Negative self-talk may be impacting you in ways you don't even realize. Unhealthy thought patterns, such as anxious and stressful thinking, may lead to self-destructive beliefs and behaviors that have the power to change the course of your life.
It sounds hopeless, but the good news is that there is a way to break through these unhealthy thought patterns with the help of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). However, experts warn that this approach is not for everyone.
What is CBT?
CBT is based on the idea that behaviors, emotions, and thoughts are intertwined. Thoughts influence an individual's feelings which influence behavior. CBT-trained therapists use these three pathways to effect change.
However, for CBT to work, it requires active participation on the client's part. When the client is willing to put in the work, randomized clinical trials have shown that CBT can ease anxiety, depression, eating and sleeping disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive thinking, among many others.
But unlike other psychotherapy styles, CBT focuses on the present.
It doesn't seek to address underlying issues, like systemic problems in families and childhood trauma. Its goal is to provide individuals with tools they can use on their own, which translates to a shorter-term treatment.
If you think you or someone you know can benefit from CBT, we break down everything you need to know about this therapy style below.
Thoughts, not circumstances, affect actions and feelings
One of the most common misconceptions is that circumstances directly influence what one feels and does. In CBT, therapists believe that the critical factor is how individuals interpret these circumstances and act based on those interpretations.
You can try this by being more aware of your thoughts. When you notice your mood changing, figure out what you were thinking right before you felt worse. This powerful exercise can show you how your moods are, in fact, not affected by what's happening around you but how you interpret these circumstances.
When you are more aware, you'll get a realistic and accurate view of your circumstances.
Overcoming negative thoughts
If you want to overcome your negative self-talk, you have to begin by identifying what you tell yourself in moments of distress. For example, if you're anxious, your thoughts revolve around the theme of threat. You tell yourself that you're not equipped to handle your challenges or that the world is scary. Meanwhile, if you're depressed, your thoughts revolve around feelings of unworthiness.
Once you identify these thoughts, your therapist will help you analyze these thoughts with a series of questions that can help you verify whether the thought is true or not. More often than not, most patients realize that these negative thoughts are not valid. And the interesting thing is that everyone is prone to these thinking errors.
CBT is not positive thinking
Contrary to popular belief, CBT is not about shifting negative thoughts to positive ones, which psychologists say doesn't help. Instead, CBT helps train you to become more compassionate to yourself and be more realistic about your situation.
Putting in the work
The best thing about CBT is that the work doesn't end when you walk out of your therapist's door. Therapists typically hand out worksheets or a list of apps that can help patients change their thinking and their life even after the sessions have ended.
One primary tool CBT-trained therapists use is an automatic thought record. It can be a physical or digital note where patients can track what they are feeling, thinking, and doing in between sessions. The notes are then used to evaluate the patient's thoughts during the next therapy session.
How to find a CBT-trained counselor
You can check the lists of CBT-trained counselors by the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies and the American Psychological Association.
Have you tried cognitive behavioral therapy? If you haven't yet, is it something you're considering?