When I was first diagnosed with mental health disorders, it seemed like the only treatment my doctor was interested in, was medication. At the time, I was compliant, and followed my drug regimen as prescribed. I also started counseling to find the cause of my issues. After spending some time with a counselor, I was introduced to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
The side effects of the medications proved to be too much for me to handle, and I ended up needing both inpatient and outpatient care to treat the new symptoms they had caused. Every mental health doctor or facility I came in contact with over the next five years gave me information on cognitive therapy.
While doing my own research, I discovered that nearly every report said medication was only helpful in conjunction with other forms of treatment. I also noticed that on every list of effective therapies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is near the top, and listed as being successful with, or without the use of medication. This leads me to believe that many common disorders can be not only be treated, by using CBT, but prevented. That is why I decided to share the basics of cognitive therapy.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches us thinking skills that can help with:
- · Sleep disorders
- · Depression
- · Bipolar disorders
- · Anxiety disorders
- · Phobias
- · Obsessive compulsive disorder
- · Eating disorders
- · Addictions
- · Personality disorders
- · Post-traumatic stress disorder
- · Schizophrenia
The Basic Steps of CBT
1. Identify distorted beliefs and thinking styles
One of the first things I learned about cognitive therapy is that most of my beliefs were automatic, and distorted. This meant that I was doing a lot of critical thinking without even knowing it. I was also reacting to situations with little or no forethought; based on the views I learned as a child, from people who raised me. Knowing this definitely helps alleviate any guilt that comes from having distorted views of the world. The bottom line is: It’s not our fault.
Most people have distorted beliefs, because our childhood caretakers taught us to use distorted thinking styles. These thinking styles lead to our emotional reactions, and if left unresolved, can lead to the development of mental health disorders. The checklist and definitions of the cognitive distortions that people typically learn as children is pretty long, but I will list a few here.
Common distorted thinking styles:
- · Filtering
- · Black and white thinking
- · Generalization
- · Emotional reasoning
- · Blaming
- · Magnifying
2. Examine the evidence.
The quickest way I have found to recognize a distorted belief is to identify my emotion, think about why I feel that way, and then pinpoint the cognitive distortion that leads to that feeling. In most cases, this method leads to the exact distorted thinking style that needs to be changed in order to alleviate my worry, fear, anger, or sadness. When in doubt, I listen for words that make my thoughts unlikely to be completely true.
Listen for thoughts that contain these words:
- · Should
- · Always
- · Every
- · Never
- · Nobody
- · Everybody
- · All
3. Change negative thoughts.
Our best defense against negative emotions is self-talk. Once a distorted thought pattern is recognized, it can easily be changed into something more positive. There are many methods that can be used to change our ways of thinking.
Here are three examples of a negative or distorted thought:
1. “Nobody likes me.”
2. “People always try to keep me from succeeding.”
3. “I always have bad luck with relationships.”
The three thoughts above are examples of magnification, blaming, and generalization.
Here are three examples of how to change the above thoughts.
1. “I have a few close friends.”
2. “Sometimes people help me, and sometimes I have to work harder help myself.”
3. “I would like to feel like I am in a mutually loving relationship.”
I notice that when I use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, my thoughts don’t lead to unbearable feelings anymore. Instead, they tend to lead me to ideas of how to take action toward whatever situation is causing me unpleasant emotions. I admit that it is not always easy to remember these skills when I am upset, but I am always proud of myself when I do.
I have been told by a few people that thinking about their thoughts and feelings is not something they are interested in. At first I was annoyed, because I felt that everyone could benefit from learning this valuable skill, and I found the opposition from those people to be discouraging. However, I won’t assume that everyone feels the same way. After all, that would be generalizing!