Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A talk therapy

CBT is a well-established effective type of short-term therapy or treatment. It is based on the connections between your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and how they can influence each other. Although the past is certainly relevant, CBT focuses on providing you with tools to solve your current problems. The key principle behind CBT is that your thought patterns affect your emotions, which, in turn, can affect your behaviors. For instance, CBT highlights how negative thoughts can lead to negative feelings and actions. But, if you reframe your thoughts in a more positive way, it can lead to more positive feelings and helpful behaviors. Depending on the type of issue you want help with, your therapist will help figure out which CBT strategy is best suited to your particular needs. The strategies involve:

1.      Cognitive restructuring or reframing: This involves taking a hard look at negative thought patterns.  Perhaps you tend to over-generalize, assume the worst will happen, or place far too much importance on minor details. Thinking this way can affect what you do, and it can even become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

2.      Guided discovery: The therapist will acquaint themselves with your viewpoint. Then they will ask questions designed to challenge your beliefs and broaden your thinking. You might be asked to give evidence that supports your assumptions, as well as evidence that does not.

3.      Exposure therapy: This can be used to confront fears and phobias. The therapist will slowly expose you to the things that provoke fear or anxiety while providing guidance on how to cope with them in the moment.

4.      Journaling and thought records: Writing is a time-honored way of getting in touch with your own thoughts. Your therapist may ask you to list negative thoughts that occurred to you between sessions, as well as positive thoughts you can choose instead.


5.      Activity scheduling and behavior activation: If there is an activity you tend to put off or avoid due to fear or anxiety, getting it on your calendar can help. Once the burden of decision is gone, you may be more likely to follow through. It can help establish good habits and provide ample opportunity to put what you have learned into practice.

6.      Behavioral experiments: These are typically used for anxiety disorders that involve catastrophic thinking. Before embarking on a task that normally makes you anxious, you will be asked to predict what will happen. Later, you will talk about whether or not the prediction came true.

7.      Relaxation and stress reduction techniques: These are practical skills that help to lower stress and increase your sense of control. They can be helpful in dealing with phobias, social anxieties, and other stressors. Some progressive relaxation techniques include deep breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, and imagery.

8.      Role playing: This strategy can help you work through different behaviors in potentially difficult situations. Playing out possible scenarios can lessen fear and be used for improving problem solving skills, gaining familiarity and confidence in certain situations, practicing social skills, assertiveness training and improving communication skills

9.      Successive approximation: It involves taking tasks that seem to be overwhelming and breaking them into smaller and more achievable steps. Each successive step builds upon the previous step, so you gain confidence as you go, bit by bit.

About the Author

Ibrahim Mesud (Ph.D.)

Research Fellow

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