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 may change. This happens for example in response to meeting new people who hold other beliefs, or as a result of having gone through certain experiences. While some of your current beliefs and ways of thinking may be helpful, others might not be.
CBT also acknowledges that we sometimes engage in cognitive distortions, that is, adopting skewed perspectives on reality. This happens particularly in relation to negative thinking. Examples include focusing on and magnifying negative details over positive ones (as seen in people with low self-esteem), black and white thinking (“if I don’t do it perfectly I’m a failure”), overgeneralization (“I failed once so I will always fail”), jumping to conclusions (“she didn’t smile at me so it must mean she doesn’t like me”) and catastrophizing (“if I get dirt on my hands I will get sick and die”), just to mention a few. Such cognitive distortions can have a negative effect on how you react in specific situations, or by holding you back from achieving your goals.
How does CBT work?
In CBT you learn to become more aware of your individual patterns of thinking and behaving. You also learn how to challenge those thoughts and beliefs that have become distorted or are otherwise 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. Different 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, better emotion regulation skills, and better behavioural self-control.