What is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy?
Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is an umbrella term for types of psychotherapy that help you feel better by helping you to identify and change your unhelpful patterns of thinking or behaving. CBT is based on the idea that your emotional, physiological, and behavioural reactions always make sense when we know what you’re thinking; in other words, it’s not the situations in your life that directly cause your emotional suffering, but rather how you think about or respond to these situations that causes most of your suffering.
For example, let’s imagine that you can’t find your keys one morning. If you tell yourself that you’re an idiot and can’t do anything right, these initial automatic thoughts could make you sad as you think about all the other things you’ve done wrong in your life. This snowballing of negativity could distract you so that you end up looking for your keys in the same spots more than once, taking you longer to find them. This outcome only strengthens the thought that you can’t do anything right, setting the stage for more frustration when you hit morning rush hour, more hopelessness when you don’t hear back from your boss about the project you submitted yesterday, and more sadness when your kids complain about the dinner you cook for them.
Now let’s imagine that instead of beating yourself up when you can’t find your car keys, you think about how you were distracted yesterday when you brought your groceries in the house after a long day, so you decide to focus and retrace your steps. This strategy leads to you finding your keys in the fridge, allowing you to head off to work only a few minutes late. Because you’ve already forgotten about the reason for your delay as you get in your car, you’re in fine spirits when you hit traffic, so you use the extra time to listen to another episode of your favourite podcast. When you don’t hear back from your boss about your project, you think about how busy she’s been lately so assume she hasn’t reviewed it yet. When your kids complain about dinner, you sigh in annoyance, but don’t take it as a dig at your cooking.
In these hypothetical scenarios, you faced the same initial problem, but the way you talked to yourself about the problem resulted in different emotions, different behavioural responses, and different outcomes.
In CBT, your therapist will help you discover how your thoughts, behaviours, and emotions are all interrelated, meaning that if you change one, you can change the other. Although you can’t directly change your emotions, CBT will help you learn how to change how you think and how you behave in response to stressors, which will then change your emotions. More specifically, CBT will provide you with skills to adjust your thinking so that it matches the reality of the situation—whether that reality is positive, negative, or neutral—and to ensure that your behaviour is effective for that reality and for your goals moving forward.
Want to learn more about CBT? Click on the links below.