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How CBT Changed My Way of Thinking, and How It Can Do the Same for You!

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and why it's my go-to!

It's been a while since I've written, but I think this is the perfect opportunity. Aaron Beck died last Monday at the age of 100; may he rest in peace. He was a trailblazer in the psychology world, to say the least. I don't know many therapists who say they don't use the techniques Dr. Beck founded; cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT for short.

When I first started going to therapy at the age of 18 for my anxiety, I didn't know how it would go. During the first month of college, I began having terrible panic attacks, and the symptoms were not subsiding. Thankfully I started therapy at a local mental health clinic. My therapist was fantastic and very well-versed in CBT.

She was a post-graduate student who was finishing up her hours for licensure. Needless to say, it only took me a few months to start feeling better. She soon left the practice, but I felt mentally strong enough to deal with my thoughts and emotions on my own and didn't switch to anyone else. That is until I turned 21.

At 21, my anxiety had taken over again. I was also having some panic attacks, but not as bad as before. So I started seeing a woman who was a psychoanalyst. This type of therapy consists of the clinician sitting while you talk about anything that comes to mind. Then she takes what you say, brings it back to your childhood, and analyses why you're engaging in certain behaviors. The therapist will add things that she notices, but the client does most of the work. Nothing wrong with that! But it definitely is incredibly time-consuming, and it can take months or even years before a client starts feeling better. I was a college student at the time, so I didn't really have the time to sit there and not get a solution to my very real anxiety problem. I decided that this therapist was just not for me.

I ended up asking for another therapist who used a cognitive-behavioral approach. Sure enough, the new therapist got right to work! He would have me talk about my thoughts and things going on in my life. We would talk out the problems, come up with solutions. But most importantly, he taught me many things about my distorted thinking and what to do about these thoughts. Did my anxiety go away? Not necessarily, but he showed me how to "think" differently about my anxiety. Which made it way more manageable, and my symptoms subsided. I've had zero panic attacks since I ended therapy with him about 18 years ago.

One of the most important indications that therapy will have good outcomes is the therapeutic relationship. Another thing that was hammered into us in grad school was the idea of having unconditional positive regard. Meaning, we should not judge our clients based on their behaviors. Obviously, there is a reason why not judging our clients is super important. However, CBT has been one of the most practical and helpful techniques I have and continue to use with my clients. I find that the tools help just about anyone willing and able to engage and work through the thought, emotion, and behavior process.

The Cognitive Triangle

Here's a mini crash course on what cognitive behavior therapy is and how it helps people who are having trouble with anxiety, depression, and other psychopathologies. CBT is a therapy founded by Aaron T. Beck after he renounced psychoanalysis (Freudian Therapy). He thought that people had more power than sitting there talking about their problems for weeks, months, and years! He said that with some cognitive restructuring or learning what specific thoughts are illogical or logical, clients could move forward with their lives. CBT is so beneficial for any client who is looking to feel better quicker. However, they need to also put some work into it! CBT is a very active technique; you have to be willing to change.

Here are some other fantastic facts about cognitive-behavioral therapy:

  1. It doesn't need to be long-term, although some clients may need more support than others. Others may start, stop, then start again for a refresher.

  2. The therapist is an active participant in the therapeutic process and often guides the client when thoughts are distorted or when clients are having a tough time in their life.

  3. The therapist may give you homework during the week. It could be as simple as noticing your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors or writing them down in a journal.

  4. CBT therapists also provide a lot of psychoeducation about how clients' anxiety works and how the thought process impacts their emotions and behaviors.

  5. It is based on logical thinking and works on identifying unhelpful thoughts.

  6. The way that the technique is presented is very concrete and direct. Giving clients the power to engage and work through unhelpful thought patterns.

Dr. Aaron Beck Founder of CBT
Leif Skoogfors / Getty Images

Can you tell I am a big fan of Dr. Beck's work??? It is incredible what CBT does for clients. Even little ones as young as 6 can gain something from this type of therapy. Of course, clinicians should adjust their techniques to the client's understanding and age. But CBT is something that I believe will be around for a long time to come. In fact, other therapeutic approaches have branched out from CBT, including DBT, ACT, and even mindfulness!

So, if you're looking for a therapist, remember that the therapeutic relationship is the number one predictor of good outcomes. Also, finding someone who knows how to apply CBT techniques could change your life for the better!

Monica Wells, LMHC, CCATP-CA

Monica Wells is a licensed mental health counselor certified in treating anxiety and depression in kids, teens, and young adults using Cognitive Behavioral Therapeutic techniques. Her background includes working with neurodivergent individuals. Her office is in Huntington, NY.

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