15 Jan 2020

How is cognitive behavioral therapy different from positive thinking or a friend/ parent's advice?

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When familiarizing clients with the cognitive behavioral model of therapy, I often hear this remark ‘Oh! So basically you are asking me to think positively’.  Others get a bit more skeptical “Doctor, I have tried to think positive, but I can’t”. Still others say “So how is it special if it is to just think positive?”The fact of the matter is that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is not the same as positive thinking, although superficially it may seem so. So how is it different? Let’s find out!

The basic assumptions and principles of CBT have already been discussed earlier (http://drsathyaprakash.blogspot.in/2016/06/what-is-cognitive-behavioural-therapy.html). To highlight one such basic tenet, CBT believes in seeing reality as it is and without distorting it. In other words, CBT believes in realistic assessment of a situation and seeing the positive things as positive, neutral things as neutral and negative things as negative. Very often when one is having an emotional problem, neutral and potentially positive events are also seen as negative. Additionally, negative events are catastrophised so as to appear even more negative! In CBT when we say negative events are seen as negative, we mean that we don’t make it more negative than it already is. At the same time, unlike the generic principle of ‘positive thinking’, we don’t make a negative event positive either. Doing so would be making a fool out of ourselves! If a tiger is after you, if you try to imagine it is a cat, it will do you no good; but at the same time, if it is a cat and you are needlessly imagining it to be a tiger, then there is a problem! Thus CBT teaches you specific methods based on which one can identify maladaptive patterns of thinking, correct them and make this healthy thinking style part of one’s nature. In other words, it attempts to ‘cure’ a psychological condition.

Since the therapist is a neutral person, he/ she is not caught up in the emotional conflict; this is unlike a friend or a relative of the person suffering. Therefore, the therapist is able to provide rational solutions. Moreover, unlike a friend or parent’s advice, the therapist usually does not provide a direct answer, but facilitates the best utilization of the client’s own potential so that he/ she can reach the best possible solution. The therapist helps the client to recognize and steer clear of known traps in thinking style, avoid emotional decisions and so on.

Friends, these are just the general principles. When CBT is actually done, there are detailed techniques that will help one to put these principles to practice.

CBT IS DIFFERENT FROM JUST TALKING TO A NEUTRAL PERSON AND SHARING ONE’S FEELINGS, IT IS ABOUT ACTIVELY WORKING ON ONESELF SO THAT SIGNIFICANT AND REAL WORLD CHANGE IS POSSIBLE!

So that was what I had to discuss this time around. Please let me know if there is anything that you want me to discuss in particular, by typing in the comments section below.

Write in at stayhappy.prakash@gmail.com

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