Where do negative thoughts come from? Even the most extraordinary lives experience doubt, dread, and despair. Why do we inevitably have to wrestle with negative thoughts that sometimes seem to appear out of thin air? Why does our negative mood never seem to improve? Whether caused by our experiences, a biological vulnerability to mood disorders, or our underlying inaccurate perceptions and beliefs, negative thoughts penetrate our minds with relative ease. Worst of all, negative thinking can take up residence for years or even decades to come. Their effect on our lives is nothing short of devastating. Over time these patterns of thinking leave us much more vulnerable to depression, anxiety and stress and cost us endless opportunities for living life well.
Psychological research has shown that once you’ve experienced clinical depression even once, your likelihood of relapsing back into clinical depression is around 50%. If you’ve had two or more episodes of clinical depression, the likelihood shoots up to a 70-80% chance of relapse. Researchers have found that our brains are hardwired to cling to negative thoughts. Psychologists call this phenomenon the negativity bias. Once the mind skews negative and beliefs and assumptions are built around that perspective, these negative thoughts and the emotions they create cycle in and out of our lives regularly. Something as minor as stubbing your toe can set off a chain reaction of negative thinking and quickly plunge your mind back into darkness. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) was designed to help you realistically evaluate and question your negative thoughts directly and to teach you how to manage and neutralize your negativity through disciplined practice and CBT skills.
CBT’s breakthrough was recognizing how thoughts and beliefs influence our emotions and our behavior. According to Judith Beck, Ph.D., “the cognitive model proposes that distorted or dysfunctional thinking (which influences the patient’s mood and behavior) is common to all psychological disturbances… Realistic evaluation and modification of thinking produce an improvement in mood and behavior. Enduring improvement results from modification of the patient’s underlying dysfunctional beliefs.”
We know that depression, anxiety, stress and anger can be maintained and deepened by our thinking styles and biases. Sets of beliefs generate cycles of more pessimistic thinking and negative emotions. Once these beliefs take root, they often become self-fulfilling prophecies – especially negative ones. These beliefs generate thoughts such as “I’ll never become who I want to be, so why even try?” Of course, no one ever achieves a goal without some effort. However when we are feeling anxious, discouraged or depressed, we often recognize the thought as a fact rather than as a manifestation of our overanxious brain.
Some of us listen to the negativity in our head and give up before we even try. The longer we listen to negative beliefs, the more entrenched they become. Our use of the negative beliefs reinforces their influence on us. They continue to generate the automatic thoughts that can become so defining in our lives. Soon, pessimism, depression and anxiety become effortless habits like breathing. The tremendous success of a gifted life can slow to a crawl.
CBT equips us with the tools and the strategies to break the cycle of inaccurate and negative thinking and to finally question the dashboard of beliefs and assumptions that we are using to navigate our lives. In CBT, learn how to examine our thoughts for accuracy, how to challenge our assumptions and negative rules, how to eliminate irrational beliefs and schemas, and how to correct our inaccurate thinking to make an effective choice based on realistic information.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be remarkably effective with a number of mental health issues, particularly when depression, anxiety or obsessive thoughts that is prominent. It’s a system governed by evidence and logic that illustrates how our thoughts are erroneous and how our perceptions of events can directly determine how we react. Realistic and accurate thinking is a powerful tool to have in a world that is often defined by misleading, polarized and subjective opinions. Understanding how our core beliefs influence our assumptions and attitudes about the world helps us define and modify our coping strategies.
Thousands of clinical research studies over the last few decades have demonstrated the effectiveness of CBT with a wide range of mental health issues including substance abuse, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, trauma, eating disorders, insomnia, anger disorders, personality disorders, and more. The National Institute of Mental Health in the United States and the National Institute of Clinical Excellence in the UK recommend CBT as an evidence based mental health treatment for depression and other disorders. It is one of the most widely practiced therapy systems in the United States. The work of Dr. Aaron Beck, “the father of CBT,” helped establish the rules of evidence-based practice that now guide modern psychology and clinical treatment.
At its core, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a collaborative partnership between you and the therapist. CBT teaches us that the organizing structures (beliefs and assumptions) cause us to process information in a distorted and maladaptive manner. We help you to understand where these beliefs came from and how they were adaptive when they were created. We also help you to identify the exact inaccurate beliefs that are troublesome and help you to modify or correct that belief. The client and therapist team investigate core beliefs, assumptions, rules and attitudes about life, other people and ourselves. We learn about our particular pattern between triggers, beliefs, thoughts and negative emotions.
As we define your specific type of core belief, we help you to understand how these beliefs are continuously reinforced by selectively focusing on data that only confirms the core belief. We also show you how you may be discounting any evidence that does not support that belief and how you may not be acknowledging the direct evidence of facts that contract that belief system. Finally, we teach you how to modify and correct that belief system and the inaccurate thoughts it generates. By so doing, you are able to create far more accurate and even positive thoughts and emotions that lead to lasting change.
CBT’s overall ambition is to free you from a cycle of inaccurate and ineffective thinking, feeling and behaving. Through strategies, techniques, and tools, your therapist will demonstrate how your thinking compromises your best judgment and can lead to an ongoing negative worldview and mood disorder. Creating a more accurate, logic based approach to thoughts and emotions can be one of the first steps to charting a new course for your life. Thoughts and emotions are not facts and they should not control you. With Cognitive Behavior Therapy, you are back in control of your own emotions, thoughts and most of all your mind.
This article references the work of Dr. Aaron Beck, Dr. Robert Leahy, and Dr. Judith Beck.