Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of talk therapy used across the recovery spectrum. Therapists or psychologists use CBT treatment to help patients become aware of irrational or negative thinking so they can see situations clearly, process them, and respond to them in healthy ways.
CBT skills can be life changing, and are a beneficial part of an integrated treatment plan. Although CBT helps with substance abuse, depression, and PTSD, teens can benefit from CBT even when they are not suffering from a specific mental health challenge. CBT can help teens form healthy habits that will support them as they enter adulthood.
How Do I Know if My Thinking Is Distorted?
Cognitive distortions, also known as “thinking errors,” are ways of thinking that don’t match up to the reality of what’s happening. Here are some common examples of cognitive distortions:
- Black-and-White (All-or-Nothing) Thinking: This is a way of thinking that categorizes people or situations at one extreme or the other. For example, if a teen who is struggling with distorted thinking has a disagreement with a friend, they might see that person as “bad” and become upset when mutual friends don’t take their “good” side in the conflict.
- Fortune-Telling (Jumping to Conclusions): This distortion refers to making assumptions without thinking about the whole picture. Remember a time you thought someone was mad at you, but later found out they had a bad day at work or school and their mind was elsewhere? That’s an example of jumping to conclusions.
- Magnification (Making a Mountain out of a Molehill): Do friends and family tell you that you often blow things out of proportion, seem to overreact, or are a pessimist? People who magnify mistakes and ruminate on the bad things also tend to minimize their achievements and the positive things in their life.
CBT aims to help individuals shift these patterns of distorted thinking.
How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Work?
One of the central beliefs in CBT is that thoughts affect emotions and emotions affect behavior. Following this logic, allowing distorted thoughts to grow leads to difficult emotions and, subsequently, destructive actions. On the other hand, positive thinking leads to positive emotions, and thus to positive behaviors.
Let’s look at an example: A friend texts, “We need to talk.” Your immediate response is to assume the worst, think of all the ways you may have upset the other person, and begin to panic about the upcoming conversation. CBT skills help you learn how to slow down and think logically about the situation. Maybe your friend is just texting you to ask for advice on a sensitive subject or personal matter. Perhaps they are short on time, and want to schedule a phone call with you for later. Over time, with CBT skills in your toolbox, you learn not to assume the worst.
Cognitive Reconstruction (Thought Reframing)
Cognitive reconstruction is an exercise in which the therapist supports the client to look for the negative thought patterns they tend to fall back on, such as overgeneralizing or always assuming the worst. Once the client identifies this trend in their thought process, the therapist can then teach them how to reframe the thoughts more positively.
For example, “Everyone in my friend group is constantly judging me” can turn into “Not all of my friends understand why I do the things I do, but they don’t have to. I understand why I do the things I do, and that’s good enough.”
In guided discovery, the therapist gets to know the client’s point of view. They ask questions that make the client think about how and why they think the way they do, which in turn broadens the client’s viewpoint. When an individual make assumptions, the therapist will ask them to give evidence that both supports and does not support their claims. This process can help them learn to see things from other people’s points of view.
While free-form journaling is a great way to get out repetitive or intrusive thoughts, cognitive journaling is structured so that clients can set goals and record their progress. A therapist or counselor may suggest making columns in a journal for
- Situation/trigger (who, what, when, where)
- Emotion/mood (assessing the intensity of a feeling from zero to 100)
- Physical sensation (feelings in the body, like becoming hot or tense)
- Thoughts (how strongly do you believe them?)
- Behavior (how action could help or hurt).
Using this process in stressful moments allows individuals to slow down, check the facts, and rethink their perspective.
What Are The Benefits of CBT?
- CBT is known to have quick results. Both therapists and psychologists use CBT to help with several mental health challenges. On average, about 15 sessions are needed to acquire proficiency in practicing CBT skills.
- CBT is highly engaging and interactive. The process of learning CBT skills keeps clients involved and interested throughout their sessions.
- CBT treatment holds clients accountable by empowering them to take ownership of their life. By doing “homework” outside sessions, clients constantly reinforce the new principles they are learning.
Tools for Tapping into the Mind-Body Connection
Sometimes stressful thoughts also ignite physical reactions, as the nervous system reacts to the upheaval in the mind. Combining CBT skills to improve thought patterns with self-soothing exercises for the body can be grounding and helpful for managing emotions.
- Paired Muscle Relaxation: Start by flexing and relaxing the fingers and toes. Slowly move up through the next muscle groups, working toward the center of your body.
- Relaxed Breathing: Taking slow, deep breaths can slow the heart rate during a panic reaction, and reduce the “fight, flight, or freeze” response. Try inhaling four counts through the nose, then exhaling four counts out the mouth. Repeat until the wave of anxiety peaks and recedes. Notice when it passes, and express gratitude for your resilience.
- Temperature Change: If you are feeling low, taking a warm shower or wrapping up in a cozy blanket can boost circulation and soothe the nervous system. If your stress level feels unmanageable, try sipping on ice water.
Long-Lasting Benefits of CBT
CBT works only when individuals actively apply the skills until they become a natural “default setting.” While results vary, CBT treatment is very effective in increasing emotional intelligence and self-awareness. For some, joy may come trickling back into their lives slowly, and they will feel as if they are coming back to life. Some will feel a drastic change in mood, enjoying more good days than bad consistently, and accessing greater vulnerability, honesty, and authentic connection.
For more information about CBT and how it can help you or a loved one, please contact us today.