By Carrie Jones, LCSW
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a blend of two effective forms of psychotherapy: cognitive and behavioral therapy. According to CBT, our thoughts influence our feelings and behaviors, and that it is the interpretation of a situation, rather than the situation itself, that drives our response. So by changing the way we think about something, we can feel and act better even if the situation around us does not change.
Recognizing that people’s perceptions are often distorted and dysfunctional when they are distressed, CBT therapists help clients identify negative thought patterns and replace these with healthier ones. As a result, their distress usually decreases and they are able to function better.
Therapists will also help clients recognize and eliminate any distorted core beliefs – basic understandings of themselves, their worlds, and other people. Often, individuals aren’t aware of their thought patterns or core beliefs, so CBT therapists frequently use a gentle questioning process to help clients become aware of and evaluate their automatic thoughts and beliefs and shift their thinking so it more closely resembles reality.
CBT therapists often assign homework to complete between sessions. These are tasks are designed to test certain thoughts and beliefs. CBT clinicians also spend a significant amount of time teaching clients coping skills and problem solving techniques. The goal is to enable and empower the individual to become his or her own therapist, equipped with a tool kit of strategies that can be used out in the real world.
Research has shown that CBT is an effective treatment for anxiety and depression, two of the most common issues for Shanghai expats. CBT also helps in addressing a variety of other issues including relationship difficulties, eating disorders, substance abuse, and personality disorders. Medical disorders with a psychological component, such as irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic or acute pain, and sleep disorders can also benefit from CBT therapy.
While CBT traditionally is used for adults, a few adaptations also allow it to be used with children and teens. For example, in my practice, I teach children to “stomp out ANTs” (automatic negative thoughts).
CBT is goal-directed and tends to achieve positive results more quickly than many other forms of psychotherapy, which is especially helpful given the busy, fast-paced life of most expats here. The number of sessions depends on the individual and the issue, but frequently, problems are able to be resolved with somewhere between 6-12 one-hour sessions. CBT is practical and present focused, with an emphasis on the here and now and moving forward, rather than dwelling on the past.
To learn more and see how CBT can be used to address specific issues, go to http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/resources/consumers.cfm for a variety of free online CBT workbooks.