As Evolutions Treatment center CEO Gedale Fenster says, “The number one way to stay in a problem is to complain or to blame. Change your game plan from ‘why me?’ to ‘what’s next?’” That line of thinking is a game changer. It’s your call. Speaking with an online or in-office CBT therapist/counselor might convince you to give CBT a try.

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Yocheved Golani

Yocheved Golani

Yocheved Golani is a popular writer whose byline has appeared worldwide in print and online. A certified Health Information Management professional, she is a member of Get Help Israel. Certified in Spiritual Chaplaincy (End of Life issues) and in counseling skills, her life coaching for ill people puts healthy perspective into a clients’ success plan for achieving desired goals.