How Can Cognitive Therapy Help Me React Differently?

Cognitive Therapy Comparison

A major objective of Cognitive Therapy (or CBT or cognitive behavioural therapy) is to learn the skills of influencing what we think and the way that we think.

Comparisonitis, or the tendency to compare oneself with others too much of the time, is an overdone pastime of humans. Sure it makes sense that we learn a lot by watching how others do things. The trouble is, we have a tendency to compare ourselves with people we think are doing better than us. We rarely compare ourselves with people we think are doing much worse than us.

Comparisonitis undermines our confidence and self esteem by affecting the way we rate ourselves. If I think someone else is doing better than me, then I might feel happy for them. Or I might feel disappointed, frustrated, inadequate, envious, anxious, depressed.

Cognitive Therapy Comparisonitis

A loose definition of psychological therapy is "Therapy is guided discussion in the service of change."

Cognitive therapy is therefore discussion aimed at helping change actions and change feelings by changing thoughts. Admittedly this is easier said than done.

The fact is, we can't control or even ultimately choose our thoughts!

If we choose a task, like driving the car, the demands of the task focus our thoughts. But we have all had the experience while we are driving of thinking all kinds of stuff not in any way related to driving.

These other thoughts just pop into our heads and can do so at any time. We can't "not think" something. Try not thinking of cake. Don't think cake! Think of anything else but 'cake'. Of course the more you try 'not' to think cake, the more you think cake.

So how do we learn to change our actions and feelings when we can't control our thoughts?

The answer is not obvious, but here it is.

We can't control what we think. We can't choose what we think. But we can change the impact that our thoughts have on our actions and on our feelings.

The way we change impact is by choosing the degree to which we believe our thoughts.

Cognitive therapy can us develop strategies to evaluate our beliefs.

Dr. Dawson has over 40 years experience as a clinical psychologist and brings a frustration focus to the use of cognitive therapy.

Cognitive Therapy Santa Claus

Thoughts vs Beliefs

Suppose I tell you that Father Christmas is unable for personal reasons to do any present deliveries this Christmas.

Will this upset you? Probably not because you don't believe it. If you were a young child and you believed me, this thought would have quite a negative impact on you.

Thoughts only have impact on our actions and feelings if they are considered important and then only if they are believed.

CBT can help you with a number of skills to re-evaluate the importance of thought and to empower you to choose the degree to which you believe your thought.

However this approach is not only about thinking. It also involves learning techniques to manage the intensity of your feelings.

Why is this important?

You will have noticed that if your feelings are too intense, you can't think. So all the strategies of cognitive therapy will not work if you don't think to use them.

Also we often use feelings to validate our thoughts.

For example, if I think this new action isn't going to work and I am feeling very nervous as I get ready to try it, then I could easily give up in order to avoid feeling anxious, and prevent myself from going any further with it.

So if I want to see if something new can work, I had better have a way to minimize my feelings of uncertainty and anxiety as I get ready to try it out. Otherwise it isn't going to happen.


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