Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in a Nutshell
Talking about our mental health is becoming less and less taboo. We're seeing celebrities on social media advocate for online therapy through platforms like BetterHelp and TalkSpace. Taking care of our mental fitness today is becoming as important as taking care of our physical fitness.
Navigating the world of therapy is easier because of the wealth of knowledge on the internet. Nonetheless, not everyone knows of the different treatment modalities for emotional and mental health challenges.
One of the most widely recognized methods of therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). There have been a plethora of psychological studies showing its effectiveness in treating conditions like depression and anxiety. If you're struggling with unhelpful patterns of thinking you might benefit from it regardless of whether you have a mental health diagnosis.
What CBT Is
When thinking about a structured form of psychotherapy like CBT it's helpful to compare it with physical therapy. After an injury because of a car accident or playing a sport, we may go to a physical therapist for a number of sessions to regain mobility in a particular body region. Similarly, we can go to a psychotherapist in mental and emotional discomfort for a specific number of sessions in order to move through life more easily.
Our thoughts influence our reality for better or for worse. CBT trains you to become mindful of unhelpful thinking patterns, that often come in the form of cognitive distortions, in the therapy session and by doing homework. Subsequently you learn to create alternative styles of thinking by questioning and restructuring your thoughts, testing your response through situation exposure and enhancing your coping skills.
The Gains of CBT
I came across this PDF for thought restructuring in a session with one of my former mental health counselors. They told me to go through it for at least one triggering event as homework and then we discussed it in a therapy session. I've been using this 7-column thought record for over 6 months now in moments of stress and I've recommended it to multiple people because it encapsulates CBT so well.
We can streamline how we meet the stressful demands of our daily lives by using the skills CBT hones. Here are some of the gains from my experience with CBT:
Knowing when a thought is a thinking trap or cognitive distortion
Having the discipline to use preventative coping skills (almost) daily
Giving triggering experiences the proper importance
Recognizing my warning signs
Feeling reassured about my own resourcefulness to cope
When CBT Could Be Life-Changing
"It's not what happens to you but how you react to it that matters."
-Epictetus, ancient Greek philosopher
There are so many things in our incomplete control. We may suffer from a mental illness, a chronic physical health condition or a devastating loss (whether it be of a job, someone we cared for or a sense of normalcy). These are all emotional challenges CBT can ameliorate.
CBT isn't a cure to our hardships but it gives us the preparation to respond the best way we can to them. To echo the words of Epictetus, our circumstances don't make us who we are because they're fleeting. By working on our awareness through CBT we're shaping a more permanent aspect of who we are which ultimately transforms our human experience.
What are your thoughts on CBT?