In this quick paced world we sometimes underestimate the power of pausing. No, we are not talking about the wonderful practice of meditation. We are talking about pausing to understand what is going on inside your mind.
Pausing and observing your thoughts is one of the main pillars of one of the most popular therapeutic approaches. An approach that can help you cope with stress, anxiety, depression, burnout and many other mental health issues. This is CBT, and today we bring forward a metaphor that will help you understand this approach better.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy? A Metaphor
Let’s begin with a metaphor to understand how Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help us cope with depression, anxiety, burnout or any other mental illnesses.
Imagine you are in a forest, and you are surrounded by trees. And there are so many trees that at some point you get lost, and you don’t know where to go. Now imagine that you have transferred yourself up in the mountain, where you can actually have an overview of the forest. You are not in the forest anymore, now you can see the trees for what they are and what happens in the forest.
In this scenario, the forest and the trees are your thoughts. When we are immersed in the forest, we are lost in our thoughts and become overwhelmed. We don't know what to do, which direction to go, and at some point, we might not know who we really are.
In contrast, when we are up in the "mountain", we have a clear overview of our thoughts. We can see that we are not our thoughts, that we are simply observers of our thoughts. We can selectively focus our mind into some thoughts and ignore other harmful ones. Up in the mountain, we have the power of control. We can observe our thoughts objectively and choose how to engage. This is what CBT is all about.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A Psychology Definition
From this metaphor we can gather two things. First, Cognitive behavioral therapy deals with our thoughts. Second, CBT helps us understand and observe our thoughts better and gives us back our control. This is exactly why this therapeutic approach is called CBT. It focuses on our cognition (thoughts) and the behavior that arises from those thoughts. CBT’s rationale is that our thoughts drive our emotions and behavior and that the more we understand our thoughts, the more we are in control of our mental health.
CBT is one of the most widely used approaches as it is effective with a great range of mental illnesses. It can help you cope with anxiety, depression, burnout and many mental health disorders. But it can also help people without mental illness that simply want to improve their mental health. CBT is integrated as well in other approaches such as Schema Therapy or third wave therapies such as mindfulness-based approaches.
How Does CBT Work?
CBT’s core message is to be aware of our thoughts or cognitions. Sometimes our thoughts are like air, they are not tangible, and they go so fast that we are not able to consciously observe them. This is why they are called automatic thoughts.
So, how can we make sense of our thoughts? When you are overwhelmed, sad or experiencing a strong emotion, simply pause. Emotions can be an effective indicator of when we are experiencing negative automatic thoughts. When we stop and pause, we can ask ourselves important questions:
"What does this thought means?"
"Why am I thinking this?"
"What is this thought trying to tell me or make me do?"
When we inquire on our thoughts, we finally are able to read into the bottom of our thoughts and discover what we call ‘core beliefs’.
Untangling Core Beliefs: An Example
Becoming aware of our core beliefs can be challenging but by asking the right questions we can begin to untangle them.
For example, let's say you are applying for an interview. The first automatic thought that you have is “I know they're not going to take me. They're going to take somebody else”. When you identify this thought, you can start asking yourself questions.
Ask yourself: “Why do you say that? “Where did I get that thought from?” “Who said that about myself before?” After reflecting, there are high changes that you will discover the fundamental thought that explains the idea you have about yourself.
Perhaps the fundamental thought states that you are not important, that you are a failure because you are stupid and that you are not good enough. Maybe you’ll remember people that made you feel this way and that helped you develop this core belief.
Now that you are in control and aware of your automatic thoughts and core beliefs, what can you do? The last step is to reframe these negative thoughts into healthy, alternative thoughts.
Crafting Alternative Thoughts with CBT
When you become aware of your negative thoughts, you realize that they are not helpful. They are not based on facts or evidence, and they are working against you. You now understand their origin, how they might be connected to your self-image, and this gives you the power to reverse them.
Crafting an alternative thought does not mean to go to a positive extreme. It is about constructing a thought that is balanced, realistic and that motivates you. For example, your alternative thought to the example beforehand is not “they for sure are going to hire me.”
A balanced, alternative thought is: “I don't know whether they will take me. But I will do my best.” “I think I have enough skills for this job and all I can do now is wait.” These are examples of healthy alternative thoughts that do not rely on creating an exaggerated illusion about yourself. These thoughts are realistic while not being demotivating and not making you feel that you deserve rejection.
The CBT approach is practical and efficient. It helps us understand our thoughts and gives us the space and time so that we can pause. It helps us see our thoughts from an overview and grants us control. CBT focuses on the present moment and helps us become more independent because the moment we get the grip on how to use these techniques and apply them in our everyday life, we will feel strong and able to manage our negative thoughts and therefore, cope with anxiety, depression, burnout and many other issues.
So, what do you think about this process? Please make sure to let us know via our multiple social media channel and if you have any suggestions, please feel free to send them our way.
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