Cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) has increasingly become a very popular therapeutic model, and for good reason: it has proven effective at addressing the root causes of particular issues, and in developing strategies to deal with those issues as they arise in the future.
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CBT is, in the most basic terms, a form of “talk therapy;” that is, a method whereby an individual works through challenges and problems verbally with the help of a therapist. It was initially developed as a method of addressing depression, but has since been taken up to deal with other mental health conditions.
The fundamental idea behind CBT is quite simple, and one that most people would likely agree with: our thoughts and perceptions strongly influence our behavior. Change thoughts and perceptions, and you change behavior.
In undergoing CBT, an individual works with their therapist to identify patterns of thought that may be linked with harmful, destructive, or otherwise negative behaviors. They work out what the source of those patterns might be, and whether or not they represent an accurate depiction of reality. If they do not, the therapist then works together with the individual to bring those patterns in line with reality.
The idea here is that the harmful states of mind associated with conditions like depression and anxiety do not reflect reality, but are a kind of cognitive distortion of reality. When we proceed to make decisions and take actions based on this distorted version of reality, we are not acting in our best interest.
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An enormous amount of research has gone into developing the theory and method of CBT, and it has proven effective against numerous mental health conditions, particularly depression, anxiety, and mood disorders.
That is because these conditions involve cycles of negative and self-destructive thinking that result from distorted perceptions or evaluations of ourselves and the world around us.
We can see this even from a relatively banal example like studying for an important test. How we study for that test, and how we perform while actually taking it, are directly informed by the patterns of thought we develop surrounding the test and ourselves in relation to it. If we convince ourselves that we are stupid, that no amount of studying will allow us to pass, we may put off studying altogether. If we become overly anxious about the test, we may study haphazardly and ineffectively.
Of course, both of these are likely to result in precisely the result that we were afraid of: failing the test. In a very concrete way, developing negative patterns of thought about the test resulted in negative outcomes. If we’d developed positive and healthy thinking that reflected the reality of the situation — which, in this case, is that a good study plan and putting the time in are likely to result in a good grade — our behavior would have shifted to reflect that.
Easier said than done, of course, especially for those with conditions like depression and anxiety. That’s where CBT comes in; not only can a therapist help the individual to identify the problematic patterns of thought that are leading to negative or destructive behaviors, but they can help develop the individual’s ability to do so in the future.
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