Clients often ask for cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, because of how successful it has been shown to be for decades. CBT was developed by Arron Beck in the 1960’s. He noticed that when he worked with clients on their thoughts, or cognitions, and challenged them, growth would happen faster. Eventually he developed what is now known as CBT, and 1,000s of studies have supported the evidence that it is an effective form of treatment for people with depression, anxiety, and many other diagnoses.
According to CBT, the first step to solving a problem is understanding the thought behind the adverse experience. While we cannot always control what happens in our lives, we can, according to Beck, remain in control of our perception of the event. Thus, focusing on the thought behind a negative experience puts us back in control of our experiences. This is easier said than done, though. Many of us are ruled by our automatic thoughts, which are brief and pop into our minds without warning. These thoughts result in what seems to be an automatic reaction, similar to a reflex, which causes us to believe we can't control our actions. The first step is to analyze the situation and determine the thought underlying the action triggered by the event. For example, if you jump when you see a snake, you jump because you are thinking "snakes are dangerous;" therefore, causing you to jump out of the way. Once you have recognized the thought, it is important to determine whether the thought is true and/or healthy.
The second part of cognitive behavioral therapy is challenging the thought. Continuing with the snake example, if there are a lot of garden snakes in your backyard that are keeping you from enjoying the environment, it may be worthwhile to challenge the thought that "all snakes are dangerous." Shifting the thought to "small green snakes are will not harm me" will help step back out on your porch again and not be trapped by an uncontrollable circumstance.
Now, here is where it can get tricky. Not everything is as concrete as the snake example. Let's say you are struggling with the thought "I am not smart," which is causing you to not pursue your dreams. Let’s say that there is no supporting evidence that suggests you are, or are not smart. How do you determine whether or not this thought is true? Constantly thinking to yourself, “I am not smart,” is not helpful, yet there is likely a way to restructure the thought in a way that is healthier. This is where the last part of CBT comes in.
The last part, and most crucial concept is to change the negative or non-helpful thought to something that is more helpful or positive. For instance, it is not helpful to think, “I am not smart.” This thought is going to make you feel sad about yourself, and you can develop anxiety around performance or even depression. Instead, you could change the thought to, “because I am human, I cannot be great at everything, but my weaknesses don't have to define me.” Reframing an unhelpful thought requires creativity, and at times an objective professional, but it can be the key to changing many of the negative areas in our lives.
So, let’s go over this one more time is a simple way, known as the 3 C’s of CBT.
1. Check the thought- is it a negative thought?
"I haven't been asked to hang out in weeks. No one loves me"
2. Challenge the thought- are you looking at all the evidence? Is this a helpful thought?
"My family calls me every Friday to check in on me. I also went to the movies with my friend last month."
3. Change the thought- make it a more helpful or positive thought. When you think of the negative thought, use this thought instead.
"People do love me, but I cannot expect them to always be the ones to reach out. I need to put effort in the relationships too."
Our therapists have done Cognitive Behavioral Therapy trainings with the Beck Institute in California. If you are looking for a therapist who can help you by using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, check out our website, and give us a call.