Change your thoughts and you can change your world
Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is based on the theory that there is an interaction between our thoughts, emotions and behaviours. More specifically, the way we think has a direct effect on how we feel and behave. Your patterns of thinking evolve throughout your life. As children, we tend to unconsciously copy, or “model”, certain beliefs and attitudes from our parents or caregivers. However, as we grow older and become more aware of our own thinking, some of these patterns tend to change. This happens for example in response to meeting new people who hold other beliefs, through education and reading, or as a result of having gone through certain life experiences. While some of your current beliefs and ways of thinking may be helpful for your mental health and overall life satisfaction, others might not be.
CBT shows us how we sometimes engage in cognitive distortions, that is, adopting skewed perspectives on reality. This can be particularly limiting to your life when it comes to negative thinking. Examples include focusing on and magnifying negative details over positive ones (“I’m a complete failure”), black and white thinking (“only perfect is good enough”), overgeneralization (after failing a job interview – “I’m never going to get a job”), jumping to conclusions (the girl you like didn’t smile at you – “she hates me”) and catastrophizing (“my heart is beating fast – I’m having a heart attack!”), just to mention a few. Such cognitive distortions can cause negative emotions, they can fuel additional negative thinking, have a negative effect on how you react in specific situations, and hold you back from achieving your goals.
How does CBT work?
In CBT you learn to become more aware of your own patterns of thinking and behaving. You also learn how to challenge those thoughts and beliefs that have become unhelpful to you. It is a short-term therapy focusing primarily on your present-moment experiences, although with some reference to how your thinking has developed over time. Evidence-based CBT “treatment manuals” exist for different conditions, such as for example different types of anxiety issues and depression. However, the theories and methods of CBT can also be used more generally to gain better self-awareness and better emotion regulation skills, and to help you engage in behaviours that have a more positive effect on your life.