What is CBT?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – CBT – is one of the most effective tools of therapy developed to help people experiencing challenges such as depression, anxiety, substance use disorders (addictions), and other issues.
Many people who struggle with challenges like these experience rapid and lasting relief when treated with CBT. The reason for this is that CBT teaches you to help yourself.
CBT is based on a simple premise: how a person interprets or evaluates the events they experience will influence their emotions and their actions.
Many of the events we encounter in life are neutral, that is, events aren’t positive or negative in themselves. What gives an event a positive or negative “charge” is our interpretation of the event, and, perhaps more importantly, our interpretation of ourselves as we experience the event.
CBT believes that our positive or negative interpretations influence our moods, behaviors, and choices.
If our interpretation of an event has a “negative charge,” our moods and behaviors will have a negative charge (i.e., we will respond negatively).
Similarly, if our interpretation of the same event has a “positive charge,” our moods and behaviors will have a positive charge.
Imagine two people encountering an identical difficulty, one person’s interpretation has a “positive charge,” while the other interprets the same event with a “negative charge.” Each interprets the event through their positive or negative charge and respond (mood and behavior) positively or negatively.
What would you predict will be the result? It’s likely that the person with the positive charge is likely to look at the event as an opportunity, while the person with the negative charge might look at it as an obstacle. The same glass is half-full or half-empty depending on one’s interpretation.
While this sounds straight-forward, most of the time we’re unaware that we’re making interpretations about the events of life in real-time. Often, we’re also unaware of our “positive” or “negative” charge, just as we’re often unaware of personal habits.
Until we train ourselves to listen in on our interpretations of the events, most of our interpretations happen below the level of our awareness. These positive or negative interpretations are also called “automatic thoughts.”
Negative automatic thoughts are the ones that cause us trouble.
Here’s a list of the most common negative automatic thoughts. See if you can identify any that you have used.
All-or-nothing: We interpret the event as being 100% good or bad. Nothing in between. It’s either black or white; there’s no gray area.
Catastrophizing: The event (past, present, or future) is interpreted as being so bad that one can’t endure it.
Minimizing: Discounting the importance of an event.
Over-generalizing: A limited number of experiences with a situation or person are used to draw a conclusion that applies to “every” other situation or person. Words like “everything,” nothing,” “always” and “never” are indicators of over-generalizing.
Mental Filter: Only paying attention to information that confirms one’s opinion.
Discounting the positive: Discarding information that challenges one’s opinion.
Jumping to Conclusions: Using limited information to predict how a situation will turn out, or how someone will react. Jumping to conclusions is also called Mind Reading.
Emotional Reasoning: Assuming that because we have a “gut feeling” about a situation or person, it “must” be true. In a later – much later – blog, I’ll explore some newer discoveries of the how the microbiome in our gut influences our brain and our thinking. If you’re interested in learning more about this exciting research, read or listen
Labeling: Applying a (often derogatory) label to a person or situation. Insults and stereotypes are examples of labeling.
Personalizing or Blaming: Taking too much or little responsibility for an event; taking others’ comments or actions too personally. Language such as “my fault,” “your fault,” or “their fault” is a tip-off.
Toxic combinations of any of the above. Rarely do these negative automatic thoughts occur in isolation from the others. Perhaps you’ve seen how one of these can be logically paired with another. When this happens, we can become doubly trapped in unhelpful thinking.
Have you seen yourself in any of these descriptions? If so, don’t despair. Keep reading!
The CBT model asserts that most of the time our negative interpretations are not true. Or, are not completely true.
It also asserts that we can change negative automatic thinking to be more realistic and adaptive. And as a result, we can change our emotions and our actions.
How does this happen? We can change negative automatic thinking by asking ourselves simple and powerful questions such as, “Where’s the evidence for this thought?” “Where’s the evidence that my interpretation of this event true or accurate?”
“Where’s the evidence?” is a great question because it requires us to deconstruct our thinking and generate alternate interpretations.
- Where’s the evidence?
- What are some other ways that I could interpret this situation?
- How might someone else (preferably someone you respect) interpret the situation? What decisions might they make? How might they feel differently because they adopt a different interpretation?
CBT helps you gain more control of your emotions and behaviors because CBT asserts it’s not what happens to you, but what you tell yourself about what happens to you that will determine how you’ll respond.
CBT asserts that you have control of your thoughts. With CBT you get to decide whether you simply survive or whether you’ll thrive.
Choose to thrive.
Contact me today if you’d like more information about how CBT can help you succeed in your most important relationships.