CBT & Coping Mechanisms
Joyous Njoku, Peer Educator
March 25th, 2021
As a peer educator, one of the best parts of my job is getting to talk to other students on campus and spreading awareness about mental health. For many of the students I have talked to, this school year has been rough. Whether you're struggling to make friends or classes have been harder because of online instruction, many of us, including myself, have been trying everything to take care of our mental health. In this blog, I want to talk about a form of treatment that can help when you aren't feeling too great, and that can be helpful for you to use when unhelpful thoughts can't seem to go away.
What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological treatment demonstrated to be effective for various problems, including depression, anxiety disorders, alcohol use, drug use, marital problems, eating disorders, and other severe mental illnesses. Numerous research studies suggest that CBT leads to significant improvement in functioning and quality of life. In many studies, CBT has been demonstrated to be as effective as, or more effective than, other forms of psychological therapy or psychiatric medications. It's often the preferred type of psychotherapy because it can quickly help you identify and cope with specific challenges. And you can try it on your own at home!
CBT is based on a few key principles:
- Psychological problems are based, in part, on unhelpful ways of thinking or negative beliefs about one's self/the world.
- Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.
- People suffering from psychological problems can learn better coping with them, thereby
relieving their symptoms and becoming more effective in their lives.
CBT is a great type of psychotherapy because it helps cultivate long-term resilience. It's always helpful to begin the practice with a mental health professional that is well-versed in CBT, however, a trusted friend can be helpful in the process as well. You can also begin working by yourself by learning more about this type of psychotherapy.
CBT is a useful tool to address emotional challenges. For example, it may help you (1):
- Manage symptoms of mental illness
- Prevent a relapse of mental illness symptoms
- Treat a mental illness when medications aren't a good option
- Learn techniques for coping with stressful life situations
- Identify ways to manage emotions
- Resolve relationship conflicts and learn better ways to communicate
- Cope with grief or loss
- Overcome emotional trauma related to abuse or violence
- Cope with a medical illness
- Manage chronic physical symptoms
Mental health disorders that may improve with CBT include (1):
- Anxiety disorders
- Sleep disorders
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Substance use disorders
- Bipolar disorders
- Sexual disorders
- & Others
Note: In some cases, CBT is most effective when it's combined with other treatments, such as antidepressants or other medications. Consulting a mental health professional can help you find out if this course of action will be helpful for you.
How to do Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
In simplest terms, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy involves these three steps:
- Before/during/after partaking in a "negative" behavior (preferably before), stop and ask yourself how you felt right before that moment.
- Identify the preceding circumstances before that moment and what you were thinking about those preceding circumstances.
- Create/Replace those negative thoughts with a more helpful, positive thought.
Using a Disruptive Thought Record (DTR) can help you work through these steps a lot more methodically outside of your head. Below is an example of how this individual used a DTR to manage his emotions around a stressful situation.
Here are some guiding questions for each of the sections to help in recording your thoughts (3):
- Describing the Situation: What are you doing? Was anyone with you? What time or period of the day was it? Where did it happen?
- Identifying and Rating Emotions: Identify how you feel and rather that feeling on a scale of 0-10. Remember, you can have multiple different feelings.
- Identifying Automatic Thoughts/Images: What was I thinking of just before I started to feel this way? What does this say about me? What does this mean about me, my life, and my future? What is my fear? What am I afraid might happen? What does it mean about other people think of me?
- Rational Responses: What is the most balanced, realistic, or objective way to see this situation? What's the evidence that my automatic thoughts are true and untrue? What difference will this make in a week or in 10 years?
- Helpful Actions: How can my actions help both myself and other parties while maintaining a realistic perspective on the issue? What behaviors help in problem-solving? What behaviors help manage uncomfortable emotions?
What are Cognitive Distortions?
Cognitive distortions are negative thoughts that cause us to view the reality around us in a negative way. While you may have not heard of this term before, most people have experienced it before, especially college students. One example of a thought distortion is someone saying;
"Wow I definitely failed that test! Why do I even bother? I should just drop out because I am not smart."
Rather than stating what our realities are actually like, thoughts like this distort the reality with a negative bias. CBT's goal is to help confront these thoughts and try to replace them with more positive ways of thinking.
Cognitive distortions can look very different, so here are just a few varied kinds of distortions (3):
a. Filtering: focusing strictly on the negative aspects of a situation and not the positives
- Catastrophizing: expecting the worst-case scenario
- All-or-Nothing Thinking: disregard the complexities of situations and sees everything in absolutes
- Fallacy of Fairness: assumes that things should work out according to what one might think is fair
- Overgeneralization: assumes a thought/rule from one experience
- Emotional Reasoning: assumes that if one feels a certain way about something, then it must be true
- Blaming: assumes everyone is at fault
Remember that these examples are only a small portion of all of the different kinds of cognitive distortions. Knowing these types can help with self-awareness before these thoughts may lead to other complications such as anxiety, deepening depressions, and more.
What Resources Can I Contact for More Info?
Taking charge of your mental health is no easy task, but it does yield a huge number of rewards and can contribute to living a long and healthy life. There are so many resources you can take advantage of as a Texas Tech student, such as:
- Student Counseling Center- SWC 201│806.742.3674
- Family Therapy Clinic- Human Sciences 164│806.742.3074
- Crisis Helpline: (806) 742-5555 (Available 24/7/365)
These resources are here for you just if you feel like you need more guidance or immediate help. Hopefully this article has provided you with a good introduction to the practice of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and has demystified the process!