In their practical workbook, Mind Over Mood, Greenberger and Padesky state that cognitive therapy “emphasizes the examination of the thoughts and beliefs connected to our moods, behaviors, physical experiences, and to the events in our lives.” To simplify, if we think pleasant, calming thoughts, we will feel and act calm. If we begin thinking negative thoughts, we will feel anxious or worse, and may act on those feelings.
A first step in understanding CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is recognizing that we all have automatic thoughts (AT) and that problems arise when those automatic thoughts take a negative turn (ANTs). Learning to make our responses less automatic can help change habitual thought processes.
CBT-trained therapists help clients:
- elicit and identify ANTs which are often concrete and specific (e.g. “People are mean,” “My day is ruined!”);
- examine the cost-benefit of a thought;
- challenge, defend, and/or dispute the thought.
CBT goals include self-confrontation, raising consciousness, seeking to understand the truth/reality of your life, and understanding the deep connection between thoughts, moods, behavior, and physical sensations.
It can be said that psychopathology results from narrow views of the self, God, and others.CBT helps broaden a person’s perspective by helping them think more creatively about core beliefs and assumptions: “Who says?” “Where is the evidence for that?” “Is it true?” “How do you feel when you have that thought?” A therapist might ask the client: “What does it mean for you to have these symptoms and feel this way?”
By first learning what the symptoms mean, the therapist can help the client change the meaning helping process the information, reframing it, and cognitively restructuring it. How we interpret physical sensations or situations (what we think), determines how we feel emotionally (mood) and physically (jittery, panicky, tense, nauseated, etc.), and subsequently, how we behave.
The way any act feels in any given moment depends on the meaning we assign to it. In short, cognitive therapy helps people consider a problem from many angles and in so doing, broadens their perspective and reveals new conclusions and solutions they never dreamed possible.