Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment that has been demonstrated to be effective for a range of problems including depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug use problems, marital problems, eating disorders and severe mental illness. Numerous research studies suggest that CBT leads to significant improvement in functioning and quality of life. In many studies, CBT has been demonstrated to be as effective as, or more effective than, other forms of psychological therapy or psychiatric medications.
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It is important to emphasize that advances in CBT have been made on the basis of both research and clinical practice. Indeed, CBT is an approach for which there is ample scientific evidence that the methods that have been developed actually produce change. In this manner, CBT differs from many other forms of psychological treatment.
CBT is based on several core principles, including:
1. Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.
2. Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
3. People suffering from psychological problems can learn better ways of coping with them, thereby relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives.
CBT treatment usually involves efforts to change thinking patterns. These strategies might include:
o Learning to recognize one’s distortions in thinking that are creating problems, and then to reevaluate them in light of reality.
o Gaining a better understanding of the behavior and motivation of others.
o Using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations.
Many of the most popular and effective cognitive behavioral therapy techniques are applied to what psychologist call cognitive distortion, inaccurate thoughts that reinforce negative thought patterns or emotions. (Grohol,2016)
There are 15 main cognitive distortions that can plague even most balanced thinkers.
1. Filtering refers to the way a person can ignore all the positive and good things in life to focus solely on the negative. It’s the trap of dwelling on a single negative aspect of a situation, even when surrounded by an abundance of good thinks.
2. Polarize thinking/Black-and-white thinking This cognitive distortion is all-or-nothing, never shades of gray. If you don’t perform perfectly in some area, then your may see yourself as a total failure instead of simply recognizing that you may be unskilled in one area.
3. Overgeneralization is thinking a single incident or point in time and using it as the sole piece of evidence for a broad conclusion.
4. Jumping to conclusions. Like overgeneralization, this distortion involves faulty reasoning in how one makes conclusions. Unlike overgeneralizing one incident, jumping to conclusions refers to the tendency to be sure of something without any evidence at all.
For example, we might believe that our fears will come true before we have a chance to really find out.
5. Catastrophizing/Magnifying or Minimizing This distortion involves expecting that the worst will happen or has happened, based on an incident that is nowhere near as catastrophic as it is made out to be. For example, you may make a small mistake at work and be convinced that it will ruin the project you are working on, that your boss will be furious, and that you will lose your job.
Alternatively, one might minimize the importance of positive things, such as an accomplishment at work or a desirable personal characteristic.
6. Personalization This is a distortion where an individual believes that everything, they do have an impact on external events or other people, no matter how irrational that may be. A person with this distortion will feel that he or she has an exaggerated role in the bad things that happen around them.
Example, for instance, a person may believe that arriving a few minutes late to a meeting led to it being derailed and that everything would have been fine it they where on time.
7. Control fallacies This distortion involves feeling like everything that happens to you are either a result of purely external forces or entirely due to your own actions. Sometimes what happens to us is due to forces we cannot control, and sometimes what it’s due to our own actions, but the distortion is assuming that it is always one or the other.
We might assume that difficult coworkers are to blame for our less-than-stellar work, or alternatively assume that every mistake another person makes is because of something we did.
8. Fallacy of fairness We are often concerned about fairness, but this concern can be taken to extremes. As we all know, life is not always fair. The person who goes through life looking for fairness in all their experiences will end up resentful and unhappy.
Sometimes things will go our way, and sometimes they will not, regardless of how fair it may seem.
9. Blaming When things do not go our way, there are many ways we can explain assign responsibility for the outcome. One method of assigning responsibility is blaming others for what goes wrong.
Sometimes we may blame others for making us feel or act a certain way, but this is a cognitive distortion. Only you are responsible for the way you feel or act.
10. “Shoulds” Refer to the implicit or explicit rules we have about we and others should behave. When others break our rules, we are upset. When we break our own rules, we feel guilty.
For example, we may have an unofficial rule that customer service representatives should always be accommodating to the customer.
When we interact with a customer service representative that is not immediately accommodating, we might get angry. If we have an implicit rule that we are irresponsible if we spend money on unnecessary things, we may feel exceedingly guilty when we spend even a small amount of money on something we do not need.
11. Emotional reasoning This distortion involves thinking that if we feel a certain way, it must be truth. For example, if we feel unattractive or uninteresting in the current moment, we think we are unattractive or uninteresting. This cognitive distortion boils down to:
“I feel it, therefore it must be true”
Clearly, our emotions are not always indicative of objective truth, but it can be difficult to look past how we feel.
12. Fallacy of change The fallacy of change lies in expecting other people to change as is suits us. This ties into the feeling that our happiness depends on other people, and their unwillingness or inability to change, even if we demand it, keeps us from being happy.
This is damaging way to think because no one is responsible for our own happiness except ourselves.
13. Global labeling/mislabeling This cognitive distortion is an extreme form of generalizing, in wish we generalize one or two instances or qualities into a global judgement. For example, if we fail at a specific task, we may conclude that we are a total failure in not only that area but all areas.
Alternatively, when a stranger says something a bit rude, we may conclude that he or she is an unfriendly person in general. Mislabeling is specific to using exaggerated and emotionally loaded language, such as saying a woman has abandoned her children when she leaves her children with the babysitter to enjoy a night out.
14. Always being right While we all enjoy being right, this distortion makes us think we must be right, that being wrong is unacceptable. We may believe that being right is more important than the feelings of others, being able to admit when we have made a mistake or being fair and objective.
15. Heaven’s reward fallacy This distortion involves expecting that any sacrifice or self-denial will pay off. We may consider this Karma, and expect that Karma will always immediately reward us for our good deeds. This result in feeling of bitterness when we do not receive our rewards (Grohol, 2016).
Many tools and techniques found in cognitive behavioral therapy are intended to address or reverse this cognitive distortion.