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Changing our thoughts can change our life

"I should have known what to do." "She must think I'm weird." "I can't believe I said that, I'm so stupid." "If I don't figure this out and get my promotion I won't be able to face my family." "I feel ridiculous so nobody will take me seriously."...

"I should have known what to do."

"She must think I'm weird."

"I can't believe I said that, I'm so stupid."

"If I don't figure this out and get my promotion I won't be able to face my family."

"I feel ridiculous so nobody will take me seriously."

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Everyone has thoughts like these. Many will feel anxious, depressed, frustrated, or embarrassed as a result.

For some, thoughts like these easily enter and leave the mind, causing the negative feelings to be temporary. The temporary nature of the thoughts and feelings result in few changes in our everyday activities and may even be motivating. However, there are some people for whom negative thoughts and feelings like these linger and seem to take over the way the person sees themselves, others in their life, or the world in general.

With so many self-critical, worried, and negative thoughts going through one's mind there ends up being little room for more positive thinking. This negative emphasis tends to affect the way a person acts and can cause some people to avoid others, quit an activity, be defensive, or use substances to cover up feelings as a result of their negative thoughts. Having persistent negative or worrisome thoughts can lead to a level of emotional distress that can be hard to escape.

CBT will

set you free

However, there is good news. Psychologists have found that people who can alter their negative thoughts or statements told to the self (self-talk) in a way that is more balanced can reduce bad feelings and alleviate many mental health problems that are associated with negative thinking. While this may sound very simple, even too simple to be true, it is important to know that changing one's thoughts can be very challenging but not impossible.

Many people have been able to greatly improve their lives and mental health by changing their thoughts to be more balanced between negative and positive, and therefore more accurate, but people often need some help learning how to do so. A style of therapy known as cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, is designed to assist people in learning how to be more balanced in their thinking so they can be happier in their lives. It is important to know that CBT does not tell people how they should think or feel, but rather helps people to evaluate their thoughts to determine if the thoughts are accurate and useful for pursuing their life goals.

Only you can

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make yourself

unhappyCognitive-behavioral therapy is based on the idea that feelings and behaviors are caused by our thoughts, not external events, people, or situations. If our feelings and behaviors are caused by specific thoughts then changing how we think about things can lead to feeling or acting better even if the situation does not change.

This gives people a great amount of control over their mental health and lives. People can change by learning how to think differently and acting on that learning. In fact, there have been hundreds of studies demonstrating that CBT is very good at treating many difficult problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, behavioral problems/conduct disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder to name a few. Yet, many people wonder what CBT is like.

What is it?Here is the answer. CBT tends to be time-limited, meaning it is shorter (average of 15 sessions) then some therapies such as psychoanalysis, which can take years. CBT tends to be shorter because it focuses on one or two specific difficulties a person is having and uses a structured, educational approach so that clients understand how and why they are getting better. This allows clients to know what to do to continue improving and to maintaining their happiness at the end of therapy.

Each session of CBT is structured around an agenda that is set by the therapist and client so that the client is guaranteed to be able to talk about his or her concerns and specific techniques or skills relevant to the client's goals are taught. The skills and techniques taught are designed to help the client learn how to improve his or her thinking so other areas in life also get better.

Since clients are learning how to enhance their life in session, homework assignments are used so clients can practice their new skills in everyday life. Therapy homework is used just like homework for school is used. When you need to learn something new, you need to practice it over and over to really learn it and be able to use the knowledge easily. One hour per week just isn't enough. The same is true with CBT. Improvements and accomplishing one's goals would take a very long time if a person only used the techniques and skills one hour per week in session. This is why therapists encourage clients to practice what they learn in session outside of session, through homework.

Distorted thinkingIn addition to teaching new skills and using homework, it is very common for CBT therapists to ask a lot of questions. They do this because they really want to understand their clients' concerns. The questions are also important because CBT therapists want clients to ask questions of themselves; particularly questions that evaluate the accuracy of their thoughts. It is not uncommon for people to believe their thoughts are fact, but people make many errors in their thinking that can cause distress. CBT encourages people to see thoughts as hypotheses that can be questioned and tested. If it is discovered that the hypothesis (the thought) is incorrect, a person can change the thought to be more accurate and reduce negative feelings.

For example, a client may have an experience where a friend cancels a lunch date. The client may think, "He's mad at me and doesn't want to spend time with me," which can lead to anxiety, sadness and self-criticism. CBT therapists encourage clients to ask questions such as, "How do I know he's really mad at me? Could he have had something come up? Is there another explanation for why he canceled?"

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By challenging the accuracy of thoughts, clients can begin to identify when their thoughts are inaccurate and then change them to be more accurate like, "I'm disappointed he canceled our lunch. He probably had something come up at work and will want to reschedule." This balanced way of thinking is less likely to cause psychological distress and promotes positive mental health.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy believes that people change their lives for the better because they learn how to think differently and they act on their new ways of thinking. Therapists assist clients in learning how to think differently by listening, teaching, and encouraging the client. Clients help themselves by expressing concerns, working with the therapist to learn new skills, completing homework assignments, and using new skills in their daily life.

CBT is successful when clients feel better and are able to act as their own self-counselor by evaluating the accuracy of thoughts, modifying thoughts to be balanced and useful, and acting on the accurate thoughts all on their own. From this perspective, all people can change their lives for the better just by altering the way they think.

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