What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy?

During an initial CBT session, the therapist will ask you several general questions about yourself, your overall health, and any mental health issues you are currently experiencing, says Sarah Gleason, Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Chemical Dependency Counselor at the Taylor. Consulting group in The Woodlands, Texas. They will also ask you what your therapy goals are and explain what you can expect to accomplish over time.

“Every therapist is somewhat different in how they conduct their sessions, but with a CBT therapist, you’ll get the same tools to use when you’re not in the therapy room,” says Gleason.

One of the most common CBT tools is called the cognitive model, which involves identifying a situation that triggers an automatic thought that is then followed by an emotional, physiological, and/or behavioral response. Doing this exercise helps patients assess these patterns on a deep level, Gleason says.

Gleason gives an example of the application of the cognitive model: “Susie” was not invited to “Jackie’s” party with her other friends, a situation which she found hurtful. Susie’s automatic thought was, “They must not want to be my friend anymore.” This caused Susie to feel sad and have stomach aches – examples of emotional and physiological reactions to a situation. As a result, Susie decides not to talk to her friends the next time she sees them – an example of a behavioral reaction.

Using the cognitive model to assess the situation could help Susie learn to recognize and interrupt similar negative automatic thoughts in the future and practice replacing them with more constructive thoughts, Gleason says. “Instead of Susie thinking her friends don’t want to be friends anymore, she might instead be thinking something like, ‘Jackie knew I was busy with my family on her birthday night, which must be why I don’t was not invited. ‘”

And instead of deciding that she won’t talk to her friends anymore, Susie could reach out to Jackie and calmly tell her how she felt about not being invited to the party. Then Jackie, upon learning that she inadvertently hurt Susie’s feelings, could explain why it happened and together they could agree on how to avoid future misunderstandings.

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