Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Offering Tools for Success

Construction tools are scattered over a blueprint.As a cognitive behavioral therapist (CBT), my goal is to teach people that a life free of depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions is within their reach. I believe that most people are apprehensive about beginning therapy, either because of something they saw on television portraying therapists as unethical buffoons, or due to a bad experience with a therapist that wasn’t a good fit for them. When someone tells me that therapy was ineffective for them, I am distraught. As a CBT therapist, people often tell me that they did little more than vent to their therapist, and never actually found ways to change the problems that they were seeking help for in the first place.

Because of the frequent lack of success with talk-based therapy, a solution-focused, time limited form of therapy that could produce empirically supported results was needed. In other words, therapists and their clients wanted a more effective form of therapy that provided concrete solutions in a shorter time period, using a framework that could be explained and reproduced by other therapists. And so cognitive behavioral therapy was born. The goal of CBT is to truly give people tools to effectively overcome their obstacles and reach their goals. These should be strategies that they can clearly understand and implement, in order to begin living the life they want.

It is important to understand that CBT is actually the theoretical umbrella for a variety of models of therapy, including cognitive therapy, rational emotive behavioral therapy, and exposure and response prevention, just to name a few. While each of these models uses different terminology and puts their own spin on how the concepts should best be applied, there are several fundamental tenets, or principles, that exist across the board. For example, a CBT therapist would state that we don’t have random feelings and emotions. Events and daily occurrences, good or bad, don’t have the power to make us feel happy or sad. We don’t wake up on the “wrong side of the bed.” Rather, it is our interpretation of these experiences that leads us to conclude how we feel. Our thoughts, what could be referred to as our internal dialogue or our self-talk, is what truly shapes our reality and is, consequently, the basis for our emotions.

Let’s imagine the emotional state of a man who was fired from his job. CBT doesn’t assume that he will feel depressed just because he lost his job; his ultimate reaction is tied to how he perceives this experience: If he interprets this event as failure, then he is likely to feel discouraged and helpless. However, if he sees this as an opportunity to explore other careers or begin that business he has always dreamed of, then his emotions will reflect his positive and optimistic outlook.

What sets CBT apart, is the active, hands-on approach to therapy. I caution the people I work with that simply sitting in my office for an hour per week will not solve their problems. CBT requires the individual to actively desire and commit to change, owning his or her own responsibility in the change process. A CBT therapist’s goal is to empower the people who seek his or her assistance. I challenge people to get out of the passenger seat and get behind the wheel of their life.

This begins with identifying toxic thoughts and challenging their validity. CBT operates on the belief that our thoughts shape our feelings. One of the main tasks of CBT is to identify and record our negative thoughts. This powerful tool allows us to challenge the validity of these destructive thoughts that become our reality. Millions of people suffering with depression or anxiety are controlled by debilitating thoughts, making them feel hopeless and helpless. The process of reframing these thoughts teaches people to learn meaningful ways to see the “glass as half full versus half empty.”

While CBT does consider a person’s history as relevant, particularly for how it may have shaped our thoughts and perceptions, CBT is a solution-focused approach. As such, the past is only reviewed inasmuch as it is necessary to set goals. From a CBT perspective, people may have been victimized in their life, however, it is a choice to stay in this role. Seeing ourselves as a victim causes us to believe that we deserve to be treated as one, what I often refer to as the “door mat syndrome.” Challenging yourself to believe that you are worthy of respect results in attracting people who also see you this way. This shift in mindset, in how we see ourselves and the world around us, is truly what makes CBT so powerful—particularly as it forces us to change our thoughts and behaviors.

Behavioral change occurs in many ways. One individual may want to improve self-esteem, reframing negative self-talk and ceasing to use food as comfort. Incorporating exercise, activities that make him/her feel confident and proud, and setting healthy boundaries within relationships are all forms of behavioral change that can be implemented. Concurrently reshaping both what we think and what we do can have an empowering effect on even the most pessimistic person. I see it as a “checks and balance system” in fighting the war on negativity.

In short, CBT offers the individual concrete tools that he or she can utilize to get back in the driver’s seat and start living a life well deserved.

© Copyright 2011 by Jenifer A. Garrido, MSW, LCSW, therapist in Orlando, Florida. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jesse

    February 1st, 2011 at 12:56 PM

    I’ve heard quite a lot about CBT and I am convinced that it is a good technique of therapy.Good,but only when the person himself is ready to incorporate the changes in his life and work towards resolving his problems.This is true with anything.Unless you put in effort yourself,its of no use going to a professional.Its not like there is a magic pill for psychological problems.

  • martin

    February 1st, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    CBT or any other form of therapy-what they all do is to show a person a better way to go about things.No form of therapy has the power to change what happens but can only help you change how you behave and react so that it yields different results.

  • Maggie

    February 2nd, 2011 at 5:32 AM

    CBT saved my life at one point in time when I was so low I thought that I would rather die than continue to live. I had a very patient therapist who gave me the tools to see that my life was worth living and that to end it all would not solve my problems, but would only add to the stresses and the lives of the family members that I left behind.

  • vinny

    July 22nd, 2012 at 12:44 AM

    I agree it saved my life once apon a time still helps me years later

  • levi

    February 2nd, 2011 at 2:14 PM

    this is a good overview of CBT. thanks!

  • Jenny Ledd

    May 22nd, 2011 at 5:42 AM

    CBT is a therapy which aims to identify negative thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs and highlight how they are related to negative emotions and ultimately actions and behaviours which only serve to worsen a person’s mood and/or medical condition. Once this has been accomplished CBT aims through various methods to replace these with more, realistic, positive and beneficial thoughts and behaviours.

  • Max Woolf

    June 22nd, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    CBT effectively teaches patients how to change their thoughts, feelings and behaviors through psychoeducation. It is a powerful method for treating patients suffering from depression, anxiety, stress, and borderline personality disorder and combinations thereof.

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