Many therapists today suggest CBT as a therapy for patients suffering from mental health disorders. Here’s a brief overview of how it works.
What’s CBT? (stands for Cognitive behavior therapy)
If you’ve ever listened to Dr. Laura Schlessinger on Sirius radio you’ll hear her recommend CBT to many people. It’s one of the most effective and popular treatments for learning new behaviors.
CBT, as it’s most commonly known, stands for Cognitive Behavior Therapy. And the nature of the method is as it’s named. It involves reprogramming thought and behavior patterns you’ve learned overtime, that have helped prevent you from dealing with fears, or pain, and allow you to ensure your survival.
CBT acknowledges that what you think about a external situation influences your emotional experience. And, what you think and believe is also related to what you’ve learned.
For example, a person that almost drowned as kid may see a body of water and think “I need to stay far away from the water”. They will feel fear and the action they will take will be to avoid the water. Whereas, a person who spent summers at the beach, took swimming lessons and never had an accident, may see the same body of water and think, “wow, I’d love to hop in there right now.” They will feel happy when they see water and will take an action like going for a swim.
When your behavior does not serve what you would like to do – for example, the adult that had the swim accident is embarrassed of their inability to swim on a vacation with friends – it becomes a distressing problem. The good news, is this thought – emotion – behavior pattern can be disrupted and changed through CBT.
CBT as a diagram looks like this:
The diagram above presents a triangle to show how thoughts, behaviors and emotion are connected and continue to reinforce one another overtime.
CBT acknowledges that individuals learn automatic behaviors that become difficult to control through rational thought. It appears as if they act spontaneously to situations, without any reasoning. That’s because the past has conditioned them to react automatically.
Why CBT is effective and how it’s different from other therapies
CBT targets the problem in behavior, which makes it a problem-focused type of treatment. It teaches you new actions that stop you from taking unwanted actions you have taught yourself to take. It replaces them with healthy behaviors that lead to more favorable outcomes. Therefore, it is more “action-oriented” than earlier therapies and leads to fast results.
Earlier therapy techniques (which are still in practice today) focus on understanding the past to learn why you have a tendency to behave a certain way. This introspection can be helpful, though it does not address present issues. It looks directly at the problems the individual is suffering from and treats them. The goal is not to diagnose, but to fix.
Six phases of CBT treatment:
- Skills training;
- Application of skills
- Post-treatment and follow-up.
A typical CBT program consists of in-person sessions with a therapist. A minimum of six to 10 sessions with one to three weeks in between. There are often homework assignments to do that help you learn and use various skills.