What is cognitive therapy?

What is cognitive therapy?

Cognitive therapy approaches change by examining the connection between what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling. Although it sometimes feels as if we have no control over our emotions, cognitive therapy helps us pinpoint the thought or thoughts that seeded our current state of mind. By changing the way we think in certain situations, we’re able to better manage the way they affect our moods and behaviors.

For example, let’s say Stan has been working extra hard all week to finish a proposal his boss needs for a conference on Saturday. He manages to complete it on Thursday, a whole day ahead of deadline, but the following day his boss decides to make a few new changes. She says, “I think adding a few case studies will make this proposal stronger—can you take care of that?” Stan says, “Of course,” and then notices it’s already 4pm.

His first thought: “There’s no way I can make this deadline,” followed by, “I just can’t do anything right.” He scrambles frantically around his office looking for the case studies, sending his heart rate soaring. He’s sweating profusely as he sits back down at his computer, and then, with his hands poised over the keyboard, he freezes up. His mind goes blank. There are 10 minutes ‘til the proposal is due and he can’t function. He has let his anxiety get the best of him.

But it’s not Stan’s thoughts that spurred his panic; it was his acceptance of those thoughts as fact. And simply thinking “happy thoughts” instead wouldn’t have changed the situation—but examining his thoughts for accuracy might have. As Dr. Mark E. Oakley of the Center for Cognitive Therapy writes, “Most situations remain neutral until we assign meaning based on how we interpret the situation.”

Cognitive therapy teaches us to look more closely at our thinking patterns in emotionally charged situations—often, we’ve had the same thoughts in other situations. When one of these automatic thoughts pops up, we should stop and ask: Is this true? In examining his thoughts, Stan would have realized that: 1) he has a whole hour to find some case studies and attach them to the document; 2) the vast majority of the work is already complete; and 3) he does plenty of things well, which is why his boss hired him in the first place. By balancing his thoughts better, he could have saved himself a lot of stress and still finished the project on time.

Some of the most common problems treated by cognitive therapy include:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Insomnia
  • Stress management

If you feel you could benefit from cognitive therapy, please call us at 630-858-1353 to make an appointment with one of our skilled counselors.