What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?
According to Psychology Today, cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on goals and solutions rather than looking to the deep past to find what is causing future behavior. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, focuses on changing patterns of behavior. CBT also focuses on perceptions and how they alter patients’ realities. Cognitive behavioral techniques and strategies focus on overcoming inaccurate thoughts and distortions of reality. CBT is mainly used to treat anxiety and depression, but can also be used to treat PTSD, eating disorders, OCD, etc. Psychologists agree that CBT is a very effective form of therapy. So, let’s take a look at some techniques to use with patients!
Cognitive Behavioral Techniques
The first step to take in cognitive behavioral therapy is to understand what a patient is feeling. CBT therapists focus on how situations affect thoughts which affect feelings. So, a patient may be feeling anxious. The first step is for the patient to understand and recognize that he/she is feeling anxious. Usually, this anxiety can turn into catastrophizing. This is when someone takes a normal thought and pushes it to its limits. For example, someone “had a bad day at work today.” With catastrophizing, a patient can quickly start to think “I had a bad day at work today, so I am going to get fired and lose everything.” The purpose of CBT is to get to the root of the feeling, usually stemming from situations. Then, when someone identifies the root, he/she can change behavior and modes of thought.
Most of our anxiety stems from irrational thoughts. An example of an irrational thought is stubbing your toe and then believing your foot will be broken forever. Irrational anxiety or depression can be the scariest because of the unknown. With rational anxiety, a patient is anxious because of a particular situation. He/she failed a test and now is anxious he/she will fail the class. However, irrational anxiety (or just feelings) can be inexplicable. Someone may be feeling anxious and unable to identify any situations that would rationally cause the anxiety. The best way to cope with irrational feelings is through calming cognitive behavioral techniques.
A popular technique is to journal. Therapists recommend journaling as a way to help express patients’ thoughts. A patient can write down his/her irrational feelings and then counter them with rational thoughts. Similarly, a patient can talk to themselves. The patient can express his/her irrational thoughts and then follow up with some rational thoughts. Another great calming technique is to exercise. Any form of exercise, whether it’s running, yoga, or playing a sport, will diminish some emotional stress. The patient can also find calming activities that they enjoy. This can range from playing games to drawing to cooking. Anything that calms the mind and brings him/her back to the present is useful. If the patient does not calm their mind down, they may end up spiraling. This is when someone pile sone irrational thought on top of another until they can’t stop thinking irrational thoughts.
One of the most important techniques of CBT is goal setting. Patients and therapists set goals for therapy and personal goals for the patient. Goals should be observable, measurable, and achievable. Goals are helpful both for the patient and for the therapist. They will guide how therapy sessions proceed and give patients something to strive towards and to work for. Goal setting should be completed early on, after identifying how the patient is feeling and whether these thoughts are rational or irrational, or both. First, the patient should set broad goals. An example of a broad goal can be not feeling as anxious when they have to give a presentation at work. After they set broad, goals, you can prioritize goals. A great strategy is to start with the goal that can be solved the easiest. This will instill confidence in the patient and the CBT process.
CBT is a very popular form of therapy that is effective. Now that you know some techniques, you can try them yourself! Browse our travel psychology positions and find your calling!