What is Cognitive Therapy, and how can I use it to enhance my outlook on life?
The use of the term “therapy” refers to relieving some sort of pain or disorder. This can include brain stimulation therapy, psychodynamic therapy, and somatic therapy, among several others. From the names of these, it sounds as if a licensed professional is needed to administer the therapies, let alone knowing what they even are in the first place!
And it is very true that if I were to need brain stimulation therapy someday, I would want a professional behind that equipment. I wouldn’t want some guy off of the street poking around my brain with electrodes and magnets just to seek relief from depression!
But this is why I really want to write about this topic today, because one form of therapy, though typically administered by professionals, can definitely be applied to your everyday life for the better just by knowing what it is. That is to say, the benefits of cognitive therapy can be realized by every person without a single stitch of training or coursework. While you may not be using the same professional techniques, the general idea can be used in your everyday life, and as long as you have a brain, every single person is capable of applying the general concept!
You see, cognitive therapy is focused on challenging the distressful thoughts that an individual may have and replacing them with an alternative perspective or outlook to the thought. It is based on the idea that we may not be able to control every aspect of our situations, but we can always control how we perceive or interpret them.
Although there are countless examples of cognitive therapy being used to treat specific issues, such as phobias, addictions, depression, and anxiety, I would like to tell a story about one specific person that I knew. Despite my high level of respect for her, she told me in a very personal conversation that she was a failure in life because she was a single 23 year-old mother who didn’t deserve to be loved, worked a low-paying job, and still lived with her parents.
What I couldn’t believe at that time was how much distress these thoughts caused her, especially considering the rest of the context. Yes, she was a young single mother, and yes, she was struggling to get by. But her boyfriend of five years had been cheating on her, and she was working a job as a medical receptionist because she wanted to one day become a nurse. A job like that, though low-paying compared to some other jobs, is a great stepping stone to a career in healthcare.
So in response to her sharp and damaging thoughts of herself, I formally challenged her assessment of her worth. It is very important to not assert your own viewpoint, but to only offer a possible alternative perspective. For example, when she told me that she was worthless because she thought she didn’t have a good job, I asked her to think about how much she helps that clinic on a day-to-day basis. Maybe she wasn’t a physician, but she was helping to ensure that the clinic was running smoothly every single day. I stressed that I saw tremendous value in someone doing a job like that, hoping that it would replace the distressing thought that she previously had about her job. She had also told me that it was her fault that her boyfriend was cheating on her. I challenged this distressing thought by asking her what specifically she did to deserve being cheated on. Thinking deeper into it, she could not pinpoint what it was that she did wrong, which lead me to suggest that maybe this was something external to her and more about her boyfriend’s struggles. While I cannot guarantee that my conversation even had any effect on her, I do know that she recently started a CNA program in hopes of pursuing a career as a nurse!
From this example, I would just like to demonstrate the power of reassessing a thought that may be distressing you. So to conclude this article, I want you to think about something that happened to you recently and offer an alternative optimistic assessment of the situation. You don’t even have to know for certain that it’s true, just consider the possibility that it could be true instead of the thinking of it in the distressing way you were previously thinking about it. Once you have an alternative optimistic perspective, then stick with that one instead of the distressing one, and you will have administered cognitive therapy… to yourself!
Thanks for reading yet another lengthy article. Feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you guys, and thank you for sticking it out through this post! I hope that you gained something positive from it.