WHAT IS COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY AND HOW CAN IT AID RECOVERY FROM CHILDHOOD TRAUMA ?
Put simply, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works on the basic observation that:
1) how we think about things and interpret events affects how we feel
2) how we behave affects how we feel
3) by changing how we think about things, interpret events and behave will CHANGE HOW WE FEEL.
I have over-simplified here but those are the essential three points and my aim in this blog is not to present information in an over-complex way.
CBT is widely used by therapists to treat survivors of childhood trauma and there is now a solid base of research which supports its effectiveness. I myself underwent a course of CBT some time ago and found it very helpful.
WHAT WE THINK ABOUT THINGS DECIDES HOW WE FEEL :
In this post I wish to concentrate on how our thinking styles affect our state of mind and emotions. Survivors of childhood trauma often develop depressive illness and, as a result, thinking styles often become extremely negative:
Depression often gives rise to what is sometimes called a COGNITIVE TRIAD of negative thoughts. These are:
– negative view of self
-negative view of the world
-negative view of the future
I have referred to this NEGATIVE COGNITIVE TRIAD in previous posts, but it is worth revisiting. The aim of CBT is to change these negative thinking patterns into more positive ones. It aims to correct FAULTY THINKING STYLES.
FAULTY THINKING STYLES:
Individuals who suffer from this cognitive negative triad of depressive thoughts, as I did for more years than I care to remember, are generally found to have deeply ingrained faulty thinking styles; I provide the most common ones below and give a very brief explanation of each type (if the examples seem a little extreme, it is merely to illustrate the point):
e.g. someone is rude to us and we conclude: ‘nobody likes me or ever will’.
So, here, the mistake is vastly over-generalizing from one specific incident.
2) POLARIZED THINKING:
e.g. ‘unless I am liked by everyone then I am unpopular’.
This is sometimes referred to as ‘black or white’ thinking ie. seeing things as all good or all bad and ignoring the grey areas.
e.g. ‘I know for sure this will be an unmitigated disaster and I’ll be utterly unable to cope.’
Here, the mistake is to overestimate how badly something will turn out or to greatly overestimate the odds of something bad happening. It often also involves underestimating our ability to cope in the unlikely event that the worst does actually happen. Also known as ‘WHAT IF…’ style thinking.
e/g. taking an innocent, casual, passing remark to be a deliberate and calculated personal attack. Here, the mistake is thinking everything people do or say is a kind of reaction to us and that people are pre- disposed to wanting to gratuitously hurt us.
5) SELF BLAME :
e.g. someone says our team has not met its monthly target and we then look for ways to convince ourselves it is specifically and exclusively due to something we have done wrong. With this type of faulty thinking style, we blame ourselves for something for which there is no evidence it is our fault.
e/g. ‘I failed one exam out of ten, therefore I’m stupid and a complete failure’.
Here, the positive (passing nine out of ten exams) is pretty much ignored (minimized) and the negative (failing one exam) completely disproportionately affects our view of ourselves. Individuals who minimize the positive tend to also MAXIMIZE (ie. make far too much of) the negative.
What tends to underlie all these faulty thinking styles is that we UNNECESSARILY BELIEVE NEGATIVE THINGS IN SPITE OF THE FACT WE HAVE NO, OR EXTREMELY LIMITED, EVIDENCE FOR SUCH BELIEFS. Therefore, we unnecessarily and irrationally further lower our own sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Because of these faulty thinking styles, we increase our feelings of inadequacy and depression.
In my next article I will look at how we can challenge and correct these faulty thinking styles.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).