Posts Tagged Psychotherapy

[BLOG POST] 7 principles of neuroscience every coach and therapist should know – Your Brain Health

What does neuroscience have to do with coaching and therapy?

Short answer: EVERYTHING!

If you’re a coach or therapist, your job is to facilitate change in your client’s

  • thinking (beliefs and attitudes)
  • emotions (more mindfulness and resilience)
  • behaviour (new healthy habits).

Coaching builds the mental skills needed to support lasting change. Skills such as:

  • mindfulness
  • self-awareness
  • motivation
  • resilience
  • optimism
  • critical thinking
  • stress management

Health and wellness coaching, in particular, are emerging as powerful interventions to help people initiate and maintain sustainable change.

And we have academic research to support this claim: check out a list of RCTs in table 2 of this paper).

How can neuroscience more deeply inform coaching and therapy?

Back in the mid-1990s when I was an undergrad, the core text of my neuroscience curriculum was ‘Principles of Neural Science’ by Eric Kandel, James Schwartz and Thomas Jessell. Kandel won the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research on memory storage in neurons.

A few years before his Nobel, Kandel wrote a paper A new intellectual framework for psychiatry’. The paper explained how neuroscience can provide a new view of mental health and wellbeing.

Based on Kandel’s paper, researchers at the Yale School of Medicine proposed seven principles of brain-based therapy for psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. The principles have been translated intopractical applications for health & wellness, business, and life coaches. 

One fundamental principle is,

“All mental processes, even the most complex psychological processes, derive from the operation of the brain.”

And another is:

“Insofar as psychotherapy or counseling is effective . . . it presumably does so through learning, by producing changes in gene expression that alter the strength of synaptic connections.”

That is, human interactions and experience influence how the brain works.

This concept of brain change is now well established in neuroscience and is often referred to as neuroplasticity. Ample neuroscience research supports the idea that our brains remain adaptable (or plastic) throughout our lifespan.

Here is a summary of Kandel, Cappas and colleagues thoughts on how neuroscience can be applied to therapy and coaching…

Seven principles of neuroscience every coach should know.

1. Both nature and nurture win.

Both genetics and the environment interact in the brain to shape our brains and influence behaviour.

Therapy or coaching can be thought of as a strategic and purposeful ‘environmental tool’ to facilitate change and may be an effective means of shaping neural pathways.

2.  Experiences transform the brain.

The areas of our brain associated with emotions and memories such as the pre-frontal cortex, the amygdala, and the hippocampus are not hard-wired (they are ‘plastic’).

Research suggests each of us constructs emotions from a diversity of sources: our physiological state, by our reactions to the ‘outside’ environment, experiences and learning, and our culture and upbringing.

3.  Memories are imperfect.

Our memories are never a perfect account of what happened. Memories are re-written each time when we recall them depending on how, when and where we retrieve the memory.

For example, a question, photograph or a particular scent can interact with a memory resulting in it being modified as it is recalled.

With increasing life experience we weave narratives into their memories.  Autobiographical memories that tell the story of our lives are always undergoing revision precisely because our sense of self is too.

Consciously or not, we use imagination to reinvent our past, and with it, our present and future.

4. Emotion underlies memory formation.

Memories and emotions are interconnected neural processes.

The amygdala, which plays a role in emotional arousal, mediate neurotransmitters essential for memory consolidation. Emotional arousal has the capacity to activate the amygdala, which in turn modulates the storage of memory.

 

5. Relationships are the foundation for change 

Relationships in childhood AND adulthood have the power to elicit positive change.

Sometimes it takes the love, care or attention of just one person to help another change for the better.

The therapeutic relationship has the capacity to help clients modify neural systems and enhance emotional regulation.

6. Imagining and doing are the same to the brain.

Mental imagery or visualisation not only activates the same brain regions as the actual behaviour but also can speed up the learning of a new skill.

Envisioning a different life may as successfully invoke change as the actual experience.

7. We don’t always know what our brain is ‘thinking’.

Unconscious processes exert great influence on our thoughts, feelings, and actions.

The brain can process nonverbal and unconscious information, and information processed unconsciously can still influence therapeutic and other relationships. It’s possible to react to unconscious perceptions without consciously understanding the reaction.

 

via 7 principles of neuroscience every coach and therapist should know – Your Brain Health

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[WEB SITE] Is There a Science to Psychotherapy?

Neuroscience findings suggest that psychotherapy alters the brain.

Since the decade of the brain, 1990-1999, neuroscience has captured enormous amounts of attention from both the scientific community and the general public. Many books and media reports describe the brain’s basic anatomy and function. There has been a proliferation of neuroscience institutes at universities. In laboratories all over the world, neuroscience has become one of the most exciting and productive branches of inquiry.

Yet not everyone is completely pleased with what neuroscience has to tell us. In particular, some decry neuroscience for trying to delegitimize the “mind.” Going back to the original Cartesian mind-body duality, these critics insist that neuroscience can only go so far by describing the function of neurons and neurotransmitters. What cannot be reached by science, they say, is that ineffable “mind” that constitutes the human spirit. For them, neuroscience is purely an attempt to reduce the complexities and wonders of human experience to brain scan images and electrical recordings from axons and dendrites.

In a new book, Neuroscience at the Intersection of Mind and Brain (Oxford University Press, 2018), one of us (Jack) attempts to allay fears that neuroscience will somehow reduce human experience and creativity to the “mere” workings of the physical brain. There is, in fact, nothing “reductive” about the physical brain. Rather, the brain is a gloriously complex, fascinating, and well-organized structure that constitutes, as neuroscientist Eric Kandel so eloquently put it, “the organ of the mind.”

Biologists versus Psychologists

As a resident in psychiatry in the late 1970s, Jack witnessed the emergence of psychopharmacology as the dominant discipline for academic psychiatry and lived through the often bitter battles between “biologists” and “psychologists.” This may be, in part, where the mistrust of neuroscience began. The biologists believed that their method of treating psychiatric illness—medication—was based on solid science and rejected psychotherapy as unscientific.  They also believed that neuroscience explained why the new psychiatric drugs worked and therefore promoted brain science as the basis for their discipline. Every lecture about depression or schizophrenia in those days began with a picture of a pre- and postsynaptic neuron forming a synapse across which neurotransmitters like serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine carried information. The new medications interact with receptors for these neurotransmitters and, it was taught at the time, this explains how they work to treat depression, anxiety, and psychosis.

 Andrew Rybalko/Shutterstock

Source: Andrew Rybalko/Shutterstock

It turns out that the picture of neurons everyone used back then was a vast oversimplification of what a synapse really looks like and that almost nothing we know about neurotransmitters and their receptors actually explains how psychiatric drugs work. But what really bothered the psychologists was the complete dismissal of psychotherapy by the biologists. Years of studying various types of psychotherapy convinced them that indeed they had science on their side. Furthermore, they objected to the biologists’ emphasis on inherited abnormalities as the sole basis for psychiatric illness. Psychologists had always been more interested in the ways that human experience, from birth onwards, shaped personality and behavior.

Over time, many (but thankfully not all) psychologists came to see neuroscience as the branch of science devoted to promoting pharmacology as the only treatment for psychiatric illness and to trying to prove that those illnesses were entirely due to inherited brain abnormalities. Biologists stood with nature; psychologists with nurture.

This fear of neuroscience’s aims is entirely misplaced. Over the last several decades, neuroscience has, in fact, focused a great deal of attention on the biology of experience, elucidating the ways in which what happens to us in life affects the structure and function of the brain. Every time we see, hear, smell, or touch something, learn a new fact, or have a new experience, genes are activated in the brain, new proteins are synthesized, and neural pathways communicate the new information to multiple brain regions.

Neuroscience is not, therefore, synonymous with psychopharmacology, nor does it invalidate the complexities of human experience. It has shown, for example, that early life interactions between a parent and child shape how the brain will function for the rest of a person’s life.

This has tremendous implications for understanding the mechanism of action of psychotherapy if we accept the idea that psychotherapy itself is a form of life experience and therefore capable of changing brain function at molecular, cellular, and structural levels. Here are two examples that illustrate ways in which neuroscience informs psychotherapy.

CBT and the Prefrontal to Amygdala Connection

It is now clear that the expression of conditioned fear is dependent upon an intact, functioning amygdala. Scientists have shown that the amygdala, located in a primitive part of the brain often referred to as the limbic cortex, reciprocally inhibits and is inhibited by a more evolutionarily advanced part of the brain, the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Thus, under circumstances of heightened fear, the amygdala shuts down the ability of the mPFC to exert reason over emotion and initiates a cascade of fearful responses that include increased heart rate and blood pressure and freezing in place. When the mPFC is able to reassert its capacity for logic and reason, it can, in turn, inhibit the amygdala and reduce and extinguish fear.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based intervention that is the first-line treatment for most anxiety disorders and for mild, moderate, and in many cases even severe depression. Because the automatic, irrational fears and avoidance behaviors manifested by patients with anxiety disorders and depression resemble the behavior of rodents in Pavlovian fear conditioning experiments, scientists have wondered if CBT works, at least in part, by strengthening the prefrontal cortex to amygdala pathway, thereby reducing amygdala activity. Indeed, many studies have shown that anxious and depressed patients have reduced activity in this pathway and exaggerated amygdala responses to fearful stimuli. Studies have also shown that successful CBT for social anxiety disorder decreases amygdala activation.

Most recently, a group of scientists from Oxford, Harvard, and Berkeley showed clearly that stimulation of the prefrontal cortex in human volunteers both reduced amygdala activation and fear. Maria Ironside and colleagues selected 18 women with high levels of trait anxiety and randomized them to receive either transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to the prefrontal cortex or sham tDCS. The subjects underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brain and performed an attentional load task that tests vigilance to threat. Real, but not sham, tDCS increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, decreased activity in the amygdala, and decreased threat responses.

This study is one example of preclinical and clinical neuroscience coming together to suggest a biological mechanism for the efficacy of a psychosocial intervention. We know that the cognitive portion of CBT strengthens a patient’s ability to assert reason over irrational thoughts and fears and that this decreases amygdala activity in some studies. We know clearly from animal studies that stimulating the prefrontal cortex reduces amygdala activation and potentiates fear extinction. Now we also know that in a group of anxious people, direct stimulation of the prefrontal cortex does exactly the same thing as it does in animal studies and, in addition, reduces anxiety. With this plausible hypothesis for how CBT works, scientists can now push further to see if brain imaging can ultimately help select patients with particularly weak prefrontal to amygdala pathway strength who might be prime candidates for CBT and then to track how they are doing in therapy objectively by repeating the brain imaging studies to see if and when that pathway is strengthened.

Psychoanalysis and Reconsolidation

CBT has been proven effective by many high-quality clinical trials and therefore is a prime candidate for biological studies, but can the same be said for such widely used but not empirically-validated treatments as psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy? In 2011, Jack and his colleague, Columbia psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Steven Roose, proposed that another aspect of fear conditioning—reconsolidation of fear memories—may explain one biological mechanism of action for how psychoanalysis works. In rats, when a conditioned fear memory is reactivated, it temporarily becomes labile and can be completely erased by blocking the biological mechanisms that permit reconsolidation of the memory. Could it be that in psychoanalytic therapies, the patient undergoes a process of reactivating distressing early memories that, once made conscious through the psychoanalytic process, can be manipulated by the therapist’s interpretations? According to this hypothesis, those now altered memories can then be reconsolidated into permanent memory in a less disturbing format.

The theory has been considered since then by many scientists and psychoanalytic theorists and a number of experiments show that the phenomena of labile reactivated memories and blockade of reconsolidation do indeed occur in humans. Blocking reconsolidation of reactivated memories has been shown to be effective in experiments attempting to help addicts overcome the powerful tendency to succumb to subtle cues and resume taking drugs even after successful rehabilitation. Here again, information gained from the basic neuroscience laboratory and from clinical neuroscience studies may help us understand how one aspect of psychoanalysis works to change the brain in ways that are helpful to people suffering with mental illness.

It is not necessary to invoke an ineffable “mind” to explain our unique human characteristics. Understanding the complexity of the human brain is sufficient to reveal how we are able to take what we experience and transform it into scientific theories, poetry, and philosophical ideas. Neuroscience is not superficial or reductionistic and it is not at all in the sole service of psychopharmacology and the genetic explanation for mental disorders. This becomes clear as we recognize the tremendous contributions neuroscientists have made to elucidating basic mechanisms that allow experiences to change the physical structure and function of the brain on a second-by-second basis. Everything we experience during life is translated into events that occur in the brain.

Psychotherapy is a form of life experience that changes the way the brain works, often ameliorating abnormalities caused by adverse experience and stressful life events. So yes, there is a science to psychotherapy, one that can be readily understood by learning about some of the fundamental and fascinating ways our brains work. Neuroscience at the Intersection of Mind and Brain tries to do just that.

via Is There a Science to Psychotherapy? | Psychology Today UK

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[BLOG POST] Recognizing the Signs of PTSD After Stroke

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition that runs its victims down emotionally and physically. Though most frequently linked to combat veterans and sexual-assault survivors, PTSD can present itself following any traumatic experience, and that includes medical emergencies. Following a stroke and its resulting medical treatment, it is common for patients to feel overwhelmed.

 

According to a study published in the journal PLoS ONE in June of 2013, almost one quarter of patients who survive a stroke will suffer from PTSD. Unfortunately, it is common for the symptoms of PTSD following a stroke to go unnoticed; due to the intense nature of physical recovery, the psychological hardship associated with it can lead to increased risk for heart disease or another stroke.

 

What is PTSD?

After experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event, such as a medical emergency, natural disaster, or an assault, it is difficult to adjust to everyday life again. Some people may struggle with relaxing or sleeping, have flashbacks or unsettling memories, or feel constant anxiety.

This psychological reaction is common and very frustrating. The good news is that it typically diminishes, and life returns to normal over the course of weeks or months, depending on the severity of the event. If a patient is experiencing these mental health symptoms for longer than a few weeks or months, whether constant or in waves, it is possible that they may have PTSD.

 

Symptoms of PTSD After Stroke

It is important to know the signs and symptoms of PTSD so that you can recognize them in a patient or loved one you are caring for after a stroke. Common symptoms of PTSD include experiencing a traumatic event over and over again, having nightmares, or being unable to stop thinking about it. To add to these extremely uncomfortable experiences, victims can also feel  general, unyielding anxiety and try to avoid reminders of the event that started their suffering. They can also be tortured with feelings of self-doubt or misplaced guilt after a stroke or other traumatic event, a state of hyperarousal, or feeling overly alert.

If you are worried that a patient or family member is suffering from PTSD, ask them questions such as:

  • Are you having nightmares?
  • How are you coping?
  • How does this make you feel?

These questions can help the patient discuss their symptoms and improve the likelihood of psychological recovery.

 

TIA and PTSD

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), also known as a mini stroke, can increase the likelihood of developing PTSD because the fear of having a stroke may become overwhelming. According to a study published in the American Heart Association journal Stroke, about one third of TIA patients develop signs of PTSD. Approximately 14 percent of TIA patients also experience a drop in physical quality of life, with 6.5 percent of patients experiencing a drop in mental quality of life.

 

Treating PTSD

There are ways to relieve the strain of PTSD. Treatment for PTSD may include medication, psychotherapy, or both. Patients experiencing signs of PTSD should see a trained and qualified mental health professional as treatments may vary from patient to patient.

Medications

A mental health provider or psychiatrist may prescribe antidepressants to patients struggling with PTSD. Antidepressants have been shown to relieve the symptoms of anger, sadness, and overwhelming worry better than other available medications.

Psychotherapy

Sometimes referred to as “talk therapy,” psychotherapy can take place in a one-on-one capacity or in a group setting. Talk therapy is the process of speaking with a mental health professional and can encompass the discussion of PTSD symptoms alone or the effect such symptoms may be having on a patient’s life.

PTSD can sometimes wreak havoc on a person’s social, family, or professional life. To help heal the damage, a mental health professional may combine multiple forms of psychotherapy to address any and all issues a patient may be having with the aftermath of a stroke or TIA. Most often, psychotherapy lasts six to twelve weeks, but it is not unusual for it to take longer to address each patient’s symptoms and struggles. Patients are encouraged to involve family and friends in their recovery because having the extra support can improve the speed and efficiency of mental recovery from a stroke.

 

Finding Relief

PTSD can plague individuals who experience or witness a traumatic event. Medical emergencies are often traumatic, so it is common for survivors of stroke to suffer from PTSD; survivors of TIA can develop PTSD because they may be scared of suffering another mini stroke or of having a full-fledged stroke.

Symptoms can be very taxing on survivors and heartbreaking for their families to see. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for PTSD, including antidepressants and talk therapy with a mental health professional. If you are experiencing PTSD, it is important that you communicate how you feel with your doctor, family, and friends, as a strong support system can help you find the relief from psychological pain that you deserve.

Source: Recognizing the Signs of PTSD After Stroke | Saebo

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[WEB SITE] MRI brain scans may help clinicians decide between CBT and drug treatment for depression

Researchers from Emory University have found that specific patterns of activity on brain scans may help clinicians identify whether psychotherapy or antidepressant medication is more likely to help individual patients recover from depression.

The study, called PReDICT, randomly assigned patients to 12 weeks of treatment with one of two antidepressant medications or with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). At the start of the study, patients underwent a functional MRI brain scan, which was then analyzed to see whether the outcome from CBT or medication depended on the state of the brain prior to starting treatment. The study results are published as two papers in the March 24 online issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The MRI scans identified that the degree of functional connectivity between an important emotion processing center (the subcallosal cingulate cortex) and three other areas of the brain was associated with the treatment outcomes. Specifically, patients with positive connectivity between the brain regions were significantly more likely to achieve remission with CBT, whereas patients with negative or absent connectivity were more likely to remit with antidepressant medication.

“All depressions are not equal and like different types of cancer, different types of depression will require specific treatments. Using these scans, we may be able to match a patient to the treatment that is most likely to help them, while avoiding treatments unlikely to provide benefit,” says Helen Mayberg, MD, who led the imaging study. Mayberg is a Professor of Psychiatry, Neurology and Radiology and the Dorothy C. Fuqua Chair in Psychiatric Imaging and Therapeutics at Emory University School of Medicine.

Mayberg and co- investigators Boadie Dunlop, MD, Director of the Emory Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, and W. Edward Craighead, PhD, J. Rex Fuqua Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, sought to develop methods for a more personalized approach to treating depression.

Current treatment guidelines for major depression recommend that a patient’s preference for psychotherapy or medication be considered in selecting the initial treatment approach. However, in the PReDICT study patients’ preferences were only weakly associated with outcomes; preferences predicted treatment drop-out but not improvement. These results are consistent with prior studies, suggesting that achieving personalized treatment for depressed patients will depend more on identifying specific biological characteristics in patients rather than relying on their symptoms or treatment preferences. The results from PReDICT suggest that brain scans may offer the best approach for personalizing treatment going forward.

In recruiting 344 patients for the study from across the metro Atlanta area, researchers were able to convene a more diverse group of patients than other previous studies, with roughly half of the participants self-identified as African-American or Hispanic.

“Our diverse sample demonstrated that the evidence-based psychotherapy and medication treatments recommended as first line treatments for depression can be extended with confidence beyond a white, non-Hispanic population,” says Dunlop.

“Ultimately our studies show that clinical characteristics, such as age, gender, etc., and even patients’ preferences regarding treatment, are not as good at identifying likely treatment outcomes as the brain measurement,” adds Mayberg.

Source: MRI brain scans may help clinicians decide between CBT and drug treatment for depression

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[WEB SITE] Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Benefits & Techniques

In today’s society, doctors and psychiatrists are quick to prescribe psychotropic drugs that often come with dangerous side effects for any disorder that stems from thought patterns. But what if I told you there was a better, safer way to manage and treat stress and brain disorders? Enter cognitive behavioral therapy.

According to the National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists, cognitive behavioral therapy (often just called CBT) is a popular form of psychotherapy that emphasizes the importance of underlying thoughts in determining how we feel and act. Considered to be one of the most successful forms of psychotherapy to come around in decades, cognitive behavioral therapy has become the focus of hundreds of research studies. (1)

CBT therapists work with patients to help them uncover, investigate and change their own thought patterns and reactions, since these are really what cause our perceptions and determine our behaviors. Using CBT therapists offers patients valuable perspective, which helps improve their quality of life and manage stress better than patients simply “problem-solving” tough situations on their own.

Something that might surprise you about CBT: A core principle is that external situations, interactions with other people and negative events are not responsible for our poor moods and problem in most cases. Instead, CBT therapists actually view the opposite as being true. It’s, in fact, our own reactions to events, the things we tell ourselves about the events — which are within our control — that wind up affecting our quality of life.

This is  great news — because it means we have the power to change. Through cognitive behavioral therapy, we can learn to change the way we think, which changes the way we feel, which in turn changes the way we view and handle tough situations when they arise. We can become better at intercepting disruptive thoughts that make us anxious, isolated, depressed, prone to emotionally eating and unwilling to change negative habits.

When we can accurately and calmly look at situations without distorting reality or adding additional judgments or fears, we’re better able to know how to react appropriately in a way that makes us feel happiest in the long run.


Proven Benefits of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

A 2012 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Cognitive Therapy and Researchidentified 269 studies that supported the use of CBT for the following problems: (2)

  • substance abuse disorders
  • schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders
  • depression and dysthymia
  • manic depression/bipolar disorder
  • anxiety disorders
  • somatoform disorders
  • eating disorders
  • sleep disorders, including insomnia
  • personality disorders
  • anger and aggression
  • criminal behaviors
  • general stress and distress due to general medical conditions
  • chronic fatigue syndrome
  • muscle pains and tension
  • pregnancy complications and female hormonal conditions

Researchers found the strongest support for CBT in treating anxiety disorders, somatoform disorders, bulimia, anger control problems and general stress. After reviewing 11 review studies comparing improvement rates between CBT and other therapy treatments, they found that CBT showed higher response rates than the comparison treatments in seven of the 11 reviews (more than 60 percent). Only one of 11 reviews reported that CBT had lower response rates than comparison treatments, leading researchers to believe that CBT is one of the most effective therapy treatments there is.

Here are some of the major ways cognitive behavioral therapy benefits patients from different walks of life:

1. Lowers Symptoms of Depression

Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the best-known, empirically supported treatments for depression. Studies show that CBT helps patients overcome symptoms of depression like hopelessness, anger and low motivation, and lowers their risk for relapses in the future.

CBT is believed to work so well for relieving depression because it produces changes in cognition (thoughts) that fuel vicious cycles of negative feelings and rumination. Research published in the journal Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Mood Disordersfound that CBT is so protective against acute episodes of depression that it can be used along with, or in place of, antidepressant medications. CBT has also shown promise as an approach for helping handle postpartum depression and as an adjunct to medication treatment for bipolar patients. (3)

2. Reduces Anxiety

According to work published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, there’s strong evidence regarding CBT treatment for anxiety-related disorders, including panic disorders, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Overall, CBT demonstrates both efficacy in randomized controlled trials and effectiveness in naturalistic settings between patients with anxiety and therapists. (4)

Researchers have found that CBT works well as a natural remedy for anxiety because it includes various combinations of the following techniques: psycho-education about the nature of fear and anxiety, self-monitoring of symptoms, somatic exercises, cognitive restructuring (for example disconfirmation), image and in vivo exposure to feared stimuli (exposure therapy), weaning from ineffective safety signals, and relapse prevention.

3. Helps Treat Eating Disorders

The Journal of Psychiatric Clinics of North America reports that eating disorders provide one of the strongest indications for cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT has been found to help address the underlying psychopathology of eating disorders and question the over-evaluation of shape and weight. It can also interfere with the maintenance of unhealthy body weights, improve impulse control to help stop binge eating or purging, reduce feelings of isolation, and help patients become more comfortable around “trigger foods” or situations using exposure therapy. (5)

Cognitive therapy has become the treatment of choice for treating bulimia nervosa and “eating disorders not otherwise specified” (EDNOS), the two most common eating disorder diagnoses. There’s also evidence that it can be helpful in treating around 60 percent of patients with anorexia, considered to be one of the hardest mental illnesses to treat and prevent from returning.

4. Reduces Addictive Behaviors and Substance Abuse

Research has shown that CBT is effective for helping treat cannabis and other drug dependencies, such as opioid and alcohol dependence, plus helping people quit smoking cigarettes and gambling. Studies published in the Oxford Journal of Public Health involving treatments for smoking cessation have found that coping skills learned during CBT sessions were highly effective in reducing relapses in nicotine quitters and seem to be superior to other therapeutic approaches. (6) There’s also stronger support for CBT’s behavioral approaches (helping to stop impulses) in the treatment of problematic gambling addictions compared to control treatments. (7)

5. Helps Improve Self-Esteem and Confidence

Even if you don’t suffer from any serious mental problems at all, CBT can help you replace destructive, negative thoughts that lead to low self-esteem with positive affirmations and expectations. This can help open new ways to handle stress, improve relationships and increase motivation to try new things. The Psychology Tools website provides great resources for using CBT worksheets on your own to work on developing affirmative communication skills, healthy relationships and helpful stress-reducing techniques. (8)

Facts About Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  • CBT was originally created to help people suffering from depression, but today it’s used to improve and manage various types of mental disorders and symptoms, including: anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, addictions and eating disorders. (9)
  • CBT techniques are also beneficial for just about everyone else, including people with no form of mental illness but who have chronic stress, poor moods and habits they’d like to work on.
  • The term cognitive behavioral therapy is considered a general term for a classification of therapeutic approaches that have similarities, including: rational emotive behavior therapy, rational behavior therapy, rational living therapy, cognitive therapy and dialectical behavior therapy.
  • To date, more than 332 medical studies and 16 quantitative reviews have examined the effects of CBT. Interestingly, more than 80 percent of these studies were conducted after 2004. (10)
  • Studies have found that in people who have completed CBT programs and then undergone brain scans, CBT is actually capable of positively changing physical structures in the brain. (11)
  • CBT can work quickly, helping patients feel better and experience lessened symptoms within a short period of time (several months, for example). While many forms of therapy can take many months or even years to become very helpful, the average number of CBT sessions clients receive is only 16.
  • CBT often involves the patient completing “homework” assignments on their own between therapy sessions, which is one of the reasons benefits can be experienced so quickly.
  • In addition to homework being done by the patients while they’re alone, cognitive behavioral therapists also use instructions, questioning and “exposure therapy” during sessions. CBT is very interactive and collaborative. The therapist’s role is to listen, teach and encourage, while the patient’s role is to be open and expressive.
  • One of the biggest advantages for patients is that CBT can be continued even after formal sessions with a therapist are over. Eventually, formal therapy ends, but at this point the clients can continue to work on exploring CBT concepts, using techniques they’ve learned, journaling and reading to help prolong benefits and manage symptoms.

How Cognitive Behavior Therapy Works

CBT works by pinpointing thoughts that continuously rise up, using them as signals for positive action and replacing them with healthier, more empowering alternatives.

The heart of CBT is learning self-coping skills, giving patients the ability to manage their own reactions/responses to situations more skillfully, change the thoughts they tell themselves, and practice “rational self-counseling.” While it definitely helps for the CBT therapist/counselor and patient to build trust and have a good relationship, the power really lies in the patient’s hands. How willing a patient is to explore his or her own thoughts, stay open-minded, complete homework assignments and practice patience during the CBT process all determine how beneficial CBT will be for them.

Some of the characteristics that make cognitive behavioral therapy unique and effective include:

  • Rational approach: CBT theory and techniques are based on rational thinking, meaning they aim to identify and use facts. The “inductive method” of CBT encourages patients to examine their own perceptions and beliefs to see if they are in fact realistic. In CBT, there is an underlying assumption that most emotional and behavioral reactions are learned. Many times with a CBT therapists’s help, patients learn that their long-held assumptions and hypotheses are at least partially incorrect, which causes them unnecessary worrying and suffering. (12)
  • Law of entropy and impermanence: CBT rests on scientific assumptions, including the law of entropy, which is essentially the fact that “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” We always have the power to change how we feel because our feelings are rooted in our brains’ chemical interactions, which are constantly evolving. If we break cycles of thought patterns, our brains will adjust for the better. MRI scans show the human brain creates and sustains neural synapses (connections) between frequent thoughts and emotions, so if you practice positive thinking your brain will actually make it easier to feel happier in the future.
  • Accepting unpleasant or painful emotions: Many CBT therapists can help patients learn how to stay calm and clear-headed even when they’re faced with undesirable situations. Learning to accept difficult thoughts or emotions as being “simply part of life” is important, because this can help stop a vicious cycle from forming. Often we get upset about our tough feelings and add on even more suffering. Instead of adding self-blame, anger, frustration, sadness or disappointment to already-tough feelings, CBT teaches patients to calmly accept a problem without judgment in order to not make it even worse.
  • Questioning and expressing: Cognitive behavioral therapists usually ask patients many questions in order to help them gain a new perspective, see the situation more clearly and realistically, and help them undercover how they really feel.
  • Specific agendas and techniques: CBT is usually done in a series of sessions that each have a specific goal, concept or technique to work with. Unlike some other forms of therapy, sessions are not simply for the therapist and patient to talk openly without an agenda in mind. CBT therapists teach their clients how to better handle difficult thoughts and feelings by practicing specific techniques during sessions that can later be applied to life when they’re most needed.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy vs. Other Types of Psychotherapy 

CBT is a type of psychotherapy, which means it involves open talking between patient and therapist. You might have heard of several other forms of psychotherapy in the past and are wondering what makes CBT stand apart. Many times there is some overlap between different forms of psychotherapy. A therapist might use techniques from various psychotherapy approaches to help patients best reach their goals and improve (for example, to help someone with a phobia, CBT might be coupled with exposure therapy).

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, here is how CBT differs from other popular forms of therapy: (13)

  • CBT vs. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): DBT and CBT are probably the most similar therapeutic approaches, however DBT relies more heavily on validation or accepting uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and behaviors. DBT therapists help patients find balance between acceptance and change by using tools like mindfulness guided meditation.
  • CBT vs. Exposure Therapy: Exposure therapy is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that’s often used to help treat eating disorders, phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It teaches patients to practice using calming techniques and small series of “exposures” to triggers (things that are most feared) in order to become less anxious about the outcome.
  • CBT vs. Interpersonal Therapy: Interpersonal therapy focuses on the relationships a patient has with his or her family, friends, co-workers, media and community to help evaluate social interactions and recognize negative patterns (such as isolation, blame, jealousy or aggression). CBT can be used with interpersonal therapy to help reveal underlying beliefs and thoughts driving negative behavior toward others.

Ways to Practice Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Techniques on Your Own

  • Identify your current obstacles: The first step is to identify what’s really causing you stress, unhappiness and unease. Maybe you’re feeling resentful toward someone, fearful of failure or worried about being rejected socially in some way. You might find that you have persistent anxiety, symptoms of depression or are struggling to forgive someone for a past event. Once you can recognize this and become more aware of your primary obstacle, then you have the power to start work on overcoming it.
  • Try “thought recording”: You can use a journal or even record your own voice on a tape recorder to help you identify recurring destructive thoughts you frequently tell yourself. Ask yourself questions to dig deeper and form connections you weren’t previously aware of. Then reread your entries as if you were not yourself, but a good friend. What advice would you give yourself? What beliefs of yours can you notice aren’t very accurate, only making matters worse and not overall helpful?
  • Form patterns and recognize your triggers: Think about what types of situations make you most likely to feel anxious, upset, critical or sad. Start to form patterns of behaving in certain ways or experiencing certain things (for example, maybe drinking too much alcohol or gossiping behind someone’s back) and how they leave you feeling, so you can start breaking the cycle.
  • Notice how things are always changing: Feelings come and go constantly (called impermanence), so knowing that fear, anger or other strongly unplesant emotions are only temporary can help you stay calm in the moment.
  • “Put yourself in their shoes”: It’s important to try and view situations as rationally, clearly and realistically as possible. It helps to consider other people’s perspectives, question your assumptions, and see if there’s something important you might be missing or ignoring.
  • Thank yourself and be patient: Even though CBT works quickly for many people, it’s an ongoing process that’s essentially lifelong. There’s always ways to improve, feel happier, and treat others and yourself better, so practice being patient. Remind yourself there is no finish line. Give yourself credit for putting effort into facing your problems directly, and try to view “slip-ups” as inevitable parts of the journey and learning process.

Final Thoughts on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

  • CBT techniques are also beneficial for just about everyone else, including people with no form of mental illness but who have chronic stress, poor moods and habits they’d like to work on.
  • Some of the major ways cognitive behavioral therapy benefits patients from different walks of life includes lowering symptoms of depressions, reducing anxiety, treating eating disorders, reduces addictive behaviors and substance abuse, and helps improve self-esteem and confidence.
  • You can practice cognitive behavioral therapy by identifying your current obstacles, trying thought recording, forming patterns and recognizing your triggers, noticing how things are always changing, putting yourself in others’ shoes, and thanking yourself and being patient.

Source: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Benefits & Techniques – Dr. Axe

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