Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) looks at the way people think (“cognitive”) and act (“behavioural”). The focus of CBT is that our thoughts about a person, or a situation affect how we feel (emotionally and physically), which in turn will affect how we behave. The main idea, or focus, of cognitive therapy is that thoughts about the self and our partners, for example, shape the way we behave around them. Our thoughts and beliefs shape our emotional responses and, as a result, shape the way that we act (behaviours) with others.
Unhelpful thoughts lead to unpleasant emotions and, eventually, unhelpful behaviours which in turn, reinforces our negative thoughts and, thus, around the mulberry bush we go. Indeed, our thoughts, feelings and behaviours interact and influence each other, often creating a vicious cycle. We are allowed to have negative thoughts every now and then, but it is when we repeatedly apply negative meanings to certain events, then we are likely to experience problems with anxiety and/or depression.
For example: when Tom sees Mary’s action of using a loud tone, he begins to think that Mary is angry and that she does not love him anymore. This will reinforce his feelings towards Mary, and, at some point, his distancing actions towards her. But what if Tom’s thinking about what he sees is faulty: a form of “stinking thinking” as some people say. What is Mary is using a more loud tone because she is slowly losing her hearing, and she does not even know she is talking louder, all the while, she loves Tom as much as ever. Cognitive behavioural therapy helps people clarify thoughts, feelings and actions.
CBT approaches counselling by addressing one’s negative beliefs. In psychotherapy, people can begin by learning to identify the negative thought patterns one is employing in any situation, and learning to name and change these patterns. Cognitive behavioural therapy does this by providing a substitute thought or learning to let go of the negative beliefs associated with that thought.
Often, CBT uses a lot of homework so people can complete exercises outside of the therapy room. There are good workbooks on anxiety therapy that outline CBT skills and interventions. CBT is the best used therapy for depression. CBT is also combined with relaxation techniques as one learns to better see the negative patterns and find ways to manage the emotional response in a more positive manner.
Written by Dr. Martin Rovers, Marriage and Family Therapist with Capital Choice Counselling Group. You can check out his profile here.