Cogito ergo sum (an article on Cognitive Behavorial Therapy)
For my first article on DirTeam, I decided to focus on a subject that I myself have found extremely useful throughout the past years. Being employed at a mental healthcare institution and of a curious nature, I found myself reading various works of literature concerning methods used in everyday psychology. One of the most interesting books I read concerned something called 'cognitive behavioural therapy' or CBT. In this article, I'd like to share more about this method with you and how it may be applied to daily life and, of course, the working environment.
The origin of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Throughout the years, the field of psychology has yielded many schools of thought. Many of us have heard of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Ivan Pavlov, though what exactly their theories are and how they are applied in the field of psychology may be less known.
The current form of CBT was formed during the eighties and the nineties, emerging from a mixture of rational therapy and cognitive therapy, the latter being having been developed in the same century by Albert Ellis and Aaron Beck respectively. Naturally, this is an extremely short summary of a much more complicated process, but for this article it will do. Those who are interested in more information can find some external references at the end of the article.
These days, CBT is one of the most popular methods used in psychology. It has proven extremely effective in many situations, such as treatment of anxiety and mood disorders. However, do not be tricked into thinking that CBT is only suitable for those suffering from mental disorders. The method offers many interesting techniques which are applicable to everyday life for anyone, and can help improve many aspects of the self.
The theory of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
In a nutshell, CBT dictates that dysfunctional behaviour is caused by irrational thought. We are often aware of the dysfunctional behaviour itself (note that 'dysfunctional' in this context is to be interpreted as 'undesired'), but the cause of it is harder to dictate. We may promise ourselves 'not to do that again', but chances are we have made that promise a hundred times before and will make it another hundred times. To truly change this behaviour, we must understand what feelings and emotions cause us to apply this behaviour and what belief lies at the bottom of these emotions. A short example might, at this point, be in order.
An example of CBT
In this article we shall use a simple ABC-diagram, one of the techniques used in CBT. The acronym requires some clarification.
(A) stands for the Activating event; what was the situation that caused your negative emotions. The how, where, when and what of it, so to speak.
(B) stands for Beliefs. The underlying view of yourself and/or the world, as it were.
(C) stands for Consequences. These are the feelings caused by (A).
In the usage of the diagram, one normally does not go from A to B to C, but from C to A to B.
Let us put these factors into use.
You're driving on the highway, happily minding your own business. Suddenly, another driver cuts you off. You get angry, start cursing at the other driver and think about what an idiot they are. A likely scenario ? I'm sure many of us have experienced this at some point (or maybe you were the other driver). Let us follow the steps from (C) to (A) to (B).
(C) I felt annoyed, frustrated and extremely angry at that idiot.
(A) I got cut off by somebody on the highway at a high speed this afternoon.
(B) I believe that people who cut me off on the highway are selfish idiots who shouldn't be allowed to drive.
Seems logical ? Yes. Now let us apply some counterlogic to this reasoning and see if we can change this pattern of thought. This alteration of thinking lies at the heart of CBT, and you will hopefully soon see why it is so popular as a method.
Time to turn around
When observing the above logic, it becomes obvious what underlying view of the world causes us frustration, i.e. the belief that people who cut you off on the highway are selfish idiots. Is this a realistic thought though ? What if the other driver was a doctor, heading for an emergency at the hospital ? Or a man who just became a father, anxious to go home and see his kid ? I'm sure you can think of many other scenarios that would create more understanding for the event that just happened. Now let's try replacing the first, more objective belief with the original belief and fill in the ABC-diagram. This time, we shall go from (A) to (B) to (C).
(A) I got cut off by somebody on the highway at a high speed this afternoon.
(B) Perhaps the other person was in great emergency, or had a very good reason to be less observant.
(C) I felt somewhat annoyed for a moment.
The important part here is that the emotional reaction to the situation is altered into a more productive sensation. The negative emotions that festered earlier become lessened, or perhaps even transformed into more constructive emotions.
The core of the matter
The fundamental part of this exercise is to truly and objectively define the underlying belief (B). There are many forms these beliefs can take, but you may find in time that they basically boil down to several negative or pessimistic worldviews which become then the basis of various emotions in many situations. Some examples include:
- A black/white view of the world; there can be no grey areas.
- A lack of self-esteem; I am not deserving.
- A negative view on others; I'm better than them.
Try and see for yourself if you can find these or other beliefs in you, and how they influence your reactions.
By changing the underlying belief and offering various other, more objective scenarios to the one you started with, you will find yourself reacting more objectively to situations that, in the past, made you experience negative emotions.
The effects of CBT
Apart from replacing more negative beliefs with more objective and realistic ones, the above technique forces you to put some objective perspective on your own train of thought, and trains the mind to become more self-reflective. Observing changes the observer, it is sometimes said, and this technique gives you a very simple tool to do so. CBT has proven very useful throughout the years in mental healthcare, and for a very good reason. By replacing negative or irrational beliefs with more objective ones, the very basis of some of your decisions or reactions might be altered for the good.
And now what ?
You may find yourself wondering how to give this simple technique a place in everyday experiences. First of all, realize that the above technique requires reflecting on the self. This may seem obvious and straightforward, but it can be rather challenging. To start with, try to find simple situations. Do not dig too deep. Be honest with yourself. If you find it difficult to be objective about your beliefs or train of thought, ask a friend to analyze these situations with you.
As with all techniques, this method needs to be practiced. So start with small scenarios in which your feelings are not too intense; the more intense your feelings, the firmer the underlying belief is and the more difficult to replace this one with a more rational one.
Many different techniques have been derived from the theory of CBT, and most of these techniques have been given a place in courses for personal efficiency. The reason for this is simple: The techniques can be applied without external guidance and have proven very effective in clinical trials. Of course, to really apply such techniques, one must be able to objectively consider one's own patterns of thought and reasoning, which may prove challenging at times to say the least. To me, being able to evaluate one's own behaviour and adjust it accordingly, is a valuable skill that should be present (at least in basis) in any consultant's toolbox. We are all confronted with situations in which emotional reactions (instead of rational ones) guide us down a path we'd rather not go down in the first place, and being able to recognize these moments and adjust our actions and reasoning where necessary, is an effective method to approach difficult situations more rationally.
Though the ABC-method described in this article seems fairly basic, its application in real CBT sessions is much more advanced and complex. Several other techniques have been set up. In all of them, recognizing the underlying motives or reasoning and replacing irrational and undesired beliefs with more objective ones appears to be the main ingredient. The Socratic dialogue with oneself leads to a more desired (i.e. rational and objective) result, challenging though this might be at times.
First of all, I am not a trained or licenced psychologist. All the information provided to you in this article is a combination of personal experience and public information. In no way is it meant as a replacement for psychological counselling. If parts of the background or theory prove to be in error, I can not take any responsibility for it. The sole purpose of this article is to share information about a useful technique and give suggestions as to how it may be applied in everyday working life. For real psychological support, please contact a trained and certified specialist.
Second of all, the methods and theory of CBT are much more complex than described on this page. Its application in psychological sessions requires a trained therapist, especially with more deeply rooted problems, so please do not take this article as a substitute.
You may find the following links if you want more information:
Wikipedia article on CBT
Association for Behavorial and Cognitive Therapies
Basic examples and information concerning the ABC-diagram