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    What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and How Does it Work?


    “Life consists in what a man is thinking of all day.”

    — Ralph Waldo Emerson



    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a type of therapy which has been shown to be effective for many mental health difficulties, including depression, obsessive compulsive disorders, anger management, insomnia, irrational fears, bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. Research and clinical practice have demonstrated the effectiveness of CBT –


    What is the basis of CBT?

    CBT is based in the thinking that our mental health difficulties are caused partly by unsound thinking. This unsound thinking develops into patterns of behavior which are unhelpful. CBT also rests on the way in which faulty or unsound thinking can be changed and that unhelpful patterns of behavior can be altered, allowing individuals to lead more productive lives. 

    One of the keys to cognitive behavioral therapy is reforming or revising thoughts which are misshaped or malformed. As an individual’s thoughts become reshaped into more accurate perceptions, unhealthy behaviors become more constructive. The unhealthy or unproductive thoughts of an individual which have expressed themselves with various damaging symptoms can be investigated for their truthfulness and changed. With healthier, more accurate thoughts come healthier emotions and stronger, safer ways of relating to others. 


    Cognitive Distortions

    CBT recognizes that several basic cognitive distortions exist which lead to unhealthy behavior patterns –  

    These include should statements which describe how we should or must perform to a certain high standard for an activity to be worthwhile. Another cognitive distortion includes that of exaggerating or magnifying some aspect of our character or a temporary condition, leading an individual to feel anxious or fearful. With this distortion, a lack of recognition of any positive aspect of one’s character or situation contributes to mental health difficulties. In addition, one distortion causing emotional difficulties is caused by a kind of mind reading, where we imagine that others are thinking critically about us. 


    Core Beliefs 


    CBT also leads those in therapy to discover, explore, and test their core beliefs, which are hindering their enjoyment of life. As an example, an individual suffering from depression might believe that “I will always be this way.” With the help of a therapist, this belief may be tested for accuracy, considering that the individual has overcome difficulties with depression in the past. As well, an individual suffering from insomnia may believe that “There’s nothing I can do to sleep better,” without having considered and tried some ways to improve his or her sleep. 


    How Can CBT Help?

    Treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy involves leading an individual to recognize distortions in thinking and helping him or her to gain insight into harmful patterns of behavior to learn new, healthier ways of thinking, behaving, and relating to others. Much of the work in CBT relies on an individual involved in problem solving related to difficulties he or she is facing. 


    While the facts or the truths of difficult or overwhelming situations cannot be changed, CBT allows for situations to be reframed, or reconsidered, in a different light. In this way, the negative effects of situations may allow for individuals to learn new choices in how to consider these situations and lead more productive lives.


    My own thoughts on cognitive behavioral therapy led me to value this method as a way to help those suffering from emotional difficulties to healthier, happier lives. Productive thinking does not come naturally to many people; our own inborn nature and difficult interactions that have taken place in our lives can result in faulty thinking and unhelpful behavior patterns. CBT offers the tools to overcome these difficulties. I like to consider CBT a way to put an end to negative factors in our lives so that our positive characteristics can flourish. 


    With the help of a caring, thoughtful therapist, CBT sessions can lead an individual to a more productive and happier life as an individual learns to think more accurately about difficult situations in his or her life.  

    Written by John Shanks, LPCC  – adolescent and young adult therapy at UpliftME Attachment-Based Therapy