How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Rewire Your Thoughts?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a popular treatment technique that is used to help people identify and recognize negative or unhelpful behavior and thought patterns. Many experts feel that cognitive therapy is the gold standard of psychotherapy. This form of psychotherapy helps people identify and explore the manner in which their thoughts and emotions affect their actions. Once these patterns have been identified, the process aims at reframing the thoughts in a more positive and helpful manner.

How Does Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Rewire Your Thoughts?

Read on to find out more about how cognitive behavioral therapy helps rewire your thoughts to help you move towards more positive and beneficial thought and behavioral patterns.

Understanding the Core Concepts of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is primarily based on the concept that your emotions, actions, and thoughts are all connected to each other. In other words, the manner in which you think and feel about something will have an impact on what you do. For example, if you are under a lot of stress at work, you may see situations in a different way and end up making choices that you would not normally make. However, another major concept of cognitive behavioral therapy is that these behavior and thought patterns can be changed.(1,2,3,4)

According to the American Psychological Association, the core concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy include:(5)

  • That psychological issues are believed to be partly based on unhelpful patterns of thinking.
  • That psychological issues are believed to be partly based on learned patterns of behavior.
  • That people living with these issues can improve if they get access to better coping mechanisms and management to help alleviate their symptoms.

Here’s a closer look at how emotions and thoughts influence your behavior, either for better or for worse:

  • Harmful or inaccurate thoughts or perceptions can lead to emotional distress as well as mental health issues.
  • These thoughts and the resulting distress can sometimes cause harmful or unhelpful behaviors.
  • Over time, these thoughts and the resulting behaviors can become a pattern that repeats itself.

Learning how to identify, address, and change these patterns can help you deal with the issues as they come up, which, in turn, can help reduce future distress and problems.(6,7)

Now let us explore how cognitive behavioral therapy requires our thoughts.

Influence of Brain Pathways On Our Thoughts and Behaviors

Our thoughts and behaviors are primarily dependent on our habits. This is one of the reasons why we crave a cup of coffee in the morning, or we prefer to drive the same route every day while going to and coming back from work. Every time you have a particular thought or you behave in a certain manner in reaction to a specific stimuli or situation, a pathway gets formed in your brain. These are known as neural pathways, and they are responsible for conveying the electrical signals that control almost everything you do and think. So the more you think a certain thought or carry out a specific action, the deeper that particular pathway becomes and the quicker your brain will, by default, go in that direction itself. (8, 9, 10)

Humans form these neural pathways without having to make any type of conscious effort. It is the amygdala region of the brain, the part that is responsible for helping process emotions, that plays a crucial role in this. So every time you have a thought that is based on depression, addiction, anxiety, or any other negative mentality at that time, your brain keeps getting wired to continue responding in that way. While this definitely makes it more challenging to change your behavior and thought patterns, it is possible to break free from this with the help of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

How to Change Your Thought Patterns?

While the scientific community largely accepts that most of the neural pathways in the brain get solidified by the time you reach 25 years of age, this does not mean that there is no hope of changing your brain and thought patterns. In fact, the human brain is so incredibly flexible and wired to adjust to different stimuli that as long as you are dedicated to the repetition and time it takes to change the neural pathways of the brain, it is definitely possible to influence the brain and in turn, your behaviors and thoughts.

According to a study published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to be effective in treating anxiety disorders and helping people with obsessive thoughts.(11) This form of therapy works by ‘coaching’ your brain through a different reaction process. This can either be focused on different (more positive) behaviors or thoughts, thus rewiring your brain and changing those neural pathways over a period of time.

How Effective is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is known to be highly effective in rewiring your thought and behavior patterns, but only when it is carried out by a trained mental health professional. It has been shown to be especially effective at helping people become more self-aware and identify their negative thoughts and behavior patterns. This helps them stop and respond differently instead of just going ahead and automatically reacting.(12)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is typically a short-term program that lasts for just 12 to 16 weeks. During this period, you have frequent sessions with a therapist, and you are given homework to be completed. Patient buy-in is crucial to the success of this therapy technique because the process entirely depends on becoming more self-aware and being consistent in applying the methods and tools you are learning in therapy to change your negative thought and behavior pattern.

While it is possible to do cognitive behavioral therapy on its own as a standalone treatment, it works best when it is done as part of a comprehensive treatment plan, and it has been found to be even more effective when it is combined with medications.(13, 14)

Conclusion

Cognitive behavioral therapy has been found to be effective in treating a wide variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, anger and stress disorders, and even substance abuse problems. However, it is important to keep in mind that cognitive behavioral therapy is just one aspect of the treatment, and it is not a standalone therapy method or an overnight cure. It should be used only with the guidance of a qualified mental health professional and preferably as part of a more holistic and individualized treatment plan for your specific condition.

References:

  1. Rothbaum, B.O., Meadows, E.A., Resick, P. and Foy, D.W., 2000. Cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  2. Craske, M.G., 2010. Cognitive–behavioral therapy. American Psychological Association.
  3. Bieling, P.J., McCabe, R.E. and Antony, M.M., 2009. Cognitive-behavioral therapy in groups. Guilford press.
  4. Beck, J.S., 2011. Cognitive-behavioral therapy. Clinical textbook of addictive disorders, 491, pp.474-501.
  5. https://www.apa.org. 2021. What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?. [online] Available at: <https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/patients-and-families/cognitive-behavioral> [Accessed 1 December 2021].
  6. Cahill, S.P., Rothbaum, B.O., Resick, P.A. and Follette, V.M., 2009. Cognitive-behavioral therapy for adults.
  7. Hofmann, S.G., Asnaani, A., Vonk, I.J., Sawyer, A.T. and Fang, A., 2012. The efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy: A review of meta-analyses. Cognitive therapy and research, 36(5), pp.427-440.
  8. Jellema, T. and Perrett, D.I., 2007. Neural pathways of social cognition (pp. 163-177). Oxford University Press.
  9. Jewel, L., 2016. Neurorhetoric, Race, and the Law: Toxic Neural Pathways and Healing Alternatives. Md. L. Rev., 76, p.663.
  10. Blankenstein, N.E., Telzer, E.H., Do, K.T., Van Duijvenvoorde, A.C. and Crone, E.A., 2020. Behavioral and neural pathways supporting the development of prosocial and risk‐taking behavior across adolescence. Child development, 91(3), pp.e665-e681.
  11. Porto, P.R., Oliveira, L., Mari, J., Volchan, E., Figueira, I. and Ventura, P., 2009. Does cognitive behavioral therapy change the brain? A systematic review of neuroimaging in anxiety disorders. The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences, 21(2), pp.114-125.
  12. Miller, L.A., Taber, K.H., Gabbard, G.O. and Hurley, R.A., 2005. Neural underpinnings of fear and its modulation: implications for anxiety disorders. The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences, 17(1), pp.1-6.
  13. Hollon, S.D., Garber, J. and Shelton, R.C., 2005. Treatment of depression in adolescents with cognitive behavior therapy and medications: A commentary on the TADS project. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 12(2), pp.149-155.
  14. Morin, C.M., Vallières, A., Guay, B., Ivers, H., Savard, J., Mérette, C., Bastien, C. and Baillargeon, L., 2009. Cognitive behavioral therapy, singly and combined with medication, for persistent insomnia: a randomized controlled trial. Jama, 301(19), pp.2005-2015.

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