Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of treatment that focuses on helping people identify and change unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to continuing problematic emotions. The basic premise of CBT is that the way people think about situations drives their feelings and reactions.
The CBT process is structured, goal-oriented, and involves an individual or family working with a therapist to identify specific problems and to develop strategies to address them. The therapy usually involves a combination of cognitive techniques, such as challenging negative thoughts (known as cognitive distortions), and behavioral techniques, such as exposure therapy or behavioral experiments, to help individuals, children, or families change their perceptions.
What are cognitive distortions?
Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking that can lead to inaccurate perceptions of reality. Cognitive distortions are also known as “thinking errors” or “cognitive biases.” These cognitive distortions can contribute to negative emotions, poor decision-making, and other negative outcomes. Recognizing and challenging these patterns of thinking is an important part of CBT and other forms of psychotherapy.
Examples of cognitive distortions:
- All-or-nothing thinking: Seeing things in black and white, without considering any middle ground or shades of grey.
- Catastrophizing: Overestimating the negative consequences of a situation and underestimating one’s ability to cope.
- Discounting the positive: Ignoring or minimizing positive experiences and focusing only on negative ones.
- Emotional reasoning: Believing that one’s emotions accurately reflect reality, without questioning whether they are based on accurate information.
- Labeling: Assigning negative labels to oneself or others based on a single behavior or characteristic.
- Overgeneralization: Drawing broad conclusions based on a single event or limited evidence.
- Personalization: Believing that everything that happens is directly related to oneself, even when there is no evidence to support this belief.
- Mind-reading: Assuming that one knows what others are thinking or feeling without actually checking with them.
How can CBT help?
CBT process includes the following:
- Identifying negative thought patterns: The first step in CBT is to identify negative thought patterns, such as cognitive distortions, that contribute to the individual’s emotional distress.
- Challenging negative thoughts: Once negative thought patterns have been identified, the therapist helps the individual to challenge and reframe them in a more realistic and positive way.
- Developing coping strategies: In addition to changing negative thought patterns, CBT also helps individuals develop coping strategies to manage their emotions and behaviors more effectively.
- Practicing new skills: CBT often involves homework assignments and practice exercises that help the individual apply the skills they have learned in therapy to real-life situations.
CBT has been shown to be effective in treating a wide range of mental health challenges, including anxiety disorders, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders. CBT has also been shown to be effective in improving general life satisfaction and overall well-being. The benefits of CBT can extend beyond the completion of therapy, as individuals often report that they continue to use the skills they learned in therapy to manage their emotions and behaviors in the long term.