Cognitive-behavioral therapy is perhaps the most dynamic form of “talk” therapy available to help anyone experiencing depression, anxiety, or some form of emotional disorder. Since its original incarnation as rational emotive behavioral therapy in the mid-1950’s, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has effectively and concisely cut to the root of emotional problems for many, teaching them a new way of thinking so that they might find a new way of living more happily.
Dr. Aaron T. Beck developed cognitive-behavioral therapy in the 1960s. This therapeutic approach was an outgrowth of rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT), which was developed by Dr. Albert Ellis in response to his belief that psychoanalysis was ineffective and non-directive. Until that point, psychoanalysis (which was developed by Dr. Sigmund Freud decades earlier) was the only form of “talk” therapy available, and it was a long, drawn-out process that often left the client feeling no better. Dr. Ellis wanted to build on the theory that our thoughts cause our feelings and behaviors, and he wanted to harness this information to help people learn to rationally approach their problems so that they might better cope with life.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy emphasizes the power of our thoughts on our feelings and behaviors. Often, people with depression, anxiety, and other emotional disorders believe that they are at the mercy of their feelings. They don’t realize that it is their core beliefs and automatic thoughts causing their feelings. The main goal of cognitive-behavioral therapy is to teach a person how to change their thinking so that they can feel better and get rid of self-destructive or self-defeating patterns of behavior.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is defined by these factors:
- Based on the cognitive model of emotional response: CBT is based on the belief that it is our thoughts—not external events, people, places, or situations—that cause our feelings. This is helpful because it gives us the power to change how we feel by changing our thinking. If our circumstances control our feelings, we can’t feel better until our circumstances change, and we often don’t have control over the events and environments in our lives.
- Fast-acting: Cognitive-behavioral therapy works quickly, often improving our outlook within weeks. Psychoanalysis sometimes takes years to get to the root of a problem, and, even then, it doesn’t necessarily change how we think or feel. CBT teaches us methods for feeling better from the very beginning.
- Based on stoic philosophy: CBT doesn’t focus on how we should or shouldn’t feel. Instead, it focuses on helping us change the feelings we want to change. CBT shows us that feeling calm when faced with problematic situations is much more helpful than feeling upset—upset only adds to the problem. It is our disproportionate emotional responses that render us helpless to deal with our problems effectively. Stoic philosophy helps us bring our emotional responses into proportion with the situation at hand.
- Structured and directive: Cognitive-behavioral therapists have specific lessons, concepts, and techniques they teach at each session. The therapist finds out which goals the client would like to work toward, and they create a plan to help the client reach those goals in a timely manner. They heavily utilize homework assignments to help the client apply the lessons and techniques taught in therapy sessions. This structured, directed method helps the client effectively use what they learn in the doctor’s office.
- Educational: Because our thoughts and emotions are learned through early childhood experiences, CBT focuses on helping us unlearn unwanted thoughts, beliefs, and feelings so that we can learn a new way of thinking and reacting. It’s not that the therapist knows exactly how we should think, feel, or behave in every situation; instead, the therapist uses techniques designed to help us question what we believe to discover if it’s what we want to believe. If it isn’t, they can help us discover the beliefs that would be more helpful.
- Relies on inductive reasoning: Cognitive-behavioral therapy focuses on learning rational thinking. In every situation, we make certain assumptions about what is going on based on what we think and believe about life. Often, these assumptions are not based in fact. Inductive reasoning skills help us to question our present thinking. Our thoughts are seen as hypotheses that we can question against the actual factual information we have about whatever is going on. If we see someone give us a “dirty look,” we might assume that they are thinking something bad about us. Inductive reasoning allows us to question that thought. Could they just be stressed out and making an unpleasant face? Could they be looking at someone else? Is there any real reason that they might give us a dirty look? If they are giving us a dirty look, does it really matter? We are often upset over what we think is happening, even if the situation isn’t really that way at all.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy gives us the power to change how we’re feeling. When we’re depressed or overly anxious, our feelings often disrupt our ability to effectively solve our problems. CBT teaches us how to change our thinking so that we can calm down and make changes to achieve our goals. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can be used by anyone seeking to change the way they’re feeling for a happier, more productive life.