Let’s start with a brief outline of what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is and how it could help you.
Cognitive behavioral therapy was originally developed by Aaron Beck. In a nutshell, here is the idea – If I was to ask you whether you agree that your brain provides you thoughts all day long, would you agree? Probably. That’s because to some extent we are thinking machines. We can think deliberately or we can freely associate and thoughts would come to us anyway. At times, we are aware of what content our thinking gives us and at times not. An example of that, is that you sometimes wonder when you have a thought ‘how did I get to this?’ and then you try to follow the thread from the last thought that you were aware and remember and try to see how you got to where you did. Bottom line: We are always thinking and in cognitive behavioral therapy we call these thoughts automatic thoughts, given that they just come to us.
Is there a problem with our thinking?
Well, for a start it is normal that we think. The problem occurs when our thinking creates bad feelings. Cognitive behavioral therapy proposes that it is not an actual event that causes any kind of feeling in us, it is our thinking (interpretation) of these events that cause the bad feelings. Here is an example: You got fired from work. You feel depressed, right? Not so fast! If you’ve been dying to get out of this job, then you might be happy. If you wanted the job, then you might be sad. So is it the event or being fired, or is it the way you see it and perceive it? Cognitive behavioral therapists will suggest to you that it is the latter. And here starts the problem – In our day to day narrative, we might say ‘I’m sad because I got fired from my job’ but the truth is ‘I’m sad because I got fired from my job which causes me to think that I will never get another job and I feel sad.’
But it’s true !?!
Of course, you think that way but that is where Cognitive behavioral therapy comes in. CBT therapists have come up with what they call cognitive distortions which means that we tend to have mistakes in our thinking. Some examples are;
- black and white thinking
- mind reading
- future telling
These distortions essentially mean that we tend to think in those ways but they aren’t helpful. Thinking in ‘black and white thinking’ which is also called ‘all or nothing thinking’, tend to have the following words in the content of the thoughts:
So back to our previous examples of being fired – ‘I will never get another job’, has the word never in it which consists of the ‘all or nothing thinking’ distortion. At this point, a CBT therapist will ask you whether you can know that for a fact that you will never get another job? Do you have any evidence for that? Do you have any evidence for the opposite?
A more balanced view
If you can take a piece of paper and make a line in the middle and create two tables. You put on one side ‘evidence for the thought’ and on the other ‘thoughts against the thought’, you are creating a more balanced view for yourself. In our example, you might say, ‘I’ve moved from job before’, I have some qualifications and could probably find another job just like anyone else in my position would be able to. I do feel quite discouraged but there is no real reason why I shouldn’t be able to find a different one.’
Fair – not necessarily positive
CBT is not trying to force you to just think the opposite of your identified thought. It is asking you to think it through fairly, a little bit like a scientist. So here are some core CBT questions that you can apply to your thinking:
- What is the evidence for my line of thinking
- What is the evidence for the opposite thought
- What would I tell a friend in the same position?
- Does X necessarily mean X?
- Is there some black and white thinking in my thoughts? What would be a more balanced view?
- Could I convince a jury of my thought?
- Are there any should’s in my thinking that really are just preferences?
- Am I exaggerating?
- Am I thinking with my feelings rather than pure dry logic?
- Am I jumping to conclusions?
- Am I assuming that I know the future and stating it as fact?
- Am I assuming that I know what another person is thinking and stating it as fact?
Create a new alternative thought
Now that you’ve had the option to filter your original thinking and your original interpretation through the lens of these questions, it is time to come up with a more balanced view of things. The new thinking isn’t perse positive as mentioned, but it is more balanced and thus kinder and less intense on your feelings. Once you’ve come up with a new and more balanced thought that doesn’t consist of these above-mentioned distortions, you have taken a round of Cognitive behavioral therapy and applied it to yourself. You can also ask yourself to what extent you believe the new thought. If you don’t believe it, then it is unlikely to be of any use for you but generally speaking you will see that you actually believe the alternative thought more then you did the original automatic one.
Where to start?
Probably the most famous and classic first place to start is David Burn’s work in his Feeling Good Handbook which has been an absolute bestseller for many years His book is extremely easy to understand and has proven to help relieve symptoms of depression as much as antidepressants! If you’d like to get started with CBT, this is an excellent place to start:
A more recent work which also simplifies CBT and one that I highly recommend is written by Dennis Greenberger and is called ‘mind over mood’. An excellent guide to CBT. It is actually an award-winning best seller and has sold over 1 million copies!!
Reading this book alone will already give you essential tools to deal with your depressive or anxious symptoms. Click on the image to get the book from Amazon:
Going to therapy?
If you like this idea of working, you might be encouraged to know that CBT has the most research of any kind of therapy proving its efficacy in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders. You could apply some of the techniques yourself but if you’d like to delve deeper into it, then by all means, seek out a CBT therapist that will help you identify your thinking pertaining to your symptoms, teach you how to question them and help you come up with alternative ways of viewing yourself, the world, and life in general.
If you don’t know of a good therapist and you’re open to try and have sessions online, I highly recommend you try use those at online-therapy
You will also get 20% off by clicking on the link above which is a great way to start 🙂 Their entire operation is based on using CBT so if this approach appeals to you, they are a great lead in helping you get better. Their cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be just as effective as face to face therapy sessions.
I hope you find this a useful short description of Cognitive behavioral therapy and by all means feel free to comment and ask questions if you wish.