Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a treatment approach (a psychotherapy technique) that helps you recognize negative or unhelpful thought and behavior patterns, and once you notice these patterns, you can begin learning to reframe your thoughts in a more positive and helpful way.
CBT is based on 4 fundamental principles:
- How a person understands the world; their thoughts, what influences them, how they behave, and how these things help to maintain their problems.
- A person is capable of becoming aware of their thoughts, and CBT has the ability to change those thought patterns.
- When a person changes their thoughts or the way they think, they also change the way they react or behave.
- Because thoughts, reactions, behaviors and feelings are interrelated, changed behaviors impact thoughts, feelings and reactions.
Commonly used CBT Techniques:
- SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-limited.
- Guided discovery and questioning. By questioning the assumptions (especially the ‘must’s and ‘should’s) you have about yourself or your current situation, your therapist can help you learn to challenge these and consider different viewpoints.
- Journaling. You might be asked to make a note of negative beliefs that come up during the week and the positive ones you can replace them with. It is helpful for the client to have some general knowledge about therapy techniques so that they are more inclined to work positively with the counselor.
- Self-talk. Your therapist may ask what you tell yourself about a certain situation or experience and challenge you to replace negative or critical self-talk with compassionate, constructive self-talk.
- Cognitive restructuring. This involves looking at any cognitive distortions affecting your thoughts — such as black-and-white thinking, jumping to conclusions, or catastrophizing — and beginning to unravel them.
- Thought recording. In this technique, you’ll come up with unbiased evidence supporting your negative belief and evidence against it. Then, you’ll use this evidence to develop a more realistic thought.
- Positive activities. Scheduling a rewarding activity each day can help increase overall positivity and improve your mood. Some examples might be buying yourself fresh flowers or fruit, watching your favorite movie, or treating yourself to a favorite meal.
- Situation exposure. This involves listing situations or things that cause distress, in order of the level of distress they cause, and slowly exposing yourself to these things until they lead to fewer negative feelings. Systematic Desensitisation is a similar technique where you’ll learn relaxation techniques to help you cope with your feelings in a difficult situation.
Homework is another important part of CBT, regardless of the techniques you use. Just as school assignments helped you practice and develop the skills you learned in class, therapy assignments can help you become more familiar with the skills you’re developing.
CBT is a scientifically researched and widely used therapeutic technique in counseling. It can be called the “Gold Standard” in counseling and psychotherapy and it has a proven record of success all over the world.