Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Is A Powerful Tool for Healing
By Lauren Salani, LCSW, BCB
Aaron T. Beck is the father of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Today, CBT is the most empirically supported form of treatment for a broad range of psychological problems. CBT has been developed to treat depression, anxiety, anger management, PTSD, trauma, eating disorders, insomnia, and chronic pain. Easing the distress from these conditions may also relieve symptoms of headache, high blood pressure and gastrointestinal disorders. Attempting to live with these conditions is challenging as they take their toll on a person’s sense of self, work-related functioning, social-life and family relationships. Many times, “others just don’t understand.”
So often in our busy lives, we keep track and observe how we exercise, how we eat, what is said to whom, and how we feel on a daily basis. But, we usually don’t observe our thinking and our images. Taoism and Buddhism both have emphasized that human emotions are based on ideas and changing one’s ideas may change the most intense feelings. Mindfulness teaches to detach from mental activity. CBT teaches a person to notice their thinking and then challenge and refute any negative thoughts or core beliefs that may have embedded inaccuracies or misperceptions.
Thoughts and visual images occur spontaneously and are called “automatic thoughts.” These mental activities usually go unnoticed unless you specifically focus your attention on them. Automatic thoughts are taken as factual reality and serve to guide your actions. This explains why it is not uncommon for a person to wonder why they are feeling so weak, angry, unattractive, incompetent, etc. According to Aaron Beck, it is the unnoticed, inaccurate, negative, thoughts and visual images that are creating the negative feeling states. To demonstrate this relationship between thinking, and feeling, assess yourself in the following scenarios:
Think of how you would feel if you heard a crash in the next room. You may imagine an intruder entering through the window that was left open. That assumption would probably lead to a feeling of extreme fear and you would call the police. If the crash were interpreted as being caused by children you told to behave, you would probably feel irritation or anger. If however, you interpreted the crash to be a vase falling to the ground because the wind was blowing in, you would probably feel sad if the vase was expensive or of sentimental value, but you wouldn’t call the police.
The above vignette shows how the things you assume or say to yourself have a powerful link to your emotions and then to your daily actions. CBT teaches a person how to become aware of automatic thoughts, determine whether they are accurate, change the underlying feeling state and then help a person find new ways of healthier ways of responding. The impact of having a changed mood allows a person to start to behave in new ways that reflect and reinforce improved attitudes and assumptions about themselves, where they live, work, play, and their future outlook.
CBT is focused on the “here and now” and can be integrated with other therapies to address the impact of automatic thoughts on emotion and behavior. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a powerful tool that could be very effective in reducing your symptoms and giving yourself a new lease on life.
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