CBT is probably the most revolutionary, effective approach to helping people with mental and emotional disorders recover and live full, productive lives. CBT is fundamentally respectful and optimistic. Unlike many older, dated approaches to psychotherapy, CBT assumes that people are basically rational and are trying their best to manage their lives effectively. Problems arise when people turn to coping strategies that are based on faulty beliefs, early learning experiences that were damaging, skills deficits, or the conviction that they cannot tolerate any distress even for a moment. Maladaptive coping strategies “work” in the short term by reducing distress, but often exacerbate both distress and problems in the long term. Maladaptive coping strategies include all kinds of avoidance behaviors, procrastination, alcohol and drug use, binge eating, self-mutilation, over-sleeping, binge watching, internet surfing and many more.
A good cognitive-behavioral therapist will help you do a number of things. You will start to learn how to use more adaptive coping strategies (like deep breathing, relaxation, good self-care, behavioral activation, exercise and so on) to regulate and manage negative feelings. You will also learn to pay attention to your own thoughts and beliefs about your experiences, your feelings, life stress and relationships. The therapist will help you start to think in different ways, and to examine the evidence for your old beliefs and for new ones that may be both more accurate and more benign. A good CBT therapist may also help you explore the origins of any distorted or damaging beliefs (like thinking that you’re worthless or not good enough) and will work with you to help you recognize when those beliefs are guiding your behavior and how to supplant them with more accurate and adaptive beliefs. Finally a good CBT therapist will help you learn to face your fears and conquer them so that you no longer live under the constant threat of crushing panic, horrifying intrusive thoughts, terror of disease and ill health, memories of trauma, dread of embarrassment or humiliation, fear of failure, and all the avoidance behaviors and impairment that go along with those fears. CBT is also collaborative and your therapist will always consult with you about what you want to work on and how fast you want to go. Conquering your difficulties can feel daunting, but a good therapist provides lots support, and structure and helps to make it all possible.
Finally, it’s important to know that CBT is based on science. All the techniques are derived from a core scientific understanding of learning, cognition, emotion and even biology. Moreover, CBT has been tested in thousands of scientific studies to prove that it works for specific problems and to help us understand how and why it works. If you are struggling with depression, anxiety or trauma or your life is feeling stuck or out of control – CBT may well be the answer.