What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

If you have ever seen a therapist, watched a therapist on TV you have probably heard the term cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT for short. CBT is based on the cognitive model of psychotherapeutic treatment that helps people learn how to identify and change destructive or disturbing thought patterns that have a negative influence on behavior and emotions. The model works on the belief that our behaviors are not inherent, they are in fact based on how we perceive situations and that is what determines our behavior and reactions.

The cognitive model is this: an outside situation or event happens, it activates an automatic thought, this then creates an emotional reaction, physiological reaction and behavioral reaction. Let me give you an example. A family gets an invitation to a backyard pool party. Dad is excited as he will get to see friends he hasn’t seen in quite a while. He quickly puts the date in his phone as well as the family calendar. Mom sees it and groans, she thinks “great I gained ten pounds, now I will have to diet to look good in a swimsuit.” She sighs and reluctantly starts searching for quick diets to lose weight. Daughter sees the invitation, she gets angry, she doesn’t want to spend the day at a “stupid pool party with her parents.” She wants to hang out with her friends. She storms off and slams her bedroom door.

The invitation is an example of an external situation or event. As you see each member of the family had a different emotional reaction to the event, each one of them had a different automatic thought, this automatic thought then created an emotional response, physiological reaction and then a behavioral reaction. If you notice the dad and daughter have the biggest reactions. The dad is excited at the idea of a party and puts the information on the calendar. For the daughter she experiences anger, she then reacts by storming off and slamming the door. The dad had a positive thought that led to a totally different response to his daughter who had an automatic negative thought.

Our automatic thoughts are incredibly powerful due to the way we perceive and then react to any given situation. We are constantly experiencing our thoughts throughout the day. They constantly pop up, pass through our minds and we tend to take the questions we ask ourselves at face value. We must keep in mind that our perceptions of an event/situation are not always accurate. We are human beings and we make mistakes. Our mistakes will impact our mood, body and actions.

One of the first things I teach clients is to start paying attention to what they think. If we are paying attention to what we are thinking, we can then pause and evaluate the thought and our perception. Is it accurate? Or do we need to step back and analyze what we are seeing. This will help the client to become more conscious of their thoughts and to become more mindful. One of the first steps we need to learn is to identify the specific situation/event that caused you distress. Not the most recent one but go back to what exactly “set you off.” This is important to find out what is causing you distress.

The next step in the cognitive model is to find out where the influences of our automatic thoughts are coming from. If you are having a lot of negative automatic thoughts, there will be an underlying of self-doubt beliefs. Having self-doubt is going to create a negative perspective of whatever situation/event we are experiencing and we will react accordingly.

How do you identify your self-doubt? One of the first things I give my clients is a vulnerability quiz. This will help the client determine when they feel the most upset, is it due to social situations or more achievement related or both. The second step is having my clients fill out a worksheet where they will go over their life experiences. We then follow this up with messages we received as we were growing up. This is where some clients get stuck. They will talk about the happy childhood they had, and how they didn’t receive negative messages from their parents. The messages we receive aren’t always from our immediate home, they come from peers, teachers, coaches, other family members and neighbors. The messages we get from our parents also can be things like “the athlete”, “the social one”, “the smart one.” While these messages don’t appear negative, if you were considered the athlete, you might think you aren’t smart, your sibling is, that’s why they received that label.

For those who have a positive view of themselves and a strong sense of self, they will experience insecurities when they are faced with a challenging or stressful situation. If you have self-doubt this can lead to allowing others to negatively affect you. For instance, have you ever worked in an environment where people are constantly complaining? If you have self-doubt, you can get sucked into the negativity. A person who has a good self-esteem, will either walk away from the toxicity or they will challenge the negative comments from their peers.

After you find your self-doubt labels it’s then time to connect the doubts with your past. This is important to find where the self-doubt comes from, this will help you to identify where the trigger is coming from and learn to change your perception of the trigger. You can then learn to change your habits that come from that self-doubt and create new healthy habits.

I always caution clients that our self-doubts come from years of learning maladaptive coping skills. They have done what they needed to in order to get through life. Changing those habits takes time, and practice. If you would like help in learning these techniques, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.


LECS Counselor