What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?
At some point in our lives, most of us experience some difficulties with negative thoughts about ourselves or the world around us that keep us from being able to live a more peaceful and meaningful life. These on-going negative or sometimes extreme thoughts will automatically trigger certain feelings, which in turn, will also affect the way that we behave.
Most of us are not really conscious that we are actually doing this, however, if you begin to notice that you are feeling unsettled about how you are reacting to certain things but are not sure how to make changes, it may be a good time to consider speaking to a trained therapist about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT as it is more commonly known.
How can CBT help me?
CBT is one of my preferred psychotherapy strategies for a number of reasons. First, it can address a number difficulties that you may be facing such as:
- On-going negative thoughts getting in the way of your sleep, your relationships or your overall quality of life
- Wanting to change a behavior that is impacting your life at home or work, but do not know where to start
- Having difficulty taking control of your life because you have difficulty seeing things in a positive light and do not see a way out
- Find yourself making the same mistakes over and over, with an inability to change or achieve the goals you set for yourself
The second reason is that CBT has a long history of its effectiveness in a number of different areas:
- CBT is backed by hundreds of scientifically-proven studies that show its effectiveness for a variety of emotional and psychological issues1
- CBT can be very effective in creating change and reduction of your symptoms in less amount of time than more traditional psychotherapy methods
- CBT it involves a “retraining of the brain“, therefore, your time in therapy will leave you with practical, applicable and life-long tools that you can apply even as circumstances change
- CBT focuses on helping you to understand how your thoughts, feelings and behaviors impact each other
- CBT can be implemented or combined with other methods that may work well for you!
CBT is designed to help you begin to make changes, escape old patterns, and free yourself from being stuck and I use it to treat a wide range of emotional and psychological issues, such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. As you read on, I will provide you with some examples as to what those look like on a practical level.
To start us off, let’s begin with a visual representation of how our thoughts, feelings and behavior interact. I’m going to ask you to think of the gears on a clock, if you can imagine that for a moment. Just like the gears on a clock, just one gear that moves will set the other gears into motion, and all of the gears interacting together end up producing a certain action.
First, a situation, event or memory might trigger an automatic thought. This thought might then conjure up certain feelings, and these two factors together will then impact how you behave.
Here is an example of what this might look like:
Situation: You emailed your boss at 9:00am this morning. It is now 4:30pm and you have not heard a response.
Unfortunately, sometimes we tend to get “stuck” in certain thoughts, feelings, and actions – and those habits are not always helpful. We might think about things that stress us out, anticipate future fears, or tell ourselves that we are “no good” or “broken” or “bad.” We might feel down, irritable, anxious, or confused. At times, we might turn to isolation, act impulsively, or use food or alcohol to “numb” the thoughts and feelings that are so distressing. If not addressed over time, these sorts of things can lead to more serious emotional and psychological issues.
CBT for Depression
When people are depressed, they tend to think in ways that are negative, pessimistic, and self-defeating. They tend to feel constantly down, sad, tearful, and tired. And when people think that way and act that way, they also tend to withdraw from others, take poor care of themselves, and become physically inactive.
As a CBT therapist, my goal for helping you to overcome depression is to help you modify or change some of those thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. One of the ways that CBT helps to do this is by providing you the tools that will help you to change the way you think about certain things. For example, if you can change the thought of “today is going to be terrible” to “today may not be perfect, but it might not be so bad,” you might notice a difference in how you feel.
A slightly different perspective can alter the way that you feel and act through out the day. In the example above, you might start focusing on small things that will help you to build motivation to do certain things despite how you feel – “no matter how down I am feeling today, I am going to get out of bed.”
CBT for Anxiety
Another major part of CBT involves learning to challenge irrational fears. Many of our worries are based in reality – yes, you might get in a car accident, they happen all the time. However, the thought that you will certainly die in a car accident is not entirely true. Many people get in accidents, but very few actually are seriously injured or killed as a result. Learning to notice moments when you make assumptions or think irrationally will help free your mind from being trapped in what CBT therapists call “cognitive distortions,” or simple mistakes our minds tend to make.
Just like with depression, anxiety tends to have interconnected thoughts, feelings, and actions that keep you “stuck” in your fears and worries. For example, you might think about dying in a car accident. You might then feel worried, nauseous, and panicked about what might happen, which then motivates you to avoid getting in your car that day. You avoided the fear (phew!), but now you are going to miss work, school, and other important responsibilities.
CBT for Insomnia
Insomnia, or difficulty falling and staying asleep, is an incredibly common problem. People struggle as they lay in bed, exhausted, as they attempt to will themselves into slumber. You might toss and turn until you eventually reach for your book or smartphone to try and distract yourself. The hours tick by slowly, and in the morning, you continue to feel exhausted. CBT for insomnia helps you disrupt this cycle through “behavioral activation,” which is where you change your routine to influence how you think and feel.
In this example, we might begin by shifting your sleep pattern. This might involve making changes such as pushing your bedtime back an hour, adding in physical activity throughout the day, and limiting consumption of alcohol and caffeine.
In addition to depression, anxiety, and insomnia, here are some other issues that CBT can help treat:
- Relationship problems
- Body image issues
- Low self-confidence
- Feeling lost or confused with life
- Panic attacks
- Identity issues
Is CBT Right For Me?
CBT may be a good treatment option for you if you are ready to make meaningful and lasting changes in your life, but do not have the understanding as to how to go about it or the necessary skills. I provide CBT to adults and teens (15 years and over) from all over New York, both in person and via Telehealth. If you or a loved one are struggling to live well, be happy, and meet your goals – don’t wait and hope for things to get better on their own. Contact me for a free 20-minute phone consultation to learn more.
Have questions about rates, insurance and what to expect in therapy? Click here for the FAQ page!
I am a private practice therapist and LCSW based in New York, and I see clients from all over the area – Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, Staten Island, Westchester and statewide within the State of New York. I specialize in helping people who are dealing with anxiety, relationship issues, chronic illness, digestive conditions and adult trauma related to childhood family dynamics. We all deserve a chance to be well and have support, and I would love to be there for you during this difficult time.