How to Practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Imagine this scenario: two people are lying in bed at night. They hear a crashing noise in the next room. One person thinks, “There’s an intruder in my house!” As a result, this person feels panic, and will most likely reach for the bat underneath their bed. The other person thinks “Oh, that must be the ladder in the next room. I left that window open when I was painting today.” As a result, this person feels calm, and goes back to sleep.
Many small situations faced throughout the day, and many global situations that span a lifetime, play out this way. Thoughts = Feelings = Behavior. The goal of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is to make sure one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are based in reality, and in the best interest of that person. If someone consistently has self-defeating thoughts, a therapist using CBT would try to help the client identify when these thoughts occur, and in what situations specifically they occur. Once the client is able to do that, the work focuses on changing those negative thoughts and feelings.
There are several techniques employed by cognitive behavioral therapists:
• Homework. It is important that clients have some form of homework to facilitate the therapy process. It could be a reading assignment or a journaling exercise. Homework is important because clients think about and are encouraged to practice the techniques learned outside of weekly sessions.
• Cognitive Rehearsal. The therapist asks the client to discuss a situation. The thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in that situation are analyzed. New ways of dealing with future problematic situations are developed through understanding the client’s past feelings and choices.
• Validity Testing. This technique happens every day among friends; also known as a “reality check.” A client may be unwilling to accept the fact that a relationship really is over, and this may be hindering them from developing further relationships. A therapist can gently help test the client’s perceptions against reality and help the client cope with what is really going on. This technique should usually only be used when the client’s perception is harmful to them in some way.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is short-term and very goal oriented. It relies heavily on an educational approach and less on the relationship between client and counselor. It may work well for people with a variety of problems, including depression and anxiety. Whether helping clients or yourself, understanding cognitions and feelings will help get the results you are looking for.