For anyone with anxiety or depression, the term cognitive behavioral therapy is bound to come up. This type of therapy has been found to be as effective with medication in the short-term for overcoming symptoms of both anxiety and depression and more effective than medication in the long-run because you learn new ways of coping with your feelings that you can continue to use for years.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based on the idea that what we think affects not only our behaviors but our feelings. In short, our thinking can trigger or fuel our anxious thoughts, causing us to spiral downward, becoming obsessive about our anxieties and worries or having a panic attack. Traditional talk therapy or psychotherapy, frequently looks into your past to try to find the reasons why you feel anxious or depressed and looks to resolve issues from your past. In CBT, it is understood that situations in your childhood or your past may contribute to why you think a certain way but the focus is instead on what you are thinking today and how changes those thoughts can change your behaviors and feelings.
When treating anxiety with CBT, there are four basic stages or principles. Jerry Kennard, in the post “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: The Basics” explains, “Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is based around the four general principles of education, restructuring the way the person thinks, exposure to feared situations or events and relapse prevention.”
During your first session, your therapist will try to understand your problem. He may ask questions to find out how your thoughts, ideas, feelings, attitudes and behaviors affect your mood and your day-to-day life. Once you and your therapist have a clear idea of the problem, together you can come up with goals for treatment and a treatment plan, including an estimation of how many sessions you should expect. Often, CBT sessions occur once a week or once every other week with many people being helped after 10 to 15 sessions. During each session your therapist will talk to you about how your thoughts may have triggered anxiety and how the initial anxious thought can quickly move to panic if you don’t take steps to manage your thoughts. You and your therapist will work together to find alternate ways of coping with a situation, giving you concrete steps to take when feeling anxious.
After each session, your therapist may give you “homework.” In the beginning, he may ask you to keep a diary of your thoughts or a log of each time you feel anxious and write down your thoughts before an event which normally causes you to be anxious. For example, if you have social anxiety disorder, he may ask you to keep a journal on your thoughts prior to going to a social event. As your sessions continue, your homework may be to use some of the coping strategies you learned and to write down your thoughts before and after using the strategies.
In order for CBT to work, you need to be an active participant. You need to be committed to making a change and to practice new strategies to help you better control your anxiety or depression. There may be times you feel uncomfortable with discussing your thoughts or facing your fears. You may have a hard time completing your “homework” on your own. But for many people, CBT works and provides them with long-term relief from anxiety or depression. While CBT doesn’t necessarily “cure” anxiety or depression, the strategies you learn and practice can be used for many years, helping you to cope with situations that once made you cringe with fear.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.