There are numerous theoretical orientations counselors can use to guide therapy. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidenced-based orientation that has been shown to be a very effective treatment for a variety of mental health issues.
The Relationship between Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors
The main premise that guides CBT is that there is a strong link between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Our thoughts (cognitions) influence how we feel, our behaviors influence our thoughts, our feelings shape how we behave, and so on. For example, if a person says to himself “I am a total failure and a loser” (the cognition), then his feeling is likely depressed, defeated, and hopeless. These feelings make the person isolate and sleep excessively (the behavior). It’s not possible for people to change how they feel directly, so we must change the way we feel by changing thoughts and changing behaviors.
The Cognitive Side
The cognitive side of CBT starts with recognizing what it is you are telling yourself that’s driving negative feelings. These thoughts are called automatic thoughts, and they are skewed to be negative. In CBT, we challenge automatic thoughts for their validity. We ask questions like “Is this thought objectively true?” “What is my evidence to support this idea?” “What is my evidence to the contrary?” “Are there situations where this doesn’t play out?” “What are alternative explanations for what’s going on?” Through this process, we bring objectivity to our thinking. Once we’ve challenged the automatic thought, we can restructure it to be more representative of what’s actually happening and deflate the negative emotion associated with the automatic thought.
For example, if we challenge the automatic thought “I am a total failure and a loser,” we would likely find many examples from this person’s life where he has succeeded. We could then restructure the thought to be something more helpful like “I make mistakes at times, but I am also successful in areas, and overall, I have achieved quite a bit.” With this restructured thought, the feelings of depression, defeat, and hopelessness decrease in intensity.
The Behavioral Side
The things you do can also be an effective way to change negative feelings. In our example, the person that is isolating and sleeping excessively is going to continue to experience negative emotions because his behaviors are feeding the depression, defeat, and hopelessness. In CBT, we look for opportunities to change behaviors that are contributing to negative feelings. Instead of isolating, our person could go get coffee with a friend or go to the gym and get some exercise. He could do some volunteer work or go to a concert. Getting out of the house and interacting with others will decrease the negative emotion.
If you think CBT would be an effective treatment for you, or you’d like to learn more about it, please give our office a call, and we can discuss further.