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A Primer on Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Is it just me or does it feel like it has been raining forever in Austin? We’ve had fewer opportunities to spend outside, we are seeing much less of that beautiful Texas sunshine, and our already terrible traffic has been worse than usual. Maybe you were already struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety, and the weather has sent those feelings into overdrive. You’re at a point that it feels like too much to deal with on your own and you are considering psychotherapy. My blog post today will give you a primer on cognitive-behavioral therapy, a treatment that my clients and I have found highly effective and helping to overcome a variety of problems.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is based on the notion that our thoughts (i.e., running commentary in our heads), feelings (i.e., emotions), and behaviors (i.e., things we “do”) are all related to and influence each other. Let’s take a look at an example:

Lindsey was scheduled to meet Justine for lunch at 12:00 p.m. It is now 12:30 and Justine has not shown up for lunch. Lindsey has the thought “she blew me off – what a terrible friend!” This thought leads to her feeling angry (emotion) and ignoring Justine (behavior). However, what if instead she had the thought “something bad must have happened!” This thought would lead to her feeling worried (emotion) and calling Justine to see if she is okay (behavior). Depending on the thought that Lindsey has, the same scenario can lead to very different emotions and behaviors.

So, if we can change the way we think and what we do, we can change the way we feel! Psychotherapy can provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to do that. Some strategies that are used in CBT include modifying things you are doing (and may not be aware of!) that are contributing to your symptoms, learning new ways to cope with distressing feelings, and identifying and changing thoughts that are irrational and/or not helpful to you.

Does this sound too simple or good to be true? The proof is in the pudding! Over 1,000 research studies have examined CBT, and it has consistently been found effective for a variety of problems, including, but not limited to, depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anger, stress, and chronic pain. Due to this wealth of support, CBT has been identified as an “evidence-based therapy.” The National Institute of Mental Health strongly supports the use of evidence-based therapies (including CBT) for many reasons, with one of the most compelling being to prevent a situation where you spend months or years in psychotherapy and don’t feel like you are getting any better!

If cognitive-behavioral therapy sounds like something you are interested in trying or learning more about, I’ve included some helpful links below. If you are in the Austin area, feel free to give me a call at 512-521-1531 or email me at laura@drlaurawahlstrom.com to discuss your situation and see if I may be able to help you.

Psychology Today Find a Therapist Tool

Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies

Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy

Mayo Clinic