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3 Important Ideas from CBT

3 Important Ideas from CBT

Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is the most common form of psychotherapy currently in use. It has decades of research supporting its effectiveness and it forms the basis of several other effective forms of therapy, including dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, acceptance and commitment therapy, ACT, and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT. CBT has been shown to be effective for treating a number of conditions, including addiction, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. Here are three big ideas from CBT that can lead to lasting change.

We’re disturbed by our thoughts, not by events.

Nearly 2000 years ago, the stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “Men are disturbed not by things but by the views which they take of things.” Epictetus and other stoics were a major influence on Albert Ellis, one of the pioneers of cognitive therapy. The idea is simple but profound. We typically believe that our emotions are a direct result of what happens to us–you lose a job, you get dumped, you break your wrist, and naturally these things make you feel sad, angry, or depressed. However, there’s an intermediate step most of us fail to notice–our thoughts about what happens. Guys often feel depressed when they get dumped but it’s not because they got dumped, per se, but rather because they have negative, often distorted thoughts about getting dumped. They may think, “She dumped me because I’m a loser,” or “I’ll never again meet anyone who makes me happy.” If those are your thoughts, of course you will feel terrible.

Our thoughts are often inaccurate.

The thing is that our thoughts about a situation are often inaccurate and sometimes wildly distorted. For example, the thoughts “She dumped me because I’m a loser,” or “I’ll never again meet anyone who makes me happy” are obviously inaccurate to anyone who hasn’t just been dumped but they seem real at the time. They both contain several common cognitive distortions, such as overgeneralization, mind reading, and predicting the future. People break up all the time, for many reasons, which they might not even be fully aware of. Yet we often seize on the worst possible interpretation of events with little or no supporting evidence. 

We can change our thoughts.

Perhaps most importantly, CBT shows us that we can change our thoughts and thereby change our emotions, even when apparently bad things happen. There are a number of ways to do this. One is to make a special effort to identify negative emotions, identify the precipitating event, and identify the likely distorted belief that connects the two. Keeping a journal is an excellent way to practice this. Eventually, disputing these distorted thoughts becomes second nature. You may still feel sad about getting dumped but instead of getting depressed, you know that most relationships don’t work out and you will find someone else sooner or later. 

 

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