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  • Writer's pictureDiane Mesnier

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of short-term behavioral treatment which focuses on the relationship between beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and resulting behaviors. Through cognitive behavioral therapy, people learn that their perceptions directly influence how they respond to specific situations. In other words, a person’s perceptions influence their behaviors and actions.

What is CBT?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the assumption that the way a person perceives an event will determine how she/he will act. For example, an anxious person may believe that their day will be entirely negative. Her thoughts can influence her concentration, and she may then only perceive the negative elements that will occur throughout the day. When nothing seems to be going well during the day, this person may feel even more anxious than before. The negative belief system can then become reinforced. The person risks being trapped in a vicious and continuous cycle of anxiety.

How does it work?

Cognitive behavioral therapists recognize that we can adjust our thoughts. This would directly influence our emotions and our behavior. The adjustment process is called cognitive restructuring. Aaron T. Beck, a psychiatrist considered the father of cognitive therapy, admits that a person's thought pattern is established during childhood. He found that certain cognitive errors could lead to depressive or dysfunctional assumptions.

Common cognitive errors and their associated dysfunctional assumptions include:

  • Self-reference: “People always focus their attention on me, especially when I fail. »

  • Selective abstraction: “Only my failures count. I am measured by my failures. »

  • Overgeneralization: “If something is true in one context, it is true in every context.” »

  • Excessive responsibility: “I am responsible for every failure and every bad thing that happens. »

  • Dichotomous thinking: looking at the world in extremes, black or white, with nothing in between.

The cognitive-behavioral process is based on an educational model. People in therapy are helped to unlearn negative reactions and learn new ones. It’s about assimilating positive reactions to difficult situations. CBT helps break down so-called “overwhelming” problems into small, manageable parts. Therapists help people set and achieve short-term goals. Next, the therapist gradually adjusts the way the person in treatment thinks, feels, and reacts in difficult situations. Attitude and behavior change can help people learn and approach specific problems productively.

When can we use it?

Certain factors make people more likely to benefit from this therapy. People with clearly defined behavioral and emotional concerns may find cognitive behavioral therapy helpful. People with specific problems that affect their quality of life may also benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy. Under these conditions, the therapist and the person being treated know what problem to target. The CBT approach focused on problem solving and goal achievement is therefore perfectly suited. CBT is used to effectively treat many conditions, including:

  • Depression

  • Anxiety

  • Post-traumatic stress

  • Obsessions and compulsions

  • Substance addictions

  • Phobias

  • Sleep disorders

  • Anger management issues

CBT is used to treat many mental health problems. But as with any type of therapy, the benefits are greatest when people are fully engaged in the process.

Finally, CBT can help people develop more positive thought patterns and behaviors. However, it is even more efficient when it is combined with a more traditional approach to therapy. This will allow for a deeper understanding of the psychological and emotional causes behind one’s behavior.

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