Has anyone ever told you just to think happy thoughts? Maybe it was in response to you venting about a tough day at work or during a difficult conversation with a loved one. While the sentiment is nice, unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The human brain is a complex machine; our thoughts can be just as messy and tangled as the wires inside.

Dealing with mental health issues can feel like an uphill battle, but there is hope. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one effective way to change negative thinking patterns. In this article, mental health expert Sherief Abu-Moustafa will discuss what CBT is, how it works, and some of the ways it can help improve your mental health.

What is CBT?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk therapy that focuses on the relationship between our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It can treat various mental health conditions, including anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and more.

CBT was developed in the 1960s by psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. He observed that his patients’ negative thinking patterns were often at the root of their mental health problems. These thoughts would then lead to negative emotions and harmful behaviors. Over time, CBT has evolved into one of the most popular and well-researched types of therapy.

How CBT Works

CBT is usually conducted in weekly sessions with a therapist. The therapist will help you identify negative thinking patterns called cognitive distortions. They will then work with you to challenge and reframe these thoughts. For example, if you’re constantly worried about failing, your therapist may help you see that this fear is unfounded and prevent you from spiraling into a full-blown anxiety attack.

CBT can also involve exposure therapy. Exposure therapy can be complex, but it is an effective treatment for various mental health conditions. Sherief Abu-Moustafa explains that this style of therapy gradually exposes you to what you’re afraid of, whether it’s a specific situation or object.

For example, if you fear flying, your therapist may start by having you imagine flying in a plane. Over time, they will work with you to gradually face your fear head-on by taking a short flight.

CBT Benefits for Mental Health

CBT therapy is a successful treatment option for both adults and children. It is most commonly used to treat mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. However, it can be used to treat a variety of issues, including addiction, eating disorders, and anger management.

CBT is a highly flexible treatment that can be adapted to fit each individual’s needs. For example, some people may respond well to weekly CBT sessions, while others may find that monthly sessions work better. In other cases, an individual may need to spend more time on a specific step in the process, such as exposure therapy.

CBT has been proven to be an effective treatment for mental health conditions. Studies have shown that CBT can be just as effective as medication for treating depression. CBT is also a long-lasting treatment; research has shown that the effects of CBT can last months or even years after therapy has ended.

Steps to CBT Therapy

CBT usually lasts 12-20 weeks, but Sherief Abu-Moustafa advises it can be shorter or longer depending on your individual needs. You will work with your therapist throughout the sessions to complete a series of tasks or steps. These may include:

1. Identifying Negative Thinking Patterns

You and your therapist will work together to identify any distorted or unhelpful thoughts you have. Together you will look at these thoughts and how they might affect your emotions and behaviors.

2. Challenging Your Thoughts

Once you’ve identified negative thinking patterns, you and your therapist will work together to challenge them. This may involve looking at the evidence for and against these thoughts. For example, if you’re thinking, “I’m such a failure,” your therapist may help you look at times when you have been successful.

3. Reframing Your Thoughts

After you’ve challenged your negative thinking patterns, you and your therapist will work together to reframe them in a more positive light. For example, instead of thinking, “I’m such a failure,” you may start thinking, “I’m not perfect, but I’m doing the best I can.”

4. Practicing Exposure Therapy

If you’re dealing with a specific fear or phobia, you and your therapist may work together to expose you to the thing you’re afraid of gradually. This may involve imaginal exposure, where you imagine the feared situation, or in vivo exposure, where you slowly face the feared situation in real life.

5. Learning Coping Skills

You will also learn coping and problem-solving skills as you work through CBT. These skills can help you manage difficult emotions and situations more constructively.

Final Thoughts

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can help you reshape your thought patterns. CBT involves identifying negative thinking patterns, challenging them, and reframing them in a more positive light. CBT has been proven to be an effective treatment for mental health conditions and can last months or even years after therapy has ended. CBT may be the right choice if you’re looking for a way to manage your thoughts and emotions more effectively.