CBT focuses on improving the quality of the cognitive (thoughts) and behavioral connections we make in our daily lives. When we process negative or distorted thoughts related to a stimuli—something that provokes the thought or emotional response—and then act upon it, we set up a neural pathway in our brains connecting the two. The brain becomes hardwired to respond that way each time the stimulus is encountered. When the pattern is repeated over and over, it can create entrenched dysfunction, culminating in destructive patterns of behavior.
An example of this is how the automatic thought assumptions made such as “I will never get to sleep,” or “I will never complete this project,” or “I am worthless” can have a profound impact on the actions or behaviors that follow them. The distorted perceptions then drive self-destructive behaviors, such as substance abuse or other behavioral disorders as well as reinforce mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and more.
CBT teaches the individual to reframe the thoughts or emotions into positive and constructive messaging, which in turn changes the behavioral response. The CBT therapist works with the client to help them recognize how self blame, negative messaging, irrational thinking, exaggerated negativity, and so on can lead to the problems they are experiencing in their lives.
By coaching the client to shift these distortions toward positive and affirming messaging, healthier behaviors will follow. Modifying these old negative habits takes time, but with practice and helpful guidance by a CBT therapist it is possible to make significant positive changes in your life.
At the core, CBT operates on three primary principles:
- Psychological problems can be caused by faulty or unhealthy thoughts
- Psychological problems can be caused by learned patterns of dysfunctional behavior
- Using CBT techniques, individuals suffering from psychological problems can make positive changes in their lives by learning better coping skills
CBT is Not a One-Size-Fits-All Therapy
Psychotherapists who utilize CBT will make adaptations to the techniques used in treating each specific mental or behavioral health condition. A unique formulation of CBT is designed as a result of the initial psychological evaluation that is conducted and the diagnosis that follows. During that initial assessment, the clinician will create treatment goals and plan the CBT treatment strategy accordingly. The CBT that might be effective for helping someone with anxiety disorder may look quite differently from a CBT plan for treating someone with alcohol addiction.
Regardless of the therapeutic variations of CBT, the core principles of guiding individuals to change distorted thought and behavior patterns remain consistent. Helping the individual to identify immediately when they are entertaining an irrational thought and quickly modify it towards a positive or constructive message and behavioral response is the same no matter what the specific diagnosis happens to be. CBT can be used in individual therapy sessions or in group therapy formats.
CBT is an Evidence-Based Approach
CBT is considered an evidence-based therapy because its results have been clinically studied and quantified scientifically. A large body of research supports CBT as an effective tool in treating a wide swath of mental and behavioral health conditions.
A meta-analysis on CBT research and data was published in the October 2012 publication of Cognitive Therapy and Research, providing a comprehensive survey examining its efficacy. The authors gathered 106 CBT published studies that sought to quantify the benefits of CBT for such problems as depression, eating disorders, substance use disorder, personality disorders, anxiety, insomnia, criminal behaviors, and more. The conclusion of this review was that the evidence-base of CBT is very strong.
Brain scans have revealed that CBT can actually cause subtle changes in the brain. In a study published in the National Review of Neuroscience it was found that functional MRI and PET imaging studies of patients with depression showed changes in brain activity before and after receiving 12 sessions of CBT treatment for major depressive disorder, PTSD, OCD, and panic disorder. The changes were in the brain’s subgenual cingulate cortex, or the mood center of the brain. The authors of the study considered the effect of CBT on the executive functions, as CBT helps individuals achieve more controlled emotional processing as one of the reasons for the changes in brain circuitry.
Change Your Life with CBT
Because CBT is empirically based, with substantial clinical evidence and statistical data supporting its efficacy in treating individuals for a wide range of issues, it is a popular treatment modality. It has been embraced in the psychiatric and addiction recovery fields because of its effectiveness in making real life changes in a relatively short period of time. Where psychoanalysis constitutes a long-term treatment journey dissecting the individual’s childhood and past history, CBT, while considering the origins of the maladaptive thought-behavior patterns, focuses on the matter at hand and teaches a clear road map toward achieving a better quality of life.
While it takes some time to incorporate the new thought and behavior processes into daily life, with practice these become healthy new habits that can positively impact a person’s quality of life. The Treatment Specialist provides free assistance in locating cognitive behavioral therapy near me and treatment programs (near you) that feature CBT. Reach out to The Treatment Specialist and begin to make positive changes in your life with CBT. Call (866) 644-7911 to locate an inpatient or outpatient cognitive behavioral therapy program.