What is CBT?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is one of the most common types of therapy used today. It can be used to treat many different types of mental health issues.
A lot of mental health problems develop over time as we use unhealthy coping skills to manage our emotions. CBT helps us undo this process by helping us to think critically about our thoughts and behaviors. (“Cognitive” is just a fancy word for “thinking.”)
Thoughts, feelings, behaviors
The main idea behind CBT is that your thoughts influence your feelings, and your feelings influence your behaviors. Over time, your thoughts become beliefs, and your behaviors become habits. Beliefs and habits are automatic, so we don’t really think about them—they become invisible, and hard to change. CBT is all about bringing our attention to those invisible thoughts and behaviors and finding ways to change them.
Most people think that events cause your feelings and behaviors. For example, someone cuts you off on the freeway, and that makes you angry, which makes you yell at them. But people get cut off all the time without losing their temper. What’s their secret?
The difference is in how you think about what happened. There are a lot of different responses you can have to someone cutting you off:
- “That person is a jerk.”
- “If I let someone cut me off without reacting, that shows I’m weak.”
- “It’s my job to teach that person a lesson!”
- “That person is probably in a hurry.”
- “Maybe I was in their blind spot. I’ll try to be more careful next time.”
- “Yelling at them isn’t going to solve anything. It will only put me in a bad mood.”
Can you see how the first batch of thoughts can lead to road rage, while the second batch of thoughts will probably lead to shrugging it off and going on with your day? With practice, you could learn to control your road rage by changing the way you think about the things that happen to you.
There’s a lot more to CBT than this simple example. CBT can help you learn healthy coping skills, change your beliefs about yourself, and overcome your fears. But it all comes back to the way our thoughts and behaviors work together to create our mental state.
How do I get CBT?
Usually CBT is performed by a therapist in a clinical setting, like an office or a hospital. You can go through your health insurance or a public assistance program to find a therapist who can do CBT with you. But because CBT is skills-based, you can actually teach yourself a lot of the skills at home! You could even say one of the goals of CBT is to teach you how to “be your own therapist.”
Still, it’s a good idea to speak to a professional if you get the chance. A therapist can help you see your blind spots—thoughts and behaviors you’d never notice on your own. They can provide support and encouragement when things seem difficult. And they can help to make sure you’re using your CBT skills properly.
- American Psychological Association. (2017). What Is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral