When choosing a therapist, it’s important to ask what approach they use in therapy. There are a myriad of methods used including psychodynamic, narrative therapy, and Somatic Experiencing. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one approach used to identify and change destructive thoughts and behaviors.

While CBT has been mentioned by some of the great philosophers of our time, it was more formally identified as a useful therapeutic model in the 1950’s as an alternative to the psychoanalytic theory espoused by Freud. It has been researched and modified over the years and is now used as a primary therapeutic technique or incorporated with other approaches to therapy. David Burns and Marsha Linehan have made valuable contributions to this field over the last 30 years.

The focus of CBT is on identifying the relationship between thoughts and feelings and using this awareness to change behaviors that are dysfunctional and/or sabotaging our efforts toward a happy and fulfilling life. The theory is that we develop automatic thoughts that are triggered by an experience, which will then lead to an emotion. The action that follows is based on these thoughts/emotions.

An example might be the external experience of seeing a neighbor in the grocery store and waving. If he doesn’t respond, the interpretation might be:

  • I’ve done something to upset him, which leads to anxiety,
  • He must be deep in thought and didn’t notice me, which leads to compassion, or
  • That $%^&! Why didn’t he respond!, which leads to anger

The response (action) might be:

  • to begin ruminating about what you may have said or done,
  • to turn and continue shopping, or
  • to start yelling and screaming at him

While this is a simplistic example, it demonstrates the variety of thoughts, feelings, and actions that may occur, starting with the automatic thought. This automatic thinking has been developed over time and CAN be changed. All it takes is a commitment to the process of beginning to identify patterns and replacing them with more productive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Sounds easy, right? It’s not necessarily as easy as it seems, but, like most new skills, it takes a lot of practice and dedication that will pay off in the end.