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The Family Therapist is In
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Learning to do the right thing for the right reason
December, 2007 - Issue #38
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is considered a backbone approach in the field of psychotherapy. Personally, I think the human condition chooses this approach to life as naturally as they choose eating and sleeping. It's based on the belief that how one thinks determines to a large degree how one feels and behaves. Thus, our thoughts produce feelings, our feelings produce emotions, our emotions produce actions, and our actions produce habits. So emotional distress - a bad day, bad week, bad month - is often the natural result of our irrational thoughts or beliefs.

Life's warts and bumps as well as life's joys fluctuate around positive changes in our emotions. Behaviors occur by making an effort to stop negative thoughts and by focusing on the positive.

It's funny that in the field of therapy this theoretical orientation is considered best as a short-term therapy approach, when in reality we human beings struggle hard every day throughout our lives, striving to master our thoughts and live with joy.

So how do we work on doing the right thing, capturing our negative thoughts and learning to focus on the positive either with the help of therapy or through our own consideration?
Here are a few inside tips that I've found helpful...

1. Emphasize identifying and changing your personal irrational behaviors into more functional healthy behaviors. The impact will be seen through change in the related thinking and feeling patterns. Most of the time we already know our own irrational thoughts but may need a good friend, spouse or family member to help hold us accountable. The word "denial" may rear its ugly head while you're attempting to take inventory of negative or irrational thoughts and or behaviors. Persevere.

2. Emphasize changing behavior(s) in the present and focus on living in the present. A minimum level of insight is required to understand and hold us accountable. Even though some of our more unhealthy behaviors are seen as the result of faulty thinking, the nature and consequences of current behaviors are much more important. (And everyone has some unhealthy behaviors.)

The main focus should be on current inappropriate behaviors affecting our personal relationships. The goal is elimination of problematic behaviors and the promotion of healthy positive behaviors, all within the context of improving our personal relationships.
Individual therapy is usually the main focus of professional treatment. In some cases, behavioral work is done with two people or with a family. Personally we can only control ourselves and need to focus on our emotions and behaviors as they affect us here and now.

The therapist's role is to be very directive, acting as teacher and trainer - maybe even modeling the appropriate behaviors. Sometimes, though, it's nice to have that spouse or good friend who will simply just listen as you talk through confusion, as you consider irrational emotions and/or behavior patterns.
"GROWTH and CHANGE are amazing but require commitment; it's not a job for the faint of heart."


The past is not considered to be important as an area of consideration; however, where we come from is certainly an important consideration as we attempt to understand where we're trying to go.

Possible Goals of the Process
Short Term
To initiate and promote positive relationships; gather relevant information including defining our thought problems; provide symptom relief so we're better able to do the work; learn awareness of negative automatic thoughts; help to understand the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Intermediate Term
To change the irrational beliefs that result in our distorted thinking; shift the focus to examining healthy thinking patterns; help identify and challenge irrational thoughts; uncover the underlying assumptions; replace the irrational beliefs and thought patterns with more realistic and positive ones.

Long Term
To get comfortable at challenging and replacing irrational thoughts with more functional options; develop self-reliance.

Sounds like work, huh? Growth and change are amazing but require commitment; it's not a job for the faint of heart, but living each day with joy is worth the effort.

Kim thinks you're worth the effort, too. E-mail her for advice or a friendly chat at kschafer@insidescv.com.
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