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5 Different Techniques Used with CBT to Achieve Better Mental Health

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic approach that helps people identify harmful or unhelpful behavioral and thought patterns. This form of talk therapy lets you recognize and explore how your emotions and thought patterns are affecting your actions. Once you come to terms with these patterns, you start learning how to make efforts to change these negative thoughts and behaviors while also developing new coping techniques. CBT helps you deal with the immediate problem while focusing less on your past. For many conditions, along with CBT, medications or other forms of therapy may be used together since no one size fits all when it comes to treating mental health conditions.

There are many techniques that are used with CBT. Different techniques address different types of mental health issues. Here are some of the techniques that are used in CBT and what you can expect from these techniques.(1, 2, 3)

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5 Different Techniques Used with CBT to Achieve Better Mental Health

To understand CBT, it is important to understand the underlying principle behind this form of talk therapy. The underlying principle of CBT focuses on making a person understand how their thought patterns affect their emotions and how these affect their behaviors. For example, CBT focuses on how negative thoughts lead to negative actions and emotions. However, if you learn how to reframe your thoughts in a more positive way, it can lead to more helpful and positive emotions and behaviors.

When you are in this form of therapy, your therapist will teach you how to make these positive changes in your life, and that too immediately. And the skills your therapist teaches you will be helpful to you throughout your lifetime.(4, 5)

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Depending on the exact issue you are dealing with and the goals you have identified to achieve from CBT, there are many different ways to approach this type of psychotherapy. No matter the approach your therapist takes, it will include the following:

  • How to identify specific issues or challenges in your daily life.
  • How to become aware of negative or unproductive thought patterns and how they affect your life.
  • How to identify harmful thoughts and reshape your thought pattern in a way that changes the way you feel to a positive pattern.
  • Learning new behaviors and putting them into practice at the earliest to change your negative thought pattern into a positive one.
  • Your therapist will only decide on the best CBT technique to use after speaking with you and understanding the problem that you want help with.

Here are some of the commonly used techniques that are most often used with CBT.

  1. Cognitive Reframing or Restructuring of the Mind

    The most common technique used during the therapy sessions of CBT is cognitive reframing or restructuring. This strategy involves taking a long hard look at the negative and harmful thought patterns. It happens many times that we tend to over-generalize a situation or assume the worst is going to happen, or even lend too much importance to minor situations. Thinking like this has a great impact on what you do, and over a period of time, it may even become a self-fulling prophecy that becomes hard to break out of. (6, 7, 8)

    In this technique of CBT, your therapist will ask you detailed questions about the way you think, trying to understand your thought process during specific situations so that they can identify negative patterns in your thought process. Once you are made aware of these negative patterns, you will learn how to restructure or reframe these thoughts into more positive and productive ones.

  2. Exposure Therapy

    Exposure therapy is another CBT technique that is used primarily for confronting phobias and fears. Your therapist will, over a period of time, expose you to the things you are scared of or that provoke anxiety. At the same time, they will continue to provide guidance on how you have to cope up with these fears at that moment. This is usually done in small increments so that you are not overwhelmed. Over time, these small increments of exposure will start to make you feel less vulnerable, and you will also become more confident in coping with your fear and anxieties.(9, 10) Exposure therapy is especially helpful in cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).(11)

  3. Guided Discovery

    In the CBT technique of guided discovery, your therapist will first become familiar with your point of view and thought patterns. Then your therapist will ask you certain questions that are designed to challenge your thoughts and beliefs and to eventually broaden your thought process. You may also be asked to provide evidence that supports your thoughts and assumptions, as well as evidence that does not support this. In this process, you will slowly start to see things from other perspectives, especially those that you have not considered before, and this will put you on a more positive path that is helpful for your behavior and thinking. This technique is sometimes also known as Socratic Dialogue.(12, 13)

  4. Journaling and Writing Thought Records

    Writing is one of the oldest ways of getting back in touch with your own thoughts. One technique of CBT focuses on listing down any negative thoughts that come to you during your sessions and also the positive thoughts that you choose to have instead of the adverse ones. This is known as journaling, and it can be a great way to better understand what negative thoughts you need to change.

    Another exercise revolving around writing is to keep track of any new behaviors or thoughts that you have been putting into practice since your last session with your therapist. When you put it in writing, it can help you understand just how far you have come.(14)

  5. Stress Reduction and Relaxation Techniques

    When you are undergoing CBT, you will be taught several types of stress reduction and progressive relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, imagery, and muscle relaxation techniques. You will also be taught practical skills that help reduce stress and also boost your sense of control. This goes a long way in dealing with social anxieties, phobias, and other day-to-day stressors.

Conclusion

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a well-known and effective form of short-term talk therapy that is based on identifying negative thoughts, behaviors, and emotions and how they impact your life. After identifying these negative and harmful patterns, your CBT therapist helps you learn how to replace the negative with positive feelings, behaviors, and thoughts. There are many techniques that are used with CBT. The exact strategy that your therapist will determine to be best suited to your needs depends on the exact type of issue you are facing and want help with.

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CBT is considered to be a safe form of therapy, but it is essential to remember that no treatment works overnight. Do not expect to miraculously have a changed thought pattern the day after your session. Apart from the expertise of your therapist, it also needs commitment and willingness on your part to work on these CBT techniques, especially in between and after the end of your session. It is best to think of CBT as a positive lifestyle change that you will follow throughout your life.

References:

  1. Wenzel, A., Dobson, K.S. and Hays, P.A., 2016. Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques and strategies. American Psychological Association.
  2. Jones, E.E. and Pulos, S.M., 1993. Comparing the process in psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral therapies. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 61(2), p.306.
  3. Ablon, J. and Jones, E., 1998. How expert clinicians’ prototypes of an ideal treatment correlate with outcome in psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Psychotherapy Research, 8(1), pp.71-83.
  4. Rothbaum, B.O., Meadows, E.A., Resick, P. and Foy, D.W., 2000. Cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  5. Craske, M.G., 2010. Cognitive–behavioral therapy. American Psychological Association.
  6. Clark, D.A., 2013. Cognitive restructuring. The Wiley handbook of cognitive behavioral therapy, pp.1-22.
  7. Hope, D.A., Burns, J.A., Hayes, S.A., Herbert, J.D. and Warner, M.D., 2010. Automatic thoughts and cognitive restructuring in cognitive behavioral group therapy for social anxiety disorder. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 34(1), pp.1-12.
  8. Ellis, A., 2003. Cognitive restructuring of the disputing of irrational beliefs. Cognitive behavior therapy: Applying empirically supported techniques in your practice, pp.79-83.
  9. Paunovic, N. and Öst, L.G., 2001. Cognitive-behavior therapy vs exposure therapy in the treatment of PTSD in refugees. Behaviour research and therapy, 39(10), pp.1183-1197.
  10. Abramowitz, J.S., 2013. The practice of exposure therapy: Relevance of cognitive-behavioral theory and extinction theory. Behavior therapy, 44(4), pp.548-558.
  11. Zayfert, C., DeViva, J.C., Becker, C.B., Pike, J.L., Gillock, K.L. and Hayes, S.A., 2005. Exposure utilization and completion of cognitive behavioral therapy for PTSD in a “real world” clinical practice. Journal of Traumatic Stress: Official Publication of The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, 18(6), pp.637-645.
  12. Kazantzis, N., Fairburn, C.G., Padesky, C.A., Reinecke, M. and Teesson, M., 2014. Unresolved issues regarding the research and practice of cognitive behavior therapy: The case of guided discovery using Socratic questioning. Behaviour Change, 31(1), pp.1-17.
  13. Kazantzis, N., Beck, J.S., Clark, D.A., Dobson, K.S., Hofmann, S.G., Leahy, R.L. and Wing Wong, C., 2018. Socratic dialogue and guided discovery in cognitive behavioral therapy: A modified Delphi panel. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 11(2), pp.140-157.
  14. Ullrich, P.M. and Lutgendorf, S.K., 2002. Journaling about stressful events: Effects of cognitive processing and emotional expression. Annals of Behavioral Medicine, 24(3), pp.244-250.
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