In part 1 of ‘Childhood Trauma : Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Anxiety’, I said that I would look more specifically at how CBT can be applied to treat anxiety and reduce the symptoms it produces.
As I have stated elsewhere, people who suffer from conditions such as anxiety and depression tend to have got into a habit of thinking in a negative way. Often, this habit has become so established that the individual’s negative thinking style has become AUTOMATIC. CBT aims to address this problem; it is used to alter thinking habits and REDUCE NEGATIVE THINKING (this is very important as HOW WE THINK has a direct impact upon HOW WE FEEL).
CBT teaches us TO QUESTION our old way of thinking, which is likely to have been very unhelpful, and, especially if we are depressed, is also very likely not to have accurately reflected reality. CBT then encourages us to practice (practice is very important as it takes time to establish new habits) new, more helpful ways of thinking which more accurately reflect reality.
What is meant by thinking which ‘more accurately reflects reality?’ Well, according to Aaron Beck, the psychologist who developed CBT, everybody makes errors in the way that they think; he called these THINKING MISTAKES ‘COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS’. However, he also noted that when we are depressed and anxious, these COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS will often lead us to view OURSELVES, OTHERS and THE WORLD IN GENERAL in a more negative way than, in reality, is warranted; he called this ‘THE NEGATIVE COGNITIVE TRIAD’. Beck went on to state that if we did not change our habitually negative thinking processes we would, unsurprisingly, tend to feel worse. However. he also said that, by developing more realistic and balanced ways of thinking, our emotional state would be much more likely to improve; Beck also said the new style of thinking would help to improve our problem-solving abilities.
Below are some common thinking errors, or, as Beck called them, COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS, which can occur when we are depressed and anxious:
1) PERSONALIZATION – this refers to the tendency we have when depressed and anxious to believe we are the cause when something negative happens. For example, a neighbour ignores you one morning and you think, ‘that’s because he hates me’, whilst ignoring other possibilities eg. he might have had some bad news and is preoccupied.
2) CATASTROPHIZING – this refers to the tendency to let our imaginations run away with us and always expect the worst possible outcome, in connection with something we are concerned about, whilst ignoring all the other, much less bad, or good, outcomes which might occur. For example: ‘I’ll never be able to cope with my anxiety and my life is ruined’ versus (more realistically) ‘I am strong enough to cope and can learn strategies which will help me to conquer my feelings of anxiety.’
3) ‘BLACK AND WHITE’ THINKING STYLE – this involves the tendency to place things in one of two completely opposite, polarized categories, such as: WRONG/RIGHT; GOOD/BAD; ANXIOUS/NOT ANXIOUS, whilst ignoring the fact that most things fall somewhere inbetween (into the gray area). For example : ‘If I fail this exam my life will be ruined’ rather than, ‘there’s plenty of options open to me even if I do fail the exam. Anyway, I can always retake it, even though that’s not ideal.’
4) EMOTIONAL REASONING: this is where we BELIEVE SOMETHING IS TRUE just because we FEEL it’s true. For example,’Nobody will ever love me because I am intrinsically unlovable”. This may feel very true but still be a COMPLETELY INACCURATE reflection of reality, due to depression and anxiety skewing thought processes.
5) ‘MIND-READING': eg. on meeting a new group of people we might think, ‘I know they find me a boring idiot’, when, in fact, we have no evidence at all that they do think this.
CONCLUSION: Just as negative thinking habits took a long time to establish themselves as habitual an automatic, we, obviously, can’t turn ourselves into positive thinkers over night. It takes practice, but it is well worth the effort as our thinking style, or ‘self-talk’, has a strong effect upon how we feel.
For more information on CBT and treatment for trauma a good site to visit is: http://www.psychologytools.org/ptsd.html
I have also provided links to two online CBT programs which address anxiety below :
I found CBT an important part of my recovery and therefore highly recommend A Clinically Proven Online CBT Course For Panic and Anxiety Disorder Created By Professional Therapists. Adheres to the Ethical Guidelines set down by the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapists (BABCP). FREE 30 DAY TRIAL.Click Here!
I hope you have found this post useful. Please leave a comment if you would like to, to which I will, of course, respond as soon as I am able.
Best Wishes, David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).