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In the 1960s, Aaron T. Beck, a psychiatrist, observed that during his analytical sessions, his patients tended to have an internal dialogue going on in their minds, almost as if they were talking to themselves. But they would only report a fraction of this kind of thinking to him.

Beck realized that the link between thoughts and feelings was very important. He invented the term automatic thoughts to describe emotion-filled thoughts that might pop up in the mind. Beck found that people weren’t always fully aware of such thoughts, but could learn to identify and report them. If a person was feeling upset in some way, the thoughts were usually negative and neither realistic nor helpful. Beck found that identifying these thoughts was the key to the client understanding and overcoming his or her difficulties. Beck called it cognitive therapy because of the importance it places on thinking. It’s now known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) because the therapy employs behavioral techniques as well.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (also known by its abbreviation, CBT) is a short-term, goal-oriented psychotherapy treatment that takes a hands-on, practical approach to problem-solving. Its goal is to change patterns of thinking or behavior that are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way they feel. It is used to help treat a wide range of issues in a person’s life, from sleeping difficulties or relationship problems, to drug and alcohol abuse or anxiety and depression. CBT works by changing people’s attitudes and their behavior by focusing on the thoughts, images, beliefs and attitudes that we hold (our cognitive processes) and how this relates to the way we behave, as a way of dealing with emotional problems.

CBT is based on a model or theory that it’s not events themselves that upset us, but the meanings we give them. If our thoughts are too negative, it can block us seeing things or doing things that don’t fit – that disconfirm – what we believe is true. In other words, we continue to hold on to the same old thoughts and fail to learn anything new.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most widely-used therapy for anxiety disorders. Research has shown it to be effective in the treatment of panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, among many other conditions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy addresses negative patterns and distortions in the way we look at the world and ourselves. As the name suggests, this involves two main components:

  • Cognitive therapy examines how negative thoughts, or cognition, contribute to anxiety.
  • Behavior therapy examines how you behave and react in situations that trigger anxiety.
    The basic premise of cognitive behavioral therapy is that our thoughts—not external events—affect the way we feel. In other words, it’s not the situation you’re in that determines how you feel, but your perception of the situation.

Maryam Riaz
Clinical Psychologist
Willing Ways, Islamabad

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