What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has evolved to become the most studied and verified procedure for teaching people how to solve emotional problems.  The cognitive model posits that dysfunctional or distorted thinking is the root cause of all psychological conflicts.

The Theory behind CBT

The sense organs are the portals through which we experience the world around us.  The brain is like a computer, acting on and interpreting this information.  The meaning we ascribe to this data is what forms our belief system.  These beliefs are the foundation for our thoughts about the world, others, and ourselves.  Our thinking greatly determines how well we respond to life’s problems emotionally and behaviorally.  Distorted thinking produces emotional disturbance and inefficient behavior and problems in achieving our goals.

The Focus of CBT

The general focus of CBT is to teach clients to change their distorted thinking.  We literally learn to upset ourselves.  We can also unlearn that which is not helpful, and with practice, look at our lives differently.  That is why a difficult childhood or a series of broken relationships do not have to condemn us to a life of misery.  Therein comprises the power of CBT:  thinking reasonably about anything can occur in-spite-of past and present circumstances.  This suggests that we can learn to feel and act better right now!

How Does CBT Work

The client and therapist collaborate to identify and select specific treatment goals.  Here is how it works:  a shy person desires to be more conversant with strangers with the objective of developing new friendships.  The therapist seeks to understand how the client conceptualizes this problem through a question and answer dialogue.  Together, they identify the upsetting feelings that frustrate the client’s attempts to make friends.

Following the above example, the client would next produce a record of those thoughts and images that first come to mind.  We are all prone to mistakes in our thinking:  CBT teaches us to recognize that balanced thinking comes from examining the facts of a situation.   Therefore, a comprehensive evaluation of the evidence follows.  Continuing with the above example, the cognitive therapist would challenge the shy person to test the validity of his/her assumptions.

Beliefs are potentially hypotheses to be tested.  Reduction of emotional disturbance occurs as the client corrects errors in thinking, while realizing convincingly that it is better to accept reality.  Finally, from our example, the shy person would learn there is nothing inherently dangerous or fearful about social disapproval.  At worst, it is only disappointing not to make a friend.

CBT is Directive and Focused

Cognitive behavioral therapists focus clients on achieving their goals.  This means that counseling works best when there is an agenda.  CBT tends not to be haphazard, arbitrary or capricious; it is efficient, goal-directed and highly instructive.  Anyone can talk to anybody, just for the sake of it.  What makes CBT stand virtually alone is that its purpose is to teach people real skills for solving their problems.  The effect is to help others become their own counselor!

CBT is Brief

CBT is also brief therapy.  Due to its highly instructive nature, changes in attitude can take place in four to eight sessions.  Results vary, of course, and some individuals may need more time, depending on the nature of their problems.  Once a client is comfortable with CBT, he/she may transition to group counseling for continued work.  CBT lends itself well to group methods, often increasing the power of its effectiveness.

Homework is Routine

Homework assignments are routine in CBT.  They are sensible and instructive.  Practicing new behaviors, reading self-help books, journaling, and using workbooks are typical assignments.  The purpose for these activities is to assist clients in deepening the change process.  It takes practice to upset ourselves.  Conversely, it takes lots of practice to learn to upset ourselves less.

The article is an overview of CBT.  Treatment plans are individualized to meet the needs of the client.

Frank Morelli, MA, LMHC
P.O. Box 600100
Jacksonville, FL 32260
Telephone:  904-410-6324
Fax:  855-823-3434

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