by Katie Vines
Many of the problems people face are influenced by how they think and feel about themselves and others. Our beliefs about ourselves shape the way we communicate and respond in all facets of our lives, in relationships, through our behavior, at work, at home, everywhere. Some people develop unhealthy or unrealistic views about themselves that lead to dysfunctional ways of responding to and coping with stressors in life. This is seen in depression, anxiety, anger, eating disorders, substance abuse, violence, and many other issues. When we have a very negative or skewed view of ourselves, coupled with poor coping skills, it is very difficult to learn how to handle stressors or conflict in a healthy way. CBT teaches clients how to:
- Recognize negative thoughts/beliefs they often did not know they had (i.e., the thoughts/beliefs were being expressed “automatically” or on an unconscious level).
- Understand the connection between thoughts/beliefs, feelings, and behaviors.
- Develop new, healthy, and more realistic beliefs about themselves.
- Replace dysfunctional ways of thinking and responding with more appropriate coping skills and behaviors.
Through learning these skills, clients begin to develop more confidence and a sense of control over their own lives. Clients who have been going through life feeling that they are “at the mercy” of their moods and negative thoughts come to feel more in control and understand the dynamics behind their behaviors. After all, knowledge is power!
CBT can be used for a variety of issues in therapy. It is very effective in treating anxiety and depression, but also useful in helping clients learn healthier communication skills. When clients understand the reasons behind their reactions in conflict, they are able to build stronger communication skills and learn to resolve conflict in healthier ways. CBT is also very effective in working with clients who have suffered any type of abuse or trauma in their lives. Verbal abuse can be especially damaging as it sends consistent negative messages about a person’s worth and value. Victims of abuse often internalize these experiences and begin to truly believe they are not lovable or that they “deserved” the abuse. CBT corrects these ways of thinking and can free a person from the ongoing torture of past abuse.
A wonderful aspect of CBT is its straight-forwardness and clarity in teaching individuals how to survive, and even thrive, regardless of what life throws at them. Even if a current stressful situation is not changing immediately, clients learn how to better cope with it. Additionally, they learn how to create an “emotional barrier” which keeps stressors from affecting them as negatively as they did in the past. Essentially, clients feel stronger and better able to take on life’s challenges.
Many clients prefer CBT over other methods of therapy as it is often quite effective in a relatively shorter amount of time. Also, clients tend to feel that they get something very tangible out of each session, as the therapist is more directive and sessions are more structured. Rather than simply spending hour after hour in session talking about the past, clients are actually learning skills and tools that they can use in their everyday lives to make them better! CBT is very goal-oriented. The first session can be spent working with the client to outline specific goals they would like to accomplish. This helps clients to truly see their progress as they move through the therapeutic process.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an effective method of treating a variety of issues that people face in their everyday lives. It is most successful when clients have a strong relationship with their therapist and trust the process!