Our perceptions influence the way we feel and behave. For example, imagine you are walking down the street one afternoon, and on the other side of the street, you see someone you have not seen for some time. You enthusiastically shout “hello!” to this person, yet they do know to return the greeting and instead continue on their way. You might think “they don’t like me” and consequently feel sad (perhaps even deeply so). However, another person might instead think “oh, they didn’t hear me. That’s too bad because I would’ve enjoyed catching up with them.” Consequently, they might feel disappointed, but not sad. Both persons experienced the same situation, but they felt differently because they interpreted the situation differently. This is the basis of Cognitive Therapy.
We all develop thinking habits and these habits impact our perceptions of events. Like all habits, these occur automatically and out of conscious awareness. Thus, we rarely stop to question our perceptions and we tend to assume they are correct. In Cognitive Therapy, patients are taught to become more aware of their automatic thinking habits and taught skills for evaluating their accuracy and usefulness. When we are emotionally distressed we tend to be more susceptible to misinterpretations. When we modify our perceptions to be more accurate and helpful, we tend to feel better.
Importantly, the skills taught in Cognitive Therapy are not the same as simply learning to “think positive.” A positive thinking approach is too simplistic and is unlikely to be helpful in any fundamental way.
Behavior Therapy, like Cognitive Therapy, is based on scientific research and is often effective in a brief period of time. Behavior Therapy focuses on how people learn and how what they have learned affects their behavior in various situations. Behavior Therapy is used to change/modify unwanted behaviors and is also used to treat many kinds of problems and disorders.
Frequently, Behavior Therapy is combined with Cognitive Therapy to help people gain a better understanding of the relationship between their thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Frequently, this combined approach is referred to as “Cognitive Behavior Therapy,” or CBT.
Please visit the following organizations for more information about CBT:
Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies »
Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies »