March 5th, 2024

All Psyched Up: Cognitive behavioural therapy

By Linda Hancock on February 3, 2024.

Often people are told that they need CBT to help them function better, but they don’t have a clue what that means. One of the world’s leading researchers in psychopathology, who is globally recognized as the father of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), is Dr. Aaron T. Beck. His initial work was focused on helping those with depression, but he later expanded the theory which is now recognized for effectively treating many other difficulties.

On a piece of paper draw a simple triangle. Next, label each of the points with a word that describes the psychological way in which you deal with life. The point at the top of the triangle will be “Thoughts”. Another word for this is Cognitions.

The point on the left side of the triangle is “Feelings” and the one on the right is “Behaviours”.

Now I respect feelings but those who lead with their feelings always seem to be in the ditch. You see feelings change rapidly like chaff blowing in the wind and therefore are not reliable.

Cognitive Behavioural therapists focus on the right side of the triangle – the line that connects Thoughts and Behaviours thus the name Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

Let’s use an example. Think about a teenager who leads with feelings and states “I don’t feel like going to school or doing my homework”. This drives their behaviours, so they move to the right of the triangle. Following this might be a thought like “I am a failure because I didn’t do well in my class.” Moving around the triangle from Feelings to Behaviours to Thoughts might not get them to where they would eventually want to go.

A CBT therapist might approach this situation by asking “What would you like to do as a career when you finish school?” The teen with big hopes and dreams might reply: “I think I would like to be a famous lawyer”. This leads to another question by the therapist “What would you need to do in order for that to happen?” and hopefully the reply would be “I guess I would need to go to school and do my homework.” Finally, the therapist might ask “And then how would you feel?”

You see the difference? The therapist encourages this teen to go around the triangle from Thoughts to Behaviours to Feelings with totally different results.

So, by focusing on the thoughts and behaviours instead of the feelings, the teen learns to make their feelings like the caboose of their psychological train rather than the engine. The results – probably better.

Often, I hear seniors talk about how their physician recommends walking as a treatment for their arthritis. There are so many CBT benefits to this. You see, instead of the senior sitting at home thinking about how little control they have over their chronic pain and sadness (feelings), they change their behaviours by getting outside. They might meet a friend, hear a bird, feel the warmth of the sun or observe new construction in the area. This changes their thoughts and ultimately their feelings. A different focus helps their whole being. (And by the way, movement wakes up the sleeping endorphins in their body which are natural mood and pain regulators).

The interesting thing is that we can learn to do CBT ourselves by changing our focus. It might take some self-talk to get the motivation going but once you have experienced some success, your drive will increase, and you will get the hang of it.

There are dozens of books and websites that will offer you ideas about CBT. All it would take to get going would be some thought mixed with behavioural research. (Oh, and in the meantime, just tell your feelings to lie down and be quiet so they don’t block you from moving forward).

Dr. Linda Hancock, the author of “Life is An Adventure…every step of the way” and “Open for Business Success” is a Registered Psychologist who has a private practice. Visit http://www.LindaHancock.com or email her at office@drlindahancock.com.

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