Frequently Asked Questions about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

What is “cognitive therapy” or “cognitive behavioral therapy” (CBT)?

Cognitive therapy is an active, structured form of psychotherapy that is designed to rapidly and effectively reduce and eliminate psychological symptoms.  Cognitive is simply a fancy word that means thoughts. Cognitive behavior therapy, sometimes known as cbt is a form of psychological treatment that focuses on the thoughts and behaviors that accompany psychological distress.

What makes CBT different than other types of psychotherapy?

There are many aspects of cbt that differentiate it from other forms of psychotherapy.  First and foremost cbt is devoted to reducing and eliminating psychological symptoms and distress as quickly and completely as possible. In cbt there is more of a focus on helping clients develop new thinking and behavioral skills that will enable them to feel better and stay better.  The skill development component of cbt differentiates it from other psychotherapies.  Finally, cbt has been more extensively researched than any other form of psychotherapy.  The research generally shows that cbt is the most effective form of psychological treatment for anxiety disorders, depression and a host of other psychological problems.  If you want psychotherapy that has been documented to be effective you may want to take a closer look at cbt.

How does CBT work?  Is there proof?

There is some evidence that suggests that patients that develop new ways of thinking get better from psychological difficulties.  When patients develop skills that enable them to identify, evaluate and change their thoughts they are likely to get better.  In fact, there is proof, in the form of research studies, that suggests that when patients develop these new thinking skills that they tend to get better and stay better, or have a lower chance of relapse.

What is an automatic thought? Why are they important?

Automatic thoughts are words or images that cross through your mind spontaneously throughout the day. They have particular importance for people that have psychological problems such as mood difficulties  because the thoughts associated with depression and anxiety may be the key  feeling better.  People can learn to identify, evaluate and alter Automatic thoughts.  When we develop these skills there is a very good chance that we will feel less depressed or anxious. The importance of the automatic thoughts is that they are directly connected to our moods and the automatic thoughts are identifiable and changeable. The bottom line is that when we change our thinking our moods tend to improve.

Are different kinds of thoughts associated with different kinds of moods? If so, please explain.

Different kinds of thoughts are associated with different moods.  When we are depressed we tend to think in negative ways.  Depression is characterized by thoughts that are negative towards self, being self critical, negative about the future and negative about ongoing life experiences.  The depressed person is likely to think “I’m no good”, I’m unlovable, no one likes me, I’m worthless, nothing ever works out for me, why even try anymore I give up”. However, when we are anxious, nervous or fearful our thoughts are characterized by a catastrophic expectation that something bad or terrible is going to happen to us. We have thoughts that often begin with “what if…” and end with some type of terrible thing happening to us.  Examples of anxious thoughts would be “what if I have a panic attack, what if this rapid heart beat is a heart attack, what if this headache is a brain tumor or a stroke, what if I have germs on me”  It is this worrisomeness and belief that something bad is about to happen that creates anxiety, fear and panic.

How Do CBT and Mind Over Mood Help People Learn to Identify Their Own Automatic Thoughts?

The skill building portion of cbt consists of learning to identify, evaluate and change the thoughts associated with your depression or anxiety.  Mind over mood utilizes a tool called a thought record to help people develop these skills.  A thought record is sometimes compared to a psychological microscope.  The reader of mind over mood learns to put their depressed and anxious experiences under this microscope.  By answering a few questions about the depressed or anxious experience the reader is able to identify and separate out important components of that experience.  In particular, by answering key questions on the thought record the reader learns to dissect the experience up into  situational factors (who, what, where, when) from the mood and both of those as separate and distinct from the automatic thoughts.  In this way the reader gets a cleaner and more thorough look at their thoughts and develops a greater appreciation of how their thoughts are affecting or determining what they feel.  Once the reader becomes proficient at identifying their thoughts they can then move onto developing the skills of evaluating those thoughts and developing believable and meaningful alternative ways of understanding themselves and their ongoing experiences.

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