Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on the connection among thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It is not possible for someone to just “feel less depressed”, or to “just be happier”, but CBT can help individuals to work on identifying and changing his/her thoughts, in turn affecting how he/she feels. In CBT treatment, the therapist works to helping individuals identify their “self-talk”, which is the chatter that goes on inside our heads throughout the day. This “self-talk” can then be “reframed”, or changed into a healthier and more positive thought. The CBT therapist will also teach clients coping skills that can be used to relax, de-stress, or distract away temporarily from a negative thought that is causing distress. Another goal in treatment is for clients to eventually determine what their “core beliefs” are and to work on developing healthier beliefs about themselves.
A CBT therapist will teach clients, both children and adults, about the “thoughts, feelings and actions cycle” in efforts to assist clients with challenging maladaptive thinking and behaviors. This idea is considered to be the bases of CBT work and means that the way we think, the way we feel, and the way we act are all influenced by one another. If we feel trapped in a certain mindset or can’t seem to escape certain emotions or behavior patterns, a CBT therapist will explore the ways our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors interact and get us stuck in those ruts. For example, imagine a friend texting differently than usual. She is not using emojis or being her usual chipper self, or answers with “one word” answers. Often, your brain may begin to take you on a rollercoaster of thoughts such as “why is she being different…what did I do to upset her…she must not want to be my friend anymore…no one likes me.” This is an example of a negative thought cycle, and it will often lead to unpleasant emotions such as anxiety, sadness, or anger. These unpleasant emotions may then impact our actions.
After thinking said thoughts and feeling said emotions, we may not reach out to our friend after the last text exchange we had. By partaking in this action, we may begin to feel trapped in the cycle of unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and actions. A CBT therapist may utilize psychoeducation and the diagram below in efforts to show a client how challenging their thoughts or changing their behavior can lead to a shift in mood and an escape from this tumultuous cycle.